Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 20 Nov 2001 09:33:47 -0500

Some Like It Small


My first flights since September 11th weren't scary. There may never have been a safer time to fly. But the trip to upstate New York wasn't easy either, taking 23 hours.

This included an unplanned overnight stop in Detroit. While stranded there, I contacted longtime friend Scott Hubbard. His weekend would involve remeasuring the Detroit International Marathon course after the race had been shut out of its Canadian start by last month's terror.

"What are you doing heading east?" asked Scott, "Every other runner I know is going west to Chicago or Twin Cities."

Simple answer: The Wineglass Marathon did what the big marathons almost never do -- asked me to come.

I didn't come to Corning, New York, as a consolation prize. Small to midsized races like this one have their own attractions.

Don't think here that I'm anti-biggies. These events also have their beauties, including but not limited to the awe-inspiring speed of their frontrunners. The city-style races bring excitement and attention to the sport, which draws new runners to it.

I don't dislike the big races but like the smaller ones better. Once is usually enough for me to run those that feel like human traffic jams. My interest in visiting them also wanes after trying and failing to spot friends in these crowds.

I visited Wineglass by mistake. I'd misread the year's marathon calendar, and thought this race and the Royal Victoria Marathon (which I try never to miss) were a week apart and not the same Sunday.

By the time my confusion had cleared, I'd agreed to travel 3000 miles east instead of 300 miles north. This turned out to be one of the best mistakes I've ever made. I had never visited this area before, but it felt like coming home.

My love for races on the small side has to do with where I came from, and when. All of my early races were tiny, and most were run through the countryside because cities couldn't be bothered with them.

It's not by coincidence, then, that three of my five favorite marathons were rural and no larger than 3000 runners: Avenue of the Giants, Big Sur and Napa Valley.

Wineglass could be called "Napa East," as both the races run through wine country. The flaming trees of fall are the eastern marathon's answer to the flowering vineyards of spring out west.

Wineglass's field numbers about 700 -- enough to give company but not enough to feel crowded. Collecting of packets and serving of pasta take minutes, not hours (or so it can seem).

The pack clears the starting line in seconds, not minutes. Runners on the course are yards apart, not inches. Spectators can pick out each face, not see a dizzying blur.

More practically, the Wineglass course is (like Napa Valley's) point-to-point and net-downhill. The prevailing wind comes from behind. Typical raceday temperatures are in the 40s and 50s.

Why would I have wanted to be anywhere else that first Sunday in October?

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