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YMCA July 4th Race Report Card

July 6, 2008 - Erik Brown

The Central PA running community celebrated Independence Day with the 34th edition of the 4th of July races in Altoona. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Altoona Running Club for organizing this wonderful tradition and shepherding it for so many years through all of the logistical challenges that an event like this entails, and a special thanks to the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA for its many contributions to the races’ on-going success.


The race organizers have worked tirelessly to make each year’s event bigger and better for those of us who love to participate in it. For example, this year they implemented chip timing and computerized results. I know from speaking with the folks at the “Y” that they welcome our feedback and suggestions, so I offer this report card of the 2008 races and encourage you to add your comments at the end of this post.


Without further adieu then:


Race Registration – Grade A - Participants had two convenient ways to register: online or the usual method of filling out an entry form and dropping it off at the “Y”. To the best of my knowledge, both worked well.


Race Packets – Grade A+ - The packets had a helpful set of instructions that told us what we needed to know about the chip timing as well as other useful information about the race  Packet pickup was a breeze and the stuff inside was great! Kudos to the artist who designed the logo for this year’s race T-shirts! We also got a great water bottle, compliments of Meineke Car Care Center that included the race logo, a cool pedometer from The Altoona Mirror, a coupon for a discount at the New Balance shoe store in Altoona, and the usual information about upcoming events.


Weather – Grade B+ - OK, this isn’t something that can be controlled, but it is at or near the top of every runner’s list of things that matter the most on race day. Fortunately, the weather was pretty good. The rain we got the day before and the overcast skies had the air temperature in a relatively comfortable zone, although the humidity was a little on the high side.


The Pre-Race Scene at Heritage Plaza – Grade B - The “Y” had everything pretty well organized and staffed with volunteers, but it was their first chip-timed race and I think they would agree there’s room for improvement when it comes to distributing the chips. The main problem was a predictable one - not everyone heeded their advice to arrive early for chip pickup. On the other hand, the plan to distribute all the chips in Heritage Plaza on race morning may have been a little too ambitious. In any case, it seems to have resulted in a brief delay in the start of the race. Perhaps next year’s registration form can include instructions directing participants to pick up their chips at the “Y” the day before the race. The chips could be handed out (separate from the packets) to only those participants who personally come to the “Y” to get their chip. Big events like the Marine Corps Marathon actually require “day before” pickup. I’m confident the smart folks at the “Y” will work out the kinks for next year’s races.


On a more positive note (bad pun intended), the rock music in Heritage Plaza on race morning has exactly the right affect - replacing the butterflies in my stomach with energized excitement. Job well done MIX 94.7!


The Scene at the Starting Line – Grade A+ - As a former drummer, I always enjoy hearing the very talented HASD Golden Tiger drum line, so it was a great surprise when they came marching around the corner below the Mishler. The drum cadence sequence they played had everyone hopping. Then, topping it off, the horn section provided an inspiring rendition of our National Anthem. Awesome! The start of the race went smoothly which of course is what you always want.


Race Course Marshalls, Volunteers and Altoona’s Finest – Grade A++ - In a word, Professional. Thanks to everyone involved in the effort of directing us along the course, providing water, and for the traffic control that kept us safe. Well done!  


The Scene out on the Race Courses – Grade A - The course for both the 5K and the 15K race are very nice. The cheering fans along the way, some with garden hoses, help the miles go by. The rolling hills aren’t too tough.


The Scene at the Finish Line – Grade A+ - Bill Bravin did a nice job on the P.A. system as runners crossed the finish line, but he had a tough act to follow in Lee Baranik who has handled that task so well for so many years. I told Deanna it seemed like there was more applause from the crowd as I approached the finish line this year. She said they were cheering for the woman who sprinted past me in the last 100 yards and for our twins who were close behind me. In any case, the crowd noise was great.


Unfortunately, I must also report that I was heckled three separate times during the 15K race. First there was Tim Gildea, a fellow runner who, as he passed me, sarcastically asked if the bright green shirt I was wearing was intended to save myself from being hit by another automobile (see my March 14, 2008 post titled “Who Put That SUV there?”). Then Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel, who was working a water stop near mile 8, made a crack about how far Deanna (my wife) was ahead of me. The last instance occurred as I approached the finish line. This time the culprit was Joe Bilka, the Bishop Guilfoyle Cross Country Coach. Joe and his lovely wife Vickie had also volunteered to serve water. As I was finishing the race, Joe chided me about getting beat by a woman pushing a baby stroller. The truth is I got beat by two women pushing baby strollers, but that’s beside the point. I shouldn’t have to put up with such abuse from a spectator – especially a race volunteer. I’m calling for his race volunteer stipend to be reduced by one half as an appropriate sanction.


Door Prizes – Grade A+ - FREE STUFF! I took a quick glance at the list of winners as we were about to leave. As usual, my name was not on the list, but the prizes were very nice. Dang!


Finally, I want to offer a word of thanks also to...


The race Sponsers: M&T Bank, Leonard S. Fiore, Inc., MIX 94.7, Nautilus, Sheetz, Stuckey Subaru, Subaru, Roaring Spring Bottling, Mountain View Eye Associates, Endurance Athletics, Lawruk Realty, Natural Gains, and I guess I’d better not forget, the Altoona Mirror – making it happen for you!


And the race Supporters: Auntie Annes Pretzels, BiLo, Budget Truck Rental, Forever Broadcasting, Gary’s Groceries, Giant Eagle, Hampton Inn, Lassers, Martins Altoona, Martins Duncansville, Outback, Riverside, Spokes and Skis, Starbucks, Steve Seltzer Honda, Tea Merchant 101, Ultimate Bagel, and last but certainly not least, John Foreman.

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