America’s interest in distance running began when Middletown native Frank Shorter won gold in the marathon at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Inspired by this feat, millions of folks — athletes and couch potatoes alike — took up the sport as part of the so-called “running boom.” That enthusiasm — perhaps fueled by the nation’s growing concern with obesity and other health issues — continues to prompt many men (and, increasingly, women) to lace up their Nikes and hit the roads.
For the past 30 years, the Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club has sponsored the Dutchess County Classic, a day devoted to road running and racing. This year’s edition, on September 20, features a half marathon, a kid’s one-mile run, and a five-kilometer (3.1 mile) race. Last year’s Classic drew more than 1,200 participants, a “phenomenal” turnout, according to MHRRC President Keith Axelrod. “The races attract all ages, from young kids and teenagers who want to get in better shape, to people in their 30s and 40s — and older — who are interested in getting healthy. We even had an 80-year-old woman from Millbrook who ran the 5K race.”
Last year, Axelrod — who also serves as the races’ director — came up with a novel way to attract new runners to the event. “When we were planning the 5K, an idea came to mind to give out special T-shirts to first-time racers. So we printed shirts that read ‘I Ran My First 5K at the Dutchess County Classic.’ Around 100 people — 20 percent of the 5K runners — ended up taking home one of those shirts.” The club plans to offer this incentive to new racers again this year. (Other event perks include a prerace expo, postrace refreshments, and medals and free massages for all half-marathon finishers.)
The 5K is ideal for both beginners and experienced runners. Contested along Robinson Lane in Wappingers Falls, “the course is totally flat,” notes Axelrod. “If you’re a competitive runner, it offers the best shot at your fastest 5K.” And for newbies? “You can always walk some of it, and run some of it,” he says encouragingly. “Either way, when you have more than 500 runners on the road with you, the adrenaline is just great.”