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By Alice Gerard
Roger King said that, as a 30-year-old, he started running to improve his health, but, since then, it has become a big part of his life.
“I was recovering from smoking,” King said. “I was taking the initiative and was taking charge of my health. I want to grow old well. Running is both health and community. It’s a positive way to do it.
“Running clears out your head and helps you focus when you’re stressed out. It satisfies me in a few different ways. It’s a healthy place to socialize. It’s good community. Also, it’s physical relief and stress relief.”
The community of runners that King discovered was the Greater Buffalo Track Club. He was a member for eight years until he was elected president in 2019. This year, he is the race director for the Thermo Fischer Scientific Grand Island Half Marathon, set to start at 8 a.m. May 6 in the parking lot at Beaver Island State Park.
“We will be in the park until probably 1 p.m.,” King said.
“I enjoy running, and I enjoy helping out. The Greater Buffalo Track Club is an all-volunteer track club, not-for-profit. We do weekly group runs, coach workouts. We put on a couple races each year. Our main one is the Grand Island Half Marathon.”
This year, in addition to the race, there will be a farmers market, offering early produce for both participants and spectators.
King said he was grateful to all the race sponsors and said, this year, the race is being presented by the Maguire Family of Dealerships, the group that owns the automobile companies on Alvin Road that were previously owned by Fuccillo.
“It’s going to be a very exciting race,” King said. “New this year is we’re going to host the USA Track and Field Niagara half-marathon championships. That designation makes us the USATF runner of the year race and member of the grand prix series, which is a team competition of runners, who are USATF members.”
USA Track and Field is a nationally recognized track and field association, with both a national and local chapters.
“If you are an amateur runner, you are likely to compete in one of their races,” King said. “Nothing really changes about our races, except they are scoring the teams for runners.”
The Greater Buffalo Track Club is a USATF-sanctioned club, King said. He explained that Grand Island is a good venue for a USATF-sanctioned race, especially for runners who live in the Buffalo area.
“Regionally, a lot of the races are more toward Rochester and Syracuse, and we’re glad to represent Buffalo,” he said. “There are two other races (in the Buffalo area) throughout the year, but they are smaller events. And locally, we are also on the Buffalo Runner of the Year race. Buffalo Runners is the local Erie County/Niagara County racing calendar that is the primary resource for Western New York runners. They do their own runner-of-the-year calendar. That’s exciting, as well.”
Support and encouragement are offered to people who participate as first-time runners in this event.
“We want to make (the race) accessible,” King said. “We have three water stops set up. It’s an out and back course. You can hit each one twice. We’re run by our club members for traffic and safety. We hire an EMT. We have really good fan support. It’s a fun event every year. This is my first year of being a race director, and I was a little intimidated. Being part of the club, I know that I have a lot of competent helping hands to contribute, and it’s going to be a fun event.”
He added, “The Grand Island Half was my first half-marathon. As a race director, I want to provide something for first-time half-marathoners. To designate their first half-marathon, they will be given a special ribbon to accompany their medal. We’ll have a photo drop, where they can take their photo in front of it, saying ‘my first half-marathon.’ It’s a small accommodation, but, if you never ran 13.1 miles, that’s quite a distance. It’s difficult. It takes so much effort to run. I really want to give that first-time half-marathoner the recognition,” King said. “Even if you’re the fastest runner or the slowest runner, you’re covering the same distance. Every runner will get a finisher medal.”
The difficulty of long-distance running can include “hitting the wall,” which is a sudden loss of energy, especially in a long race, such as a marathon. King explained how to deal with hitting the wall.
“It’s important to collect yourself,” he said. “You don’t want to push yourself over the limit, but you still want to finish the race. A lot of people have different strategies to get through hitting the wall. In a lot of races, there’s a water stop every mile. One strategy is to stop at each water stop, re-collect yourself and then pace yourself to the next mile. Always rely on crowd support. You’ve got to consider your safety, as well. In case you’re feeling that you can’t finish, you’ve got to be reasonable and not finish.”
King’s experiences with running marathons includes participating in the 2022 Boston Marathon and the California International Marathon in Sacramento. He said the Boston Marathon “was really exciting. There were so many people, and everyone was cheering. You felt like a celebrity. It was a fantastic experience.” The marathon in California was also “exciting. I ran with a couple of friends, and they bullied me into going. They didn’t have to pull too many strings. It was a lot of fun.”
In addition to giving runners the chance to participate in an officially sanctioned USATF race, the half-marathon also gives participants the chance to support the Grand Island community.
“This year, we hope to help out the Neighbors Foundation of Grand Island,” King said. “We will be doing a food drive, leading up to the race. We’re already collecting donations on our website. We’re grateful for the sponsors coming out to help out, as well. It’s going to be a very exciting race.
“We will hopefully be making a sizeable donation to the Neighbors Foundation of Grand Island. They’re an all-volunteer food pantry on Grand Island. Putting on the race, we really want to give back to the community. Like in previous years, we want to focus on giving back to the Grand Island community. We’ve been hosting the race here for 28 years, and we really want to keep it centered on the Island.”
Last year, the Miracle League was the organization that benefited from the half-marathon’s fundraising efforts. King said the donation was the start of a relationship with the Miracle League.
“A few members became buddies. It was a very good experience. It was a very good charity,” he said.