Marathoners descend on Syracuse for the inaugural Empire State Marathon

Nick Bedbury of Syracuse and Emily Piza-Taylor of Binghamton take wins in first Empire State Marathon on Sunday.

Saturday night’s gusty winds calmed before sunrise Sunday morning, much to the relief of runner Jeff Ward. At mile seven of the inaugural Empire State Marathon, the rising sun began to light to road before the 25-year-old. 

“It’s good timing in the fall, but yesterday I wouldn’t have said the same thing,” he said. Even with 19.2 miles ahead of him, Ward seemed chipper and relaxed. 

One of 2,550 registrants for Sunday’s races, the Central Square native “came home” from Baltimore to race in his eighth marathon. Five countries and 33 states were represented in the marathon, half marathon, and four-person marathon relay. 

Syracuse’s-own Nick Bedbury, 22, won the marathon in 2 hours, 42 minutes, 32 seconds, good for an average 6 minutes, 13 seconds per mile. Emily Piza-Taylor, 34, came from Binghamton to take the women’s title in 3:10:19.

The half marathon race marked the end of this year's competitive season for USATF Naigara, a regional affiliate of the national governing body for track and field and long-distance running. Bringing home the USATF Niagara Open Half Marathon Championships titles were Aaron Rowe, 30, of Powell, Ohio, and Trisha Byler, 27, of Rochester. With times of 1:08:51 and 1:22:22, Rowe and Byler earned $500 each in prize money. Winning the masters' titles were Richard Cohen, 40, of Utica, and Jolene Casatelli, 42, of New Hartford. 

Without a prize purse for top marathon finishers, the field lacked elites. But what it lacked in world-class times, the race made up for with heavy doses of enthusiasm and fall colors.

“This is a testament to how strong the running community is here in Syracuse,” said Ed Griffin, owner of Fleet Feet Syracuse, a main sponsor of the race.  “The participation far exceeded the number of people expected to come out—especially compared to other first year marathons, such as Rochester, that have 1,500 to 1,700.” 

Hundreds of spectators lined the course. From Alliance Bank Stadium parking lot, the course headed to Onondaga Lake Parkway. Marathoners and relay-racers followed a lollipop-shaped route through Baldwinsville and back along the lake. Crisp morning air, spectators’ cheers, cowbells, and signs accompanied more than 2,100 people to the finish. 

As runners were finishing mid-morning, the finish line structure fell over. One volunteer was knocked to the ground by the high beam and required medical attention from on-site paramedics before being taken to a local hospital. She suffered a bump and a couple of abrasions.

Race staff disassembled and removed the high beam, interrupting several runners’ sprints across the line. 


Women Lead the Train 

Just “running for fun,” Emily Piza-Taylor won the women’s division with a time of 3:10:22. Today’s marathon is the tenth she’s completed—and her second in two weeks. 

The win, however, is her first. “I thought, ‘What the hell, I’m in good shape,’” said Piza-Taylor, 34, of Binghamton. 

Piza-Taylor found the course much more challenging than she’d anticipated. Running by herself for most of the race, she faced hills from mile eight on. But at mile 23, she noticed the first-place woman in front of her. 

“I saw her coming back to me, so I kept pounding it,” Piza-Taylor said.

She started making a move, closing the gap at mile 24, as the course flattened out along Onondaga Lake Parkway. Passing Carrisa Swilley around mile 25, Piza-Taylor built her lead to 38 seconds.

“She had a great race,” she said of Swilley, 30, of Syracuse.

Piza-Taylor’s post-race glow and attitude echoed Katherine Switzer, the starter of the race. 

Switzer delivered the keynote address at the Empire State Marathon Expo and is on the board of directors for SU’s Sport Management program. 

As a 20-year-old undergraduate at Syracuse University in 1967, Switzer became the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon. Nearly missing an attempted tackle by an enraged race director, Switzer followed the directions of her coach, an SU mailman: “Run like hell.” 

Her race drew world-wide attention to age-old gender bias that prevented women from participating in sports. “They thought our uteruses were going to fall out,” Switzer said, recounting the era on Saturday at SU’s Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center.

Swtizter’s passion for running and zeal for organization made for a potent combination. “We just started organizing events because events didn’t exist,” she told a gathering of students, professors and community members.

She coordinated several marathon races in Syracuse, including the 1972 men’s national Marathon Championships. Such tireless advocacy led to the official sanctioning of the women’s marathon as an Olympic event in 1984. She was recently inducted into Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls. 

After organizing 400 races in 27 countries, Switzer knows a thing or two about putting on races. “The marathon is recession-proof,” she said. “And women are driving the train economically.”

At least 60 percent of today’s registrants were female.


Tired Legs 

Instead of relaxing like most half-marathon finishers, SU freshman Mark Battistelli drove to to an 8K cross-country race in Binghamton with the Jackelopes, the university’s running club. In the afternoon, he had high hopes—even after his legs felt exhausted in the half marathon.

“My goal today was to race with and hopefully end up beating one of my high school teammates, which I did,” he said of this afternoon’s cross country race.

Getting in touch with the Jackelopes re-invigorated his passion for running that sparked at his Long Island high school.

In the first half marathon this morning, Battistelli said he surprised himself with his finishing time of 1:23:48.

“Unfortunately we ran a half a mile extra, because people were standing in front of the signs at the turnaround, so we started to go out with on full marathon course — a little disappointing,” the architecture major said.

After the 22-mile day, he plans on taking an extra day off. He and his Jackelope teammates are looking forward to club regionals in Connecticut.

“We have a reaching goal to win as a team,” Battistelli said.

Team RWB ran the half marathon with more than 40 members and supporters. Led by Mark Erwin, of Syracuse and the Maxwell School, a core group carried an American flag for the entire 13.1-mile race. The organization raises awareness about the challenges facing wounded veterans.

Running the marathon relay with friends was Brian Crowley, who led off Team Unicorn’s relay with a 6.5-mile leg.

“My legs are dead,” he said. “I just ran the Chicago Marathon.”

He’s not sure whether he’ll do another marathon—but it may be too soon after running 3:52:16 in 85 degree weather last Sunday to tell.

Additional trials of the miles began early in the race. About half a mile behind Ward, one man loudly lamented his pre-race meal.

“That chili last night was a bad idea,” he said to two running partners.

Another man turned to a young lady expressing her fears about the challenge ahead. “Don’t worry — all you have to do is smile and laugh,” he said.

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