ave you ever been to a real small town race? A race where there are couples and children and neighbors, and oldsters and youngsters, and everyone, from beginner to old hand seem delighted to be there and meet their friends? A race where you can count everyone and a good fraction are familiar faces? A race where the starter says “ready, set, GO”? Where they give out home cooking for awards?

I have. I remember a marathon with about 100 runners in the north of California, where someone came out and set the clock to count down from 10 minutes, and the runners noticed and slowly ambled over to the start line, and at the end we all chanted together 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-ZERO and we all took off without another word from the organizers. I remember a race in New Hampshire where the first place finisher got a deep dish apple pie — and I was never so jealous!

There are such races — in Vermont, in New Hampshire, upstate, Pennsylvania, the Bronx — huh! Yes, the Bronx, a subway ride away.

The local running club (Van Cortlandt Track Club) puts on small town races: the Urban Environmental Challenge, a trail race in April, the Riverdale Ramble, a 10K road race in May or June, and the summer cross country series, every other Thursday evening in the summer. You are not likely to see more that 150 runners in any of these. They’re all hand timed and scored. The carrot cake and carrot muffin are the prized awards, and it’s all a volunteer effort.

Iv’e run all of these over the last 3 or 4 years and they are the real deal.

I asked the race directors of the three races (actually, 2 races and a race series) — whom I've gotten to know well — to give us a glimpse of the inside story of putting on these races. The cross country series is only half done, so some Thursday evening, come on up to the Bronx and enjoy a small town race.

The Urban Environmental Challenge

by Jill Statts, Race Director

his race, as with the summer cross country series, is an easier race to put on than the Ramble. We do not need permits as you do to run the roads nor police to help direct traffic. I start in October and decide on a date early in April and apply for a parks permit. In January I get the application together, post it on the website and get it printed so we can hand them out. I start to work on the “give away” in February. In the past we have done bags and this year we did a great T-shirt. By the end of March the bibs are done, ambulance ordered, portable potties ordered and we are ready for the race. Our club is fabulous when race day comes. People just show up and the work gets done, there is no need for any anxiety. You could not ask for a better group of people to team with.

Over the years we have had different sponsors for this race. Last year it was the clothing company, Eileen Fisher and this year it was Capital One Bank. We either break even or make a little money on this race. The “give away” items are usually the biggest cost. Lloyd’s Carrot Cake has sponsored this race since the beginning. We get 16 small cakes and 21 muffins as our awards to the age group categories.

The first year I directed this race, it was the year of the nor’easter. I came close to canceling it, but because the high winds had died down, I decided to go on with it. I had 100 pre registered and 20 of those showed up. There were 40 people that came the day of the race and registered. I got the most emails that year from people telling me how much they loved the race. I think people that run this race, like the weather to be bad. It was certainly challenging for a newbie race director. It didn’t stop me; I have done it for 3 more years. Next year, so that other people can get a chance to be involved, I am turning it over to a newer club member to direct the race. I will be there to guide him through it. It will feel strange showing up to volunteer instead of directing it. I have loved doing it and my favorite part is the day of the race and everyone coming together to make it happen. That is the great part of being a member of the Van Cortlandt Track Club.

Link for the Urban Environmental Challenge:

The Riverdale Ramble

by Dave King, Race Director

 can tell you the Ramble began in April 1979: a cool, rainy 7 miler that started and finished at 242nd Street and Broadway. The race was scored by Kurt Steiner and Co. of the NYRR, who also presided over the awards ceremony at the old Greenleaf Bar on 242nd Street. The race was held at several locations through the 80's and 90's, starting at Fieldston School, Horace Mann and John F. Kennedy High Schools. When the Fieldston Property Owners decided it would not allow the race to be run through its streets, the Van Cortlandt Track Club changed the course dramatically (which is when the race started and finished at JFK High).

After 2000, the Ramble had a shaky foundation, though we still managed to get it run. I took over in 2007, the first of three races that centered around JHS 141 in Riverdale. This year, the race combined with the YM/YWHA 5k, starting and finishing at the Riverdale Y.

There are several key things that go into organizing a race like this. Sponsors, a central starting and finishing point that has good facilities (water, bathrooms, places to change, areas for awards ceremony, registration, etc.), easy transportation to get to it, a course that doesn't interfere too much with road traffic, and plenty of volunteers who are familiar with racing. You also need a police permit to run on public streets.

Link for the Riverdale Ramble:

The Summer Cross Country Series

by Fred Daly, Race Director

 think the first year for the x-c series was 1999, but it might have been 1998. It was the brainchild of Bob Velez, who since moved to Puerto Rico, though he still shows up once in a while for the race. I took over ten years ago or so.

All those years, Otis Matthews and I teamed at the registration table, and Bill Smith handled everything else — water, course marshals, etc. I have always thought that Otis was the guiding spirit of the series — his calm, low-key manner embodied the atmosphere we wanted. I love the series because there's a kind of community feel to it. Somehow the muffins are a symbol of the ethos of the thing. They were Bob's idea. I think it's neat that we hand out muffins instead of medals or trophies, and that we charge only $5.00.

A couple of times in the past folks in the club have wanted to make a bigger deal of the 5K series, and I've resisted. We don't need or want 400 runners, and we don't need it to be a cash cow for the club. Scoring by hand is a little stressful, especially on a wet or windy day, but I prefer it to spending tons of money on an electronic system.

In the first years we'd have maybe 40 runners at the start of the summer and build to about 80. For a long time, 100 was basically our max. In recent years it's gotten bigger; the first two this year were about 140, which makes me a little nervous because it might mean we'll have huge fields at the end. The most we ever had was about 210.

What else is interesting? One of the best features has been the participation of younger runners, especially the Rabbits Club from East Harlem. They missed last year (transportation was not available), but we got them back for the first race this year.

Link for the Cross Country Summer Series: .