Many of the traffic control staffers will be putting their wintertime skills to good use in the summer at Friday night’s Subaru Buffalo 4 Mile Chase.
Even if they aren’t wearing their striped shirts.
The race has a tradition of using basketball referees to watch intersections as the best field of runners of the year goes zipping by in pursuit of a share of the $10,000 in prize money that will be available.
“It’s a chance for us all to get together,” said veteran official Pete Calieri, who has volunteered for the race for about a dozen years. “If you tried to plan something like this that was just a gathering, it probably wouldn’t come off.”
But the referees gather every year for this event to help out race director Jim Nowicki, himself a veteran official.
“It’s Jimmy’s race. We’re a brotherhood,” Calieri said.
Most volunteers would rather hand out T-shirts or pour beer than direct traffic, because it’s a difficult job. The stakes are high – a car in the middle of hundreds of runners can be dangerous – and a take-charge attitude is needed.
“It comes down to game administration,” Calieri said. “A lot of guys don’t know how to handle an argument. We’re used to being ready for anything can happen.”
Jack Syracuse usually is a runner in the Chase, but last year an injury kept him on the sidelines. He made a smooth transition to directing traffic for the first time.
“I took to it really easily,” he said. “I didn’t bring a whistle. All I had was a flag and a vest.”
Calieri – who does carry a whistle – often tries to joke with drivers who are stuck at intersections, waiting for the runners to go by. He keeps a supply of candy handy for “bribes.” But people still get impatient, so the traffic crew is happy to have some Buffalo police nearby.
“About three years ago, a guy wanted to go south on Elmwood, and a cop told him to wait one minute,” Calieri said. “The guy made the turn anyway. The police wrote him up. That cost him 75 bucks.”
“My only problem last year was that there was one lady in a big SUV,” Syracuse said. “She was three cars from the corner. She just kept blowing her horn, wanting to go.”
The traffic staff will have a good look at some world-class athletes at the head of the field. The men’s race often features some top international runners, and this year is no exception.
Perhaps the most accomplished is Mykola Labovskyy of Ukraine. He is an Olympian; he finished 26th in the 10,000 meters in London last year. Labovskyy has a personal best of 13 minutes, 23 seconds for the 5,000 meters.
Eric Chirchir of Kenya won a half-marathon in Fairfield, Conn., last month in a time of 1:05:58. Patrick Cheptoek of Uganda ran a half-marathon in Louisville in April in 1:04:24. The 36-year-old Mengistu Tabor Nebsi of Ethiopia beat that time with a 1:03:40 in a half-marathon in France in April.
The women’s field took a hit when Lyubov Denisova withdrew. She finished second in the Boston Marathon 10 years ago. However, Debellu Gemechu of Ethiopia ran a 2:33:34 at the Hong Kong Marathon this year. Almaz Negede Fekade of Ethiopia comes in as the Bucharest Marathon champion of 2012, running a 2:38:09.
As of Tuesday, defending champions Alene Reta and Jessica Odorcic had not entered.
As usual, the course runs along the square area bounded by Elmwood Avenue, Forest Avenue, Delaware Avenue, and Summer Street, so there will be traffic tie-ups for motorists when the race gets under way at 7 p.m. If there are no problems, perhaps the runners should take a moment after the race to consider who made that possible.
“I think every runner should volunteer for a couple of races to see what it’s like, and to be thankful for the people that are there helping,” Syracuse said.