For 40 years, runners looking for a low-key training opportunity could get it through the “fun runs” put on by the Syracuse Chargers Track Club at Onondaga Lake Park in the summer months.
Those days are gone, at least for the 2012 season.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to cancel the Thursday night Fun Runs at Onondaga Lake Park for the 2012 season because no one has volunteered to oversee them this season,” said Bob Heimenz, webmaster for the Syracuse Chargers, in an email to the CNY Triathlon Club. “As an all-volunteer organization, the Chargers can only do as much as our volunteer resources support.”
The Syracuse Chargers Track Club, based in Fayetteville and originally known as the Syracuse Track Club, was founded in 1969 to help support development of track and field, long distance running and race walking in Central New York. The name changed in 1972, and the organization gained nonprofit status in 1986. The organization has more than 2,000 members, making it one of the largest running clubs in the United States.
According to its website, the SCTC has several goals: educating others about track and field, long distance running and race walking, as well as the organization itself; keeping the community fit by conducting races, training runs and year-round training programs for youth, adults and special needs populations; maintaining a competitive teams program that supports Chargers athletes of all ages in USA track and field championships competitions; and maintaining memberships in both USA Track and Field and the Road Runners Club of America.
Among its most popular endeavors are the fun runs. In addition to the runs at Onondaga Lake Park, which started in 1971, the SCTC offers runs at Oneida Shores and Highland Forest. The fun runs offered a certified course in which participants could choose their own distance and set their own pace. The events are family-oriented, starting every week with a kids’ run.
“Depending on the weather, we’d have anywhere from 10 to 20 kids,” said Jim Mirra, who served as volunteer leader at Onondaga Lake Park for a number of years. “We’d do a 400-yard run, and they always enjoyed it. The kids’ parents loved having them come down.”
The laid-back atmosphere at Onondaga Lake Park drew a number of participants. John Evans, who has been training with the Syracuse Chargers since the 1970s, said the fun runs offered a better opportunity for beginner athletes and those with kids than other training programs available in the area.
“I have participated in Tuesday night fun runs from Nottingham that the Syracuse Track Club used to put on and have sporadically gone to Thursday night STC workouts at Green Lakes,” said John Evans, a Chargers participant. “But they are more oriented to up-and-coming and experienced athletes [as opposed to] the family-oriented-with-kids runs at both the Oneida Shores and Onondaga Lake Park that have been put on by the Chargers. It was much more family-friendly. The STC’s Green Lakes workout is challenging and you need to stay close so as not to lose the group on the trails. [It’s] just a different training event and it was nice to have a variety of options.”
Mirra said the fun runs offered an opportunity for people to make connections with other runners.
“Year after year, we always had the same people,” he said. “There was this one guy I’d see once a year during the summers at Onondaga Lake Park. After a while, we’d start running after the seasons together. It got to be three or four of us. We established a friendship.”
The same group of friends has continued to run at the park year after year.
“We still have a dedicated group of people who show up every year,” Mirra said. “We renew our friendships. It’s like a reunion every year. We talk about the surgeries we’ve had, who’s gotten sick, who’s passed away.”
But Mirra acknowledged Onondaga Lake Park doesn’t get the same numbers it once did.
“Years ago, the high school coaches would bring their kids down during the spring and summer. We’d have 150 to 175 people doing the fun runs,” he said. “Over the years, the lake became more popular when they added the walking trail, and it got really busy. Probably 10 or 12 years ago, they moved us down to the other end, and people got upset. We had a lot of complaints. We would come and basically take over the park for 30 minutes. Things changed after that. We got moved back to the other end. But we didn’t have the numbers we used to have.”
Still, Mirra was surprised that the club wasn’t able to gather any volunteers to head up the program this year.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the reason we fell off,” he said. “Nobody has any answers.”
But the club is hopeful that the program will return in the future.
“We certainly hope that we will be able to resume this long-standing series next year,” Hiemenz said.
Meanwhile, regular fun run participants are disappointed that they won’t be able to get in their Thursday night runs at Onondaga Lake Park.
“A long-held opportunity for many in the area to get a fast run in among like-minded athletes has taken a year off,” Evans said. “With no volunteers, we all miss training opportunities. It’s too bad.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.