Get your Mastodon on!

Lisa Osorio- 5th Annual Mastodon Challenge 15K, 5K Walk/Run and Kid’s Fun Run, Saturday May 6, 2017.

I am not a runner.

But I live by a bike trail – The Mohawk Hudson Bike Trail – and walk my dog there.

On a beautiful Sunday morning about 6 years ago, I had to stop to let runners from the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon run by me. As I sat there, I thought “Why are they using “our” bike path” (as if we owned it). I thought, “Why aren’t we using it?”

“The Mastodon Marathon” popped into my head and I started to plan a route that would wind through the city for 26 miles. After all, I did have some time – there were tons of runners! But then there was a break in the runners and I was back on my way and that was it.

For those of you not from Cohoes, the remains of a Mastodon found here many years ago at the base of the Falls, is our pride and joy. Every town has its’ claim to fame and for us it’s (arguably) the Mastodon and The Cohoes Falls. I remember as a little girl my Uncle Ron telling me stories of Cohoes in its heyday. But I grew up in the ‘70’s – a time when it was hard to imagine this beat up old mill town ever attracting a crowd! But I loved him, so I humored him.

After decades of decline, then Mayor John McDonald had a goal to restore the City – not to what it had been – but to something relevant and appealing to a new generation. Towards that end he formed a group – Choose Cohoes – made up of business leaders, civic groups, the public schools and concerned citizens. The group would assist him on a grass roots level, focusing on planning events and marketing the City to others. I am a part of that group and had been trying (along with many others) to come up with a reason for people to come here. A reason that would convince them to visit here, live here, play here or open a business here.

Back to the moment by the bike path with the runners and the Mastodon Marathon idea. I decided to talk to my best friend – a fitness fan who had just run her first marathon – and ask her what she thought about a run here. After she got done laughing that I would think of this (not a runner, remember ) she said “Why not?”, She had a friend who organizes 5K’s for charity and has been very successful at it, so we set up a meeting with her. She told us what goes into planning a race and gave us the organizational and financial requirements we would need to have in place. She did question the marathon idea as too big an undertaking and suggested we look at a 5K or 10k.

She told us we would need at least 4 or 5 people who would be dedicated to pulling this off. How to find them? Well I am very fortunate to have remained good friends with many of my friends from Cohoes High School – Class of 1979. CHS Alumni stay in touch – some classes more than others – but we are a close community and it is a wonderful gift to have each other. So, when several friends were together at a group 50th birthday party 2 years ago, I brought up the idea of a race and what I thought it could mean to the city. To my surprise, almost immediately, we had a race committee – the same one, for the most part, that we have today. Their enthusiasm and drive from the beginning is something that still amazes and humbles me. Within a few weeks we had our first meeting – over glasses of wine in the backyard.

We added a few people and dragged a few – my husband would add – and ended up with every area we needed represented. We had Runners, Bankers, Insurance Representatives, Advertising Representatives, a Computer guy, an Engineer, Nurses, EMT’s and a Cohoes Fireman who knew EVERYTHING about the city – geographically, politically, and socially. Perfect.

At our first official meeting we discussed the date of the race, the length of the race, the name of it, what kind of sponsorship we would need and what organization would benefit from the proceeds. One of the runners in the group mentioned a 15K – he felt it would set us apart from other races. Apparently 15K’s are hard to find but good distance races – it would offer something to runners that he felt they were looking for but were not able to find. Once we picked the date – the length was a done deal. We decided to hold the first races in conjunction with a city wide event – Cohoes Heritage Days – held on Founder’s Day for Cohoes. “The Founders’ Day 15K” had a nice a ring to it and The Mastodon 5K would add an alternative for other participants.

The organization that would benefit from the proceeds was our next topic. The group was split on whether runners really consider the “cause” when they decide to register for a race. So we had to decide whether to stay local (would anyone outside of Cohoes care about a Cohoes non – profit?) or go national and perhaps get more runners and “bigger” sponsors. We decided the race was about Cohoes so let’s choose a worthy group from here. Two came to mind. The Cohoes Multi Service Senior Center and the Cohoes Universal Pre- Kindergarten program were mentioned and everyone agreed. Both organizations face budget cuts yearly and struggle to provide services to two of the most important groups in our society – seniors who we owe so much to and children who we hope for so much from.

Next we needed to enlist the support of the Mayor and his administration, the Police & Fire Departments, and the Department of Public Works – we were going to need a huge commitment from everyone. From day one they promised and delivered everything we asked for and more, with fiscal responsibility an important consideration. If we needed something to ensure runners’ safety, we got it. Their help in bringing the events to the City is immeasurable.

So we drew up a sponsor letter – sincerely written by a committee member – and within a few weeks we had our $5000 Gold Sponsor – N.H. Kelman Scrap Recycling – WHEW! We really are going to have a race!

The 15K course was designed – mostly – by the fireman on our committee – also NOT a runner. But he and our group know this city – it’s our old stomping ground. We spent our youths roaming it from the time the sun went up til the sun went down. We spent all of our time outside in a park or on a field. So showing you the city was the easy part.

We start both races by The Cohoes Falls in a park named after a heroic Vietnam War Veteran – Colonel Robert Craner – Craner Park.
After that we take you:
  • Past the Historic Harmony Mills – now luxury loft apartments,
  • By the Restored Cohoes Music Hall which produces some of the best entertainment this side of Broadway!
  • By the business district, with great architecture
  • Past a historic Armory soon to be turned into a Brewery/Restaurant.
  • Next, you run through a park and on the old Erie Canal Towpath which brings you up to
  • The Mohawk Bike Trail (where the whole thing started!). The path is shaded this time of year, but don’t get comfortable because the hill that brought you to it is just the beginning.
  • Once you are off the path, you pass by wonderful schools, parks and neighborhoods but they come at a cost.
  • From there you run up 4 hills that hurt and lots of inclines along the way….don’t worry – we have 8 water stops and entertainment along the route to keep you going. From church groups to Boy Scouts and schoolchildren, to the High School Band… we are here to welcome you and make this as painless as possible. Our volunteers are at every corner and they are so excited you can’t help but appreciate their enthusiasm. Watch out for paper maiche mastodons on the sidewalks!
  • Once you hit mile 7 and 8 you are golden! We take you back to the shade of the Bike Path and down a couple of hills with the mist from the Beautiful Cohoes Falls ahead of you.

That’s why the name changed from the Founders’ Day 15K to The Mastodon Challenge Races. We want you to know it won’t be easy but it’s worth it. Remember to ask yourself – Can you survive? They didn’t. You will, because in just two years so many others have.

The races have attracted over 600 runners and raised thousands of dollars. As a result, Senior citizens will receive more rides to their doctor’s appointments and more meals from the meals on wheels program and children will receive books and school supplies that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

Each year the support from the community, our very generous sponsors and our runners grows and makes all the hard work more than worth it.

We found out that you can make a difference and that runners do care about what race they run. We have shown them what a small town can do and they have helped us do even more. For that we are very grateful.

The Mastodon Challenge Race Committee

  • Andy Barrall
  • Pam Barrall
  • Jim Fennen
  • Colleen Forlani
  • Steve Green
  • Kim Doremus Green
  • Curtis Hovey
  • Tom Kostrzebski
  • Denise Lessard
  • Richard Lessard
  • Tracy Lewis
  • Randy Lewis
  • Lisa Osorio
  • Fanio Osorio
  • Angelique Papadopoulos
  • Mary Jo Rinkewich
  • Steven Rinkewich
  • Neil Sergott
  • Sam Stallone