An Old-Timey Race Put On by OMAC

The race was a throwback of sorts
Two young up-and-comers, Liana Paradiso and Maggie Purcell, have yet to learn how to run the hills. Jack Graves

    With the Giant Steps 5K having ended its run, the Old Montauk Athletic Club stepped into the breach with a race of its own at Fresh Pond, Amagansett, Sunday, though the turnout was light, perhaps given the fact that a number of others were running in a weekly Hamptons Marathon warm-up whose participants gather every Sunday morning at the Gubbins Running Ahead store in East Hampton Village.
    Mike Bahel was there, however, as were Paul Hamilton and Sharon McCobb, as well as a half dozen young runners — Erik Engstrom, Liana Paradiso, and Maggie Purcell among them — who have been among those working out with the race director, John Conner, at the East Hampton High School track every Monday and Wednesday evening.
    The race was a throwback of sorts inasmuch as numbered cards were handed out to the finishers as they crossed the line, and inasmuch as they were asked to remember what their time was as they passed by the clock on Conner’s truck bed. No computer printouts, no chips.
    McCobb and Hamilton, before Conner sent everyone out onto a hilly course that at one point skirted the South Fork Country Club’s golf course, paid a visit to a stand-up paddleboard race that was about to be launched nearby, though McCobb said she was more inclined to treat paddleboarding as “a leisure and fun thing. It’s walking on water — it’s not a racing sport for me.”
    With all of the sporting events this summer, “there’s no time to work,” said Hamilton.
    “The finish line would be over there in the woods, or in the inlet,” said Conner, pointing toward Fresh Pond’s comfort station, “if this were a full 5K. Kevin [Barry] measured it with his GPS. It’s a three-miler. Where he is,” he said, pointing to Engstrom, who was chalking in the finish line near the split-rail fence, “is where it ends.”
    “There are a number of good freshman runners coming up to the high school,” the septuagenarian running coach reported. “And that Liana [Paradiso], who’s 12,” he said, pointing again, “is a whiz.”
    His workouts — for adults as well as youngsters — were designed, Conner said, to get their hearts working more efficiently so that, ideally, given the extra blood and oxygen circulating throughout their systems after six months of training, they wouldn’t suffer the muscle fatigue brought on by lactic acid.
    “We begin by going twice around the par course, and then do ‘pickups,’ alternating about six to eight fast and slow 30-yard runs on the football field to get their heart rates up to 150 strokes a minute. We don’t sprint, we run fast, and then slow. A 120 pulse rate is conversational. At 150, you’re working. Contrary to what most people think, these pickups won’t slow you down: When the starting gun goes off, you’re ready to race.”
    “We do everything at a 6-minute-per-mile pace,” Conner went on. “We do two 200s at 45 seconds each, a quarter-mile at 90, a half-mile at 3 minutes. You get the idea? It’s been very rewarding. On any given day we have from 12 to 15 runners. We do an hour of speed work, beginning at 5:30. We’re never there later than 7.”
    As for that day’s course, “it’s basically uphill . . . it’s tough,” said Conner, who also had to tell the 20 or so entrants that, because of OMAC’s last-minute decision to have a race, the ribbons had yet to arrive. They would, he said, receive Miss Amelia’s Cottage race ribbons instead, which they could trade in at Miss Amelia’s two-miler in Amagansett on Aug. 12.
    “Miss Amelia’s is always on the second Sunday in August. This is the 35th year for Miss Amelia’s and the Great Bonac Foot Race [in Springs on Labor Day], which I started with Howard Lebwith and Ed Hults.”
    Bahel turned out to be the winner, in 18:32. Engstrom, who’s 14, was second, in 18:59, and Hamilton and McCobb followed them. Diane O’Donnell, who coaches East Hampton High’s girls cross-country team, but who said she’ll no longer coach spring track next year, placed sixth, in 27:04. Purcell and Paradiso came in together at the 29-minute mark.
    “Those fast little girls have yet to learn how to run up the hills,” O’Donnell said to an observer once over the line. “You’ve got to attack them, pumping your arms and leaning into them, and you’ve got to run over the top of them — you can’t rest. Then, once you’re over the top, you can rest a bit and let gravity take you. There were a lot of hills out there, and also I was familiar with the course. They’re young . . . they’ll learn.”
    “Don’t forget to mention Ellen’s Run [at Southampton Hospital] on Aug. 19,” said Howard Lebwith, who walked the course with Paul Fiondella and his wife Charla. Ellen’s Run, he said, would be on the day before his 82nd birthday.
    “It’s come a long way,” Lebwith added. “This race has been responsible for Southampton Hospital’s state-of-the-art breast center. Julie Ratner and her committee have raised millions of dollars for it. You know the committee made me an honorary woman five years ago. But that first year, at the high school, there were so many pre-race speeches that I remember one guy saying, ‘If you don’t start this race soon, I’ll be in the next age group when the gun goes off.’ ”