MANCHESTER -- When the Maple Leaf Half Marathon and 5K Run/Fun Walk takes place on Saturday, Sept. 7, one thing will be distinctly different about the race -- the absence of long time organizer Len Kotler, who passed away this spring.
"Lenny was the heart and soul of our group," said Dave Pardo, one of the event's organizers. "He was the true runner among our organizing committee. Many of us weren't involved in the running lifestyle, but we liked the idea of doing something healthy and beneficial for younger people and older people alike."
Prior to his passing, the committee decided to change the name of the race to the Maple Leaf Half Marathon and Kotler 5K to recognize the contributions made by both Len Kotler and his wife Becky.
He also played a key role in getting the Lions Club involved in racing with the Loyalty Day 5K.
Through discussions with former chamber Executive Director of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Jay Hathaway -- who passed away in 2009 -- the race eventually evolved into what it is today. The half marathon was Hathaway's idea as a way to bring more people in at a time when there was typically an economic lull.
Pardo said that the loss of Kotler -- one of the original organizers -- has been a tremendous adjustment.
"We had four or five core members that got started on this years and years ago and Len was the first one to pass away. We've had a couple move recently to other states. So, the impact has been noticeable this year of the loss of the core leadership group," Pardo said.
"Luckily we've brought a lot of new people into the committee. They're knowledgeable, they're hard workers, so we don't foresee any major difficulty with keeping the race alive and thriving."
Past participants will notice some changes. One is the completion of the roundabout, which has had a small impact on the course.The roundabout added an additional four feet to the 13.1-mile course, moving the start line. The completion of the roundabout is also a component of this year's race that Pardo said they have been promoting to past participants.
"I think one of the first promotions we made to past runners was ‘come back and see how much improved we are this year versus how we were last year' and that's gotten a huge response," Pardo said.
The start time is also an hour earlier, at 8 a.m., so there will not be registration on the day of the race.
"We were searching for cooler weather so we advanced the race to 8 a.m. for a starting time and that doesn't give us a lot of time to register people on the day of the race," Pardo said. "We had a little heat problem towards the end of the morning last year and we had a heat problem four or five years ago."
Registration is slightly ahead of last year and Pardo believes they will come close to reaching their goal of 1,000 runners.
Another addition to the experience will take place on Friday, Sept. 6, when a race expo will be held. The expo will provide the numerous sponsors with the opportunity to set up a booth and show visitors what they do.
Pardo said all the revenue generated from the race will go back into the community.
"None of the revenues leave Manchester. They all stay right here," Pardo said. "We try to stimulate local business. We really are proud of the boost that this gives for a weekend in a normally dead period of the year to the local business community."
Going into this year's race there was some concern that the Komen Race for the Cure -- which will now be held on Sept. 21 instead of in July -- would have an impact on the number of participants. However, that seems not to have been the case.
"It might have been a blessing in disguise and I'm going to credit Linda Maness (co-chair of the Race for the Cure). Linda and I have been working together for mutual benefit. The impact on us I'm going to say was minimal," Pardo said.
The courses for both the 5K and the half marathon remain the same. Runners in both events will start off together, leave the Rec Part and head down Bonnet Street towards the town center. The 5K runners will peel off at School Street, make a left turn at Main Street and head to Hunter Park. They will make a left and run past Riley Rink and return to the Rec Park and the finish line via a wooded trail that runs through the back end of the Rec Park.
The half marathon runners will continue on Bonnet Street, run through the Junction and on up Main Street to the Mark Skinner Library, where they will hook around and head down Manchester West Road to where it connects with Route 30. From there the route hooks back onto North Road, up Wind Hill Road, right on to Morse Hill Road, another right on to Overlook Road and back to North Road. They will head back towards Main Street and pass by MEMS on School Street, back to Bonnet Street, and back to the Rec Park and the finish line.
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