At about 10:01 on June 4, the 33rd Freihofer’s 5K began on Madison Avenue in Albany, New York. I was at the start. It is a women’s race, though, and thus I was not racing.

Instead I was toiling as a gofer for the race-director, George Regan. It was much fun. My wife and a friend had gotten the gig of obtaining exhibitors for the expo and health fair that accompanies the race, held in the dungeon-like/late 20th Century space below the Empire Plaza. She went up Thursday. I took Amtrak from Yonkers on Friday afternoon, meeting her at the expo.

Freihofer’s put up a cool video of the course:

The 5K is one of the top all-women races around and the list of winners — including when it was a 10K, and including one of my Warren Street teammates Dana Slater — is long and illustrious. The course record was set in 2010; it’s 15:12, by Emily Chebet, who would be third this year. Mamitu Daska won in 15:19 with fellow Ethiopian Aheza Kiros coming second in 15:23. (My wife and I rode down on the elevator with Kiros on Friday; she is tiny.) Tenth place in 2011 was 16:14, and six were sub-16.

The race put us up at a nice nearby hotel, State 74, so-named because it’s at 74 State Street, just below the capital. It was the base for the invited runners. While we had dinner, the race director came in to the restaurant, and my wife introduced me to him. I volunteered to volunteer at the race. And we were given all-access passes and I was told to track him down at the race.

I ended up doing a variety of tasks, although I quickly discovered that my arm did not allow for much in the way of lifting. Much of my job was assist in trouble-shooting. Making sure that cords were covered so the mayor wouldn’t trip. (The mayor proved to be quite personable, as you’d expect, very supportive of the race, and pretty much everywhere.) Find out whether the women in the corrals could hear the announcements (they couldn’t; they were standing beneath a curved bridge with awful acoustics). Hang out while Joan Benoit got some instructions for her pre-race speech. Move chairs around from the elite pre-race area. The elites came from many places. Kenya, Ethiopia, Canada, Australia, Ukraine, South Africa, the US, and elsewhere.

After the race, I ended up holding the winner’s rather large award (a crystal vase) while she spoke to the crowd. I mentioned something to local runner (and also tiny, but with freckles) Nicole Blood* and something else to Joan Benoit**.

Freihofers is the only US 5K certified by the IAAF. I figured it was the second best 5K after the Carlsbad 5000, but in terms of depth on the women’s side, Freihofers is much deeper. In fact, the Freihofers field compares favorably to that for the NYRR Mini.

I also ran the Memorial Day race at Van Cortlandt — I ran one loop and part of another; we chatted about that on the New York Running Show. One thing that experience has in common with Freihofer’s is that both were great eye-openers about what I recently called our running communities. I’ve taken some heat from some quarters for my race vs. run comments — someone recently went after me on Facebook on it, insisting (albeit not so politely) that I didn’t know what I was talking about. But I appreciated some people I knew only via Facebook comments coming up and introducing themselves at Van Cortlandt. I thought the atmosphere of the event was wonderful. I enjoyed being with all these women in Albany, some of whom came to race, others simply to finish a 5K. It is a big tent, and just because I find myself on one side of it does not mean that I don’t like being part of the whole enchilada.

The Times Union has this on the finish. Note that it is downhill finish. I looked at the clock as the leaders were getting close, and was shocked at how quickly they covered the final stretch. Of course, the course begins by going up that hill.

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* Blood ran for Saratoga Springs HS. In February 2006 she won the USATF cross-country championships junior race at Van Cortlandt Park. It was cold. I stood with a friend (he was fourth in the 45-49 8K) and his daughter and some of her friends. The girls all ran for Bronxville, one of the top girls’ running schools in the country. They were complaining about runners they didn’t like. I asked, “What about Nicole Blood?” In one voice they responded, “We love Nicole Blood”. I thought it a nice sentiment so I passed it on to her. She seemed pleased. Return.

** About the Lost Benoit commercial, that it is my favorite Nike ad (I thought better of mentioning this). Return.

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