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St. Patrick’s Road Race on pace to set another record

Date: 3/14/2014

By Chris Maza

HOLYOKE – Organizers of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Road Race are anticipating another historic turnout for the 39th edition of what has become one of the marquee running events in Western Massachusetts.

The 10K race (6.2 miles), which takes place ever year on the Saturday after St. Patrick’s Day – the day before the Holyoke St. Patrick’s parade – brings myriad runners of all ability levels, including Olympians and elite marathon athletes. Last year’s race featured 6,000 runners from 37 states.

“This year, we’re probably looking at close to 7,000 runners,” race director Brian Donahue told Reminder Publications. “The race is a week later this year because St. Patrick’s Day is on a Monday, so I think that extra week will bring in some more late registrations.”

As of March 7, Donohue said more than 5,200 runners had registered. Those interested in running the race can still sign up at a discounted rate of $35 until March 14. On March 15, the fee goes up to $40 and registrations will be accepted the day of the race.

This year’s official race starters are Holland’s Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father and son duo that make up Team Hoyt. Rick, 51, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, and his father Dick, 73, have taken part in 1,077 athletic events, including 70 marathons, including the Boston Marathon and six Ironman Triathlons, with Dick acting as his son’s motor. The two have become a symbol of strength for members of the disabled community and were recently chosen as the St. Patrick's Committee of Holyoke’s 2014 John Fitzgerald Kennedy Award recipients.

The unique party-like atmosphere surrounding the race, which includes a pre-race performance by the Philadelphia Mummers, is one of the major reasons for the large draws, Donahue said.

“There’s a festive atmosphere,” he said. “A lot of what makes it so great is the crowds along the way. In Western Massachusetts, you don’t typically have people cheering along the way, but during this race, that’s exactly what happens.”

The race starts on and proceeds down Maple Street past City Hall and the Holyoke Public Library to South Street. A challenging portion of hills on Westfield Road and Homestead Avenue past Holyoke Community College is next, followed by a downhill surge on Cherry Street and Beech Street past Holyoke High School. A deceivingly tricky hill on Beech Street near the Wistariahurst Museum kicks off the final mile before the course eventually finishes on Hampden Street.

Despite the harsh winter tearing up roads throughout Western Massachusetts, condition of the pavement will not be an issue and all potholes would be addressed, Donahue said, adding that snow banks along the route would also be removed to accommodate spectators.

“The [Department of Public Works] does such a great job every year, that it’s not even something I am ever really concerned with,” he said.

Because of the ever-growing field of runners, there are some changes to the start and finish of this year’s race. In an effort to thin out what can be a very crowded first mile, runners will be sent out in waves at the start, Donohue said.

“We will have corrals that the runners will get into and we will send each corral off separately. Once the first goes off, we’ll line up the next and send them off,” he said. “We’re going this to help improve the runners’ experience and to alleviate some of the crowding that can occur, especially in that first mile.”

There are also changes to the finish chute this year. In the past, the chute, including the water station, emptied out onto the intersection of Maple and Hampden streets, which is often congested with not only runners, but spectators and those attending parties hosted by local establishments.

Donohue explained that because of the large number of participants, there were concerns that congestion in the chute would back up over the starting line and therefore this year, finishers will turn immediately onto Chestnut Street.

“It’s also more convenient for people because the new chute will take you directly to the bag drop area,” he added.

This year also marks the return of a walking element of the road race, though it, too, will feature changes.

“We did a 5K walk two years ago and it posed a lot of issues with runners’ safety,” Donahue said. “We cancelled it last year because of that and the obstacles presented by the park being closed and I must have gotten 200 to 300 emails asking why there wasn’t a walk. So this year we decided we had to figure out a way to bring it back.”

This year’s walk will be a two-mile route and participants will step off after the last wave of runners. Walkers will proceed down Maple Street, take a right down Jackson Street and circle around back to Maple Street by way of Chestnut and Franklin Streets. The finish will be at the intersection of Maple and Dwight streets.

Bagpipers and other entertainment will be along the route for walkers to add to their experience.

Also returning this year will be the kids’ fun run, a 200-yard sprint to the finish line prior to the road race, which is free for children ages 3 to 11. Children are separated by age group and line up at 10:45 with the first wave of runners taking off at 11 a.m.

Participants will receive a free T-shirt, plus cookies and juice.

“This is something where the level of participation is completely weather dependent,” he said. “Two years ago when it was 0 degrees, we had about 1,000 kids. Last year, it was cold and we only got about 400.”

For more information on the race, including details regarding registration and number pick-up, go to