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Stockade-athon started in Afghanistan, finishes in Central Park

Sunday, November 7, 2010
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Capt. Cassie Ayott, right, competes in an early segment of the Gazette Stockade-athon Friday morning in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Capt. Cassie Ayott, right, competes in an early segment of the Gazette Stockade-athon Friday morning in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The Gazette Stockade-athon 15k course has the grueling State Street hill.

You pass through Vale Cemetery and encounter Bradley Street, which is no peach, either.

The section of rolling hills in Central Park is no friend to the knees.

As rife with obstacles as the 9.3-mile Stockade-athon can seem, though, there is this — no land mines.

In a unique twist to the 35th annual Stockade-athon, which will start from Central Park at 9 a.m. today, race organizers will include Stockade-athon finish times from a sister site in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The brainchild of Capt. Cassie Ayott of the U.S. Air Force 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group stationed in Kabul, the Stockade-athon got a head start at 0800 hours on Friday morning, when 49 runners started and 47 finished on a flat course that included the perimeter of the base and an access road that covered miles 3 through 7.

In an e-mail, Ayott, a Massachus­etts native who had been a member of the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club since 1998 before being sent to Afghanistan on

Dec. 30, said she was blissfully lost in thought during that stretch, actually running in a race instead of the mind-numbing monotony of training laps.

That is, until she ran past a group of about 10 workers in protective gear sweeping an area 10 feet from the runners with metal-detecting wands.

“It was that moment that I remembered exactly where I was,” she wrote.

For the record, Dan Kehoe and Paulo Vieira are the leaders in the clubhouse, so to speak, after they ran 57:28 in Kabul on Friday.

Ayott, who ran the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in 1999 and the Vermont City in 2000, posted a 1:19:25.

A flight nurse advisor with a master’s degree in biological anthropology from the University at Albany, she and her unit have been training the Afghanistan Air Force on procedures and protocols for moving patients injured in the war.

To break up the tedium of everyday life on the base, specif­ically the running aspect of it, the unit formed a committee this summer to contact races in the U.S. to see if they could run comparable distances and fold their times into the race results in the states.

It was an innovative way to give some sense, however limited, of racing, instead of just training, in a country where road racing is not high on the list of participation sports, much less within the confines of a military base.

“It’s tricky setting up a route, because you have to do multiple loops,” Ayott said in a phone interview two weeks ago. “It’s horribly boring. The perimeter is about 2k where I live. The base is adjacent to the Afgan air force base. I hate to run laps, so we tried to make this as interesting as possible.”

For her part on the committe, Ayott was assigned to find a race for November, so she contacted her HMRRC friends, Cameron and Mike McLean, and they passed her request on to Stockade-athon race director Vince Juliano.

Juliano sent some unused bib numbers left over from a prev­ious Stockade-athon and a box of spec­ially made sand-colored cotton T-shirts with the familiar Stockade-athon autumn leaf logo, under which is printed “Kabul, Afghanistan and Schenectady, NY.”

“It’s a nice story,” Juliano said. “I don’t know how much resources they have to organize an event over there.”

The Stockade-athon group in Kabul included NATO forces, as well as about five members of the Afghan air force.

“Another important thing is the Afghan air force members are running with us,” Ayott said. “One of my technicians has run every one of them, and he’s loving it, because there’s not a lot of races around here.

“The base is NATO, so you get this whole great experience with different cultures. And the Afghan people themselves are great. They’ve been under all these different regimes. There’s an Amer­ican-led coalition now, they’ve been under the Russians, the Taliban, and some of them are probably in their late 50’s, and it’s amazing what kind of resiliency they have. They’ve been able to keep their own morals and values. They haven’t always been under people who have their best interests in mind. It’s been an amazing learning experience. But they’re not so set in their ways that we can’t influence them with some training we have to offer. They’re willing to incorporate that into how they do things.”

Ayott, who is scheduled to return to the Stratton air base in Glenville in December, was a miler at North Middlesex High School in Townsend, Mass. and took up longer distances on the roads after graduating from the University of Massachusetts.

She trains regularly, which means that, about a month ago, she got in the routine of starting her runs around 5:45 a.m.

“If you don’t do it in the morning, you can get caught up in the day,” she said.

In a reciprocal gesture recognizing the service of those stationed in Afghanistan, some ROTC cadets from UAlbany, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Siena College will run the Stockade-athon today carrying an American flag.

Their participation is an offshoot of the Wounded Warrior Program’s 15th annual Run to Remember that was held Sept. 18 at RPI.

Among those running will be Rebbecca Concors, Justin Hubbard, William Richter and Ryan Schindler of RPI, Gregory Kloepfer of Siena and UAlbany junior David Teubl, who is organizing the effort.

“We’re doing the Stockade-athon specifically to honor the people like Capt. Ayott who are serving in Afghanistan,” Teubl said. “In a sense, they’ve brought a little bit of America over there, and we’re bringing it back to the U.S. It’s an effort by us to say, hey, we’ll run for you and support what you’re doing. We’re kind of proud that we’re mirroring what they’re doing.”

Teubl said that the cadets who have completed the two semesters required to earn battle fatigues will wear them in the race.

“We’ll wear our gear, so no way are we going to be pushing it,” he said. “The goal is to finish with honor, so we’ll take our time with it. We’ll be towards the back of the pack and have a blast with it.

“We’re definitely going boots.”

Besides some churchgoers and whatever other early Sunday traffic will be on the streets of Schen­ectady today, Stockade-athon runners, as always. can expect to be greeted by a large, enthusiastic crowd in Central Park.

Ayott didn’t see anything like that, but she said it was “refreshing” to break away from her usual route, if only for a day.

She and her runners were able to see the surrounding town and an assortment of jingle trucks, including one with an open back carrying six horses “arranged head to rump” as it passed through a fence topped with constantine wire.

Then she heard a strange buzzing sound and saw the workers de-mining an open area hard by the course.

“After being here almost a year, [it] is comical, but probably rather frightening for someone who has not become accustomed to throwing ‘safety precautions’ out the window,” she wrote.

 
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November 7, 2010
2:56 p.m.
dagiacalone says...

You can find the first of two postings with Gazette Stockade-athon 2010 photographs at

http://tinyurl.com/Stockadeathon2010

It has two dozen shots taken during the Stockade leg of the race.

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