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April 20. 2013 3:12AM

Vin Sylvia's City Sports: Mayor Gatsas refuses to run from road races

Ted Gatsas was skeptical. As mayor of Manchester, he'd greeted runners to plenty of road races and seen how popular the events were, but the Santa Claus Shuffle, a 3-mile race for which official entrants received a complimentary Santa Suit, still had him wondering.

"Before last year's Santa Shuffle, we were asking how many people were going to turn out for a downtown race on the first weekend in December," Gatsas said on Friday. "We wound up with this endless sea of red. You looked down Elm Street, from Merrimack to as far as the eye could see, and all you saw was runners in their red Santa suits. It was incredible."

Amid the horror and sadness resulting from Monday's bombing of the Boston Marathon, that wondrous image came back to Gatsas when he thought about the future of road racing in Manchester.

In addition to being a fixture at city races such as the Santa Shuffle (2,519 registered finishers in 2012) and the Shamrock Shuffle 2-miler (2,724 last month), both managed by John Mortimer's Millennium Running company, Gatsas has been a strong supporter of the Manchester City Marathon/Half Marathon.

Held the first week in November, the MCM/HM last year drew global recognition for welcoming displaced runners from around the world looking for an alternative race after the Super Storm Sandy-induced cancellation of the New York City Marathon. All told, the 2012 marathon, half marathon and concurrent relay drew about 1,800 participants to Manchester, and given what he's learned about runners, Gatsas expects even more this coming November - if not despite what happened in Boston, then because of it.

And he vows the city will be prepared.

"The organizers of the Manchester Marathon and other road races, along with city police, certainly will be very cognizant of what happened in Boston," Gatsas said. "We're all going to pause, evaluate what's happened and then do what needs to be done to ensure the safety of the runners and spectators."

None of this is to equate the Manchester City Marathon with the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest and arguably most prestigious marathon, which despite difficult qualifying standards annually draws close to 30,000 runners and attracts millions of spectators along the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton, Mass., to Copley Square.

But Monday did underscore the vulnerability of events that draw thousands of people to an unsecured site, and the way veteran and newbie runners have sprinted to sign up for upcoming races does make it highly likely the Manchester City Marathon/Half Marathon will have its biggest field yet. Race organizers, the mayor and police will have their work cut out for them.

"We'll be ready," Gatsas said. "Running is alive and well in Manchester."


"City Sports" appears on Saturday in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email deputy managing editor Vin Sylvia at vsylvia@unionleader.com.


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