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November 01. 2013 10:49PM

John Habib's City Sports: Race founder no longer running the marathon

SUNDAY marks the seventh annual running of the Manchester Marathon, Half Marathon and Relay. The event will draw competitive runners from around the region, with the event for the first time serving as the marathon championship in the USA Track and Field-New England Grand Prix series of races.

Yet something will be missing — and we're not talking the influx of New York City Marathon refugees who scurried here after that race was canceled last year in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

This is the first year a Manchester City Marathon won't have Sarah Normand as its director. A mother of three young children, Normand said she had to step away from the time-consuming task of managing the event to tend to family matters.

"Seven years ago, I was in a different place," she said. "I was pregnant with my first child when we held our first marathon. Now, with three children. I have different priorities. There's a lot of work involved in (directing) a marathon, and I felt if I couldn't commit 100 percent of my time to it, I needed to step down and let others take it over."

Normand said the Manchester City Marathon will always be a part of her.

"It's something I'm proud of, and to see it grow from year to year made me very happy," she said. "(Directing) the marathon was always a 12-month commitment for me — spending many hours making sure the next marathon was going to be better than the last one."

Normand said she'll miss the relationship she built with the runners. "Some ran the marathon to qualify for Boston, some did it to lose weight, and others did it in memory of a love one. All the stories shared with me were special."

She said getting the first marathon off the ground was a highlight.

"You never forget the first one," she said. "The other highlight for me was last year when we reached out to the runners who couldn't run the New York Marathon because of Hurricane Sandy. To help those runners was very gratifying to me and my entire staff."Jayne Cornell, a Manchester City Marathon volunteer since its inception is its new director. She credits her predecessor with making a dream come true.

"Sarah had a vision of bringing a marathon to Manchester," said Cornell. "In 2007, Sarah got a band of volunteers together and made it happen through hard work."

An experienced distance runner herself, Normand said she was leaning toward registering for this year's half marathon.

"I'm planning to run in Boston next April, and I'm thinking it may be good to get in a 13-mile race at this time of year," she said.

Asked how she feels about running in the half marathon as opposed to running the entire event as its director, Normand laughed.

"It'll be different," she said. "If anything, it will be less stressful."

The event, of which Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is primary sponsor and the New Hamsphire Union Leader a co-sponsor, starts at 8:50 a.m. on Elm Street, outside Veterans Memorial Park.

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FOR THE second straight season, the Manchester Babe Ruth Baseball League in 2014 will host a regional tournament.

League president Gary Ulbin corfirmed this week his league will host the 15-year-old New England Regional Tournament Aug. 2-7 at Gill Stadium.

This past summer, Manchester hosted the regional tournament for 13-year-olds, and Ulbin said the feedback he received was positive.

"The regional tournament directors and many of the coaches from teams in the tournament were very complimentary," he said. "The coaches said they loved playing at Gill Stadium, and the directors were very happy. The Manchester Parks and Recreation Department also went above and beyond their duty to prepare the field for our tournament."

Ulbin said he submitted the bid to host the 15-year-olds' tournament during the regional for the 13s.

"Norm Messier, the regional Babe Ruth commissioner, was here, and I told him we were interested in hosting the 15-year-old regionals," said Ulbin. "He's been to Manchester many times, and he knows we have a history of hosting tournaments and running them well."

This year, the 14-year-old Mickey Hanagan All-Stars earned a Babe Ruth World Series trip to Moses Lake, Wash. The nucleus of that all-star team will be back next year playing for the 15-year-old Tom Woodlock All-Stars.

"I'm not going to deny that part of the reason we wanted to host the 15-year-old regional tournament was because we were going to have a talented team at that level," said Ulbin. "Manchester fans will get a chance to see (the local kids) play at Gill Stadium, and hopefully the homefield advantage will help them get back to the World Series next year."

Ulbin said attendance for the 13-year-olds' regional didn't meet his expectations.

"Our Lebel team got eliminated in two games and our other state team, Bedford, got eliminated in three games," said Ulbin. "I believe more people will come out next summer to watch the older kids play. The fact we just went to the World Series and are returning most of the players certainly will draw more people to the regionals."

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ULBIN said he won't know until April whether Manchester will continue to run the Ray Lebel League for 13-year-olds.

"Our registration numbers were down last year, and we were able to field only three 13-year-old teams," he said. "We had to schedule some games with Bow to fill out our schedule."

In 2009, Ulbin said, 188 kids played baseball for his league. Last year, the number dwindled to 153.

"The main reason for the low number is because registration is also down on the Little League level in Manchester," said Ulbin. "We won't know anything until we hold our registration and see how many kids try out. If we fall below this year's number, we may have to drop the 13-year-old Ray Lebel League and go exclusively with the 13- to 15-year-old Tom Woodlock League. Time will tell."

"City Sports" is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.


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