MANCHESTER - When the Maple Leaf Half Marathon and 5K Run/Fun Walk takes place on Saturday, Sept. 7, one thing will be distinctly different about the race - the absence of long time organizer Len Kotler, who passed away this spring.

"Lenny was the heart and soul of our group," said Dave Pardo, one of the organizers of the event. "He was the true runner amongst our organizing committee. Many of us weren't involved in the running lifestyle, but we liked the idea of doing something healthy and beneficial for younger people and older people alike."

Prior to his passing, the committee had decided to change the name of the race to the Maple Leaf Half Marathon and Kotler 5K to recognize the contributions made by not only Len Kotler, but his wife Becky as well.

Kotler played a key role in getting the Lions Club involved in racing beginning with his involvement in the Loyalty Day 5K 12 years ago. Through discussions with former Executive Director of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce, Jay Hathaway - who passed away in 2009 - the race eventually evolved into the Maple Leaf Half Marathon and 5K. The half marathon - which is held the first Saturday in September - was Hathaway's idea as a way to bring more people to town at a time of year when there was typically an economic lull.

Pardo said that the loss of Kotler - who was one of the original organizers of the event - has been a tremendous adjustment for the committee. "We had four or five core members that got started on this years and years ago and Len was the first one to pass away. We've had a couple move recently to other states. So, the impact has been noticeable this year of the loss of the core leadership group," said Pardo. "Luckily we've brought a lot of new people into the committee and they're knowledgeable, they're hard workers, so we don't foresee any major difficulty with keeping the race alive and thriving, but you miss the people that helped get you started certainly."

Past participants of the race will also notice some changes. One of the biggest from last year is the completion of the roundabout, which has had a small impact on the course. Because the completion of the roundabout added an addition four feet to the 13.1 mile course, Pardo said the start line will be moved up. The completion of the roundabout is also a component of this year's race that Pardo said they have been promoting to past participants. "I think one of the first promotions we made to past runners was 'come back and see how much improved we are this year versus how we were last year' and that's gotten a huge response," said Pardo. "We've posted some of Lee Krohn's (the town's planning director and zoning administrator) pictures to show them how scenic it is now and how much more improvement [there is]."

Unlike last year, runners will not be able to register on the day of the race. One of the reasons for this, Pardo said is because the start time of the race has been moved up. In past years the race has always begun around 9 a.m., but the time has been changed to 8 a.m. this year based on some past experiences.

"We were searching for cooler weather so we advanced the race to 8 a.m. for a starting time and that doesn't give us a lot of time to register people on the day of the race. So we decided no day of registrations," said Pardo. "We had a little heat problem towards the end of the morning last year and we had a heat problem one other time four or five years ago. So, we considered moving it a week later into September, but we wanted to keep the traditional date, the first Saturday following Labor Day, and we've been pretty comfortable with registrations hitting 1,000 by race days. So we just decided to make the change."

Registration is slightly ahead of where they were last season and Pardo believes that they will come close to reaching their goal of 1,000 runners. Pardo said it is recommended the people interested in participating in the race register via the website, which is both the easiest and the cheapest way.

Another addition to the experience this year will take place on Friday, Sept. 6, when a race expo will be held. The expo will provide the numerous sponsors with the opportunity to set up a booth and show visitors what they do in the community.

Pardo said all the revenue that is generate from the race - that will be put on by the Manchester Lions Club, the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Battenkill Valley Runners, as well as 20 other non-profit groups - will also go back into the community.

"None of the revenues leave Manchester. They all stay right here," said Pardo. "We do our darndest to use local vendors as much as possible for the materials that we give away to the runners. We try to stimulate local business. We really are proud of the boost that this gives for a weekend in a normally dead period of the year to the local business community. And the business community has recognized that too and they've been very helpful and generous in helping us promote the race nationwide."

Going into this year's race there was some concern that the Komen Race for the Cure - which will now be held on Sept. 21 instead of in July as in previous years - would have an impact on the number of participants. However, that seems not to have been the case, Pardo said.

"It might have been a blessing in disguise and I'm going to credit Linda Maness (co-chair of the Race for the Cure). Linda and I have been working together for mutual benefit. The impact on us I'm going to say was minimal. It was there, but it was minimal," said Pardo. "It was a major concern for me, [but] in the end it's worked out okay. It seems things will be fine for us and I hope fine for them too."

The courses for both the 5K and the half marathon are the same as last year. Runners in both events will start off together, leave the Rec Part and head down Bonnet Street towards the town center. The 5K runners will peel off at School Street, make a left turn at Main Street and head to Hunter Park. They will make a left and run past Riley Rink and return to the Rec Park and the finish line via a wooded trail that runs through the back end of the Rec Park.

The half marathon runners will continue on Bonnet Street, run through the Junction and on up Main Street to the Mark Skinner Library, where they will hook around and head down Manchester West Road to where it connects with Route 30. From there the route hooks back onto North Road, up Wind Hill Road, right on to Morse Hill Road, another right on to Overlook Road and back to North Road. They will head back towards Main Street and pass by MEMS on School Street, back to Bonnet Street, and back to the Rec Park and the finish line.

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