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Road Race Review – Rekamreliob (Reverse Boilermaker) Road Race Poised to Become Running’s Newest Cult Classic

Special to Slave to the Traffic Light Running Magazine, by Jay Flemma

UTICA, NY – It happens sometimes in running; a race becomes so beloved, so iconic, so much fun that it spawns a spin-off, a sister run.

Then the new run becomes almost as popular as the first.

The most famous example is the pair of Canyonlands runs near Moab, Utah. The spring half marathon through the red rock formations draws so many runners, race officials added another half marathon in the autumn through an additional 13.1 miles of Canyonland. The second race is now as large as the first, and some say it’s even prettier.

It may take a few years before the Rekamreliob – that’s Boilermaker in reverse – becomes as popular as its world-famous parent race, the Boilermaker 15K in Utica, New York, now turning towards its 40th year. But what started as a fun run and training session for local running clubs – running the Boilermaker course backwards – is developing into a word-of-mouth running secret that is ready to blossom into a cult classic.

Utica, you’ll recall, is home to the National Long Distance Running Hall of Fame, and many of the brightest minds and most well-connected people in the sport of distance running live here. Plus the rightly famous Boilermaker 15K road race is Utica’s world-class contribution to American sports culture. The Boilermaker is not only the largest 15K race in the country, but it’s generally considered the unofficial National Championship in the 15K distance. Olympians from dozens of countries, including all the great African running nations, make it a true world sporting event, and the whole city comes out watch, cheer, and celebrate. The Boilermaker is Utica’s dot on the World Sporting Atlas.

It also doesn’t hurt that the race ends at one of America’s great breweries either: F.X. Matt Brewing Company, home of Saranac. With 20,000 runners and about as many friends packed into the brewery grounds, the city lays rightful claim to the title of Best After-party in Running…with a capital “B,” “A,” and “R.”

As an aside, when Rehoboth Beach, Delaware runners tried to lay claim to that title and were shown an aerial photo of the massive scene of the Boilermaker all they could do was bitterly snort, “It looks too big…”


But three to four weeks after the 20,000 racers and the 50,000 spectators have left, local runners would gather for an impromptu showdown: You’re proud of your Boilermaker time? Let’s see you run it in reverse, hot shot…

Initially in it for the challenge, suddenly runners discovered how much fun that run was too. Slowly it grew to have water stops, traffic guards, and a dessert-themed after party at the Boilerworks…normally the starting line from which the race takes its name, but on this occasion a well-earned finish for the runners who traversed a harder route with longer uphill stretches.

This year the Rekamreliob (pronounced REE-kum-REE-lee-obe) takes the next great step. Formally organized by veteran running coach and race coordinator Joe Wilczynski and his Mohawk Valley Hill Striders running club, the public is invited to register and participate – it’s no longer a word-of-mouth get-together, but now a race all its own.

“People love the Boilermaker so much, they just never want the event to end,” explained Wilczynski, referring to the deep-rooted culture of running in the area and their desire to keep the “Christmas in July” feel-good glow extending through the running season. “Years ago training for marathons that we’d run after the Boilermaker was over, we’d run the course in reverse. Well people started asking for it as a run, so we brought it back, and we decided to make it a charity event. Runners can donate what they like to get in the race and 100% of the proceeds go to the charities that run the Boilermaker Charity Bib Program.”

This year’s Rekamreliob is this Sunday, August 14 at 8:00 a.m., beginning at the Matt Brewery entrance on Court St. Registration begins the day before 9-12 and continues from 7-8 on Sunday morning. There’s water every mile, police assistance with road crossings, and of course well-wishing friends and spectators peppered throughout the course.

The reverse run may be marginally more difficult than the original. Both routes start with severe uphill marches, followed by sharp downhill tumbles before emptying out into a flat mile. But where the Boilermaker only has one more uphill mile (mile 7 – Burrstone Road) the Rekamreliob features the toughest single stretch on either course, the long rise up the Parkway, past the tennis courts and Utica Zoo and into Valley View Golf Course. It’s a 2-mile stretch that’s both severely uphill and sharply inclining as it enters the course and crests to a peak around the 16th fairway. Two of the final three miles are downhill, however, and runners can have one final strong push before joining the picnic at the finish.

“it’s fun to mix it up and try something different,” confided correspondent Nate Getman, an expert runner and running journalist for several media outlets. “Sometimes doing that can give you a real boost.”


The boost further comes from the infectious energy of the host running club, the Mohawk Valley Hill Striders. From its humble beginnings as a small circle of friends, the group has swelled to 200 strong, including tri-athletes, Boston Marathon Qualifiers, and myriad other marathoners and long distance athletes. Runners of all skill levels not only feel welcome, but feed off the camaraderie to reach heights of athleticism that are downright inspiring. Amanda McGovern’s running the Disney Marathon while seven months pregnant and blade runner Katie McCauley not only running Boston, but having her picture snapped while “outracing the Kenyans” were two of the best stories in running this season. Resplendent in their royal blue uniforms – “Hillstrider Blue” as some call it – they’ve spearheaded a racing league that stretches in a 75 mile-wide radius.

It’s hoped that the Rekamreliob will become their signature race. Other groups in the league have their own home field advantage – the roman runners have the Lake Delta Half and the Toe Path Trekkers have the Woodsman’s Race – so it would be a proper rejoinder for the #trueblue crew. Moreover, the Rekamreliob is perfectly timed in the season to fall exactly between other events on the running calendar.

So with the same deep-rooted love of their sport, a city and a team embark another adventure where the sky is the limit. It was with ineffable joy of discovery that Utica had their little 9.3 mile run explode on to the national scene and become their icon. Happily, The Little Running Town That Could is well positioned to do it again.

VITAL STATS (All ratings out of seven)

Length: 15K

Difficulty for that length: 5 out of 7 – A long uphill start and an even longer, winding middle section are relieved briefly by steep downhills that don’t allow you to re-energize as fast as you’d like.

Natural Setting: 4.5-5 out of 7 – The views from the golf course are pretty, and the Memorial Parkway is a joy to run, one of the prettiest inner city stretches you’ll find anywhere.

Weather: 5 stars – Sunny and warm at best, hot and humid at worst, but it’s upstate in August, so it’s rarely a blast furnace.

Value: 7 out of 7 – At three times the cost, it would still be a bargain.

After Party: 5 out of 7 – The Hill Striders and other runners provide cakes, cookies, popsicles, and myriad other goodies.

Fun: 7 out of 7 – Right now, this is a cult race in full ascension. Get to it now, before it gets too big:)


—The Boilermaker began its climb to national prominence when world famous Olympic marathoner Bill Rogers came and ran the race in 1983. Since then, on average, 20 different nations and 47 different states are represented in the field in any given year.

—The Hill Striders are also the group that assists local television station WKTV with their wildly popular “Go the Distance” program, a 12-week training geared towards preparing first time runners to tackle the Boilermaker.

—Your author can attest to the benefits of being in a running group. I’ve trimmed and toned everything back to like when I was 24, dropped 25 points off my blood pressure without needed any medication at all, and made a gaggle of new friends.