Making the Mountain Goat: How it comes together & ‘why the hill’ runners keep coming back

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — For more than 40 years — runners have been hoofing the streets of Syracuse to conquer the 10-mile tail of the Mountain Goat.

Sunday, May 5, marks the 41st running of the iconic race.

The Salt City is rich in running history. The 10-mile race twisting and turninig and going up to the highest points of Syracuse has hosted thousands of runners over the years.

Runners we caught up with admit climbing hundreds of feet in elevation is grueling. 

We asked them, “Why in the hill do they keep doing it?”

Two Syracuse moms attending one of the Saturday training runs leading up to the Goat say it’s a “badge of honor” and they can’t imagine not doing it every year.

“You’re like, ‘Why?  Why am I doing this?’ and once you get to end and everybody is so excited and you’re proud of yourself for running through that…” shared Michelle LaRosa, who is running her seventh Goat on Sunday. 

Ready for her ninth Goat this year — Wendy Broton says, “It’s just one of those things, you’ve got to do it. Just through determination, mind over matter. It’s not as bad as you think it is.”

Because some are like Broton and believe “it’s not as bad” as it might sound — 10 miles with hills mixed in — the tradition has been taking off every year since April of 1978.

A group of about 40 decided to run all four parks at once, a distance of about 17.5 miles, according to the Mountain Goat website. Nineteen completed the run and received special ribbons that recognized them as “Super Goats,” while 18 ran Woodland and Lincoln parks, a little over nine miles and were dubbed, “Nanny Goats.”

The history of the Goat launched in 1979 when YMCA Director Walt Price made plans for a true road race — the “Fun to Run classic,” which started at Columbus Circle. According to the site’s history, Dick Charles and Rodger Bowman were the first co-directors and were assisted by many volunteers from YMCA programs and the Syracuse Track Club.

“They picked these vistas because of the vistas,” said Rosemarie Nelson, president of Mountain Goat Run Foundation. “They said, ‘This is spectacular.’ This is what you want to see and it was a sign of how well you trained during the winter. If you could do the Mountain Goat in the spring, you got through the winter pretty well.”

While runners are trying to get training runs in over the winter — the Mountain Goat team is at work. 

By the numbers — more than 500 volunteers put countless hours into the race — before, during and after the big event. Some are filling and handing out 70,000 cups with 540 gallons of water and 96 gallons of Gatorade.

Some even use vacation time to get the job done.

Year after year, volunteer Margaret Hartmann  “goat your back”  — earning her a spot in the Mountain Goat Hall of Fame.

Familiar with the best of the ups and downs for decades — John Nolan is going for Goat No. 35 on Sunday. Patti Holtz Ford has run more than 20 Goats.

Holtz Ford also happens to be a past Goat champion.

“That was my first big race,” Holtz Ford said. “I quit smoking and started running, and that sort of validated my running career. That was a pretty cool thing and I liked it and I stuck with it ever since. That was 1983, that was the first time I ever won it.”

Working out an injury — Holtz Ford is running the recently added relay option this year.

Running solo — John Nolan has advice for first-timers.

“What I do and I tell people that are running it — you just don’t want to go out too fast,” Nolan said. “You know you feel pretty good and all of a sudden the first mile you feel like you’re great and you just want to just go out there but you really …this is pretty grueling and it lasts quite a while, a lot of hills and you really want to pace yourself on this race and I know that now.”

Pacing is good as you cover 10 miles, cross 71 intersections and keep clear of 110 barricades.

Your final downhill takes you from Thornden Park to Clinton Square where thousands of your closest and “craziest” friends will be waiting for you to “kid around” because you “goat” a lot to be proud of when you conquer the infamous Mountain Goat.

To read more stories and see posts by Farah Jadran, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Here is a look at road closures for Sunday’s Mountain Goat race. Mobile users can click here to see the closures.

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