Now in its 34th year, the Potatohampton 5K Run—“open to all spuds, fries, latkes and hash browners,” as founder Dan Rattiner notes—will kick off Saturday, June 2 at 9 a.m. For those who’ll be running—about 500 of you—and for you 50 or so walkers, despite the cautionary adage of Ecclesiastes 9:11, the race will indeed be “to the swift.”
Of course, the Bible means that despite strength, skill, wisdom—and speed—“time and chance happeneth to us all.” For sure, happenstance did hover over Potato –hampton in the beginning, when the race was 10K. And when professional stop watches hadn’t been introduced yet (the winner, a member of the French Olympic team, clocked in at 29 minutes, but “an adjustment” had to be made). And when no one considered that one of the two daily runs of the LIRR would go through the race route. “Just jog in place ‘til it passes,” Dan advised, as he handed out maps and instructions.
Since 1978, preparations and conditions have been…running smoothly. And Potatohampton has made benefiting charity a constant. This year’s recipient is Jordan’s Initiative, a nonprofit memorial foundation for veterans and their families (www.jordansinitiative.com). Established by Christian Haerter and his partner Michelle Severance, shortly after Haerter’s son LCpl Jordan Christian Haerter, a marine, was killed in Iraq in 2008, it comprises six programs (Family Assistance, Care Package Drives, Charitable Support to organizations such as Wounded Warrior, Wheels To Freedom, Operation: Garden Rescue and Wash For Our Warriors. It also supports an annual Community Spirit Award to a Pierson High School student.
How did Potatohampton start? And why? It was over a weekend, 34 years ago, Dan recalls, when a runner, a New York City detective—“in plain clothes” (no running shorts) approached him and asked, “Why don’t you have a race out here?” “What do I know!” Dan replied. “It would help people start running,” the detective replied. Dan “took his advice.” At the time, The New York City Marathon was attracting no more than 200 people, the Boston Marathon, more, but “there was nothing out here…we would be the first.” And so he began to muse: how wonderful, to run along potato field paths, pass tourist attractions, the windmill, the general store, the bridge on Bridge Lane. But who anticipated the “high drama” that would ensue. Who knew about organizing such an operation, getting a permit, putting up a liability bond, having EMTs nearby, and water stops and bathrooms. And who would have imagined that such a large crowd would turn up in the parking lot where K-Mart now stands ready to sign up. At 9 a.m. when the inaugural race was to begin, people were still lining up to register. It was chaos…until a “smart person” on the staff took all the applications and “tossed them into the air.” OK, no problem. Crunch time—get ready for the firing of the gun. Oh?
Who figured that enthusiasm was so great that no one waited for the firing of the gun. “They just all ran off.” Up Snake Hollow Road, north, then west down Scuttlehole, then south on Hayground to the highway, across the railroad tracks. Luckily, foreseeing traffic concerns, Dan had contacted the police. Would they assist? Of course, they would. “They were terrific.” Only who considered that by the time the second person crossed the tracks, after the lead runner, it would be one and a half hours later, and that others would be straggling along well into the afternoon. Solution? Others: “you’re on your own.” But, he recalls happily, “we ‘nailed it” with the LIRR folks. They slowed down the second train to 5 mph, and honked loudly. Talk about community spirit. Potatohampton, The East End’s answer to the couch potato: run, for fun.
This race has come a long way in 35 years. Expect state-of-the art timing equipment and hundreds of serious competitors. Also the latest innovation—bottles of Hamptons Water.
Register online at www.danshamptons.com/potatohampton. Advance registration: $30, first 200 registrants get free race T-shirt. Day-of-the-race registration: $35, starting at 7:30 a.m., race at 9 a.m. sharp. Categories: men, women and different age groups: 13-18, 19-20, 29 and up. Race starts at Militia Park, Ocean Road, near Almond Restaurant, Bridgehampton. Map online. For further info. call Ellen Dioguardi at 631-537-1789 or email at Ellen@danspapers.com.