By Alexander Dworkowitz
Thousands of runners from as far as London and South Africa will descend on College Point Saturday for the 24th annual Queens Half Marathon.
The 13.1-mile race was scheduled to begin at 8:10 a.m. at the intersection of 119th Street and Poppenhusen Avenue. Runners will make two loops around the course, which stretches from Flushing Bay to Malba.
The race is organized by the New York Road Runners Club and the College Point Road Runners Club.
“People like the race because it has what is described as rolling hills,” said race director Leo Nicholas, who is expecting about 3,500 participants. “It goes through from the factories to the lower-income neighborhoods to the rich neighborhoods.”
For those not wanting to run the longer race, a five-kilometer event sponsored by a local fuel oil company, Skaggs-Walsh Fuel, will begin at 8 a.m. and follows the same course.
The Queens half-marathon is part of the New York Roadrunners Grand Prix series where the top men can earn points on the circuit. The top women can win points in the Skaggs-Walsh race. The races are open to both sexes.
Attracting competitors from around the world, the half-marathon race has established impressive records. Steve Kogo of South Africa set the men’s record of one hour, five minutes and 51 seconds in 1984, while Zofia Wieciorskowska of Poland set the woman’s record of one hour, 15 minutes and 23 seconds in 2000.
Last year’s winner, Paul Mwangi of Kenya, was expected to miss the race and instead compete in a five-kilometer run in Houston.
Despite the international attention, the race still has a large Queens contingent. Nicholas estimated about a quarter of the runners hail from the borough.
“I like half-marathons. I don’t have to recuperate as much as I would from a full marathon,” said Hans Put of Astoria. “My goal is to do a six-minute mile pace Saturday.”
“This group race is great and I wish we had more of them,” said Ken Morrison of Flushing, who is competing in the race for the first time.
Nicholas founded the race with his friend Roy Roberts in 1979.
“We were training down in MacNeil Park one evening, and we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be a great idea to have a marathon in College Point?’” said Nicholas, who lives in the community.
Nicholas, who has never run in the race, has two notable memories of the event. In 1980, Manhattan residents Ralph Perry and Katie Knight met while running in the race and the two eventually married.
“Every year they used to come back and run it, and we used to give them an anniversary cake,” said Nicholas.
Years later strong winds knocked a live power cable onto the race course, spewing out 600 volts of electricity. The course was rerouted around the cable, and no one was injured, Nicholas said.
Sabina Cardali, president of the College Point Civic Taxpayers Association and a TimesLedger columnist, said the race was a popular community event.
“Skaggs-Walsh is a big company with us in College Point, and they are a major sponsor,” she said.
A total of $2,000 in prize money will be awarded to the top six finishers in the half marathon.
In addition, the College Point Board of Trade will award two $250 scholarships to the first-place male and female students in the five-kilometer race who reside in College Point or Malba.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.