Upper Nyack's Art Gunther Jr. and Nanuet's Jamie Kempton comprise a mutual admiration society.
Kempton, 51, and a graduate of Albertus Magnus High School and Bucknell (where he starred four years in cross country and track and field) speaks highly of the 39-year-old Gunther, a standout at Tappan Zee H.S. and Binghamton.
"Art is Rockland road running royalty, the undisputed heavyweight champion, king of the hill," Kempton said.
Gunther, a member of Binghamton Hall of Fame and a Division III all-American, has only kind words in return.
"Jamie is Mr. Consistency," he said. "He's the most consistent runner around. He's like a clock, you can always count on Jamie. And he manages to avoid injuries, or at least he hides them very well. He does his stretching, lifts weights… he does the right things."
Gunther, although still nursing a torn labrum that sidelined him last year, and Kempton, whose consistency can be traced to that ability to avoid injuries, will both be in action again on Sunday in the 22nd annual South Nyack 10-Miler. The race, sponsored by the Rockland Road Runners, begins and ends near Franklin Street Park in Nyack and has become one of the most popular in the county.
"It's the unofficial kickoff to the fall running season," Kempton said, who won the event in 1980 when it was contested over 7.8 miles, clocking 38:41.
The reason for such an odd distance is a story unto itself. Dr. Raymond Esposito, the village mayor at the time, wanted to honor the centennial of South Nyack's incorporation as a village. The distance was fixed at 10 miles in 1989 and remains something to behold.
"It's a beautiful course," Gunther, who lived in Piermont for many years before his move to Upper Nyack, explained. "The race bridges both places and I do most of my training on these roads. It's like my home course. It's well-run, too, my favorite."
Kempton, who has four runner-up finishes and six third-place efforts in addition to his win in 18 trips to the starting line, judges the toughest part of the race from 7.5 miles to the 9-mile mark.
"That's from the hill on River Road at the Salisbury Manor apartments after passing under the Tappan Zee Bridge, and then heading up Cornelison Avenue past South Nyack Village Hall and to the Esposito Trail just below Route 9W," Kempton noted, adding that he and Gunther could probably run the course blindfolded.
Gunther has led the way against highly-competitive fields every time he has run, except for his first two attempts. He initially displayed a talent for running at Cottage Lane School in Blauvelt.
"He won the first-grade race and we knew from that point on that he'd be a runner—he was so far ahead of everybody," recalled his dad, Art Gunther Sr. "I ran and my father ran at Spring Valley, but he's 10 times better—oh, much better. Coach [Bob] Hudson really pushed him along, he was the engine behind it."
Gunther the Younger, a sixth-grade teacher at William O. Schaefer, became a good friend of Hudson's, a PE teacher at his school.
"He was always my coach, I've known him since I was 13," Gunther, who believes he still has a few good years of running ahead of him, said.
"I never want to stop running," he added, emphatically, despite the injury that eventually will require surgery. "I'm being monitored, have been taking a pill to relieve inflammation and continue to run. I can't run 80 miles a week like I did when [I was] training for the marathon—but I don't have the time now anyway."
Gunther, who has run marathons in New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto ("I think it's caught up with me," he joked) also has family obligations that limit his training time, such as a 3-year-old son Sam and a 1-year-old adopted daughter Beatrice.
"Last year was the first time I hadn't run in 15-16 years, it was crazy," Gunther recalled. "I'm in pretty good shape, but definitely not the best I've been. I'm hoping I'll be up there."
Kempton, who ran cross country and track four years at perennial East Coast Conference champion Bucknell and competed in the NCAA Division I cross country championships almost every year, understands fully the challenges that Father Time and Gunther present.
"I'll just let him go out and not try to keep pace," Kempton said. "That would be suicide." Kempton, who finished seventh a year ago added that he wants to do better this year.
- The race, with proceeds earmarked to benefit the South Nyack and Piermont volunteer fire companies and Junior Achievement, is expected to attract a field of nearly 500 runners (last year more than 450 participated). It is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m., preceded by children's fun runs at 8:15. Check-in time for the 10-miler is from 7-8:15 a.m.; the fun runs from 7-7:45 a.m.
- For more information please access www.rocklandroadrunners.org or contact Kathleen Daly at email@example.com or (845) 536-3052.