Chautauquans ready, set for Old First Night race

Runners begin last season’s Old First Night Run. Daily file photo.

Grant Engle | Staff Writer

Hundreds of athletes will descend on the Sports Club on Chautauqua’s waterfront to compete in the Old First Night Run/Walk/Swim at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 4.

The OFN race gives athletes of all ages the opportunity to compete in a congenial atmosphere while raising money for the Chautauqua Fund.

While many Chautauquans have participated in the race for years, it has also attracted accomplished athletes to visit the Institution in hopes of returning home with a victory.

“Seeing 500-plus runners in this race is great,” said Darrin Pocza, a marathon runner. “It’s a wonderful experience to just be in Chautauqua. People come from around the world to be here for a few weeks.”

Pocza was a runner when he attended Maple Grove High School in nearby Bemus Point, but he left the sport for a 20-year stretch while he served in the United States Air Force and worked in the restaurant business.

When he returned to the sport in 2005, Pocza vigorously trained and eventually competed in the Boston Marathon. He once managed to finish in the race’s top 3 percent.

Growing up in Bemus Point, Pocza was always familiar with Chautauqua, but it wasn’t until family friends told him about the OFN race that he knew he could quench his thirst for competition on the grounds.

Pocza said he was immediately charmed by the history of the race and traditions of the Institution. The 44-year-old runner was amazed with the diverse age demographics in the race.

If You Go…

$20 to compete in the run/walk or swim
$22 to compete in both the ground race and the swim
• Run/walk is 2.7 miles
• Swim is 18 laps in the pool (1/2 mile)
First 700 registered participants get OFN T-shirt
OFN race is sponsored by Vacation Properties

“The older runners are just amazing,” Pocza said. “I just want to be able to walk when I’m that age, and they’re out there actually competing.”

One of the competitors that would surely impress Pocza is 84-year-old Frances Jaques.

Jaques, who has been coming to Chautauqua as often as she can since the 1970s, was tied for the oldest female finisher in last year’s race.

The avid walker and retired journalist said she has always looked forward to the race, but her work schedule kept her from competing as often as she would have liked.

“Whenever I was in Chautauqua during the race, it was automatic for me to enter it,” Jaques said. “Now that I’m retired, I have more time to come up and walk in it.”

Jaques said she has been taking daily walks with her Labrador retriever to train for the race and taking yoga to stay limber. She credits her active lifestyle to her love of life and passion for exercise. The former staff writer for the The Capital in Annapolis, Md., even ran a few 10k races years ago.

One of the highlights of the OFN race for Jaques came last year when she participated in the event with two of her daughters, her granddaughter and her sister.

Jaques’ main goal is finishing the race. Pocza, on the other hand, said he revels in the competition, and he employs a simple strategy when attacking the 2.7-mile race.

“The strategy is to take it easy going into the hill and then rock and roll after that,” Pocza said. “That hill is a killer. It isn’t a race until you get past it.”

Pocza’s strategy worked last year, as he finished in first place in the 40–49 age group with a time of 16:47.

While runners aim to finish the race as quickly as possible, the walking participants predict their time before the race, and the walker who finishes closest to their predicted time will be declared the winner.

Chautauquans can register for the OFN race by picking up a form at the Sports Club or downloading the form at