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Veteran Ilion runner ready for 36th straight Boilermaker

Todd Dewan
Sports editor
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Posted 7/8/22

Ilion’s Donald Willner started running 39 years ago for exercise. He’s enjoyed it so much he is getting ready to run his 36th straight 15-kilometer Boilermaker Road Race this Sunday.

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Veteran Ilion runner ready for 36th straight Boilermaker

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ILION — Ilion’s Donald Willner started running 39 years ago for exercise. He’s enjoyed it so much he is getting ready to run his 36th straight 15-kilometer Boilermaker Road Race this Sunday.

The former Mohawk Valley Community College professor and dean started with the Utica Roadrunners Development Runs on Wednesday nights before he ran his first Boilermaker.

“I started jogging just for exercise and I enjoyed it,” said Willner, who retired from MVCC after working there 43 years in 2012. “The Boilermaker is such a big Utica thing, I figured I’d try it.”

The 76-year-old said he enjoys all aspects of the Boilermaker from the start of the race to the post-race party at the F.X. Matt’s Brewery.

“You get to see people who you wouldn’t otherwise. You get to see fellow runners, once a year at the Boilermaker,” Willner said. “I enjoy the crowd. People recognize you and give you a lift.”

Willner doesn’t plan on stopping his participation in the Boilermaker any time soon.

“I want to keep doing it as long as I can,” Willner said. “The Boilermaker 15K is my one claim to athleticism. Something athletic that I can do. I’ve had some success at it. The fourth year I ran it, I had a 69-minute gun time.”

Last year, the Boilermaker was held in October due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The weather was cool, but it wasn’t the same,” Willner said. “I’m glad it’s back to its traditional date. You find that it’s important for a race to have a consistent date.”

Willner is on the board of MVCC’s Ted Moore Run/Walk. The event was usually held the first Saturday in May. Willner said the pandemic changed the date two years ago and then America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk changed its date, which made the MVCC event switch its date again this year. He said the attendance has dropped.

Willner said after running for almost four decades his “muscles remember” how to run 9.3 miles. He added that he eats “a lot of pasta” and drinks “a lot of water,” the night before the race.

“I run three times a week and three miles at a time on the Erie Canalway trail. That’s a great uniform surface and no traffic. It gets you off the road,” Willner said.

The toughest part of the course for Willner is toward the end of the race.

“From Faxton to Utica College, if you’re driving that road you don’t think that much of it. But when the sun is beating down on you, that’s tough. And the bottom of Champlain Avenue to Whitesboro Street is uphill. It’s too much, too late. I’ve done my part,” Willner said with a laugh.

One key point that Willner enjoys about the Boilermaker is running with one of his three children: son Keith Willner and daughters Jennifer Susa and Melanie Pollay.

“For the last 15 years or so at least one of my children has joined me running the Boilermaker, which is a treat,” he said. “This year it will be Jennifer and I.”

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