BY MICHAEL KELLY
MALTA — In 1966, Mark Mindel started running cross country at Niskayuna High School as a ninth-grader.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to see Mindel as an official at a local track meet than you are to see him competing on his own. But Mindel — a Malta resident, whose children Kate, Scott and Tim attended Shenendehowa schools — has always stayed involved in Capital Region running since his start, a stretch than spans five full decades.
Through those 50 years, Mindel has competed, coached and officiated. Looking back at it all, what pleases him the most is how little has changed when it comes to the area running scene.
“What’s surprised me, really, is that it’s pretty much the same,” he said. “This area’s always had good runners from the ’60s, ’70s — and now you have guys like [Saratoga Springs senior star] Aidan Tooker. We’ve always had good runners. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s good coaching, tradition — but we’ve always been consistently strong.”
Through the years, the 64-year-old Mindel has seen all of the area’s top runners. That started back in high school when the 1970 Niskayuna graduate competed alongside Gary Connor, who won solo state championships in cross country in 1967 and 1968.
“At the time, he was the first back-to-back Class A cross country champion,” Mindel said. “A lot of girls have done it since … but that was quite an accomplishment.”
After high school, Mindel competed in all three running seasons — cross country in the fall, indoor track and field in the winter, and outdoor track and field in the spring — at Union College. Graduate work at The College of Saint Rose preceded a long teaching and coaching career, primarily at Averill Park, where he guided the school’s cross country team to state championships in 1990, 1995 and 1996.
At the same time he was coaching, Mindel started his officiating career. In a given week, he’d coach his team at its meets and practices, and officiate meets for other leagues on the days his team was not competing.
“If I didn’t have a meet, I’d work it so that I could [officiate] a meet,” Mindel said. “I’ve probably been an official for close to 30 years.”
During the winter season, when meets run one after another on weekends, Mindel said he’d often coach his team at its own meet and then stick around to officiate the next meet. Working marathon-like days agreed with him, as did running actual marathons back in his prime athletic years.
“I did 13 marathons in my life … but with all those marathons my knees are now shot,” Mindel said. “I’ve had some knee operations, but I still work out every day. In a typical week for me, as long as the weather is OK, I’ll ride the bike twice a week, go to the gym two to three times a week, and try to run once a week.”
Mindel won the Montreal International Marathon back in 1979, posting a time of 2:26:34. He’s the only person to have run in every Stockade-athon 15K Road Race, winning the Schenectady event in 1976, 1977 and 1979, and he expects this year’s Troy Turkey Trot to be his 50th.
His times are not what they once were, like when he won the 1979 Stockade-athon with a time of 47:29.
“Now, add an hour to that,” he said, laughing. “That’s what I can do now.”
But he’s done a lot, and seen a lot, during his half-century involved in the Capital Region running scene. His favorite part of it all? That’s easy: It’s been watching his son Scott, an accomplished national-caliber runner who graduated from Shenendehowa in 2004 before competing at the University of Cincinnati.
“As much as I liked running myself, there’s something special about seeing your own blood, your own son running,” Mindel said.