Courtesy of Seneca 7, Map Data ©Google 2023

Participants in the Seneca 7 relay race on April 23 will run this route, completing a lap around Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York.

March 22, 2023

Finger Lakes Region Welcomes Spring with Unique 77.7 Mile Relay Race Around Seneca Lake

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The number “seven” has been a constant for Seneca 7, an annual distance relay race. On April 23, over 300 teams of seven runners will convene at 7 a.m. in downtown Geneva, New York to run a 77.7 mile race looping around Seneca Lake. 

At the start line, some teams will dress in unique costumes — dressed as matching chickens or Dr. Seuss characters — while others will sport the Cornell Running Club racing jersey. 

“We usually get somewhere between 2,000 to 2,500 people,” said Jackie Augustine, one of the two co-founders of Seneca 7 race, Geneva city councilor for 16 years and former visiting professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “This year we’ll have about 2,300 racers, making for about 330 teams.” 

Along with co-founder Jeff Henderson, Augustine originally began working with Hobart and William Smith College students in 2011 to establish the race, aiming to grow Geneva’s tourism. Her initiative to showcase Seneca Lake’s beauty and fuel local economic growth has bloomed since then. This fall, the race registration, with an entry fee of $577.77 per team, sold out on its first day. 

“[We wanted] to put together some kind of event that would merge those interests between community, economic development and sustainable race practices,” Augustine said. 

Besides making for a picturesque race course, Seneca Lake is the main drinking water source for the immediate region surrounding Geneva, according to Augustine. Each year, Seneca 7 race organizers put together a course guide that highlights points of ecological advocacy regarding lake and watershed health. 

“[Seneca Lake] has been subject to many threats and challenges in recent years. [For example], there was a huge Bitcoin mining operation on Seneca Lake,” Augustine said. “We just want people to see the area not just for beauty, but [to] understand how critically important it is ecologically and to have a sense of ownership and stewardship.”

In a statement to The Sun, Rebecca Barr, a sophomore at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and president of the school’s running club, reflected on Seneca Lake’s year-round importance to local students.

“[Seneca Lake is] a place where students can gather and spend time during the summer, a time for relaxation and fun,” Barr wrote.

This year, Augustine said Seneca 7 is partnering with twenty-five charitable organizations and local businesses, including Habitat for Humanity, Family Counseling of the Finger Lakes and the Geneva Family YMCA. These charities volunteer at the relay’s 20 exchange points, serving water and cheering on runners. The race’s proceeds, which usually reach approximately $20,000, are then equitably donated to the partner organizations.

“[Henderson and Augustine] are always very community-minded and think about supporting the local organizations that serve our shared community,” said Mary Bakogiannis, executive director of Geneva Family YMCA, which has workad with Seneca 7 since its inaugural year. “All donations that we get are very very important to our annual operations here. They help support the programs and services that we offer to the people that we serve in the community — children and seniors.”

In just a few weeks, teams will travel from as far as Canada and Colorado to complete the 77.7-mile race course. Cornell Running Club plans to send three teams this year. Julia Allen ’23, the club’s co-president, woke up early on last year’s Halloween morning to secure 21 race spots.

Cornell Running Club has participated in Seneca 7 for the last several years, including in 2020 when the race was made virtual. Co-president Jack Lynch ’23 recounted his participating in the virtual race from his hometown of Evanston, Illinois. 

Between their respective race legs, he and his teammates conversed over a Zoom call. As soon as the runner preceding him re-appeared on screen, Lynch immediately stepped outside to run his leg through his hometown neighborhood. Even across a laptop screen, Lynch said, the Seneca 7’s community building persisted. 

Now, the race is back in full swing for its second year in person after COVID-19. Augustine, who now works as the executive director of the non-profit Blueprint Geneva, said she felt the Seneca 7 would benefit from a fresh perspective, leading her to seek out a new organizer for the race. She and Henderson recently handed the leadership baton off to Ian Golden, an Ithaca local and owner of Finger Lakes Running Company

“I really wanted to make sure that [the race] was going to be in the hands of someone who shared those core values of commitment to the community, sustainability, and appreciation of natural resources,” Augustine said. “Ian … really impressed me with his spirit of service and his personal values… I felt like I was really leaving [the race] in good hands.”

Seneca 7 continues to champion environmentally friendly practices. Race T-shirts are domestically produced with ecologically sensitive inks by Ithaca resident Kaya Donaj-Keys. Seneca 7 also encourages teams to sign up with biking groups, in which racers bike as a team to and from their relay legs, rather than using a team car. Biking teams save parking space at exchange zones and help reduce the race’s carbon footprint.

Yet, team cars, decorated with window markers and race-day spirit, remain a special part of Seneca 7 for many runners. Ian Lillie ’25, whose team finished fourth last year, remembers blasting music with his teammates as they drove from one exchange point to the next with the windows of their car rolled down. 

“You’re cramped in a car… Everyone’s sweaty and you keep rotating your seats,” Lillie said. “Spirits were really high the whole time.” 

After his positive experience last April, Lillie plans to run again this year. 

“We finished [the race] around five in the evening, jumped in the lake just for fun, and then we drove back to Ithaca,” Lillie said. “It was such a great way to spend the day.”

Correction, March 23, 1:42 a.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Jackie Augustine’s former role at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. The article has been corrected.

Jiwook Jung ’25 is the City Editor on the 141st editorial board and can be reached at [email protected].

Annina Bradley ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].