BUFFALO - As a member of the New York Road Runners, which, at 40,000 strong, has become one of the foremost running organizations in the country, Michelle Carlson has run in her fair share of races.
Just last month, in fact, she took part in the Brooklyn Half Marathon, a 13.1-mile race that began at Prospect Park and took competitors - a number totalling some 15,000 people - on a historic tour of New York City's most populous, and second largest, borough.
That was just one of many memorable races for Carlson, who graduated from Southwestern in 2005 before earning a degree in broadcast journalism from Hofstra University four years later, but it was not the most memorable.
Michelle Carlson, a 2005 Southwestern Central School graduate, crosses the finish line at Ralph Wilson Stadium last month.
No, that honor goes to a race much closer to home; one that until five days before it was held had never existed.
In late June, just days after the regularly scheduled Rapid Running Buffalo Half Marathon was postponed, officials from the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission, the Town of Orchard Park and Eclipse Multisport announced the creation of a new running event, called the "50-Yard Finish," that would, as the name implies, locate the half marathon's finish on the 50-yard line of the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Five days later, after round-the-clock planning, the event was finally set to go, and as luck would have it Carlson, who lives in New York City and works for the News 12 television station, was home for the week to celebrate the Fourth of July with her family.
So Carlson, who was already in the midst of training for the upcoming New York City Marathon, decided to take part in the inaugural event, which looped through Orchard Park before the finish at the stadium.
Actually, participating was a no-brainer for the avid runner.
"It's hard to describe (what I love about running)," she said, "but it's just the most exciting feeling and you get such a great sense of accomplishment when you finish (a race). It seems like every time it gets easier, and each race I feel that much better."
And judging by her performance, that certainly seemed to be the case this time around.
The former Lady Trojan soccer player and track athlete crossed the finish line in just 1:34:51 - that's a mile pace of 7:14 - on her way to winning the female competition and besting her nearest competitor, Kristin Boorman, by nearly four minutes (in the 25-29 age group she topped the second-place finisher by almost eight minutes).
The time, which is about her average, she noted, was also good enough for 13th overall out of about 1,000 racers who took part.
The victory was sweet, to be sure, but it was other aspects of the race made it extra special.
"It was exciting," she said. "I've run a lot of half marathons, but this was the best of all. Getting to run through the tunnel and out onto the field was really special, and it was great because my parents were there as well. I live in New York City, and because it's so far away my family rarely has a chance to see me race. So finishing it with them there was the best feeling ever."
It's a feeling that has her already clearing her calendar for next year.
"I'm definitely coming back," she said. "This was the first ("50-Yard Finish") ever and it went really well. (Organizers) were already telling us (at the race) that they'd be holding the event again. It gives me a chance to come back and see my family so it'll be a race I come back for."