Pro-Providence: The Brooks Pharmacy Ocean State Marathon
Top-shelf race organization and a fresh urban course have built a loyal cadre of runners for Rhode Island's Ocean State Marathon. And word is spreading.
Posted Thursday, 20 June, 2002
Dr. Tim Lepore might be called the Cal Ripken of Rhode Island marathons. Since 1976, he has run every marathon in the smallest state. "I'm not good, but I'm persistent," he says with a laugh. Although he no longer lives in Rhode Island, the Nantucket runner returns to Providence every year to run the Brooks Pharmacy Ocean State Marathon.
"I love the Ocean State Marathon," said Lepore, who has also run every Boston Marathon since 1968. "I've loved every permutation of it, every course they've put together over the years."
He's not the only one who thinks so. Simply put, the Ocean State Marathon is a race that keeps runners coming back. Although the race has typically attracted primarily New England runners, its fast course and intimate, friendly atmosphere have also begun to make it a magnet for runners from farther afield.
"The organization is second to none," said Liam Mycroft, a British runner who has twice made the trip across the pond to run Ocean State and is considering a third trip to Providence. "That's one of the main reasons I find the race so warm and inviting: They take care of all the runners, not just the elite at the front."
Friendly and intimate
Indeed, the personal attention given to each and every runner borders on the incredible. When an injury late in his training made it unlikely that Mycroft would be able to complete the marathon, he told race director Gerry Beagan that he would only run the first half. Beagan arranged for a car to pick him up at the halfway mark.
"I doubt that many three-hour-plus runners would get that kind of support from bigger races," Mycroft said. "As it happened, I ran 14 miles, then stepped in with a race walker and completed the course with her. But the car was ready for me, they checked that I was OK, and at the end of the race, Gerry, despite dealing with the winners, made a point of coming over and seeing that I was OK."
"We pride ourselves on how we treat runners," said race director Beagan. "Although we have elite athletes and they run fast times, we treat every runner the same. We give every service you would expect in a big city marathon."
All of the services, that is, but none of the crush. At just 2000 runners, the Ocean State Marathon delivers the thrill of an urban marathon but avoids the packed starting line, crowded water stations and sense of anonymity that often accompanies the larger events.
"The finish in the city gives it a feel of a bigger marathon, and the atmosphere in the city is great" said Mycroft, "but it still retains its uniqueness as a truly friendly marathon."
"You see a lot of people you know on the course," said Lepore. "That's just a lot of fun to see people who have run a couple of races with or who you've met in past marathons. It's a nicer, friendlier atmosphere than the large marathons."
New course for a new Providence
Embraced by Narragansett Bay and the Seekonk River, Providence is full of history, culture and diverse immigrant communities. Like so many cities in the last decade, Providence has enjoyed a remarkable revitalization blending fresh development with careful attention to its historic neighborhoods. Happily, the result makes for a fine urban running environment.
"It was pretty gritty when I was running the streets of Providence in the early eighties," recalled Lepore. "I can't believe how much the city has changed and how nice the downtown is. An urban marathon has a lot to offer, and Providence is a great city for running."
So perhaps it's only appropriate that this year's Ocean State Marathon will, on October 13, focus exclusively on Rhode Island's capital city. For the first time, the Ocean State course will run entirely within Providence. In recent years, the neighboring town of Warwick has hosted the marathon's first 14 miles, but this year Warwick denied organizers a permit to run the marathon on a Sunday, forcing a course change.
"I'd been thinking right along about starting and finishing in Providence, so this just made it happen sooner," said Beagan. "As it turns out, I think the new course has a lot of advantages."
The new figure-eight loop course, for example, makes it unnecessary for runners to bus to the start and also makes it easy for spectators to see runners at multiple points along the course.
"It's going to be a very spectator-friendly marathon," Beagan said, "and since we expect the spectators to move to follow the runners, I expect that there will be great crowd support all through the race."
"The crowd is so important," Lepore said. "They do so much by supporting you and pushing you on. The new course is going to give you an audience the whole way, and I think it's going to be really fun."
A tour of every neighborhood
Ocean State has always been popular as a Boston qualifier, and the new course remains a fast option for chasing a Boston bib. The marathon starts at the Rhode Island State House and finishes at the Rhode Island Convention Center. The course tours all of Providence's historic and ethnically rich neighborhoods, with a particular emphasis on the city center, and includes three miles in beautiful Roger Williams Park.
Soon after leaving the ornate, white marble state house, runners encounter a gentle rise through the Mount Pleasant neighborhood to the course's highest point (152 feet) at three miles. After a steep downhill, runners close the first loop by tackling a challenging 225 yard hill then passing close by the kayaks, gondolas and canoes of Waterplace Park (a frequent setting in the TV show "Providence") at 5.5 miles.
The course is flat, with a few steep downhills, as runners pass the Rhode Island School of Design, the Providence County Courthouse and the historic Old Stone Bank before crossing the Providence River. At mile 9.5, runners pass under a pineapple arch and into the Federal Hill neighborhood, featuring a distinctive European feel. "Federal Hill is the Italian section of thie city, and it will be all done up for the Columbus Day parade," Beagan said. "That ought to be very exciting, and a real highlight of the course."
At the halfway point, runners enter Roger Williams Park, the huge 435-acre park that is home to hills, woods, lakes and an award-winning zoo. Passing beneath the autumn foliage, runners encounter some rolling hills in the three-mile stretch within the park.
The last ten miles are on the same course as past years and incorporate a few challenging hills that demand focus. The hills begin at mile 20 as runners make their way through Providence's stately East Side, home to Colonial and Federalist mansions as well as a thriving artistic and intellectual community.
Shortly after mile 21, runners scale Ocean State's version of Heartbreak Hill, with a 50-foot elevation gain in just 320 yards, and the course remains somewhat difficult as it rolls along tree-lined Blackstone Boulevard before hitting a flat stretch shortly after mile 23. Plunging down Constitution Hill just after mile 24 takes runners past the State House and up a mild hill before hitting a downhill to the finish at the convention center.
The course has a net drop of 64 feet, from 74 feet elevation at the start to 10 feet at the finish. Every step provides a glimpse at Providence's remarkable renaissance.
"It's a great marathon in a great city, and it's really got its own unique flavor," Lepore said. "I'd recommend it hands down to any runner."
Ocean State Marathon website
Oct. 13, 2002
Figure-eight loop course
2000 - 2500 anticipated
Net drop of 64 feet, from 74 feet at start to 10 feet at finish