The 20th Annual Baystate Marathon—Your Best Chance to Qualify
The Baystate Marathon and Half Marathon are both very flat and fast—proven over time to be one of the best marathons to get a B.A.A. Boston Marathon qualifying time. Thrill to a great finish in Lelacheur Park where the Lowell Spinners play ball.
Posted Tuesday, 1 July, 2008
When you laced on your first pair of running shoes your goal was to make it around the block. Later, you entered 5k’s, moved up to 10k’s and started feeling good about yourself as a runner, that maybe this was more than just exercise for you; it was something that became an important part of your life. You started to set higher goals for yourself, maybe running the Boston Marathon someday.
You soon found out, however, that you couldn’t simply sign up and run one of the most prestigious running events in the world – you had to qualify to run Boston. Sure, you could hang in the back as an unofficial and unrecognized “bandit”, or participate in charity fundraising or running club events to earn a number. But the real goal, the one that always seems nearly unobtainable, is to run as an official runner, and to do that you have to qualify by running a time based on your age at a sanctioned marathon.
For New England runners, the best chance of hitting that qualifying time is in Lowell, Massachusetts at the 20th running of the Bay State Marathon. The flat and fast course increases your odds considerably, as over 33% of runners at Baystate beat their age-graded times and earn an official number for Boston. According to Denise Sweeney of Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray’s DMSE Sports, Inc, Baystate is 15th on the list of Boston Marathon “feeders” nationwide up from 19th in 2006. Sweeney also noted that 245 runners qualified for Boston from the 2006 and 2007 Baystate Marathon
“Baystate is starting to be recognized nationally as one of the best qualifiers for Boston”, said Race Director Mark Coddaire of Marx Running and Fitness in Acton MA. “We’re getting mentioned in national publications alongside big races such as Chicago and Houston as one of the best places to qualify in the country”. But Coddaire says Baystate offers a small city feel with the focus on running without the ‘hoopla’ of a big city race.
Baystate is also home to the USATF--New England Marathon Championship this year with prize money for both individual and team marathon runners starting at $750 for USATF registered runners. As a result, Coddaire expects a strong field and course records to be broken. “We should see Kara Haas's 2:55:22 (2007) and Scott Loomis' 2:30:21 (2006) fall this year," said Coddaire. Those are the new course records. Dave Dunham’s 2:21:36 and Mary Ellen Kelly’s 2:45:53 are the event records set on the old course.
Baystate’s size is something that’s on the organizer’s minds as the race grows in popularity throughout the country. Not only size, but the quality of the field is also important. “To run fast times, you have to have fast groups. "We encourage the best national and regional class runners to come and be a part of a terrific event on a fast course,” Coddaire said. Baystate is not recruiting international stars, although all are welcome to participate.
Coddaire said “The last few years of success and its national popularity are moving Baystate to a new level”. “Lowell is an event-driven city, with the Tsongas arena, Lowell Auditorium holding frequent sporting and cultural events. City officials now see Baystate as an important part of the community. We’re also reaching out beyond the immediate area to cities and towns throughout the region.”
Coddaire recognizes that Baystate’s success leads to organizational and logistical challenges.
“We’re at a crossroads - we can stay local or become a big community event. We’re working with city officials on where to cap the number of runners, now 1500. We will review how and if we want to change it. “
Glen Stewart, President of the Greater Lowell Road Runners, and Baystate’s course director agrees that there are challenges that come with growth. “The race has grown quite a lot, 8% over the last 4 years and getting runners and cars over the bridges on race day is an ‘interesting’ challenge” according to Stewart. “We give the runner aiming at a qualifying time an exciting race that provides great value”. And while this year’s Baystate may be a bit more focused on faster runners with the NE Marathon Championship, “…we never lose sight of our primary running constituency – the runner qualifying for Boston”
Coddaire said, “The plan now is to look at the numbers and growth we’re expecting. If we decide to become a major marathon the city could do it, but communities are affected on race day. We need a commitment from all communities to get it done. The Baystate race committee is getting better at communication and is recognized as a significant asset to the area. We want to make it part of the community.”
Reebok is Baystate’s major sponsor. According to Coddaire, they are now much more affiliated with running over last few years. “They are sponsoring events as well as athletes, and are very supportive and accessible. That has helped to grow the race.” There are a number of local sponsors, but no title sponsor yet. “If this race grows, a major sponsor will come in,” stated Coddaire.
The local groups that benefit the most from the Baystate Marathon are the local school running groups. High school students enthusiastically urge on runners, and compete for the prize of most enthusiastic at the water stops, voted on by the runners.
The fast and flat course starts at Boarding House Park, follows the Merrimack river along Pawtucket street into the neighborhoods of North Chelmsford and Tyngsboro, over the Tyngsboro bridge and down Pawtucket Boulevard, looping over the Rourke bridge at 15 miles, back through North Chelmsford and Tyngsboro, over the Tyngsboro bridge once more, down Pawtucket Boulevard through to the finish at Lelacheur Park.
For those runners who dream of running Boston with a number on their singlet, but don’t feel they’re quite there yet, Baystate offers a coaching and training program to get you there. UMASS Lowell Head Coach Gary Gardner and 2:15 Olympic Trails Qualifier Nate Jenkins, who ran 2:14:56 in New York, are directing a program starting July 1 with individualized coaching. Space is limited so sign up early. Cost is $25.
While much discussion goes on about the future of Baystate, the focus will always be on runners and their dream of getting a number for Boston. Here are the race details:
Race day is October 19 at 8:30 for both the marathon and half-marathon at the Tsongas Arena at Cox Circle in Lowell, MA.
While most of the attention goes to the marathon, Baystate also hosts a half-marathon as well – the Lowell Sun Half-Marathon.
All finishers receive a medal, and awards go to the top 3 overall male and female winners as well as the top 3 male and female winners in the following age groups: 19 and under; 20 -29; 30-39; 40-49; 50-59; 60-69; 70+.
Register early! Before October 1st the marathon will cost you $55 and the Lowell Sun 1/2 Marathon $35. If you procrastinate a bit, between October 1st and the 18th, marathon registration is $65 and half $45. If you put it off until race day the marathon is $75 and the half $55. Online registration closes on October 17, 2008. Baystate caps the number of runners for both the marathon and half-marathon at 1500 each, so register early.
Number & Packet Pick Up. Early pickup is recommended at the Marx Running and Fitness Center in Acton MA from October 14 - October 17 (phone for directions at 978-263 5510). You can also pick up your number on Saturday, October 18th at the Expo from 10AM to 6 PM.Race day pickup is at 6AM at the Lowell High School.
The Baystate Marathon and Half Marathon web site is located at: http://www.baystatemarathon.com/ and contains directions to number pick-up and the race start as well as a host of other race details.
The traditional all-you-can-eat pasta dinner is Saturday, October 18 from 4:00 to 6:00 at Lowell High School. It’s free for runners and $10 for your guests.
The free Expo, including a slate of speakers, is also at the Lowell High School on Saturday from 10:00 to 6:00.
Out-of-town runners can stay at the Doubletree Hotel, ½ mile from the start. They have reserved rooms for the marathon – when you book your room, say you’re running Baystate.
You can check gear bags at the starting line for a quick change at the finish.
There are plenty of porta-johns along the course as well as at the start.
So, take the next step in your running career, and try for that Boston qualification. As Glen Stewart says “Train well and have a healthy respect for the marathon. And remember, “…by running a marathon, you are doing something that a fraction of people even dream of, and for that you should be proud.”
Running those last few hard miles up Pawtucket Boulevard heading for the finish line, think of how you’ll feel at the start in Hopkinton, waiting in the corral as a Boston Qualifier.