Experience Cape Cod
To understand the success of the CompassBank Cape Cod Marathon, all you need to do is talk with its long-time director Courtney Bird. Within minutes you’ll not only understand why so many people return to this event year after year, but you’ll find yourself going to their website to sign up for the event.
Posted Wednesday, 25 August, 2004
The CompassBank Cape Cod Marathon is the "Cheers" of New England road races and Bird is its Sam Malone. This is the race were everyone knows your name. “I return because Courtney treats me nice,” says reigning and three-time champion Eric Beauchesne of Chelmsford, MA. No surprises here for a race whose credo is to treat every runner as a guest and pay close attention to the nitty-gritty details of race organization. “We take care of every single runner,” says Bird. “We don’t try to be a mega event like New York or Boston. We limit the marathon to 1200 participants and the accompanying relay to 170 teams”. Bird explains that the limit is imposed “because we don’t want to max out our facilities and compromise the character of the event.”
According to Bird between 22% and 24% of each year’s field consists of Cape Cod Marathon alumni, thus making the event an annual reunion of sorts. People return year after year for all sorts of reasons. For some it is the scenic course while for others it may be the great organization, the entertainment, the cool weather or just the great post-race feed. If you are looking for a great fall marathon you need look no further, because you will experience all of this and more at the Cape Cod Marathon.
Perhaps the main draw to the Cape Cod Marathon is its magnificent course. If you are looking for a flat monotonous course, then look elsewhere because this is a course of character and beauty. Considered challenging by most, the 26.2-mile loop around Falmouth is relatively flat until about mile 15 and then runners are met with several miles of rolling hills before the course flattens out to the finish. “I like the course because it is scenic and quiet,” says Beauchesne. “I think it is as difficult as Boston from mile 16 through 20, but if you stay at an even keel, it’s not bad.”
According to Bird, the course has a reputation of being challenging. However, with a median finishing time of around four hours, the race, stacks up well when compared to other New England fall marathons. If the weather cooperates, this can be a personal record (PR) course. Just two years ago about 34% of the experienced marathoners in the field set PRs.
While the level of course difficulty may be debatable, the beauty of the course is not. Beginning at the historic Falmouth Village Green, the route winds it way along beautiful Nantucket Sound, with vistas of cranberry bogs and wooded areas during the first half. The race then passes through the quaint village of Woods Hole and runs almost the entire length of the famed Falmouth Road Race. It is here you will pass the majestic Nobska Point lighthouse and run along Surf Drive and its incredible ocean views before returning to the Village Green and the finish.
There are 11 aid stations along the course, serving both water and electrolyte replacement drinks. Several of the stations also have gel available. The course is patrolled with vans ready to pick up anyone who may be having a difficult day. Each mile is marked on the road and with a sign, and splits are supplied every five miles. According to Bird, it takes about 650 volunteers to pull off the event. Two hundred and fifty are assigned to the course as marshals. The "ChampionChip" system will again be used for timing and scoring both the marathon and relay.
The course is not totally closed to traffic, so the Falmouth Track Club posts signs a week prior to the event informing residents about the race. “This has had an enormous positive impact on traffic”’ says Bird. “Another benefit is that we have more people out watching the race.”
If the beautiful scenery is not enough to bring you to the Cape, then consider the bands and various forms of entertainment strategically located throughout the course. “Several years ago we added a music director to our committee,” says Bird. So don’t be surprised if you find the local garage band or a bagpipe player around the next bend in the road. Also pay attention to the water stop at mile 23.5, where you will be serviced by a group of Elvis impersonators who dubbed the nearby porta-john "Graceland". This is truly a throne fit for a King.
Bird is often asked if the Cape Cod Marathon is a good race for first-time marathoners. The answer comes in an e-mail received after the 2003 edition.
I just ran the CompassBank Cape Cod Marathon Sunday, and I wanted to thank all the organizers, officials, volunteers and spectators for all their great work and support. This was my first marathon, and because of the positive experience, it won't be my last. I was a little concerned doing this marathon because of the smaller size. I was worried that I would get lonely or discouraged along the way. I must say that the opposite occurred. Because of the size my family and friends were able to catch me at 5 different points along the way. That is something that never would be possible at a Boston or New York City marathon. The fans were just incredible. Even though the course wasn't lined with people the whole way, when you did hit spectators, even if there were just a few, they were so vocal and encouraging. They would yell out numbers, letting you know that they were cheering for you specifically. They really kept me motivated. The traffic officials did a wonderful job as well. They did a great job of keeping the cars away from runners, and not letting cars cross until there weren't any runners in site. Everyone right down to the chip collectors made this a great race, not only did they remove my chip but also retied my shoe. What a big relief knowing that I didn't have to bend down at that point. This marathon was such an amazing experience. I want to extend a big thank you to all those involved in making this race not only happen, but making it so special. Keep up the great work!!
The race is in its twenty-seventh year, and during this time, it has experienced many changes along with substantial growth. The event was held on Otis Air Force Base from 1978 through 1983 and run over a multiple loop course. In 1984 the Falmouth Track Club, which has staged the race since its inception, made the decision to move the race to its current location. The result was an increase in participation from 150 entrants to 754 entrants. The course was designed to protect runners from the wind that can be a concern if the prevailing westerly breeze should pick up. Tree cover blocks the wind on the portions of the course that head west and the finish is in an easterly direction.
The temperature on Cape Cod in late October typically ranges between 45 and 60 with a westerly breeze, but as the website aptly points out “What is 'normal' or 'average' is not something you can take to the bank.” Just keep in mind that this is New England and when it comes to weather anything can happen.
Prize money was introduced in 1986, and that was the year that Randy Thomas set the course record of 2:17:35. In 1987, Cathy (Shiro) O’Brien set the women’s standard with a 2:37:35. Both Thomas and O’Brien are New Englanders, giving the race a true regional flavor. The race also has served as the New England Grand Prix championship for the marathon for 17 of the last 18 years, adding to its local flavor. You will not see this race dominated by African or European runners. “The USATF championship brings out the best of New England,” relates Bird. “I want those guys to feel like they are the best.” A prize purse of over $9,000 is awarded to individuals and USATF-NE teams competing in the championship.
In 1993 a marathon relay was added to the event. Relay teams consist of two to five runners. The idea for what is now known as the Dunkin' Donuts Marathon Relay came about from a conversation between Bird and five-time champion Shirley Silsby Frye. Frye had been to the Vermont City Marathon and thought the relay was a great idea. Bird saw it as an opportunity to increase participation in the event. The first year 27 teams competed. Quickly that number grew to 80, then 110, then 150, and 170. This year the relay field will be capped at 170 teams. For a detailed chronology of the race’s history visit: http://www.capecodmarathon.com/history.ccml.
The event features many of the amenities usually associated with a big city marathon, but in the quaint surroundings of Cape Cod. You may want to consider scheduling a mini vacation around the marathon to tour the Cape during a quiet time of the year. Usually the foliage is at its peak during this week adding to the charm of Cape Cod. There is the National Seashore, the Kennedy Compound, Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, Nobska Point lighthouse and numerous other local points of interest.
Hotel accommodations should not be a problem since late October is beyond the peak season for the Cape. Modern hotels, quaint inns, bed-and-breakfasts and plenty of restaurants are located within minutes of the start and finish. Even if the town fills up, which it has a tendency to do for marathon weekend, plenty accommodations can be found in nearby towns. A list of local accommodations is located on the CCM website or can be obtained from the website of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, http://www.falmouth-capecod.com/visit/stay/.
The race does not have a pre-race pasta dinner. “We like our participants to get out and enjoy the community,” says Bird. “There are a number of good restaurants in Falmouth Village and Woods Hole that offer varied menus and excellent food, including an Irish pub on Main Street that features nightly live entertainment.” There is a pre-race expo held on Saturday that features guest speakers and various running-related vendors.
Marathon Sunday ends with a blowout post-race party sponsored by New England Runner at the Falmouth Inn. The party features the Baha Brothers, who specialize in great dance music, and large quantities of Offshore Ale, brewed on Martha's Vineyard. If after the party you want a quiet drink then make your way over to the Quarterdeck. You won’t find Norm on one of the barstools, but if you peek behind the bar you just might find running guru Tommy Leonard holding court. For those who decide to play hooky on the Monday after the marathon, a must stop for breakfast, according to the restaurant review committee of the Merrimack Valley Striders, is Betsy's Diner on Main Street whose credo is "Eat Heavy." – Experience Cape Cod!