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home > races/results > usa: massachusetts > eastern states twenty miler – i love this race.

Eastern States Twenty Miler – I love this race.
Twenty miles down hill from down east…with the ocean on your left.

Eastern States Twenty Miler – I love this race.

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By Christopher Russell
Posted Monday, 7 February, 2005

I love this race. I know I’m prone to whining about these long New England races and the winter weather, but the Eastern States is one of my favorites. Why? Because it’s unique, it’s challenging, all my running friends are there, it’s my last stop before Boston and they give out some good schwag.


If you’ve never run this race, this is how it works: you start in Maine, you run across the entirety of the New Hampshire seacoast and finish in Massachusetts. It is a point-to-point course that hugs the coast. The ES20 is definitely a trophy race. Don’t slip into retirement without experiencing this one, it’s unique. Join me and 600 friends on Saturday March 26th for one of the best New England runs.

I know of no other race in that runs through three states. That’s right, THREE STATES. Now that’s something you can impress your friends and family with. Picture yourself at the water cooler casually asking, “What did you do this weekend? I ran across three states.”

Three states? One half of New England? If you think about it, this is a phenomenon unique to New England. Where else in North America could you do this? I guess you could run the four corners around Shiprock, AZ and get in 4 states, but the ES20 actually runs across an entire state and doesn’t take any 90 degree turns to do it.

I tell my non-New England acquaintances that with a couple more miles you could hook in Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island as well. If they aren’t from this part of the country they have trouble wrapping their heads around the scale of New England. I tell them that I can drive across Massachusetts, the long way, in 3 hours. (Try that in Texas)

I grew up here and it still amazes me that this small chunk of glacial till clinging to the right side of the continent produces a people and culture that impacts the world in so many ways.

If you don’t think you’re up to 20 miles, there is also the Run for the Border 10 Mile. This runs the same course but starts mid-way through New Hampshire. Both races start at 11:00 AM on Saturday, March 26, 2005. This marks the 10th anniversary of the race.

Another great thing about the race is the ocean. I love the ocean. In New England, you’re always close to the ocean. Much of our history is wrapped around the presence of the Atlantic—grey, cold and powerful at our doorstep.

The ES20 has the ocean, right there, crashing on the rocks just on the other side of the road. It has the feel of the ocean. It has the smell of the ocean. There are bracken bogs and salt marshes alive with seagulls and herons. The course traverses the largest tracts of undeveloped seacoast land in New Hampshire. There was even a pair of swans swimming in a pond next to the course last year.

You’ll see old boats stacked for the winter along the course. There are lobster traps stacked against weathered shanties to keep the angry winter sea from claiming them. It’s like stepping into one of those souvenir paintings you can pick up at any of the seacoast towns along the route.

If the weather cooperates, the great Atlantic throws salty mist onto the course to your left as the morning sun kisses you from above. (If the weather decides not to cooperate you may need to lash yourself to the mast)

It’s challenging.

It is a flat and forgiving course with a bit of a tailwind. Some years the tailwind is fairly strong, pushing against your left shoulder the whole way. There is great scenery and great company, but for some reason my inner demons consistently make me go out too fast and suffer through the last few miles.

I consistently get my butt kicked at this race. I’m smart enough to realize that it is not the race or the course that is at fault. It’s me and my nervous hubris trying to prove something to myself three weeks before Boston, when it’s too late to do anything about my laziness and lack of training.

Hey, 20 miles is a long way to run even on a flat and scenic course. By the time you’re crossing the bridge from the resort town of Hampton into Seabrook at the 18 mile mark, you’ll know you’ve run a race. The flatness and distance makes this an excellent race in which to practice your pacing strategies. Go out slowly and kick it in. (Not that I have any experience in this particular strategy)

Another thing that we discovered last year was that there is a soft shoulder almost the entire length of the course where you can get off the tar and run on the dirt to pamper a rebellious achilles or knee tendon.

The race starts outside of the Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine. After the first mile you run across Memorial Bridge from Kittery into Portsmouth. This is an old wood-planked drawbridge crossing the Piscataqua River that gives you a view of the Portsmouth Shipyard. Then you are right in the center of scenic old Portsmouth with its eclectic shops and cobbles.

The course is serpentine, following the outline of the coast, down route1A, along sandy coves and broken granite points. The Atlantic Ocean, moderately angry from the wind, is constantly just over the hedge. When you can’t see the big green breakers throwing themselves at the rocks, you can hear them. The course traverses the scenic towns of Kittery, Portsmouth, Rye, North Hampton, Hampton, Seabrook, and Salisbury, MA.

The course is flat, and even though it gets strung out, you always have some company. The course is open to the sea breeze and despite the tail wind it still beats you up. Every time we’ve run it we’ve ended up happy, wind-burned and tired.

All my friends (and yours too) are there.

The ES20 is a place where local runners gather like swallows at Capistrano. We, the ragged veterans of another New England winter season, with our jaundiced faces smiling in anticipation of Hopkinton, embrace each other with hardy smiles and long-lost-friend handshakes. We drag our old bones out of our winter closets. We shuck our chrysalises of salt-encrusted tights and fleece and prepare to celebrate a spring season of shorts and t-shirts. Then after the race we meet at the Ashworth Hotel in Hampton Beach to swap tall tales and eat hot post-race goodies.

More than 600 runners ran in 2004. The race director, Don Allison, no stranger the local running scene, makes sure the race caters to the serious and recreational runner. You’ll typically recognize the names of some of the faster local runners in the top five.

Kit Wells from Boston won last year in a time of 1:54:18, translating to a pace of 5:43 per mile. Caroline Dobbyn, also from Boston, led the women last year with a 2:08:10 finish and a 6:25 pace. Barbara Remmers holds the women’s record with a 2:03:22 in ’94. The men’s record is 1:46:17, set by Ed Sheehan also in ’94.

If you’re feeling fast, there are age-group awards and a $200 prize for breaking the course record. Chances are that, like the majority of the 600 runners, you are using this race as a last long run before Boston. Let’s face it, it’s easier to run 20 miles with 600 friends and water stops than alone and unsupported. The timing is perfect, typically 3 weeks and a day prior to Patriots day. I recommend you skip that training slog up route 16 and join us in Kittery for great time.

It is a point to point race so the management kindly provides shuttle buses from the Casino in Hampton Beach up to the start in Kittery. Many of us gather at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire and carpool up to Kittery. Wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends and all the codependent coterie of obsessive runners drive minivans full of friends and strangers up route 1A to Maine. I would be willing to bet if you stood on 1A in Hampton holding a sign that said “ES20 – Need Ride!” you would quickly be snatched up by a member of the community and ferried to the start. I think we actually gave the second-place finisher a ride one year.

Here’s a successful strategy I’ve used. Say to your significant other; “Honey, I know I’ve been running a lot lately, and we haven’t spent much time together…How about I take you and the kids someplace special this weekend? Tell you what, we’ll drive to the seacoast and I’ll treat you to seafood dinner?” Pause for effect…”and can you give me and four smelly running buddies a ride to Kittery so I can squeeze in a quick 2.5 hour jog?”

When runners get to the Traip Academy in Kittery, they stand around at the start saying, “Yeah, it’s just a training run. I’m going to go out slow and see how I feel.” But, it never turns out that way. We’re all too ‘ready’ to pace ourselves and the weather is usually shades warmer than it has been for months. Off we go, down the coastline to Massachusetts and another fast friendly ES20 experience.

Great Schwag!

You won’t end up with another run-of-the-mill cotton t-shirt with advertisements for the local veterinarian on the back at this race. You get an ad-free CoolMax running shirt with the Eastern States 20 logo on the front. I’ve got three of them and not only are they a trophy/badge-of-honor, they make a great first layer for workouts. In addition the race gives out great finishing prizes. I’ve gotten mugs, running socks, running gloves and other great schwag over the years. Call me a crazy cheap Yankee, but I love getting stuff I can actually use!

See you there!

Come up and join me for a unique New England race. Experience the great course and chat with the friendly New England runners. Grab some great and practical giveaways to cherish and impress your friends. Build your confidence for Boston, or just join us for a long pretty jog. Anyway you slice it the ES20 is a race you have to run at least once in your life.



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