The Bridge to Boston Runs Through Lowell at the BayState Marathon
The BayState is back and you should take another look this fall; Sunday Oct. 16, 2005
Posted Wednesday, 12 October, 2005
The BayState Marathon is a venerable old friend for local runners who want to qualify for Boston without going too far a field. It is 26.2 miles of gentle Merrimac River bank running that will get you to Boston in a hurry.
It was a perfect race for me to qualify at and will be for you this year too. Why is it good for your fall qualifier?
- Flat and fast – BayState has one of the highest qualifying rates of any marathon.
- Local course – No travel - you can even go up and train on the course - it’s local in Lowell.
- Runner’s race – Not big and flashy, BayState has a veteran organization and long history – BayState has been a local favorite for many years – BayState gets it done.
- Great local participation – Always a reunion of local runners from across the Merrimack Valley
- Interesting little city – Lowell Mass – Lots of history and a city in renaissance
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! On the fast track to Boston
Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder
It's the truth, it's actual
Ev'rything is satisfactual
Wonderful feeling, wonderful day, yes sir!
Walt Disney Music – Song of the South
It’s a fast course. I speak from experience. Guess where my first qualifying marathon was? It was in Lowell Massachusetts at the BayState Marathon. I’ve qualified there twice and had great races both times.
Most marathons in New England have to deal with the hills that haunt our area. Even the Cape, that is basically one big sand dune, has rolling hills. The BayState has solved this problem by running a course along the banks of the Merrimac. As a result racers get to enjoy a flat, fast course in the cool of autumn that makes it easier to gain a qualifying time.
Local runners know that the BayState is all business and its chief line of business is getting you qualified for 2 Bostons. The percentage of runners who qualify at this race is very high. There are no topological surprises to kick your legs out from under you at the 20 mile mark. It’s smooth as an unused track.
The course is fast and easy. The race sits nicely in the cool center of October and most of the double loop is shaded by tree cover if you get a sunny day. You are close to the Merrimack River for most of the course and this adds to the coolness and serenity. You can feel the river; even when you can’t see it, and there is a leafy smell of river water and autumn leaves. I have found it a race where I can lock into my pace and fairly meditate my way to a qualifying time.
Local Course – Local Race
As we glided over the broad bosom of the Merrimack, between Chelmsford and Dracut, at noon, here a quarter of a mile wide, the rattling of our oars was echoed over the water to those villages, and their slight sounds to us.
Their harbors lay as smooth and fairy-like as the Lido, or Syracuse, or Rhodes, in our imagination, while, like some strange roving craft, we flitted past what seemed the dwellings of noble home-staying men, seemingly as conspicuous as if on an eminence, or floating upon a tide which came up to those villagers’ breasts.
At a third of a mile over the water we heard distinctly some children repeating their catechism in a cottage near the shore, while in the broad shallows between, a herd of cows stood lashing their sides, and waging war with the flies.
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
by Henry D. Thoreau 1819
Since the race is in the middle of October you can start your training program around the fourth of July and still make a 14 week program work. Many people run their long runs on the course to get a feel for it while training. On Sunday mornings in September you can find runners trundling down 113 and stashing fluids at the vocational school.
The course starts at Boarding House Park on Fr. Morrissette Boulevard in Lowell and makes its way along the Merrimack towards Chelmsford. Runners follow the river north towards Tyngsboro, eventually crossing the river at the Tyngsboro Bridge. This loop is completed twice before the race makes its way back into town to photo-finish inside the Lowell Spinners minor league baseball park. Runners will get a big kick out of the finish inside the stadium and it's a great place for fans to come and see your photo finish.
You might be tempted to think that the course is parking-lot-ugly because of its fast-flat topography. You would be wrong. The double loop along the Merrimack is easy on the psyche. The great river with its picturesque bridges is a constant companion. The course is ensconced in familiar New England foliage that is starting to turn, with the season to brighter hues.
Oh will ya excuse me
I'm just trying to find the bridge
Has anybody seen the bridge?
(Have you seen the bridge?)
I ain't seen the bridge!
(Where's that confounded bridge?)
Led Zeppelin – The Crunge
One of the best things about the BayState marathon is the bridges. The Tyngsboro Bridge appears intermittently through the trees as you approach it. You can glimpse it from North Chelmsford, but it is still a few miles away. Like that famous Citgo sign it floats on the horizon, but doesn’t seem to get any closer. More than once I’ve muttered to the person next to me “Where is that confounded bridge?”. The new course also crosses the Rourke Bridge as well so that you get plenty of scenic river views during the race.
The locals turn out for this race. It’s not like Boston where you will chat up a group of Romanians or French Canadians. Instead, you may find some old friends from Dracut or Methuen. The Merrimack River Valley is home to a large number of runners and running clubs. You are guaranteed see familiar faces and race singlets. There are enough runners in the race, but not too many for the course. Even in the high miles you will have a small knot of like-pacing qualifier hopefuls to hang out with. At the same time it is peaceful and without the hectic crowds of a big party-race.
Taking care of business
The very river that moves the machinery in the mills (for they are all worked by water power) seems to acquire a new character from the fresh buildings of bright red brick and painted wood among which it takes its course; and to be as light-headed, thoughtless, and brisk a young river, in its murmurings and tumblings, as one would desire to see.
American Notes – (Lowell)
Dickens, Charles, 1868
The BayState has a long history. The race has been in existence for many years. It started as a runner’s race, a vehicle for locals to qualify, and it has stayed true to its roots. The support and organization reflects the history, experience and goals of the race. You won’t find famous celebrities or great fanfare here. That’s not what they are about. The BayState provides a fast, local course for qualifying and the support needed to make it happen for you.
The event consists of a marathon and half marathon. Both races start at Boarding House Park in the cool of the October morning. The Marathon goes out at 8:00 and the half at 8:30. Typical race temperatures are in the 50’s. There is bag check for you at the start to stash your goodies.
There are water and Gatorade stations along the course (5 mile marks) for you to replenish and potties if you get caught short. The race has chip timing so you don’t have to worry about losing seconds at the start of your qualifier. There are digital race clocks every 5 miles as well to keep your pace by.
I know at least one of the water stops is a boisterous and inspirational crew. My club, the Squannaccook River Runners does that one. We bring a speaker system and wake up the neighbors with rock and roll! We really know how to hand out drinks! When you run through there tell them Chris sent you. Depending on my training I’ll either be running with you or serving you!
The pasta dinner (free for runners) and expo is at Lowell High School the Saturday before the race, October 15th. You can pick up your long sleeve race tee and race packet there.
Local veteran Dave Dunham holds the course record with a 2:21:36 and Mary Ellen Kelly holds the women’s record at 2:45:53. In the half marathon Scott Cody sets the mark at 1:06:46 and Kristen Beaney at 1:13:47. There are always some fast local club runners at BayState.
My two great qualifying races:
Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.
Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne
BayState is a marathon I think of fondly. It is a race that I enjoyed from start to finish. It is a race I finished strong and happy, (Unlike some of our other famous local marathons that I always finish miserable!)
BayState was my first qualifying marathon. I (over)-trained all summer. I was terrified and didn’t know what to expect. It was my second marathon and the first had been a train wreck. I ran the entire course twice in preparation. Yes, that’s right; my last four long runs were 22, 24, 26.2 and 26.2. I had my splits memorized. I had bottles stashed along the course. I was uber-compulsive. It was that marathon sickness that overcomes those of us with weak and addictive personalities.
We got nice weather that day, cool and overcast in the 40’s. During the race, everyone I was running with was looking to qualify for Boston. It was a whole race full of local Boston hopefuls. I ran compulsively to a pace chart for a 3:10. Around 20 miles I was waiting for the wheels to fall off. Then at 22 and 24 I was still waiting. Coming up on 26 I realized I had it and kicked in for a scientifically executed 3:09. It was one of the best days of my life. I was high for a week. It’s no wonder I think fondly of this race.
I ran it again for a qualifier 3 years later at almost the exact same pace. It’s one of those races that brings out the best in people. There was a kid running with me in the last few miles who had never run a marathon before. As a matter of fact, he had started out running the half marathon and felt good so he just kept going! Why is it that you run into these painfully ironic situations in marathons? Here’s this kid who barely trained pacing me through the finish at a 3:10…Sheesh!
The parks along the river are alive with activity in the fall and summer. We train on the course, doing long runs along the Merrimack on warm Sunday mornings in the summer.
One weekend morning some running buddies and I came into a Dragon Boat festival. It was surreal, grinding out of the summer morning’s mist into the colorful whirl of Asian pageantry and wonderful cooking smells.
Another time we ran into a crew-rowing regatta with hundreds of racing shells on the broad river full of hard pulling college students. There’s always something happening. More than once I have jogged through the leavings of some festival or concert that conveniently left porta-potties scattered around for me to use!
Welcome to the city of Lowell
“That the idea of applying the water of the Merrimack River, at this place, to mechanical and manufacturing purposes to the extent and magnitude with which it was applied, and so successfully, too, shows uncommon foresight and judgment…”
The Merrimack River; its source and its tributaries.
J. W.Meader, 1869
The city of Lowell is an interesting and multicultural place with a long history, plenty to do and a reemerging sense of self. Centuries before the English settlers displaced them in the 1600’s, Native Americans gathered at the Pawtucket Falls for fishing and celebrations. Many early towns were established along the Merrimack and its tributaries in the 17th century with the first settlements in 1635.
In 1792 it was decided by some enterprising capitalist to build a canal with locks around the Pawtucket Falls. This way Merrimack River commerce wouldn’t have to be unloaded and carried around this obstacle. This was an age of great canal building across the region and if you look closely in your own neighborhood you may find some remnants of old canal paths.
With the onset of the industrial revolution the power of the Merrimack was harnessed, mills sprang up and a modern city was born. Lowell became famous for its textiles. You can tour the textile museums and the canals today as part of the park that encompasses it all. Due to Lowell's history, it was the first American city to be declared a National Historical Park.
Waves of immigration have come into the United States through Lowell to work in the mills. Germans, Poles, French Canadians and Greeks all established communities that still survive. Potato famine Irish, (including my mother’s family) worked the mills in the early 20th century.
Lowell was a hotbed of the first organized labor movements. It might be a lesson for us to remember the women striking to get a reduction to a 10 hour work day in their 6 day week! It is on the back of this urban working class that much of our current America rests.
Eventually the industry relocated south for cheaper labor and Lowell suffered what the economists call ‘structural obsolescence’. With its existing infrastructure Lowell continued to attract new waves of immigrants. Large Caribbean and Asian communities give current day Lowell a spicy flavor.
The city has experienced a rebirth. They have embraced the history and at the same time created new energies. There is a wonderful local sports scene with the Lowell Spinners, a minor league Red Sox team and the Lock Monsters hockey team. The classic downtown has many great ethnic restaurants and there is always something happening.
Wrapping it up
Join me at the BayState this year, as, like the swallows to Capistrano, the local Boston wannabees flock to punch their ticket at this forgiving and friendly race. I speak from my heart when I say that it is the kind of place where dreams come true.