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home > races/results > usa: massachusetts > the mill cities relay, 2005 - a running tradition in the merrimack valley

The Mill Cities Relay, 2005 - A Running Tradition in the Merrimack Valley
Mill Cities has celebrated the sport of running in the Merrimack Valley of New Hampshire and Massachusetts for 22 years, and counting.

The Mill Cities Relay, 2005 - A Running Tradition in the Merrimack Valley

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By Skip Cleaver
Posted Thursday, 27 October, 2005

The Mill Cities Relay is an invitational relay, a celebration of running in New England for 15 member clubs of the unique Mill Cities Alliance. One element that makes this event so special is that organizers take the long view--of the event, and the sport it celebrates. This year’s edition will run on Sunday, December 4, beginning at 8:00 a.m. It has been 22 years, but planning encompasses not only the 22nd annual relay, but also the next 22 years, and the 22 after that. It shows. It is one of the most enjoyable and unique events in New England running.

The Mill Cities Relay runs 28.3 miles in five legs from Nashua, New Hampshire to Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The Merrimack Valley is one of the greatest hotbeds of running in the country, a region that is one of the richest in running traditions and in the number and variety of running events. Mill Cities club members race events as varied as the Boston Marathon to obscure trail races, to mountain races and relays, cross country and road events, and track and field at its best, to small local races, and then great national championships. The Mill Cities Relay allows the clubs of the Merrimack Valley to show their colors in friendly competition with neighbors, as everyone celebrates their sport in this finale. It provides camaraderie between clubs at the end of the intensely competitive season.

The Mill Cities Relay was founded in 1984 to promote and celebrate running. It also honors the traditions of the venerable mills and lore of the Merrimack Valley, running along the picturesque Merrimack River. The primary goal has always been for participants to experience pure enjoyment of their sport. This is an event for participation, as well as competition. How many teams can these 15 clubs put on the road in all divisions? It is the ultimate team event—an event where all age groups and clubs, small and large, can really shine. The MCR is for all members, beginners and elite racers, whether running 2.5 miles, or the long leg at 9.4 miles.

To maintain the quality and unique character of the race, the Mill Cities Relay is a closed event; it is established and administered by the running clubs of the region. The MCR is colorful, unique, and run by and for the participants.

On Sunday, December 4th, when most ordinary road races are already etched in the logbook, the Mill Cities Relay will roll along the Merrimack River. It will put an exclamation point on the season, and it will create some great memories and good times for the runners’ logs--an asterisk for terrific miles. And, oh yes, there is a great party at the end.

The Course
The Mill Cities Relay will be a 5-leg, 28.3-mile journey along the river through Nashua and Hudson, New Hampshire, to Tyngsboro, Lowell, Dracut, and Methuen in Massachusetts, finishing in Lawrence at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Legs are 5.6, 4.9, 2.5, 9.4, and 5.9 miles. The 22nd annual MCR—as with the first 21--will start at the Nashua YMCA. When the ceremonial brick is dropped, more than 200 individual teams will blast off with smiles and cheers all around.

The Merrimack River will be visible along most of the course, which includes bike paths immediately adjacent to the riverbank.

The first leg bridges the Merrimack into Hudson, then heads south along the river. The route remains on the northeast or left shore of the Merrimack until re-crossing to the south shore in Lawrence. The course parallels the river heading south along Route 3A, with the first of four exchange points at the Sears Warehouse (just beyond the BAE facility near the Hudson, New Hampshire/Tyngsboro, Mass. border). The second leg runs to the Greater Lowell Technical High School, the second exchange point (and the start of the Sunshine Teams).

The University of Massachusetts Lowell Boathouse on Pawtucket Boulevard is the third exchange, followed by the Griffith Industrial Park on Route 110 in Methuen. The Relay finishes at the Lawrence Knights of Columbus, 1 Market Street in the city of Lawrence.

Location, Location
The cities and towns of the Merrimack Valley share history and a strong running tradition. They share seasons, technology, traditions, inventiveness, determination, persistence—and running. The clubs of the Merrimack Valley share a strong enthusiasm for the sport, and are good at it. They embrace the philosophy, expertise, dedication, ingenuity, and enthusiasm that are long-held traditions of the Valley. And those attributes are evident in the history and quality of this remarkable relay.

Twelve Divisions
Divisions include 12 categories: women’s, men’s, and mixed open; women’s, men’s, and mixed masters (40-49); women’s, men’s, and mixed seniors (50-59); and women’s, men’s, and mixed veterans (60+). All divisions are 5-person teams, except female seniors, female veterans, and mixed veterans, which are 3-person teams; they have a sunshine start (last three legs only). Mixed teams must have a minimum of 2 females (one for mixed vets). Team members can watch and cheer their teammates every step of the way--one runner on the road, and four in support at all times. It is a great opportunity to compete within one’s club, in addition to challenging others.

Traditional Awards
Bricks are presented to teams placing 1-2-3 in their division. All participants will be given a unique MCR award. The goals for all are enjoyment, participation, and celebration. Secondarily, clubs run to earn points toward the coveted Mill Cities Trophy, signifying the Championship of the Merrimack Valley. Points are awarded according to the number of clubs participating in any given division.

During the awards ceremony, the Phil Quinn Award will be given for outstanding and meaningful contributions to running in the Merrimack Valley. Quinn was one of the founders of the Mill Cities Relay and many other events in the region. He was President of the Gate City Striders, and one of the Relay Founders.

Party Time
Yes, it is a celebration. As such, a terrific party will follow the running of the MCR. It will be held at the Lawrence Knights of Columbus Hall adjacent to the finish line, and will include chili, pasta, salad, beverages, a professional DJ, and more. It, too, is a colorful event, with club uniforms, banners, and banter evident at this end-of-season bash. The food -fest and music will be interrupted briefly for the presentation of awards.

Following a combined long training run along the Merrimack River, the organizers from the three Founding Clubs—the Gate City Striders, the Greater Lowell Road Runners, and the Merrimack Valley Striders—decided to run a relay race. Dave Camire, then of Greater Lowell Road Runners (Camire has been the Commisioner of the MCR Alliance and Race Director for all 22 years), suggested the race to GCS President Phil Quinn and MVS member Marty Cardoza. The trio had recently experienced the Plymouth to Provincetown relay in Southeastern Massachusetts (later to become the Lake Winnipesaukee Relay in New Hampshire), and wanted to organize their own relay as an end-of-season celebration. As usual for this running trio, the talk turned to action. The relay was born.

The first annual Mill Cities Relay was run in December of 1984 along much the same route as today’s relay, Nashua to Lawrence, although the leg lengths and handoff points have changed often due to construction and revamped roadways. From the beginning it was run as a season ending party. However, competition began with the first event. The scoring was simple—total time of the first division teams from each club—men’s open, men’s masters, and women’s open and masters. The Greater Lowell Road Runners won the first contest by a wide margin. Their 10:41:24 easily outdistanced the Gate City total of 12:07:48 and Merrimack Valley’s 12:58:12.

The scoring remained essentially the same (total time, although additional divisions were added) through 1997. In 1998 the scoring format was changed to points, and remains essentially the same today. Points are awarded according to the number of clubs participating in any given division, whereas the clock system required entrants in all divisions. For example, if all 15 clubs enter teams in the men’s open division, the first place team in that division will be awarded 15 points, the second team 14, on down to the 15th team, which receives 1 point. If there are four clubs participating in the women’s veteran’s division, the first place team would receive 4 points, the second place team 3 points, and so on.

The first contest based on points in 1998 was a tie between the Greater Lowell Road Runners and the Merrimack Valley Striders at 51 points each. Winners Circle Running Club was second (48), and Gate City Striders third (44). The next tightest contest in the event was the 2000 race when Gate City edged Greater Lowell by a single point, 45 to 44, with Winner’s Circle third with 42.

The 1984 inaugural was a booming success, and other clubs in the region wanted to join in the excitement. By agreement, each of the three clubs could admit another club of their choice, and nominate another for consideration. Six clubs were added in 1985. The class of ‘85 included the New Hampshire Athletic Alliance, the Winner’s Circle Running Club, the Andover Striders, the Sanders Snails (Nashua), the Wang Road Runners (Lowell), and the Middlesex Striders. Winners’ Circle, the Andover Striders, and New Hampshire Athletic Alliance remain as MCR Alliance members. The others were disbanded and absorbed into other groups. A maximum of one club per year has been admitted thereafter.

Nine additional clubs have been added since 1985 (by rule, not more than one per year). The North Shore Striders were admitted in 1990. Gil’s Athletic Club of Topsfield, Massachusetts was added in 1992. The Whirlaway Racing Team of Methuen was admitted in 1993. There were 13 clubs by 2000, including the Somerville Road Runners (1994), the Greater Derry Track Club (1995), the Squannacook River Runners of Groton, Mass. (1996), and the North Medford Club (1997). The admission of the Sandown, New Hampshire Rogue Runners (2001), and the Melrose Running Club (2003) brought the total to 15. Four are from the Granite State and 10 from the Bay State.

All Clubs, All Regions Should Hold Such an Event
The Merrimack Valley has a powerful running legacy. There are more runners per capita, more running clubs per square mile, and more running events per year than just about any other region in the country. The Mill Cities Relay is one of the best of the best, and many members of each club help organize and plan the race. This event belongs to the members--invited participants and honored guests.

Check the Mill Cities Website for additional information, results of past years, and Phil Quinn Award winners at

The Mill Cities Relay, the embodiment of running in the Merrimack Valley, is strong, growing, and enjoyable. There are many excellent running events in and around the Merrimack Valley. Mill Cities is definitely a highlight. The MCR has built a tradition. It is now part of the mill cities lore, and is characteristic of the region it represents. The member clubs have created a powerful competitive legacy, crowned by this outstanding event. In a region known for excellent runners and racing at a high-level, the Mill Cities Relay emphasizes the health and power of our sport. One more year!



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