The Boston Prep Derry 16 Miler--Extraordinary Organization and Frosty Challenge
One of the best winter races in New England—Robert Frost would be proud. This race is really special; it is innovative, and enjoyably challenging. Poetic justice. They have planned well for you in Derry, New Hampshire!
Posted Saturday, 14 January, 2006
This is one of the best races in New England. One reason—it is unique. There is simply nothing like it. It is NOT the intimidating killer you may have heard about, although that myth has become part of the mystique. You have likely heard stories of how difficult (mountainous climbs) this race can be, and how unpredictable. Some of these myths are based in reality, certainly. But I take a contrary view. It is an ideal training run for Boston, and other spring marathons. It is one of the best-planned races, and is ideally scheduled for distance runners in January. And most runners find it enjoyable.
The eleventh annual Boston Prep 16 Miler will run in Derry, New Hampshire, on Sunday, January 22, beginning at 10:00 a.m. (sunshine start at 9:00). Please note that race headquarters, registration, bib number, T-shirt, chip pickup will be at the Derry Village Elementary School this year, located just north of—and adjacent to--West Running Brook Middle School, the race headquarters in recent years. There will be no change, however, in the starting point on Humphrey Road, or the finish line at West Running Brook.
Many say this race is among the toughest anywhere. To the contrary, take it from me; the hills are not that bad. Really! This, now, from a guy who runs many of the mountain races, I must admit. But honestly, look at the evidence. There are no “high” hills in this region—check the topography. The course is up and down, yes, but the highest point in the town of Derry is Warner Hill at 605 feet. That’s it! True, the climb of Warner Hill (also known as Antennae Hill) is long, and begins late in the race. And there are a lot of rolling hills before that. But get this--they go up AND down. This is a loop course after all. Hill training is good. Contrary to popular belief, this course really is moderate. It is certainly not flat, but neither is it intimidatingly steep.
The Greater Derry Track Club takes great pride in the quality of this race. They should. Putting on a race of this size and complexity is a significant accomplishment for this club, a small but dynamic, energetic group. Race Director Dave Breeden is entering his fifth year at the helm. If you want to talk about challenges, they have had challenges. Through it all they have been innovative and flexible. They have provided the New England running community with a high quality event from the beginning.
You will be racing near the homes of Robert Frost, one of the most famous and oft quoted of American poets; and Alan Shepard, America’s first astronaut in space, and the fifth person to walk on the moon.
This scenic roller coaster tour is limited to 600 runners, and it will sell out well in advance. If you want the medal and the unique experience of the Boston Prep Derry 16, please apply early.
Overall it is challenging, but it is fun because it is so different. Any 16-miler would be challenging when hills are involved. That is why we do it. The race is also well organized, scenic, exciting, and perfect for the training calendar. The race is as advertised, and as designed; it is preparation for the Boston Marathon. You can predict that it will be exceptionally well organized and the volunteers will be wonderful, as always. The one thing that cannot be predicted is the weather. Hey, it’s New England! It’s January! Unpredictable weather is part of the anticipation and the fun. Enjoy the miles and the season.
“Light This Candle”, said Alan Shepard, sitting atop his Redstone rocket in the Mercury capsule that blasted him into space, America’s first.
The start is on Humphrey Road, just south of West Running Brook Middle School, just off Route 28, at 10 a.m. sharp. It is only 100 yards from West Running Brook, made famous by Robert Frost. There is a strict time limit of three hours (four hours for those who use the sunshine start at 9:00 a.m.)
The course heads east on Humphrey, between fields and farms and those stone walls, also prominent in Frost’s work. At ½ mile, the course turns right on Cemetery Road, and shortly thereafter crosses West Running Brook. (Hey, the brook knows what it is doing. It heads west away from the Derry hills before turning north and finally east, joining with Beaver Brook to Beaver Pond.)
At 7/10ths, the course turns left on Island Pond Road and begins a gradual upgrade for half a mile, turning right on Lawrence Road at 1.5. The course bears left at the fork onto Stark Road, named for General John Stark of Revolutionary War fame (1728-1822). Note the stone that marks his birthplace on the right just 2/10ths after turning on Stark Road.
A left on Gervais (2.5) takes runners through a pretty, quiet neighborhood, followed by a right on Mill Road at 3.3. Here the course crosses the beautiful State Recreational Rail Trail, which runs from Windham Depot through Derry to Sandown. At 4.3 there is a left on Stark, followed by a quick left on Kilrea Road and a small hill. The field passes miles five and six on Kilrea, including a nice downhill just beyond five and a beautiful hemlock grove on both sides at 5.5. The course turns right on Gulf Road at 6.2 and enjoys some rolling downhill.
A left on Bartlett at 7.1 followed by another left on island Pond 2/10ths later provides a flat stretch. The relative flat continues with a right at eight miles on North Shore Road, a very quiet stretch. A left on Drew Hill Road at 9.1 gives you exactly that, a short but steep little grade.
Just beyond the fire station the course turns right on Warner Hill Road, passing 10 just after the turn. The long climb begins on Warner Hill Road approaching the 11-mile mark. It starts from one of the lower points on the course, just after crossing the rail trail again. The big hill is behind you by 12 miles, followed by a left on Floyd Road at 12.3. Just before 13 miles, the course turns right on Lane Road, and provides one of the flattest and nicest sections from 13 to the old finish at 14.1 miles. It is flat, with fields and farms on both sides.
At 14.2 you enter the village of East Derry, turning left on Hampstead Road, passing colonial houses, the Upper Village Hall, the general store, the quaint library, and the Civil war monument. The course turns left on Cemetery Road at 14.6. The 15-mile mark is just beyond the end of the cemetery. The last mile is along this flat road, with a right on familiar Humphrey Road with its stone walls and fields. As you turn right from Humphrey onto Route 28, there is just over a tenth to go. The right at the light at the top of the grade takes you to the finish at West Running Brook School.
They use chip timing. There are computer splits and checks at 5, 10, and 13.1 miles. It is interesting to compare the splits between 10 and 13.1, as that section includes the large hill.
Awards go to the top three overall and top three in all 10-year age groups. There are also awards three deep for open and master Fillies, and open and master Clydesdales. Every finisher get that unique medal. T-shirts are optional (although they are really a keepsake).
Greater Derry Track Club members Jeff Litchfield and Mike Beeman designed the original course 12 years ago, simply following the roads they normally trained on for Boston. They thought it might appeal to others. They were right.
Beeman holds the record, by the way, for most consecutive Boston Marathons by a New Hampshire resident. He now lives and teaches in Georgia. Litchfield directed the Boston Prep through the first seven years before moving north to Hopkinton, New Hampshire. He was also the director of the Weekend Before Hunting Season 10 Mile Trail Race in Sandown (next town to the east), another challenging and enjoyable run (unfortunately it is no longer held because of development where the trails were).
Why did you start the Boston Prep 16, Jeff?
“The Border to Border 20 Miler was not scheduled for that year (1995); it was dropped after a two year run, and we thought a January 16 miler would complement the Stu’s 30K (in early March) for Boston training. We decided this in November, with a race planned for January, so it was pretty tight on preparations the first year,” said Litchfield. “And then it just grew very quickly.”
“I think the reputation from the first few years was largely because the big hill came at 14 to 15 miles when the finish was on Lane Road,” he said. “And then we had that year of the black ice, with all the slipping and sliding,” he continued. Weather can and has been problematic, both temperature and precipitation. “But we don’t think the hills are that bad, not for this area.”
The race quickly outgrew the Boys and Girls Club as a headquarters because there was little parking. “And some did not like the walk up to the start and down from the finish,” Litchfield said. The school facilities used now have solved both problems.
Robert Frost, Derry Resident and Farmer, Teacher, Poet
The Frost Farm is less than a mile south of the race start, on Route 28, or what was then known as the Londonderry Turnpike. He passed Humphrey Road, West Running Brook, and what is now the Derry Village School on his way to teach at Pinkerton Academy. He was a poultry farmer, and also taught English and Literature at Pinkerton, now America’s largest private preparatory school (and Derry’s High School). It is also one of the oldest private academies in the USA (1814).
Many of Frost’s early works were written in Derry, and many more were inspired by his experiences there, including such famous works as “Mowing”, “Mending Wall”, “Birches”, “The Road Not Taken”, New Hampshire”, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (Promises to Keep), and “The Pasture”. He lived in Derry longer than any other location (1900 to 1911), and drew many of his works from direct experience and observation while living there, including “West Running Brook”.
The stream of West Running Brook flows parallel to Humphrey Road near the race start. The brook was once the boundary of Robert Frost’s farm. He made this brook famous in his poem of the same name, “West Running Brook”, and he also published a book of poems with that title. Frost was apparently fascinated by this stream, which seems to run contrary to nature by running west when the ocean is east. The poem that eventually resulted was one of the deepest and most complex ever written by Frost, full of metaphors and philosophic cycles of life and continuity. A portion:
‘West Running Brook then call it.’
(West Running Brook men call it to this day.)
‘What does it think (it’s) doing running west
When all the other brooks flow east
To reach the Ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries.’
West Running Brook does turn north and joins Beaver Brook, which runs to Beaver Lake. Several of Greater Derry’s other races, including the just concluded Turkey Trot and the Foothealth 5K circumnavigate this lake.
Alan Shepard of Derry
Alan Shepard was America’s first Astronaut in space. He was born in Derry in 1923 and grew up on a farm near the village of East Derry. He attended elementary School there and graduated high school from Pinkerton Academy before going to the Naval Academy. He was a World War II veteran and a naval test pilot before becoming one of the original seven astronauts (April, 1959). He rode “Freedom Seven” into space with his sub-orbital flight on May 5, 1961, the first success of the Mercury program. In 1963 he became Chief of the Astronaut Office. January 31 to February 9, 1971 he commanded Apollo 14, and became the fifth man to walk on the moon. He was the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor (Space). He died of leukemia July 21, 1998. Because of Admiral Shepard, the Pinkerton Academy sports teams are now called the “Astros”.
Many Reasons to Race in Derry
The Boston Prep 16 Miler in Derry is generating excitement and anticipation already as winter approaches. The Boston Prep 16-Miler is one terrific race. You have the opportunity to earn a unique medal at Derry, a medal that reflects its dynamic course, winter date on the calendar, and its unique reputation. It is given to all finishers (view the design on the race website). There are few races of any type that provide exactly what is required at precisely the right time--this is one. A cold day makes the hot soup and other refreshments hit the spot at the post race. Who knows, we ran in shorts and 60-degree weather one year. Look me up at the post race celebration and give me your evaluation of the course, and the organization. I hope to see you there.