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home > community > viewpoint > 2004 martha’s vineyard

2004 Martha’s Vineyard
A walk on the beach

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By Christopher J. Russell
Posted Saturday, 21 February, 2004

It’s 4:00 AM and I can’t sleep. I ran the Martha’s Vineyard 20 miler yesterday, and for some reason my quads are achy. It wasn’t the hills. There weren’t any. I must be getting old.

It was beautiful yesterday. It was in the mid-40’s and sunny. Except for the substantial breezes it would have been perfect race weather. Compared to the arctic blasts we have been suffering it was perfect.

The sun felt so good as I walked the beach at Vineyard Haven prior to the start. The Atlantic was clear and cold. The shells crunched underfoot. The fishing boats bobbed at anchor. A couple of gulls fishing in the shallows let me know what they thought of my intrusion with perturbed squawks.

February in New England is a crapshoot, but if you catch a good day, there is no prettier, friendlier race than this one.

We really dodged a bullet weather-wise this year. The race managed to be 12 hours on the warm side of a front. If we were to run this morning, it would be in single digit cold with a gale force snow.

Last year we ran a snow shortened 18-mile course in a bone chilling 3-degree breeze on dangerous ice-covered bike paths. A couple years ago a front rolled through during the day making a race that was half Jekyll and half Hyde.

That’s New England for you. If you don’t like the weather wait a bit, it will change.

Martha’s Vineyard is an island snuggled up close to the south side of Cape Cod. There’s less than 10 miles of the Atlantic Ocean separating the island from Woods Hole, but there’s no road. To get over to the island you have to take a ferry.

This isolation has allowed Martha’s Vineyard to keep its charm and resist development. The island is an interesting place. It’s a beautiful Massachusetts seafaring locale preserved in time. The towns are lined with well-ordered white-clapboard Victorian houses. The sea caresses miles of white sand beaches.

In some aspects it is just a collection of Massachusetts towns like any other. In the summer it becomes a tourist bonanza with Bostonians taking the ferry over for day trips to the beaches. In the winter, life goes on. The island is known for its rich and famous residents, but you can still get a nice little summer cottage for under a million bucks.

I drove down in the morning and caught the 8:15 AM Ferry. It’s a 45-minute ride with a bunch of runners, youth hockey teams (who can’t sit still) and locals, (who must wonder who all these anemic people in tights are).

There were white caps in Nantucket Sound and the ferry wallowed a bit in the wind driven seas. When we docked at Vineyard Haven it was already warm and the sun was climbing.

Chatting up the runners in the basement of the Catholic Church I confirmed that this is a different crowd than your average weekend 10k. Most of these folks are on track for the Boston Marathon and use this race as a scenic training run. You hear the phrase “Oh, it’s just a training run for me”, but you know that once they get out there, it’s a race. The field is mostly veterans.

I really like this race. It’s small with only a couple hundred people. It seemed smaller than last year, probably because the snow-and-ice-artic-horror-show race of last year scared some people off. This race is beautiful, especially those sections along the beach, and (don’t tell anyone) it’s easy.

The course starts at the ferry terminal and runs along the coast ‘down island’ towards Edgartown, (in the direction of infamous Chappaquiddick of Teddy Kennedy fame). The track follows the bike path on Beach Road for the first 9 miles.

The beach is a narrow sandy spit that separates the Atlantic from Sengekontacket pond, where yesterday there was a fisherman clamming from his skiff amid the ice chunks. One of the fun things about this part of Massachusetts is the names that have been borrowed from the indigenous peoples, (like ‘Massachusetts’).

There was a strong quartering wind down the Beach Road path that pushed the runners along by their right shoulder. Everyone ran their first nine miles at a pace 30 seconds per mile faster than they had planned. You just had to, with the nice bike path surface, the flat beauty of the beach and that wind pushing from the side. If we were smart we could have rigged a jib and a spinnaker to make even better time down wind.

In Edgartown the course turned back up island along a bike trail directly into the wind and unsheltered for a couple miles. This definitely took the snap out of a lot of people’s sails. If you were to look at the splits, you’d see that we gave some of that fast start back here, and people began to wonder if letting the wind pull them out so fast in the beginning was such a great idea after all.

It was still warm and sunny when we ducked back into the shelter of a scrub oak covered bike trail at mile 12. Some people dialed it back to catch their breath, but I only passed one distraught walker. The rest of the race was an easy walk-in-park bike path. There was nothing to do but roll on home to the finish.

The race finished at the elementary school. There were the traditional hot soup and bagels, including a wonderful clam chowder. The school graciously let’s us use the locker rooms and showers, which is a definite plus. I would not want to ride the ferry back in wet salty clothes. The race tee’s were bright orange this year with the traditional “No Weenies” moniker on the sleeve.

Everyone was happy. They were happy with the weather and they were happy with their times. This is an easy race. Compared to your normal New England race or training loop, it’s flat as a pancake. It’s a fast course. Everyone that I talked to on the ferry back had a great day and beat their training targets. Some set PR’s.

If you want a Valentines Day weekend getaway with an easy 20 mile race thrown in at a pretty seaside venue, this is the recommended race. Keep an eye on the forecast though, because you never know when a gale is going to blow in.



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