The Fall Marathon Season: Made For Running
Running has been around since the dawn of man, but it's pretty clear that autumn marathoning was born on October 24, 1976. On that date, the preposterous idea of taking a small four lapper around Central Park and moving it across all five boroughs of New York City was realized by a visionary named Fred Lebow.
Posted Wednesday, 25 September, 1996
Running has been around since the dawn of man, but it's pretty clear that autumn marathoning was born on October 24, 1976. On that date, the preposterous idea of taking a small four lapper around Central Park and moving it across all five boroughs of New York City was realized by a visionary named Fred Lebow. The race leaped in size from a few dozen to a few thousand, and Bill Rodgers, still smarting from an Olympic disappointment a few months earlier, positively drilled a star studded international field in 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds. The rest, as we know, is history.
Most runners would agree that fall is the best time to run In New England. Around these parts, winter can be bit too risky for going 26.2, summer is too hot, and the Boston Marathon blots out the rest of the running landscape in springtime. But fall, ah, fall. The temperature cools, the leaves turn, the running is easy. If you can't get it done in October and November in New England, you just aren't going to do it at all.
There are many fine marathons in New England. Most all of these races are mid-sized, well-organized runs that offer a runner their best opportunity to run a fast time. Sure, New York City is not too far away for those seeking the big city mega-marathon experience, but it is the smaller gems populating the calendar that make for a truly memorable marathon experience. From late September through the weekend before Thanksgiving, you can't go wrong running 26 milers in Keene, NH, Portland, ME, Lowell, MA, Falmouth, MA, Hartford, CT, or Warwick, RI.
Back in the 70's the choice of marathons was not quite so broad. Having become a fairly seasoned road racer over several years, I was looking to graduate to the mythical marathon distance in 1979. Other than New York, which closed out early, the Ocean State Marathon, held in Newport, RI was the only other one I knew of. It was just a little too early in the fall for me, but I came across a listing for the Foxboro (MA) Marathon the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Perfect. I sent in my $2 pre entry fee and set about getting ready. On a beautiful cool, crisp, sunny New England Sunday, in 3 hours 10 minutes, and 20 seconds I joined the ranks of marathoners, just as the decade was coming to a close.
I went on to run Foxboro five times in all, including 1983, when I ran a breakthrough race, taking my PR all the way down to 2:37. That was the last year of the Foxboro race, sad to say. Bob Spitler did a fine job with this scenic suburban tour, but for a variety of reasons, this and many other New England fall marathons have slipped into the annals of history. Give yourself an A in running history if you can remember (or better yet, ran!) the Dartmouth Medical School, the Lowell VFW, the Otis Air Force Base, the John English, the Boston Fest, or the Boston Peace Marathons.
Oh yes, the Boston Peace Marathon. There was a big movement a while back to stage a fall marathon in Boston. The Boston Fest race was a one year deal in 1983, but a couple of years later Gerry Wright got a race going that started in Carlisle and ran through Concord, Arlington, and Cambridge, right down Mass Ave before finishing in front of Boston's City Hall. Gerry had some bad luck with the weather. In 1987 torrential rains plagued the event and a year later it was so cold, the water at the aid stations froze right in the cups. Too bad that one went away; I'd surely run it now.
So here we are, 20 years after Fred Lebow got things going in New York, about to embark upon another fall marathon season. The Clarence Demar Marathon leads off on September 28 in Keene, NH. The point to point, slightly downhill course offers the opportunity for a fast time if you are ready to go. On the same day the East Lyme CT marathon is another low key few hundred runner race. Both of these races have stood the test of time.
The Maine Marathon will be held the next Sunday. The roots of this race in Portland can be traced back to when it was known as the Casco Bay. It is very well organized by the Maine Track Club, offering all the amenities of a first class race. The day before Maine is the New Hampshire Marathon, around beautiful Newfound Lake. Not for the faint of heart, this race. It's got some hills in the early miles, but the scenic course makes it worth the effort.
Saturday, October 18th is the date for the 4th Hartford Marathon. In 1994, I ran in the inaugural edition of this race. There were only 250 runners in the race, but it was clear that day that it was destined to grow into Connecticut's signature Marathon. Last year the race experienced some growing pains, but looks to get back on track this year. Starting and finishing in Bushnell Park, Hartford is a flat course, out into the suburbs and back to the Park. There are all kinds of activities, including a half marathon and 5K race.
The Baystate Marathon on the 19th is a Boston Marathon aspirant's mecca. If you look up " flat and fast " in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of the Baystate course, I think. Two loops around the Merrimac River and you are back the Vocational School with a passport to Boston. More than 40% of the field annually meets the Boston qualifying time, a claim few other marathons can make. The Greater Lowell Road Runners put on the race, offering a runner all the support they'll need to run a fast time. This year, the half marathon is the New England USATF championship. That will add a lot of speed and excitement to the day, as will the presence of the ESPN Running and Racing crew.
The Cape Cod Marathon is next up, on Sunday, October 26th. This event has to be the quintessential marathon experience. From the moment you arrive at the Lawrence School in Falmouth until the time you leave under a cover of darkness later that afternoon, Courtney and Carolyn Bird and the folks at the Cape Cod Marathon will make it a day to remember. The route is bursting with scenery, from seaside vistas to tree lined roads. The best post race meal around is waiting for you back at the school, followed by the awards ceremony in the gym. Sure, the course has a few hills, but if you are fit, you can run a fast time on the course. It rewards those who have done their training. In six trips to Falmouth to run this marathon, I've never been sorry I made the effort to go.
Used to be most of the marathons were in November around New England, but this year, the Ocean State 26'r stands alone on November 9th. As I alluded to earlier, Ocean State has been around for a good while. The race has gone through a few different editions on a few different courses, but Gerry Began has kept the spirit of the original race alive. Now a point to point course from Narraganset to Warwick, the race offers some beautiful oceanside views. It is a well run event and a favorite of many veteran runners. Ocean Sate is also the most competitive of the New England fall marathons. With a $4,000 first place prize, the race to win is always fierce. Favorite son John Gregorek won a thrilling race in 1995; his margin over Tanzanian Simon Peter by a slim 2 seconds. It's the New England USATF championship for 1997, promising many fast local runners and teams.
For those who find the challenge of the marathon not enough, the Nifty Fifty mile will be run on Sunday, November 23rd. This loop course will surely give you your money's worth, and you can be sure you'll have plenty of room to run and plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. There is also a certified marathon split for those who find 26.2 is enough for the day.
I don't think it is too provincial to say we have some of the best marathons in the country right here in New England. With all of these great events, it's almost hard NOT to run a fall marathon. The spirit of running in our region is kept alive by these marathons. you don't have to travel to faraway destinations to find the true marathon experience. Like many other things in life, it's right here at home.