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home > community > viewpoint > post card perfect at the cape cod marathon

Post Card Perfect at the Cape Cod Marathon
There’s a reason they call this one of the most scenic races in the USA and today bore that out!

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By Chris Russell
Posted Monday, 31 October, 2005

Even thought this race kicked my butt again, it was gorgeous. It was 55 degrees and not a cloud in the sky at race start. It was 63 and still sunny at the finish. There was a slight, but kindly, zephyr of a sea breeze, but nothing with any impact. The Atlantic Ocean was as flat and calm as a bathtub. The boats and houses oozed scenic Cape Cod.

The crowds were warm and happy, cheerfully cheering the racers on, obviously buoyant at being finally released from the rainiest October since they started keeping records in Massachusetts. The support and water stop volunteers took their jobs seriously and executed with a poised expertise of 28 years of practice. Now if they could flatten out those little hills a bit…

The Cape Cod Marathon, or CCM, (that is the diminutive that is painted on the mile marks), is in its 28th year. It starts and ends in Falmouth. If you look at a map of the Cape, it’s shaped like an extended arm with P-Town at the hand, Harwich and Chatham are at the elbow, Hyannis is under the bicep and Falmouth…well Falmouth is close to the armpit. But that geographical metaphor has no bearing on the actual beauty of the place. Below is an 1890 map by H. D. Thoreau. Read his Cape Cod journals if you get a chance, they’re way funnier than Walden.

To get to Falmouth, you go straight down 495, over the Bourne Bridge, straight down route 28 and your there.

Falmouth is where we gather in February to take the ferry out of Woods Hole over to Martha’s Vineyard for that 20 miler.

The whole area is one of hidden bays along the crenulated coastline, light houses and fishing villages. Just like in the post cards.

Really, I would recommend running this as a destination race. Spend the weekend eating seafood and walking on the beach with your honey. There is something about the Cape that just sucks the stress out of you.

I would also more than recommend taking a team down for the Dunkin Donuts marathon relay. Those folks looked like they were having blast. They were running in costume and cheering teams of supporters hooted at each of the exchanges. After every exchange a new wave of fresh legged participants would happily bounce by us trudging marathoners. That’s the way to do it. That’s what I’m doing next time.

Running it as a qualifier is a little challenging. It’s a tough course. Not crazy tough, but tough on the unsuspecting and meekly trained. The first bit of it is a nice flat-to-downhill run, and like Boston, makes rookies run stupid-fast. The miles from 13 to 23 are rolling hills, nothing huge, not like Derry hills, but they keep coming at you like ocean waves.

If you are drawn out by the siren song of the fast start you will find yourself dashed on the rocks of hubris. It’s a choice between the Scylla of fast start and the Charybdis of unrelenting hills. I should have stayed home and chewed lotus flowers on the couch!

I ran my race and was disciplined, but I had not trained any hills. My target race was BayState and that has no hills. If I was training to qualify for CCM I would throw a series of 10-20 100 yard hill charges in with my speed work.

There were people around me who took the bait. I didn’t let myself get more than 15 seconds away from my 7:30 target splits but I was surrounded by people who had no intention of running that fast. They were chatting away as if on Sunday morning 10k lark. I had physically restrain myself to stay on pace.

Part of it was the beautiful weather and the great company. We had some great conversations going, and then we’d pass a mile mark and let out a collective “OOPS”, and try to slow down.

The first part of the course runs through back country Cape roads with a protective canopy of trees, like you’re running through a tunnel. Most of the leaves were down from the aforementioned rainy spell, but some of the sugar maples were still displaying their fall bounty.

I held it great until the big hill around mile 15 and basically hit the wall running up that sucker. I got to the top and said to myself, “OK, looks like another fun run from here on, I’m toast!” Then I got a second wind on the ensuing down hills and put in enough to get back on schedule. I was chugging up those little hills like an asthmatic octogenarian, then flying down the back sides to make it up. It worked for awhile, but the next big hill at 20 knocked me out for good.

I walked a little and settled into a slow finishing trot to save my legs and take in the scenery. Hey, I’m too old to be a martyr, and I had a weird couple weeks; it’s ok. I’d rather mail it in than be hobbling around for the next week. Missing my time by 1 minute or 10 minutes is all the same to me. It was a probably a combination of my legs not recovered enough from BayState a couple weeks ago and the medication I was on.

The last few miles right along the ocean were really nice. As I hit the ocean front the breeze brought that musty, salty ocean smell to me. Looking to the right the high sun shimmered off a peaceful, rippling Atlantic. The last hill of any size is up to Nobska Light House perched on the coast around 23 miles.

By this time there was a whole crew of us ‘jogging’. Probably 10-12 people doing a run-walk. No one was staggering. They still had their wits about them and a sense of humor, but their legs were gone. It’s hard to hate a race this pretty.

So much for the race, let me tell you about my weird week running up to it. It’s a comic Caper.

It was a beautiful fall night. I was well rested and well trained, confident and sure…Wait, that was how it was supposed to be the night before the CCM, but that was definitely NOT how it was…

How it was for me before the CCM this year was like some comic book End-of-Days scenario.

Talk about your whacky New England weather. October for us in Massachusetts blew away all the rainfall records for the last 100 years. I wasn’t going to be surprised if it started raining frogs on race day. Driving down to the Cape Saturday night it alternated hard drizzle and wet snow. Snow! In October! We definitely have to cut back on the fossil fuels or I’m going to be running in tsunamis and volcanoes next year.

This was the fourth straight weekend of bizarre weather races for me. First was the Yarmouth Seaside 10k in rain and flood. Next was the BayState Marathon with those stand-you-up 40 MPH gusting winds. Then last weekend I waded through a rainy Groton Town Forest 9.5, (although trail races and mud are an excellent mix). Here it was 12 hours before the race and it was snowing!

As they say in the 3:00 AM infomercials; “But wait, there’s more!” Some how this week my dog gave me the gift of an awful case of poison ivy! I got it on my hands, between my fingers, on my face and another place that I won’t discuss in polite company. (Stop your snickering!)

I’ve always been hyper-allergic to poison ivy. I go out of my way to avoid it. All week it spread and got worse. I’ve been waking up at 3:00 AM with my hands screaming on fire like they’ve been dipped in lava. I’ve been working all week with cotton running gloves on to keep it from oozing on the keyboard! I get up, go downstairs and stick them in a pot filled with ice. Picture the comic steam rising. It’s like that. Ahhhhhh…..

Around Wednesday I couldn’t take it anymore and started eating Benadryl just to do something. Poison Ivy usually it runs its course in 3-5 days and if you can tough it out, by the 6th day it’s getting better. I ate the Benadryl even though I knew it doesn’t really help. Instead of being itchy, you’re dopy, tired and itchy, but it helps you sleep.

I still got my work outs in. I managed a couple of speed 6 minute 1600’s on the treadmill Tuesday and a handful of strong tempo 1600’s at 6:30 down at the track Thursday night, high on Benadryl, in the dark.

By Friday I threw in the towel and went to the doctor. He gave me a choice of some cream or these nasty little steroid pills. I went for the nuclear option. Even though he said they weren’t those kind of steroids, it sounded good to me. They have some excellent side effects. They make you sick to your stomach, dehydrate you and mess up your digestive process. They also rev you up. I was so hyper my eyes felt like pin balls and my heart was doing that freaky arrhythmic thing. Geez, just how you want to feel the night before a marathon!

Good thing they weren’t doing drug testing! I told my daughter, who was my support crew, that if I keeled over, to remember that I died doing what I loved. She was great. I hear people complaining about their teenagers, but I like this age. They are actual people with interesting things to say, (when they are not hating everything). She was great company and a real help. 4 year-olds are cute, but you can’t hand them $40 bucks and a cell phone and say, “See ya in 3 and a half hours. If I don’t show up, call your mother.”

“But wait! There’s more!”

We swung by the Expo to pick up my number and some essentials. I procured some of that “Espresso Love” GU, that stuff is my new favorite rocket fuel. Like a vente Starbucks at mile 10! Are you supposed to mix that with steroids? I’ll have to ask a baseball player.

Thinking our journey almost complete, we headed out into the slush storm up Route 28 towards the Mid-Cape and my house in Harwich. (I have a house in Harwich!) When we arrived, after much splashing about, we found the power out! Some one of the last series of storms had fouled the lines and left us in the dark.

There we are, her using up my laptop battery and me writing by candle light like Abe Lincoln waiting for the N-star guy to come. It was so chilly in the dining room that I could see my breath. I figured we’d have to trek back down to Hyannis and crash in one of those dumpy tourista motels. However, my luck was turning. The N-Star guy came right over, did some twiddling up in the bucket in the pouring rain and “let there be light!”

Things were getting better. Time to take another pill and try to get some sleep so I can wake up screaming at 3:00 AM, which will really be 2:00 AM with the time change, I think…

The morning dawned sunny and calm, like the day after the apocalypse, and things were looking up. Of course we took a wrong turn and got lost on the way. I had to jog to the start and was sitting on my backside stretching when the cannon fired. That doesn’t really matter when you have the chip.

It turned out to be a really nice day with some great people. I had a blast even though I tanked my qualifying time by 10 minutes. I would recommend that you run this race. Approach it like the work of art that it is and don’t bring your watch.

After the race we drove over to Old Silver Beach and I stuck my legs, (and hands), in the icy surf. We stopped at Sandy’s by the rotary for some lovely chowdah and fish & chips.

To finish up the day high on the weirdness scale we got trapped behind a burning Winnebago on 495. A bunch of dopy 30-something Patriot fan guys watching their camper incinerate at the Foxboro exit. Boy do those things burn well. It got exciting when the propane and gas tanks exploded. It took the firemen 45 minutes to put it out and there was nothing left but a pile of black goop and some steel girders. Makes you wonder about your next camping trip…

Next up is the Maryland Trail Marathon. See you out there and please, come over and say “Hi”.




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