You may ask why would anyone want to run 4 or 5 or more half marathons in a week?!
My sister, Donna, and I are on a quest to complete a half marathon in all 50 States. This quest involves a significant amount of travel and time. In looking for ways to reduce the time and travel expense by combining multiple runs into one trip, I stumbled upon a group called Mainly Marathons. Mainly Marathons puts on distance runs in adjoining states on consecutive days throughout the country. In 2013, I completed a series called Center of the Nation, with runs in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. The experience was fantastic! Needing to complete several northeastern states, Donna and I decided to register for the Mainly Marathons’ New England Series taking place from June 24-30, 2018.
Now, how does this work? The race directors find state parks and other interesting areas near state borders and measure a lap or loop course. Runners complete out and back loops, typically 6 times for a half marathon and 12 times for a full marathon. This may sound dreadful, but it is actually great! Runners are in constant contact with other runners and walkers (there is NO time limit), passing each other numerous times and cheering each other on! With one HUGE aid station located at the start/end/turn-around, volunteers are able to continually provide a multitude of food and drink items. Competitors are served everything from pancakes, oatmeal, pizza boats, fried rice, pasta, sandwiches, fruit, pickles, gummies, pretzels, chips, smoothies, chocolate milk, and more! After each lap runners grab a rubber band to count the number of laps completed. When all laps are completed each runner rings the bell and his/her time is recorded. A unique state medal is earned for each day/state completed. Medals attach to each other forming a medal chain. (See photo) Runners may complete as many or as few days as desired – and can do any combination of half marathon, marathon, Ultra, 10K, or 5K.
The New England Series consisted of a total of 8 states, but Donna and I opted to do ONLY Monday-Friday; New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts (which I already had, but Donna did not), Rhode Island, and Connecticut. A lot of pre-trip planning permitted us to minimize hotel changes and have time to do some sightseeing.
We flew into Boston Logan Airport on Sunday, June 24, rented a car, and drove to our hotel in Springfield, Vermont. On the way, we took a detour to Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire. It was SO worth it! There we took a beautiful two-mile hike highlighting the Flume and the Pool – geological wonders. (www. flumegorge.com)
Monday morning we drove 20 minutes to our first location, Claremont, New Hampshire to run on the Bobby Woodman Trail at Monadnock Park at 6 a.m. This was a 9 lap half marathon course on a rather narrow, shaded, crushed gravel surface. We were conservatively running/walking the course in anticipation of the rest of the week.
Tuesday morning we opted for an earlier start, since the location was only 3 minutes from our hotel, in Springfield, Vermont. This course was 6 laps on the Toonerville Trail, a nice paved surface. The weather had turned cool overnight and it was about 40 degrees at the start – perfect! Although it was #2 – we both felt good and had better times than day #1! We checked out and headed to our second hotel in Sturbridge, MA. Along the way we stopped at Hidden Springs Maple where we bought some goodies and tried Maple Cremee - yum! Then we stopped in Shelburne Falls, MA and enjoyed the Bridge of Flowers, glacial potholes and falls and wandered around the quaint town a bit. Finally, we decided to locate the start of Wednesday's race in Holyoke, MA and ended up walking 2.5 miles in the reservoir area.
Wednesday morning we got up early and drove 40 minutes to Holyoke, Mass where the course was a scenic, wide gravel trail at the Ashley Reservoir. I volunteered at the aid station and Donna ran the 6- lap half marathon course. I wanted to see the course, so I completed one lap with Donna.
Helpful hints: Bring at least 2 pairs of running shoes and alternate days. Also, make sure your hotel has a laundry room! Our hotel also had a wonderful hot tub, so we took advantage of some leg therapy and alternated soaking between the heated hot tub and the rather chilly outdoor pool. It really helped!
Wednesday's post-run excursion was a visit to Old Sturbridge Village, a huge rural New England village circa 1790-1840. Some original structures remain, but many were moved to the site from other New England locations. Costumed historians, farmers and artisans were also roaming about to speak with or to provide demonstrations. We also took a horse-drawn ride around the countryside.
The fourth day, Thursday, of our adventure took us to Lincoln, Rhode Island and the Blackstone Bikeway and Visitors Center. This one was an hour from our hotel and luckily we left early because it was the hardest site to find. GPS coordinates were not useful this time. We kept seeing people post comments on the Mainly Marathons New England Facebook page that morning and discovered many others were equally confused about the location. Learning that we should look for a rest area visitors’ center, proved to be the key and we located the start with 10 minutes to spare. The Rhode Island course was arguably the most beautiful course of the five we ran – a lush, shaded asphalt pathway with just enough ups and downs to keep the legs fresh. With an 80% chance of rain in the forecast, we had some worries about the weather, but the rain held off for most of the runners, and was actually refreshing.
While enjoying our post-race hot tub, cool pool therapy session at the hotel and pondering a post-race excursion, we bumped into a couple who had experience in the area. They recommended a visit to a local brewery which is more of an event than a brewery – Tree House Brewing Company – only 5 minutes from our hotel. Right across the street was a nice Greek Restaurant where we had a fabulous pasta dish.
Friday, Day 5, the final day for us! Simsbury, Connecticut. We were tired, but not beaten. We had a one-hour drive to the Iron Horse Greenway. The Connecticut race had the most participants – about 240. Day five also was the hottest day of our series, with warmer temperatures settling into the area for the weekend. Surprisingly, our times stayed pretty consistent and we had no major issues – just some toe blisters and bruises. We finished and went back to our hotel, glad we had booked our flights home on Saturday.
On Saturday we left our hotel early and headed back to Boston for the day before our late afternoon flights. We decided on a Duck Tour of the city (less walking), witnessed a protest at Boston Commons, and had a bit of time to walk around and see some landmarks.
We completed our challenge! Keep in mind that we are not super distance runners and with Mainly Marathons, that did not matter. Everyone goes at his or her own pace. Although times are recorded and posted, there are no awards. It is a laid back operation and the camaraderie is incredible!
There were people from all walks of life participating – old, young, families, first timers….even a lady with Lupus on crutches! There were long time couples running/walking together. We were impressed by the fortitude of these participants. Because many people participate on multiple days, you get to know these athletes, hear their stories, and make some new friends.