So where should I even begin? I am still new to distance running after having started running again (and calling it again is a stretch if you define “running” as an occasional 5K or 10K without training for it). I ran my first marathon this year (the Delaware Marathon in May 2013) followed shortly thereafter by a 50K (Pineland Farms also in May 2013), so this was my second marathon and my third endurance event.
To complicate things even further, I ended up injured a few weeks before the Delaware Marathon. I still completed the marathon, but so many things went wrong. So I really couldn’t completely use that marathon as a template for what to do and what not to do going into the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The upside, however, is that my training for this marathon went much better and I didn’t end up with any significant injuries.
Why the Clarence DeMar Marathon?
When I started to look for a fall marathon, my parameters were that it had to take place somewhere where I could drive to and from in the same day. This gave me a radius from Boston to western New Hampshire to southern Maine. Thus I began my search.
There were actually quite a few choices: the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton (by far the closest, but it is also a double loop on a relatively flat course), the Maine Marathon in Portland, the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol, Bay State Marathon in Lowell (a double loop through the streets of Lowell wasn’t high on my list), the Manchester City Marathon in Manchester and Clarence DeMar. The timing of Manchester City eliminated it, because I already had plans to run the Seacoast Half Marathon the week after Manchester.
After reviewing the courses and reviews, I chose Clarence DeMar for a couple reasons:
- Point-to-point course (Delaware was a double loop, and I was looking for something different)
- Small field (in 2012 there were 175 finishers, but the field grew to 410 finishers this year)
- Great reviews
- Beautiful course
- Downhill start and some rolling hills
Based on these criteria, I signed up and started training. Having kept a decent mileage base since Delaware, I was able to put many more miles under my belt during this training cycle, which definitely made me feel more confident going into the race.
Who was Clarence DeMar?
It’s worth taking a quick sidebar here. If you’re running a race that’s named after a person, you should at least know a little something about the person.
Clarence DeMar was a leading marathoner in the early 1900s. His accomplishments include winning the Boston Marathon seven times as well as a winning a bronze metal in the 1924 Summer Olympics. He settled in Keene, NH, where he taught at the Keene Normal School (now Keene State College).
Clarence DeMar died in 1958, and the Clarence DeMar Marathon was established in 1978 in his honor.
In the 2013 Clarence DeMar Marathon, Clarence DeMar’s granddaughter spoke and ran the race.
Logistics and the Course
As I mentioned previously, this marathon is a point-to-point marathon. If you’re not getting dropped off at the start line by a friend or family member, you park on the campus of Keene State College and take a shuttle bus to the waiting area in Gilsum. As we arrived in Gilsum, the race director personally boarded the shuttle each time, greeted the runners and gave some basic instructions of what was available and when we woudl proceed to the start line.
The waiting area was on the grounds of W.S. Badger Company (one of the race’s sponsors). Water and portapotties were available for the runners. If you hadn’t picked up your big or you still needed to register (yes, there was a day of race registration option), you could do so at W.S. Badger.
There was also a bag check area so that your bag would be waiting for you at the finish. The morning was a typical, cool New England morning so I waited until the last minute to shed my sweatshirt and check my bag. It was cool enough that I had wished that I had brought a pair of disposable gloves with me that I could drop once I had warmed up, but alas, I didn’t plan for that.
With just about 10 minutes to start time and after the final shuttle bus had arrived, the race organizers ushered us to the start line. The walk from the waiting area to the start was along a dirt path and then on the road, and it took about five minutes.
As the start time approached, the race director stood in the back of a pickup truck and yelled his announcements to the racers. It was difficult to hear him. A microphone or bullhorn so he could be heard would have been greatly appreciated (but that’s probably my biggest complaint). We waited for the last few stragglers to make it to the start line before the race officially started. So we ended up starting about five or ten minutes past 8:00.
The course is a fast course. The elevation profile shows a 4% decline in the first half and a 1%-2% incline for the second half. The question remaining in my head was how aggressive should I be on the downhill. I decided that I’d run by feel and not worry about my watch too much.
As the gun sounded, we quickly started downhill. There are no steep downhills, but the downhill was definitely steady. The first break in the downhill was around mile four. It was a quick hill, and at that point in the race, it didn’t feel very significant.
Quickly over the hill, we were back on the descent. The course from Gilsum until it reaches Keene is a very scenic course. Parts of the course run along gently flowing streams and rivers through wooded and mostly shaded roads.
I continued to run feeling strong. The first real challenges came about half way. The first was the out and back on Surry Dam. There was short bit of elevation to get onto the dam, but this gave way to a flat and scenic (yes, try to remember to look around and enjoy the scenery as you’re running) run across the dam and back. With the fall foliage, this was probably the most scenic view on the course and a place where you would normally want to stop and take a picture (but no time for that today).
The dam was followed by the biggest hill on the course around mile 14 and a series of rolling hills began. These hills rolled on long enough to be challenging and to make me miss the previous downhill.
After making it past the hills, the course flattened out again and remained relatively flat.The course faded from New England fall foliage to suburban streets as we entered into Keene.
Other than trying to get past the wall (which for me was around mile 18), there was only one remaining challenge: Greenlawn Cemetery. It is ironic that the race organizers added the cemetery to the course. The challenge here is that to get out of the cemetery, you had to run up a hill. The hill itself (on a normal day) is nothing that you would even think about. However, when it’s a mile 22, it was challenging to run through the cemetery reminding yourself that you’re not dead and that you’ve almost made it to the end.
After exiting the cemetery, there are some small rolling hills which lead you to back to Keene State College, where you hopped on the shuttle bus earlier in the day. The race ends running down the main street and takes a left onto the campus. As soon as you turn left, you can see the finish line as you start your kick to finish strong.
You’re greeted by cheering spectators, a finisher’s medal and a very welcome bottle of water.
After crossing the finish line, I had some water and checked out the food. There were bagels, fruit, pastries, yogurt and soup as well as juice, soda and water. I had a banana and some orange slices and continued to watch some runners finish the race.
If you checked a bag in Gilsum, bag pick up was just around the corner. I made my way to get my bag and then to find the car. Finding the car was a little disorienting, because I did not have a good sense of where I had parked based on where I was at the moment (this could have been marked better). After wondering around the wrong parking lot for a little while, I found the right one and found my car.
I grabbed my bag and went to the gym, where free showers were available. I washed up, got changed and headed home.
All in all this was a great day. I ended up with a 3:41 finish. My goal was a 3:45, but I was mentally prepared to be happy with anything under 4:00 (not sure if I would be able to run a 3:45). In retrospect, I could have pushed a little more and shaved a few more minutes off my time simply by pushing myself more mentally.
But as someone had told me before, you have to run three or four marathons before you really know what you’re doing. With number two under my belt, I’d have to agree. I’m already working on my strategy and my revised training plan for the next one.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The race director and volunteers did a great a job with all the details. It’s a great small race that probably won’t stay small for too much longer. With 175 finishers in 2012 and 410 finishers in 2013, who knows what 2014 and beyond hold in terms of number of runners.