September 09, 2008

Clarence DeMar Marathon: A run through quintessential New England

Last Friday I ran a 20-miler, the longest and last of the really hairy training runs I needed to tuck away in order to prepare for the Clarence DeMar Marathon, which, God willing, I'll start and finish on September 28.

I ran the DeMar once before, in 2006, and it was a nightmare experience, so I have to run it again to replace the bad memories with better ones.

Two days before the race I got the flu: fever (which broke two hours before I had to leave for the start line), chills, vomiting, dehydration, sore throat. All the food and liquid I took in during those days served only to heal me and get my body back to its normal state and not to fuel me for the marathon. My intake was spent, not stored. Hence, I started the race depleted and suffered through nearly four and a half hours of indescribable agony. Divine intervention got me to the finish. As my mother reminds me whenever the subject comes up, I was foolish for having started at all. I will never do that again.

I'm looking forward to this year's race, named after Olympian and seven-time Boston Marathon winner Clarence DeMar, because it's a lovely run through some of the best scenery New England has to offer, scenery I missed in 2006 because I could barely lift my head from my chest.

The race starts in Gilsum, New Hampshire, a hilly burg of some thousand souls and home of the Rock Swap, an annual June gathering of collectors and geology buffs. The DeMar is a small marathon that attracts a few hundred runners, and the starting line is in front of the Gilsum General Store. Before the gun goes off, the runners rest and stretch on the lawn or front stoop of the Gilsum Congregational Church (which hosts the Rock Swap's Ham and Bean Supper). That's flu-riddled me in the photo sitting on the stoop wrapped in fleece-lined sweats, three layers of shirts and coats, and a hat. About a half hour before the start, the low-key character of the race is personified by the guy in overalls who walks down Main Street calling, "If ya want yer bags to git to the finish line, throw 'em in the back of that pickup over there. It's leavin' now."

The race's early miles are its loveliest and parallel the rushing, curving Ashuelot River. In Surry, we run through an area of fields, farms, flowers and stunning Colonial clapboard-clad architecture.

The race ends in Keene, one of my favorite small cities. After crossing the finish line on the campus of Keene State College in the heart of downtown, runners are treated to steaming vegetable soup, massages and free hot showers in the basement of Spaulding Gym.

This time around, I hope I'll be healthy enough to enjoy my run through quintessential New England.