Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Manchester Half

On Sunday I ran a half marathon in my hometown. Never did I think I would say that while I am living in Manchester, a town where I have run for four years and often go for miles without seeing any other runners. But there I was on Sunday, lined up on Elm Street with about 1600 others, getting ready to kick off the first annual Manchester Marathon/Half Marathon.

And you know what? It was great.

I had pretty low expectations, I admit, largely tainted by my overall feelings around living in Manchester. But in this case, I was pleasantly surprised. So as much as I can highlight the negative aspects of this place, I also need to give props where they are due.

The weather was just perfect. The rain and wind from the day before had cleared out, and it was around 50 degrees, sunny, and dry at the start. The field was not overwhelmingly big, but not small... Even without any official type of organization (no corrals, no people telling you where to go, not exactly knowing in which direction you'd be taking off) we all found our way to the start line and placed ourselves accordingly in the pack. Everyone played nice; no grumbling.

The course itself was tough, with enough hills to leave this girl with stiff calves the next day. Some were steep, and some just long. There was one particular street that was killer - it went uphill for around a mile, and then turned left to get even steeper for another few hundred yards. Friends standing at the top to cheer people reported afterwards that "everyone just looked broken." That was around the 10k mark, meaning we still had a ways to go. Still, people stayed positive.

I talked to more people on this course than I have in any race (generally I'm not really a stranger talker). Just little chats as you realize you have been alongside the same person for a mile or so. They'd organically end, and we'd go our own ways. It was nice.

Traffic wasn't entirely closed off along the course, but the police and volunteers did a good job of fending off cars from intersections so runners did not have to pause and wait. The reaction of drivers who were held back ranged from annoyed (even going to far as to honk at us) to cheering us on (even going so far as to honk at us). It was easy to ignore the less than happy drivers - for this one day, these few hours, they could sit tight. I think this is the one thing that will need to be addressed in next years race, which is already being discussed as having an expanded field.

Also of note on the course is that the half and full marathon routes were the same for the first part. At 13 miles, I split left while the full marathon peeps split right and headed off to the west side of town. So some of the people I spoke with en route were actually going for the full 26. With this size of a field, it was easy to mix the two, and the transition seemed to go quite smoothly.

As it was a small race, the finishers area at the end wasn't terribly packed. I stayed for a massage (which seemed to last for 20 minutes or so), tasted some soup at the "soup off" (I voted for the broccoli and cheese soup from CJs) and then walked two miles to my home. Which, incidentally, was around mile 11 of the course.

I spoke to a few others afterwards who were as excited as I was that there was an event to pull people together in Manchester. It simply doesn't happen often enough.

I'll end this roundup with a short story on life in this town. I was getting my hair cut the day before, and talking with the woman who cuts my hair about the Manchester race. Several of her clients were running in it. As we are chatting about the route, and other races in the area, she nonchalantly slipped in, "I hear there's another race happening in New York tomorrow."

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