After a few good long runs last week, I succumbed to temptation and ignored common sense by registering for The Middlebury Maple Run, a half marathon (13.1 miles) which attracted about 200 runners in its inaugural running last year, and filled up with 500 runners this year. I don’t usually write up road runs for this column, but my hunch is that a lot of the runners who enjoy the trails would also enjoy this event, which draws upon the support of a wide variety of local businesses, and is planned and staffed by many of my friends who are among the town’s diehard runners.
Sunday morning was perfect for a long run – the low front which had threatened the day’s weather stalled to the west, giving us a cool and breezy bluebird day. I like to arrive at local races like this at least an hour before the start. This leaves plenty of time to stretch out and chat with running friends and acquaintances prior to the start. For example, I had the pleasure or meeting a member of the Long Trail Running Club Meetup group, a group of primarily Chittenden County trail runners with whom I have corresponded but never met. For many of the racers today, this race was the first time they had ever entered a race of this length, and the opportunity to do a run like this without traveling proved to be just enough inspiration. While I had not planned to run this race until Monday of this week, I was really looking forward to the opportunity to run on my home turf with 500+ other runners. While races of this size are common in some parts of the country, Vermont’s miniscule population and plethora of sporting activities usually makes for much smaller fields in most similar athletic events.
The race started at 9:00 am sharp at Porter Hospital, and headed down South St., passing cheering spectators on Main St. before cutting through the Marble Works, and heading out towards the Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge. One of the great pleasures of this race was how it wound through the village and brought out healthy crowds of spectators, and all of the local runners enjoyed the motivation of their friends and/or family calling out their name as they ran by. The north winds kept my speed (a word very generously applied) in check until the race headed south back into the village along Sheep Farm Rd.
The course then wound through the Middlebury College Campus past another high concentration of cheering spectators at the half way point on Old Chapel Rd., before leaving campus back towards Porter Hospital. The last section of the course was made even more interesting due to the fact that while heading out past Porter on South St., the race leaders were doubling back in the opposite direction towards the finish line. It is always inspiring to see stronger runners, and as I approached the turnaround point, I could see the runners just ahead of me who might just be catchable. Reversing direction back into the final few miles to the finish, it became apparent why the the previous few miles had been relatively fast and easy – what was once a stiff tailwind became a much more challenging headwind. While this initially seemed a setback, the cool wind in my face actually was refreshing, and helped make the finish more attainable rather than less, just a little slower!
After surviving the last challenge of the race – Middlebury’s version of “heartbreak hill” at mile 12, it was time to put my head down and finish this event. Thinking it was easy sailing from this point on, I slowed my pace almost imperceptibly as I entered the home stretch into the Porter parking lot. As luck would have it, another gentleman in my age group (the full head of gray hair was a giveaway) caught me with my guard down and streaked by just a few yards from the finish line.
As I sit back writing this blog on Sunday night, rigor mortis is definitely creeping into my legs. Nonetheless, this proved to be a very well run and friendly race on a near-perfect day, and I look forward to running it again next year. I have a hunch that this race will soon become a regional favorite, especially if it proves feasible to further increase the size of the field. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers – it is events like this which make Middlebury a special place to live!