Monday, August 13, 2018

Race Report: Manchester City Marathon

New Hampshire got scheduled in the books in June of 2017 at the 11th running of the Manchester City Marathon.  In the year prior, this race, the largest in the state of New Hampshire, entered into a three year agreement with Southern New Hampshire University as title sponsor, as well as Millennium Running, a local road race company and running store, finalizing a long term partnership to operate and produce all aspects of the event.  My friend Pam Provnecher, who's from the area and runs with Millennium, was able to schedule her 100th half marathon at home, and at the same time, attract lots of friends from all over the country to make their way to southern New Hampshire to not only check off the state, but also celebrate her big milestone! Also, for 2017, the race was changing its normal 1st Sunday of November race to the second Sunday, coinciding with Veterans' Day Weekend. The race's official race charity, Veterans Count, an organization providing critical and timely financial assistance and services to veterans, service members and their families, to ensure their dignity, health and overall well-being, would be receiving charitable donations directly from the event proceeds.

Landing in Manchester and heading
straight to the bar for a beer flight!
I was able to get the national anthem gig in September after contacting the race director, and the week after NYC, I headed out to Manchester for the quick 40 minute flight from LaGuardia at noon.  Pam was there to pick me up at the airport, and we headed off to Backyard Brewery for some lunch and a beer flight! After a sloshy afternoon, we drove back to Pam and her husband Steve's home in nearby Merrimack, and we enjoyed each other's company for the rest of the evening.  Our friends Erin and Mike from Kentucky were in for the race, and stopped by for dinner, which turned into a jam session between me and Steve (essentially a rehearsal, as Steve's rock 'n' roll cover band "No Guarantees" would be playing a couple sets at a BIG party after the race, and I was requested to do a number!) and some schemeful race enabling thanks to Erin and I on an unsuspecting Pam and Steve!

I got to meet Rub R. Chicken on Friday ngiht
All of Pam's friends at the dinner
After relaxing most of the day on Saturday while Steve shuttled back and forth from the Manchester airport to pick up some other friends of theirs coming in from out of town for the fun running weekend, we eventually made our way to the small expo at the Gustafson Center on the main campus of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to pick up our packets and then attend the pre-race pasta dinner.  After a festive evening with many of Pam's friends present, several of us retired back to the Provencher's home for a nightcap, which ended up turning into a festive event of its own, complete with several bottles of wine, and even more race enabling (muahahahahaha!)
SAR selfie!
We woke up pretty early on Sunday, and it was downright cold (but normal for this time of year in New Hampshire), at a frigid 28ºF.  After parking along the street, we walked down to where everyone was assembling, near the race start in front of SNHU Arena. I grabbed a selfie with members of the Sons of the American Revolution, decked out in colonial garb, as they helped to send us off on the race course.  A nice stage was set up on Elm Street, and I headed up there, while trying to keep warm before I was brought up to sing from before setting off at 8:50am! Despite the frigid temperatures, there seemed to be a lot of people who came out to run this morning's half marathon and full marathon!  That's dedication for you... or just normalcy for running in New Hampshire in the month of November!
About to start the race... it's COLD!
With Jayvee, during the early miles!
(Photo by Jayvee Ventura)
We began heading south along Elm Street right through the heart of Downtown Manchester, beginning the race ascending some 80 feet over roughly the first two miles. We turned left onto Wyoming Street eventually continuing downward along Calef Road, before continuing uphill on a right turn onto Mitchell Street and past Brown and Mitchell Park.  Here, I ran into my NYC friend Jayvee, running his 49th state as we struggled up the steep ascent!  We then met a sharp downhill descending towards Dunbar Street, now following the road north, making our way around the Sundial Center business complex along Sundial Avenue.  After making our way around, we began to follow Manchester’s Riverwalk, alongside the picturesque Merrimack River, eventually continuing behind Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (home of the minor league baseball team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats) past a parking lot where we looped around to South Commercial Street.  Here, I noticed a sign-wielding spectator, with one of the nerdiest signs I've ever seen during a race!
Nerdiest sign ever.
On Sundial Ave, alongside the Merrimack River
Running along the Manchester RiverWalk for the first time
Heading back into
Downtown Manchester
Now 5 miles into the race, we continued on to Granite Street before making a left turn on Elm Street, continuing past the start line heading north.  We passed the finish area before turning left onto Spring Street for a couple blocks toward the historic Amoskeag Millyard, once home to the largest cotton textile plant in the world.  After the mill closed its doors in 1935, the area stood abandoned until more recent years, when renovation occurred, turning the area into a commercial district, now containing offices, restaurants, software companies, branches of local colleges, art studios and the Millyard Museum.  We continued northward on a super tough incline along Canal Street, eventually turning into North River Road and travelling into Manchester's quiet and residential North End.  We ran past Stark Park, named for General John Stark, New Hampshire’s foremost Revolutionary War hero and author of New Hampshire’s motto “Live free or Die,” before turning right onto Bennington Street.  We looped around down to Lexington Avenue, passing homes with massive old trees overlooking the street, before turning right onto Campbell Road just after the 7.5 mile mark and the northernmost point of the entire race, heading downhill to Juniper Street and entering the dirt nature trail skirting Dorrs Pond.

Dorrs Pond, and our first taste of trail.
The NH autumn tree game is strong.
From here the route crosses the Daniel Webster Highway and turns left on Oak Stret, then a sharp right on Belmont Street and heading south on rolling hills for about 1.3 miles.  Somewhere along the way, I found a group of Pam and Steve's friends who had some imbibements ready for us to partake in, which obviously I took advantage of.   I first passed to grab a donut hole, but a guy at the corner a block down from the mentioned they had shots... so I circled back around for some whiskey and another donut hole! It definitely warmed me up when I needed it (with a little heartburn thrown in, lol) Despite that, I soldiered on, eventually turning left onto Circular Drive, sweeping around the perimeter of Derryfield Park.  We exited the park along Bridge St, then turned right on to Mammoth Road through the road passing through Derryfield Country Club. The course then turned right onto Hanover Street for a nice downhill and mile-long cruise back into downtown Manchester.
Stopping for a shot of whiskey along the course!
Cold temps mean some icy patches
(Photo by Seth Kramer)
While the half marathoners turned left with the finish in sight, the marathoners were only half way done. Just after the 13 mile mark and after the fun downhill down Hanover Street, we turned right for another run up Elm Street, the third of five times we'd run on the street during this race. We then crossed the Merrimack River over the Notre Dame Bridge and Bridge Street for the first time, now running in Manchester's West Side, weaving our way around the quiet residential streets of the Rimmon Heights section of the city for the next 2.5 miles.  At one point, we ran past Rock Rimmon Park, the largest park in the city, and notable for its 150 foot tall granite namesake, with great southeasterly views of the entire city.

Crossing the Nazaire Biron Bridge headed toward Goffstown
Passing Rock Rimmon
Just after mile 16, we crossed the Piscataquog River on the Nazaire Biron Bridge over Kelly Street, before making a right turn onto Agnes Street, then onto the Goffstown Rail Trail, on old rail line that operated from the mid 1800s until 1981, eventually cleaned up and redeveloped into the 5.5 mile long trail that extends from the Manchester city line all the way to the city of Goffstown. From here through to the finish, the course was much more flat compared to the previous miles.  The trail is a nice and comfortable 2.5 mile out and back on a mostly gravel and dirt track alongside the Piscataquog River, and we stayed on it all the way to the mile 19 mark and the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension office's parking lot, which just happened to also be right next to a women's correctional facility. As we meandered onto Route 114, we made our way around the collection of buildings and the correctional facility's high, barbwire fenced in yard, before returning onto the Goffstown Rail Trail heading straight back toward Manchester.
Passing the correctional facility and its yard!  I was told the ladies don't come out til 2PM.
Orange is the New Black?
Photo taken earlier in the race- we'd
run over this pretty bridge at mile 22
The trail meandered back to where we had turned onto it so long ago, having already logged just over 5 miles since the 16.5 mile mark, as we embarked along the largely paved Piscataquog Trail, where it crossed the Piscataquog River on the former side of the Kelly's Falls Trestle.  Where the two trails connected was apparently the newest part of the trail, including the beautiful new 160' long single-span steel truss pedestrian bridge (the Irving & Bernice Singer Pedestrian Bridge) passing over the river which was completed and dedicated in 2015.

Wow... these colors!
Now 22 miles into the race, we were greeted with some of the most picturesque parts of the course as the trail was beautifully maintained, and the trees as majestic and as colorful as ever. The trail continued on through the more residential Notre Dame section of Manchester, running parallel to Douglas Street, then eventually going through the very commercial area of Manchester's Piscataquog section.  With only 2.75 miles of the race left to go, we crossed over the Merrimack River a second time, this time running over the Hands Across the Merrimack footbridge, running the final miles back along the route we took on the Manchester Riverwalk headed toward the finish line in downtown Manchester.
Crossing over the brand new footbridge at the transition between the Goffstown and Piscataquog Trails
The tree colors are so beautiful!
Passing over the Hands Across the Merrimack footbridge
Running with Rub R.
Chicken! (Photo by
Manchester City
However, I wasn't done yet - despite seeing the finish line, I had to pass it. My friends who had all completed the half marathon came out into the cold to see me pass by, as I needed to make ONE more trip across the Notre Dame Bridge to tack on the last 1.75 miles of running left I had to do.  As I passed by Erin, she handed me Rub R. Chicken, and I ran with the little dude for the rest of the race, making my way back to Elm Street to actually cross the finish line, chicken in hand.

Victory Headstand!
After finishing in 5:11:02, and receiving my medal from one of the New Hampshire pageant queens whose job was to stand out in the frigid cold to give out finisher medals to the marathoners, I grabbed a cup of delicious soup to warm myself up, then got to doing my customary post-finish headstand within Veterans' Memorial Park, appropriately located at the finish line on this Veterans' Day weekend.  I eventually found Seth, who had finished about a half hour before me, who provided me his room key so I could promptly shower (and properly defrost!) at his hotel room in the located close to the finish area. I then headed back up Elm Street to Penuche's Music Hall, where a HUGE party was happening to celebrate Pam's 100th half marathon finish!
Running casually near the finish (Photo by Manchester City Marathon)
Playing around with statues and my newly earned medal after the finish :)
Singing with Steve at the party
(Photo by Kim Danchus)
The party was really happening, thanks to having so many of Pam's friends living nearby and also to those who flew in for the race.  I made it to hear a bit of Steve and No Guarantees' second set of the afternoon, playing lots of songs for us to dance to.  I even got up there to sing the song that Steve and I rehearsed on Friday!

Donna and I both booked flights back to New York out of Boston, so for convenience's sake, we carpooled for the one hour trip down from Manchester. Leaving a little before 5pm, we were out on the road, making it in time for our quick 40 minute flights back.  Another fun weekend, complete!

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