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November 02. 2012 11:04PM

New Manchester City Marathon course praised


Running legend Bill Rodgers strikes a familiar pose at the finish line for this weekend's Manchester City Marathon. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

When Tammie Robie learned that the Manchester City Marathon would follow a different course this year, she decided to enter the race for the first time.

A 38-year-old Milford runner, Robie won the inaugural Manchester City Half Marathon in 2007 but has since eschewed the full marathon despite long-distance credentials that include a personal best of 2 hours, 49 minutes at the 2010 Houston Marathon.

"The whole reason I said I would never run the full marathon in Manchester was because of the hills and everything I heard about the course being just brutal," she said. "When I heard they changed it, I was intrigued. I'm excited to see what they've done to it to make it a little more user- friendly."

With the sixth annual Manchester City Marathon & Half Marathon scheduled for Sunday, entrants like Robie are enthused about a course that's expected to be less hilly, more scenic and less affected by motorists. This year's rerouting will incorporate a new loop on the city's eastern edge while eliminating a portion that took runners into Bedford and Goffstown and through the St. Anselm College campus. The new course will also have an expanded off-street footprint, incorporating a half-mile segment of a groomed dirt trail near Lake Massabesic and two miles along the paved rail trail leading from the West Side Arena to the Hands Across the Merrimack pedestrian bridge.

Organizers considered runner feedback in revamping the 26.2-mile course, which will include about 12 miles of new terrain, said race director Sarah Normand.

"It's no surprise that it was a hilly course, and especially on the West Side, I think runners in the past have often felt isolated over there because you are going into Goffstown and Bedford and it's a little bit more rural than the city landscape here," Normand said. "And for them it was a bit more traffic. So we wanted to try to incorporate areas of the new course that would encompass Manchester and offer a little bit more of a scenic route."

Although the marathon's opening segment remains unchanged, taking runners from Elm Street through the Millyard and North End before turning south and then east along Bridge Street Extension, the new eastern loop will begin just beyond the 10-mile mark. After heading northeast on Candia Road, runners will access the Rockingham Recreational Trail near the Massabesic Traffic circle before proceeding south onto Lake Shore Road, which skirts Lake Massabesic's western edge. The loop culminates with a two-mile stretch westward along Island Pond Road and northward on East Industrial Park Drive, leading runners back to Candia Road between miles 16 and 17.

Perusing the new loop via a video clip posted on the marathon's website, defending men's champion Patrick Moulton liked what he saw.

"Running around the lake should be really scenic," said Moulton, a 30-year-old from Pelham who plans to run Sunday. "The trail part is actually pretty nice too . so I'm excited to try something a little different."

Moulton, who lives in Providence, R.I., credited race organizers for listening to runner feedback about the previous course. "A lot of people wanted to change the course, based on what I saw on some of the (running) Web sites," he said. "I think the marathon (organizers) there just really took note of what a lot of the runners were talking about, and they made it a more runner-friendly course."

After running west on Hanover Street and crossing the Merrimack River via Bridge Street, marathoners will face a four-mile West Side segment, about half of it heading southeast on the Piscataquog Trail before crossing the Hands Across the Merrimack bridge for the downtown home stretch.

By eliminating a hilly section near St. Anselm College, organizers broke few hearts.

"These changes will hopefully make it, I don't think easier, but less tiring and less of a drain on the body," said Mark Morrissette, a 47-year-old Auburn resident planning to run Sunday's marathon. "There was more uphill and downhill going over to St. A's."

Morrissette also believes the new route along less-traveled roads will help minimize situations like one he encountered at a West Side intersection during a past race, where a motorist ignored a police officer who was holding traffic for runners.

"Someone drove right through the intersection, and it was startling," he said. "I think that was a problem for (organizers), controlling traffic."

With its relative lack of spectators, the marathon's old West Side route often deprived runners of motivating cheers, a situation Manchester runner Julia Huffman hopes the new route will remedy.

"The old second half, you crossed the bridge (to the West Side) and it was just like, silent," said Huffman, a 27-year-old who finished third in the women's marathon last year. "It's an awful feeling. And those are the miles you don't want to be alone in, either.

"Mentally, it's just nice to know there's a change. I won't dread going over the bridge."

mcullity@unionleader.com




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