text by Michael Wade
photos by Joe Viger
This post originally appeared on Wade’s website, Rock n Runner.
Anatomy of a Marathon
On May 17th, 2015 the Gate City Strider Running Club hosted a marathon in the City of Nashua. This feat had never been done before. In fact, during the 36-year history of the club, it had been extremely difficult to get hometown approval for any race longer than 6k. Never mind trying to do 5 of them, back-to-back! All while closing down Main Street and running through almost every corner of the City. So, how did the race organizers do it? And more importantly, how did they (in the words of one participant) create “An instant classic on the New England road racing scene?” Well, here’s an inside look at how it all went down…
The Gate City Strider Executive Board first discusses the idea for a replacement race to the long-standing Applefest Half Marathon in Hollis, NH. These are some pretty big shoes to fill considering Applefest began in 1983, ran for 31 consecutive years, sold out regularly (even with a capacity of 1200 runners), made a lot of money for the club (funding nearly every one of our major programs) and was named “Race of the Year” in 2008 by New England Runner Magazine.
E-Board member Michael Wade comes up with some conceptual course ideas in the local area including a half marathon in Amherst/Merrimack, a downhill 5 miler in Nashua, a half marathon starting at the base of Pack Monadnock and running quickly down towards Milford and a downhill marathon beginning in New Boston, ending in Nashua and called The (wait for it) New Boston Marathon. None of these are ideas are chosen.
With Applefest having just run its last race the month before, the “Applefest Replacement Focus Group” comes to the conclusion that the new signature club race needs to happen in Nashua, it needs to be a marathon and it needs to have a relay component. Michael goes about designing a new course that has one big loop around the perimeter of the city and has the relay transition points at many of the city’s elementary schools. Very low impact, traffic-wise. Easy peasy.
Gate City Strider President Tom Cassetty comes up with the bright idea of having a multi-loop course running through each of the major parts of the City. Starting, ending and transitioning each time on Main Street - right in front of City Hall. Michael thinks Tom is nuts, but eventually gives in and designs a new, new course that does just that. Consequently, Michael has not slept very much since.
Michael runs a prototype of the new course with some Gate City Strider teammates in 3 hours, 27 minutes and 31 seconds - despite almost getting squashed by an SUV. TWICE! He re-designs course. Again. Gets even less sleep now, worrying that he’s doomed a bunch of unsuspecting marathon runners to a very messy fate.
A skeleton race committee, including Michelle Poublon and Jennifer Jordan, is formed with the task of putting together a proposal to run by City officials to see if it floats. Jennifer says the words “Race Director” and by virtue of the “smelt it, dealt it” rule is immediately voted in as the first RD for The Gate City Marathon and Relay. Phew! Dodged that bullet.
The race committee outlines a series of potential race dates and eventually settles on a selection of 3 dates in the Spring of 2015 from which the city will choose one. A Spring marathon is decided upon due to the fact that New Hampshire currently has 5 marathons, all of them take place in the Fall, and none of them are early enough to qualify a runner for the following years Boston Marathon.
The committee outlines a group of 15 potential race sponsors. Two of which end up becoming top-level sponsors. Fleet Feet Sports who will provide all the race shirts - free of charge. And Southern NH Medical Center who will provide full medical support, also free of charge. Michelle gets a copy of a typical Applefest budget and we are asked by the GCS E-board not to lose too much money in our first year. 500 runners is what we expect it will take for us to break even. That now becomes our goal.
Tom & Michael meet with the City’s “gate keeper” Lori Barrett of the Department of Public Works. They go, maps in hand, describing all the downtown streets that the course would be using. They expect to get laughed right out of Lori’s office. Surprisingly, this does not take place. In fact, she tells us that she thinks it might actually have a chance. Yes! One step closer.
Michael produces a series of course maps, road closing plans, detoured streets and emergency access maps to get passed around to the various City departments for their review. Jennifer drafts a letter to the mayor saying what we’re trying to do and why we’re trying to do it. The rallying cry is “If Manchester can do it, then why can’t we?” The Mayor agrees. And, as it turns out, this ends up being the key to the whole deal.
Life gets in the way, and we’re finally on the docket to meet with the City departments. Michael is “extremely concerned” about pulling everything together for an April 2015 race. Tom says “Don’t worry, the April dates didn’t work for the city. We now have “all the way” until May 17th.” To run a marathon. Safely. In 5 loops. In downtown Nashua. Michael is not convinced this is possible in the time frame we have left. Tom & Jennifer are “all in” and talk Michael back off the ledge. Again.
Tom & Jennifer meet with City officials and are given a sizable “to-do” list by each department. But, more importantly, also leave with a “green light” to start advertising for a May 17th race. Jennifer books the timing company, gets an advertising deal in place with Coolrunning, and starts to assemble a race committee. For the first time since we started planning it almost 18 months ago, The Gate City Marathon and Relay is now very real and VERY close!
GCM Race Committee “Dream Team” meets for the first time. Jennifer - Race Director. Tom – Sponsorship. Michael – Course Logistics and Mapping. Michelle – Food. Brandyn Naro – Course Signage & Certification. Justin Soucy – Course Timeline. Emily Soucy – Website. Karalyn Von Pichl – Volunteers. Dave Salvas – Waterstops. BJ Bottomley – Sponsorship & T-Shirts. Skip Cleaver – Advertising & Awards. Suzanne Barker – Tents & Tables. Melissa Wu – Medical. Joe Manzoli – Community Relations. Laura Ray-Hokanson – Sponsorship. We have 4 months to make some magic happen.
Registration goes live. We hold a logo contest and the winner is a graphic designer from Colorado whose Dad has already signed up to run the race – and ends up running a Boston Qualifying time. A Sunrise Start is added. Another meeting with the City Departments. More stuff for the “to-do” list, but nothing holding us back. We push forward. Nashua PD recommends a change to Loop 3 to reduce impact on local traffic. Loop 3 is revised to use more of Mine Falls Park and the City Bike Path and it ends up becoming the best loop in the race. Michael runs the course again.
The GCM Course Playbook is born - outlining (in great detail) quantities, location and duration of: Volunteers, Traffic Cones, Signage, Police Details, Porta-Potties, etc. T-Shirts are ordered expecting 500 runners. 250 are registered, so far. Tom gets agreements from Portland Pie to donate pizza, Brookstone to donate water & SNHMC to donate medical support. Jennifer sets up an online volunteer sign-up website. Awards and signs are ordered. Michael lands Joe Viger Photography to shoot the race pictures. Team members meet with various local businesses. Everyone’s excited. 2 months to go!
Brandyn gets course measured & certified. Only gets lost twice. Tom signs up Arena Sportsbar to host after party. BJ gets Nuun, Hammer & Newton to donate product. Justin gets Chunky’s to donate soup. Laura gets Great Harvest to donate bread and Whole Foods to donate fruit. Michelle gets Stonyfield to donate yogurt. Dave gets local High Schools to man our waterstops. We receive the first of many required City permits. Michael coordinates 2 lead bikes, 1 sweep bike, runs the course again and bikes it. Twice.
Final permits in hand. 611 pre-registered runners. Swag Bag stuffing party at the Arena. 50 Gate City Striders attend and fill bags to the brim with all kinds of goodies for the runners including two tickets to a Nashua Silver Knights game of their choice. Shirts and awards arrive. Box trucks are rented and filled to the gills with stuff to run a race - including 400 traffic cones donated by Greater Lowell. Great American Downtown places a banner across Main Street announcing our imminent arrival. The Nashua Telegraph (along with 5 flashing construction signs) let residents know to look out for us. And to try to refrain from running us over on race day. It’s go time!
In a mad fury of calculated chaos the course is marked, the porta potties arrive, the tents are set up, the finish line’s in place, the waterstop’s assembled, the food is delivered, the runners show up, the street is closed down, the anthem is sung, the announcements are made, the bell is rung and the race begins. …eventually. More than 200 Gate City volunteers man the course to show the runners the way… And make the race committee look like geniuses on a glorious Gate City Marathon day!
Planning for next year’s race begins…
If we can do ALL this in 4 months, just imagine what we can do in 12!
Photos of this years race can be found here:
Results from this years race can be found here:
To read more of Wade’s writing, click here.