GILSUM — Daylight was still more than an hour away. Constellations loomed in the night sky, but they were not nearly enough to illuminate the field behind Gilsum STEAM Academy Sunday.
It was 4:50 on the morning of the 40th Clarence DeMar Marathon.
Classic rock music echoed in the dark.
Race volunteers hustled with last-minute pre-race tasks. Shuttles were set to depart from Keene State College at 5:15 and soon enough this empty parking lot would be bustling with the anticipation of the 26.2 miles ahead.
For now, though, it was just volunteers — and Kevin Stanton.
The Mirror Lake, N.H., native was the first marathoner on site Sunday. Stanton camped out along the Ashuelot River with his wife, Rachel, in their Toyota Rav4. A futon cushion fit nicely into the trunk of their SUV.
They rolled into the parking lot 40 minutes before the next competitor.
Sunday was Stanton’s ninth marathon, but it was his first DeMar.
“It’s great time of year; really beautiful,” said Stanton, 30, a physical therapist in Wolfeboro. “I have never been to Keene before, so I wanted to come explore and it looks like a fun race; really well organized.”
In the pitch black beyond the school, he rifled through his bags with a headlamp, packed his gear belt with Clif Bar Bloks and took advantage of the site’s facilities before the crowd poured in. He wanted time to relax and hydrate before heading to the starting line, the start still an hour and a half away.
Camping out near the starting line at races is a new tradition for the couple.
Two weeks ago, they did the same thing when Rachel ran a half IronMan competition in South Berwick, Maine. She posted a personal best with 40 minutes to spare. So, why mess with success?
Both enjoyed taking in the surroundings. After the start of the race, Rachel, who was just spectator Sunday, went for a 4-mile run.
“It’s so serene,” Kevin said. “You’re looking at the beautiful stars, it’s a beautiful morning and I just feel very grateful to be here; grateful to run.”
Stanton was not familiar with the ins and outs of the course, but planned to start his race slowly, using the first couple of miles to warm up.
“With the weather you have to get out there and enjoy the first part of the race,” Stanton said. “We all know it’s going to get warmer as the race goes on. Just enjoy the course, enjoy being around the race, the spectators and the volunteers; just enjoy the day wherever it takes us.”
His personal best time is 3 hours, 18 minutes. That was a number he wanted to beat Sunday, with the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon in April.
Looks like Stanton will be looking for a place to park his Rav4 in Hopkinton, Mass. He placed eighth Sunday, crossing the line in 3:04:56, four seconds under the Boston qualifying mark.
“I turned the corner (onto Appian Way) and I saw I only had 20 seconds left,” said Stanton after the race, his medal wrapped around his neck. “I just busted it.”
First off the bus
The first of six shuttle buses from Keene State to the starting area rolled into Gilsum at 5:40 a.m. and just about every seat was full.
Howard Keener, 54, of Wilmington, Del., was the first to put his feet on the pavement.
Despite an apt surname, Keener was running the DeMar for the first time and was crossing off state No. 22 in his pursuit to run a marathon in each of the 50 states.
“When I was looking at races up in the Northeast, the DeMar was at the top of everybody’s list for New Hampshire,” Keener said. “I had to do it. A small race that is well-supported and in a beautiful area; everyone always talks it up among the groups I am in.”
Keener finished in 4:05:19.
More starting line sights sounds
Decked out in an American flag bandanna and matching leggings, Tré Bryten was hard to miss at the starting line.
Her story is hard to ignore, too.
A movie-double from Los Angeles, the 41-year-old aims to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 52 states and districts.
Keene was No. 11 in the journey and was her third marathon in less than a week. Her plan is to knock off 30 races in three months.
“It has been a personal goal of mine for a while,” Bryten said. “I want to inspire people, and show them that this is something that ordinary people can accomplish.”
Bryten wore bib No. 52 and Race Director Alan Stroshine donated her entry fee. She finished in 6:26:55. ...
One for the scrapbook
As race time drew near, friends gathered for one final “before-the-race” snapshot.
Local first-time marathoners Jen Olivo of Keene, Kim Cotter of Spofford and Zola Luebkeman of Westmoreland gathered for a selfie while “Come Together” by The Beatles played over the speakers in the parking lot.
“We’re as ready as we’re ever going to be,” Olivo said. “We trained all summer for this.”
All three crossed the finish line back-to-back with Cotter coming in at 4:41:30, Olivo at 4:41:32 and Luebkeman at 4:41:33.