This first fall weekend will feature the 43rd running of the Clarence DeMar Marathon, a signature event for the region.
It begins Sunday morning in Gilsum and winds its way through picturesque countryside and Keene neighborhoods to the finish line 26.2 miles later on Appian Way at Keene State College. Its companion half-marathon, which picks up the route beginning at Surry Mountain Beach, will also be run Sunday, as will the concluding 1.2 mile leg of the Super Seniors Marathon. This year, the 1.2 miles of the DeMar Kids Marathon will be held in advance, on Saturday.
The 43rd DeMar is in fact a postponed running. COVID-19 forced its cancellation last year — a “gut punch,” race director Alan Stroshine called it — and the pandemic has forced some changes in bringing it back this year. Most notably, only volunteers and approved vendors will be allowed on the Keene State campus to greet the runners at the finish, denying them that final boost of cheers from family, friends and community to help spur them over the finish line. That, and other accommodations out of COVID concerns, are to be expected in this time of continued public health uncertainty, but there’s no question holding the event with some limitations is far preferable to keeping it on hiatus.
Indeed, holding the DeMar rather perfectly encapsulates where we are with the pandemic — in a marathon. A year ago, as the finish line of the sprint to vaccine development and rollout neared on the horizon, there was reason to hope that a year later life as it was lived pre-COVID would have returned. Instead, it’s clear that with vaccination rates lower than health experts say is necessary to stave off the delta and other variants and tamp down the coronavirus, we are in it for a much longer run.
But the return of the DeMar this weekend carries so much more meaning for the region. Particularly since its rejuvenation under the Elm City Rotary Club’s sponsorship almost 10 years ago, the DeMar has grown from being a world-class, Boston marathon qualifier — which it remains — to a highly anticipated community event that attracts serious and recreational runners of all ages, inspires extensive volunteer involvement, and brings out locals and visitors from afar to support the runners.
And that won’t change, even if the continuing pandemic has forced some accommodations. Although Stroshine reports registrations are down this year, he expects close to 400 in the half and more than 300 runners in the full marathon, impressive for the circumstances. And the cadre of community volunteers, as well as police and others who help out along the course and in many other ways, is as engaged and mobilized as ever to ensure the event runs smoothly. It’s left to the rest of us to get out and cheer on the runners, and a list of suggested cheering spots along the course can be found at clarencedemar.com.
The DeMar Marathon is named after the seven-time Boston marathon winner who later moved to the Elm City and took a teaching position at what is now Keene State, where he trained cross-country and track runners. After his first Boston run, a doctor advised him to give up running due to a heart condition. That he ran Boston 32 more times showed how much stronger his heart was. The marathon here not only takes its name from Clarence DeMar, but also his heart — like the community in which it’s run. Even with some pandemic changes, the DeMar Marathon is back, and a welcome return it is.