The first month of fall is almost over, and everyone who’s lived in Keene for at least a year knows what that means: The Clarence DeMar Marathon is here.
For those who have arrived more recently to the Elm City, the last Sunday of the month is all about running, as dedicated runners come from across the country help bring the city to life. A 26.2-mile stretch from Main Street in Gilsum to Appian Way in the central quad of Keene State College is converted into a marathon course. An accompanying 13.1-mile half-marathon course begins at the Surry Mountain Lake Beach off Route 12A also finishes at KSC.
“The atmosphere in town this weekend is gonna pick up — between runners and their family and friends that come with them, thousands of people are coming into town,” Race Director Alan Stroshine said. “Sunday’s just a fantastic place to be at the quad on the campus of Keene State College.
“If somebody feels a little down about things, or has a dim look on how things are going, just come down to the finish line of the marathon, and your spirits will be lifted pretty quickly.”
This year’s event — the 42nd held in honor of the late Clarence DeMar, a Keene native, seven-time Boston Marathon winner and Olympic medalist — should be a familiar sight to those who have seen it before.
The event will feature its four signature races: a full marathon starting at 7 a.m. that also serves as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon; a half marathon that starts at 8 a.m.; a kids run at 8:30 a.m. that allows children from kindergarten to grade 5 to run the last 1.2 miles of the course, as long as they’ve logged 25 miles of running and walking through the spring and summer; and the super seniors marathon at 8 a.m., a concept similar to the kids for people ages 70 and up.
Among those returning to the race, according to Stroshine, will be both of last year’s half marathon winners: Nashua native Thomas Cantara, and Concord’s Katie Cross-Powers. The full marathon winners from 2018 gave the event some of its biggest highlights, but neither runner will be returning.
Timothy Ritchie of Northampton, Mass. ran the race in honor of his former high school teammate, Robert J. Lind of Brattleboro, who was training for the DeMar but died in a motor vehicle accident three months before the event.
Tessa Mah of Southington, Conn., got over the hump to win the women’s race after finishing in the top three in both 2016 and 2017. There was one slight hiccup, however, as race officials lost track of Mah in the field of half-marathon runners, so she crossed the finish line before race announcers could announce her arrival and before volunteers could put the tape up to run through.
With neither Ritchie nor Mah defending their titles this year, the full marathon is wide open for some new runners to add their names and stories to the long-running history of the DeMar.
According to Stroshine, more than 400 runners have pre-registered for both the half and the full marathons, with people coming from almost 45 different states. And with good weather in the forecast for Sunday, he expects more to sign up over the weekend.
“We have a lot of runners come to DeMar to check off the New Hampshire box in their quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. We’re a very popular ‘50-state’ marathon,” Stroshine said. “We’ve also added ‘50-state’ half marathon runners to the race this year.”
While the reach is wide, there will be no shortage of local names in this race.
Thomas Paquette, Karen Jordan and Kelly Tonderys are among some of the notables registered to compete in the half marathon.
Paquette, 27, won the first two DeMar half marathons after the event was introduced back in 2014, and most recently won the event in 2017. This year, he finished 2,082nd at the Boston Marathon and won Keene’s “4 on the 4th” race on Independence Day for the third straight year and seventh overall.
One thing that does change from year to year on race weekend is the keynote speaker, who delivers a speech Saturday night during a pasta dinner at the Marriott hotel.
This year’s speaker is Dick Beardsley, a man for whom the term “survivor” would be an understatement.
The 1982 Boston Marathon runner-up, who plans on running this year’s half marathon, Beardsley has survived a mechanical accident at his Minnesota farm, a severe car accident, being hit by a truck, rolling his vehicle in a snowstorm, falling off a cliff and an addiction to pain medication [he’s now over 22 years sober]. His ’82 Boston race, where he raced to a photo-finish against record-holding runner Alberto Salazar, was the subject of the 2006 book “Duel in the Sun” by John Brant.
“Dick is a pretty compelling story, not only from an endurance or racing standpoint, but his own personal story,” Stroshine said.
The wide reach and impact of the DeMar has been growing ever since the Elm City Rotary Club of Keene took over running it several years ago. It’s become one of the premier running events in New Hampshire.
The road race review site RaceRaves rated the DeMar as the No. 1 road race in the state last year when it announced the winners of its “Best Marathons in the U.S.” The top race in each state was selected based on votes from thousands of runners across the country, along with reviews and ratings on RaceRaves.com.
RaceRaves noted in a news release that the common themes among the top races included exceptional production and on-course support, strong community involvement, and a scenic marathon course that showcases the beauty and attractions of the local region. If the result is any indication, runners seem to love the sight of the Monadnock Region in the fall, and the work the community puts in to make this race special.
“We’re encouraging people, especially if they live or have businesses along the route in Keene, to come out and support the runners,” Stroshine said. “Set up a table and some chairs and make yourself comfortable. Bring a cowbell, bring some music, and support these people that have come across the country and have been training for three to five months for this particular personal challenge.”