“You’re Off to Great Places!”: My New England Running Journey

“You’re Off to Great Places!”: My New England Running Journey

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

– Fred (Mister) Rodgers

Recently, and on a foggy but temperate Sunday morning, I, along with my brother Jeff visited the historic town of Mystic, CT, and I closed one chapter of my running book. Not only is Mystic beautiful, but it reminded me that running in New England is second to none. While reintroducing me to half marathon running, Mystic served as a milestone moment in my running journey. Today, I want to explore my New England running adventures. As an individual formally devoid of running, I used my New England upbringing to carve out a lofty but inspiring, yet sometimes spirited, running goal. Mystic served as a fitting location as my last New England state completed during my trek to run in every U.S. state, a plan I started in 2015. Each New England state offered a unique race experience, some emotional and exciting, others downright depressing and awkwardly infuriating. No matter the outcome of any race, miles of New England roads were counted, and I seek to retrace them.

Running in New England

I was not a runner before 2014. I wouldn’t run one mile, let alone a half marathon. But that changed upon returning from Hawaii, reconnecting with my Massachusetts roots and being slightly closer to Jeff. Under his tutelage, I ran my first half marathon, the Walt Disney World Wine & Dine Half Marathon, in November of 2014. Before running in Florida, I set a lofty goal of using my training to run organized races on the North Shore of Massachusetts, in the Essex County area. My goal; run a 5k race once a month for an entire year. Training by myself once or twice a week was fun, but I enjoyed getting up on Sunday or Saturday, meeting at a local high school or YMCA, and being amongst a hundred or more other runners eager to run 3.1 miles. How did I go from infrequent running to regularly run 5k races and training for a half marathon?

In 2014, Jeff asked me to join him for the Runners Alley/Redhook 5k, a yearly event in Portsmouth, NH, at Redhook Ale Brewery, today Cisco Brewers Portsmouth. The year I ran, it was a glorious Memorial Day weekend, and race day was stunning. But I hadn’t trained, hadn’t even laced up a running speaker, nor did I dress anything like a runner. I did okay, but more importantly, I enjoyed the race atmosphere, inspiring me to continue running. Weeks later, I bought new sneakers and began running regularly. At this point, I constructed that goal, completing a 5k race each month for an entire calendar year, which I did. I was unstoppable. I ran in Salem, Marblehead, Beverly, Newburyport, and Ipswich and participated in several YMCA running events. Even so, running my first half marathon changed everything.

After that experience, I actively sought out half marathon races in local haunts and locations I wanted to explore. At the onset, while selecting half marathon races, I picked those closest to home and came up with the idea of running in each New England state. It took longer than expected to finish this goal. I could say that it’s the pandemic’s fault, but it’s not. In reality, the first couple of years, I knocked one state off my list after another, but I quickly got excited about the prospect of choosing races where I could travel. I endeavored to use a race as a trigger for an adventure. Running local became secondary to longer trips to Denver, Nashville, San Diego, etc. Today, I will give each New England race the attention they deserve.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

On March 15, 2015, I returned to where I grew up. I have written about New Bedford several times, but it’s a city with a great history. It’s dear to my heart, and it felt terrific returning to run a half marathon, considered possibly the best in Massachusetts. It didn’t take me long after running my first half marathon to realize I wanted to continue to run regularly. Nor did I waste any time in signing up for my next race. Although living in Salem, I sought a more local race and looked to New Bedford. It wasn’t a hard sell, as I have made clear, but it was intriguing. Sure, I had run a half marathon, Disney’s Wine & Dine, and completed it with relative ease; but how would I do in a less populated race and one without energy? I quickly learned that the New Bedford Half Marathon was not lacking in popularity or pizzazz.

On race day, Corinne and I traveled to New Bedford, and she dropped me off at the YMCA on South Water Street, which I remembered well. This YMCA was the first gym I visited as a teenager. I picked up my bib and felt my nerves increasing as the frigid weather remained. I dressed in layers, thankfully, and descended on Pleasant Street, where the race began and ended. Once the race started, I proceeded towards Hathaway Road, where “the race’s first few miles feature views of the New Bedford Harbor waterfront, and then the course turns westward back into the city,” past sights such as Whaling City Golf Course and Buttonwood Park. Going through Buttonwood Park, around mile 6, the enthusiasm of the race was electric, with people lining the street cheering. As I ran past Rural Cemetery and onto Cove Road, I got emotional, observing sights I hadn’t seen in years.

As I ran onto Rodney French Blvd., the course illustrated the beauty of New Bedford’s nautical legacy and the majesty of Buzzards Bay. Rodney French Blvd. goes south along Clark’s Cove to the West and then cuts to the right with Fort Taber, Fort Rodman, and Buzzards Bay to the south. The course then goes north, heading back to the heart of “the city’s Whaling National Historic Park, which commemorates New Bedford’s importance as ‘the whaling city’ during the 19th century.” Along this part of the course, I passed restaurants long since closed, like Me & Ed’s and Davy’s Locker, now the bustling Cisco Brewers Kitchen & Bar. It was a fantastic stretch, covering miles 8 to 11 and offering stellar ocean views. I even caught a glimpse of my hometown, Fairhaven, and its Fort Phoenix across the water, adding an emotional boost.

The “race takes runners,” as HalfMarathons.net writes, “on a tour of this town… and features the natural beauty of New Bedford Harbor and… architectural beauty of the neighborhoods and city streets.” The course is a loop with several hills, the most significant at mile 12. The final mile of a half marathon is a brutal location for a substantial hill. Still, the scenery of downtown New Bedford, as I ran up, literally and directionally, County Street passing Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, was satisfying. As I rounded the corner towards the finish line, passing well-known buildings that looked gigantic as a child, I noticed Corinne cheering me on and heard my name announced as I finished the race. Physically, I felt great. Emotionally, I was in a contemplative place as I received my medal, a green lanyard attached to a circular medallion with Butler Flats Lighthouse on it, a local landmark. I don’t often go back to where I grew up, but it was a gratifying experience.

Portland, Maine

On July 11, 2015, I ran my third half marathon of 2015, and although my second half marathon in New England, it was less than a month after running the Walkway Over the Hudson Half Marathon in Poughkeepsie, NY. It’s a stunning race taking runners around the Hudson Valley and on The Walkway Over the Hudson, a “State Historic Park, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, spans 1.28 miles over the Hudson River in upstate New York.” Energized from those 13.1 miles, I quickly signed up for a popular Maine race. The Shipyard Half Marathon in Portland, ME, was high on my list and in a city, I was eager to visit. I was pushing it, with the Walkway Over the Hudson less than 25 days before, but running in the historic seaport city, was too appealing to delay.

Like New Bedford, Corinne and I planned to get up the morning of the race and head to Portland, less than an hour away from our home in Salem. When I woke up on July 11, I was excited. I trained well since Poughkeepsie and felt prepared. Upon arriving in Portland, race organizers directed us to a parking area. With no Expo, Corinne and I walked along the waterfront to the starting area, where I picked up my bib, got water, and purchased a race t-shirt since they weren’t free, unlike most races. It was nice spending a few minutes with Corinne before I headed to the race start. The weather, at 7 AM, was beautiful. It was warm, with no humidity, but once the race started, it got hot. Corinne left as I joined my corral, eagerly directing herself toward a latte and a delicious treat from Holy Donut.

The race started at Old Port, and I ran west towards Western Promenade, which was flat. For the first few miles of the race, I ran with intensity and as smooth as ever before. There was a pleasant sea breeze while I ran on streets edging the beautiful coast and through Portland’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. While the race started flat, I should note that it’s not entirely a flat course, and the elevation rose 120 feet by the race’s midpoint. Once the hills began, my knees took the hit, but I maintained my pace and stamina. Halfway through the race, I felt good. As HalfMarathons.net wrote, “The middle portion of the race features some of the course’s most scenic terrain, as runners will make their way around Portland’s Back Cove along the Back Cove and Bayside trails.”

One thing I should point out, as the race continued, the sun shined bright, and it was freaking hot, or quoting Anna Faris from the 2008 film House Bunny, “Haaaa-ARGH!…fucking hot!” Those sea breezes didn’t stick around; the pleasant morning temperature departed quickly. Instead, the heat of July in Maine bore down on me. The heat might have proved overwhelming if not for the scenery, but I continued, ready to complete the race. In the last mile of the race, I spotted Corinne cheering me on as I went through a cooling station. Corinne and I met up mere seconds after I crossed the finish line. Together we joined the waterfront party, which included Shipyard Brewing beer, Portland Pie Company pizza, and an impressive finisher medal. The Shipyard Half Marathon offered an extraordinary running experience.

Jamestown, Rhode Island

I love Rhode Island, so it was no surprise that on September 19, 2015, participating in my third New England state, I chose Jamestown, in the Ocean State, as my race destination. With its beauty and popularity, Jamestown, RI, as a race destination, sealed the deal. I signed up for it not long after completing Shipyard’s hot July race. Jamestown wasn’t as hot in September, but it was humid and foggy. I drove from Salem to Jamestown on the morning of the race, which was a far better idea than the actual plan. It was a long drive. I assumed that my adrenaline could carry me to and through the race. But the ride was miserable, made worse by the rain, no open rest stops, and my tired demeanor. I made it, retrieved my bib, and stretched. At this point, my energy level rose, somewhat.

As HalfMarathons.net writes, “With its rocky shorelines, historic lighthouses and windmills that still stand as a reminder of the small coastal towns and villages of New England’s past, Jamestown and Conanicut Island make for a beautifully picturesque course.” Jamestown is magnificent. I ran within sight of Narragansett Bay and the Newport Pell Bridge and alongside historic Watson farm, estuaries, “windmills and the remains of its old military forts and installations” all offering me, other runners, and summer tourists, a reminder of Jamestown’s “agricultural past, while its quaint villages, shops, and restaurants make the perfect stops,” provide unique local gifts, a reprieve from the sun, and delicious seafood. That beauty drew me to this race in the first place and helped me run it with excitement. As ready as I could be, I headed to the official starting line at Fort Getty.

Once the event began, I immediately ran toward Jamestown, heading “east across Beavertail Road to Hamilton Avenue,” with Mackerel Cove lying to my right and Sheffield Cove on my left. On entering Jamestown, I took a left, keeping Mackerel Cove to my right, and began a 12-mile loop of the island. For the first couple of miles, I went from the western part of Jamestown to the east, heading north on Walcott Avenue, until, at around mile 5, I hit Conanicus Avenue. I descended into Jamestown Village and began “a long stretch that heads north through Conanicut Island,” cutting through a beautiful neighborhood. I got so close to the ocean that I observed stunning views, “waves of the bay crashing against the rocky shorelines and the Pell Bridge,” connecting Conanicut Island to Newport.

I maintained my northbound facing run, keeping the ocean, Newport, and the Pell Bridge to my right. During that span, I ran by Potter Cove, the Jamestown Golf Course, and various back roads before turning left on America Way and left again onto “Main Road/North Road,” which brought me “back to the southern end of the island.” I finished with a flat stretch of pavement, taking me by Godena Farm, the Jamestown Reservoir, Windmill Hill Historic District, Windmist Farm, Marsh Meadows Wildlife Preserve, and the Jamestown Historical Society, ultimately concluding “at Fort Getty.” Unlike some races, it ended anticlimactically. Don’t get me wrong; the race was entertaining. Yet, little sleep and anticipating another long drive put a damper on this finale. I finished with a great time and a medal featuring Plum Beach Light, observable from the Verrazzano Bridge.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Running the Seacoast Half Marathon on November 8, 2015, in Portsmouth, one of the longest-running races in coastal New Hampshire, alongside Jeff, was entirely my idea. I was eager to run another New England state, and Portsmouth was objectively close to my home in Salem. It helped that the course took runners along, as HalfMarathons.net writes, “the saltwater marshes, woodlands, and rugged coastline of New Hampshire’s Portsmouth Harbor” and get a “scenic tour of Portsmouth.” I trained particularly well for this race, and two months had passed since Jamestown. My legs were fresh, and my excitement was off the chart. Jeff, on the hand, had been unable to train. Although he said “yes,” when I asked him to join me, he was apprehensive. “Life,” Ferris Bueller said, “moves pretty fast,” and Jeff lost track of time. Jeff, who I have competed against for years, never able to claim victory, was in a weak position. My chances never looked better!

The sun shined bright on November 8 as Jeff, and I headed to the Granite State and the city of Portsmouth. There were no clouds, but it was cold, maybe 45ºF. A perfect running temperature. The course is a “loop,” one taking “place entirely along paved city and town roads, and starts and finishes at the Portsmouth High School grounds.” When we arrived, Jeff and I got our bibs and race shirts, and when the time came, we headed to the starting line. Once the starting gun went off, we began, and quickly Jeff went off ahead of me. Coastal New Hampshire is stunning. I soaked it all up as I ran. I felt unstoppable, and strangely that feeling never vanished. I maintained my speed but was surprised that I increased my pace and wasn’t burning out. I credit this to training, stunning course views, and no significant hills. I felt great; the weather was terrific, and having just run along the ocean, I was running beside New England town shops.

As I approached mile 10, I observed Jeff walking alongside the right-side curb of the road. I was slightly concerned, but, as a younger brother, I was excited to pass him. At the end of the World Series finale, there’s a moment in the filmA League of Their Own, when Kit, played by Lori Petty, runs toward home plate as the winning score. Kit’s older sister Dottie, played by Geena Davis, is the catcher for the opposing Rockford Peaches and has the ball thrown to her by the cutoff and must tag Kit to save the game. Kit gloriously barrels into Dottie, thus forcing her to drop the ball infamously, and Kit is safe, thus securing her team’s victory. It’s a fantastic film moment, and as I recently listened to a podcast, The Rewatchables, I was reminded of how I felt like Kit as I ran towards Jeff on the course. I wasn’t going to knock him over, but I wanted to pass him. I was going to pass him. 

So it was, on the final stretch of the course, I came up alongside Jeff, to his utter surprise, and then soon after, dusted him. Maybe I didn’t do that, but I had to beat him to the finish. I ran faster those last miles than at any other time in this race or any race. I finished a few minutes before Jeff, running my best time, a time I have never matched. It was marvelous to get my unique and well-designed medal and watch Jeff cross the finish line. Jeff was gracious, he congratulated me and told me to enjoy the victory but promised I wouldn’t pass him in a half marathon again, and he’s adhered to that proclamation. Like many New England towns and cities, Portsmouth is beautiful, and every coastal vantage point and backroad is different yet similar, offering something unique.

Quechee, Vermont

It was inevitable that there would be one race experience that didn’t measure up to expectations. It’s not the race’s fault, nor its organizers or location. No, the conditions were simply perfect for a disaster. A hurt knee, illness, terrible weather, and an uncomfortable hotel are what met me during my attempt to run the Covered Bridges Half Marathon on June 5, 2016. It’s sad because I remember, years ago, coming to Quechee, Vermont, to watch one of Corinne’s childhood friends run this half marathon. I was impressed and smitten with the course, cute town, and the delicious breakfast I devoured afterward. So, when eager for a summer half marathon, I targeted Covered Bridges. It was an opportunity to run a course considered one of the best half marathons in the region, but it historically sells out in minutes.

Corinne signed me up quickly, the race selling out mere minutes later. In the months leading up to the race, I trained regularly. But, in the spring of 2016, I played softball and picked up a knee injury that healed slowly. It hampered my running, and as the weeks went on, the damage diminished my readiness for anything running-related. I did get my body, and more importantly my knee, to a comfortable place, albeit with athletic tape keeping it secure. Corinne and I booked a room at the Comfort Inn, the result of waiting too long to reserve a room elsewhere, and invited my mom, who lived nearby in New Hampshire, for the night. There was no race expo or bib pick up the night before, so we went to the hotel and met my mom. At this point, while my knee felt fine, I felt icky.

We went out for an Italian dinner in an area that included local boutiques. As we ate, I continued to feel unwell, so I called it a night. The entire night, I felt horrible, unable to sleep at all. I acknowledged that I wasn’t running the half marathon if I was as bad in the morning as when I went to bed. Luckily, when I woke up, I was well enough that I concluded I could handle the race. I got ready, did my morning routine, and Corinne and my mom drove me to where the race ended, in Quechee, VT, near The Public House at Quechee Gorge, an area with restaurants and an antique mall. I still seemed fine but was apprehensive about whether I had the stomach or legs for 13.1 miles. I boarded a bus, and race organizers shuttled tons of other runners and me to the race starting line at Suicide Six, a ski resort in South Pomfret, VT, a “picturesque village just south of nearby Woodstock.”

The half marathon offered a point-to-point course, so I sat in the grass, finding my center after picking up my bib and stretching. I was as ready as I was going to be. There was a steady rain falling since I woke up, and it didn’t stop the entire race. I began and maintained a slow pace. It was one of my slowest half marathons. Fighting illness and injury, I finished thanks to the Green Mountain State’s landscape and running “along the Ottauquechee River toward the finish line in Quechee.” I ran near farms and quaint villages, had views of nearby mountains, ran over and alongside rushing rivers, and through four historic covered bridges – all on a nicely designed course. It could have been an enjoyable experience, but I wasn’t well enough. I finished and received my medal, which was disappointing. When I met up with Corinne and my mom, we got stuck in the parking area. I guess it could have been worse, or maybe not.

Mystic, Connecticut

Since Vermont, I have run eight half marathons in beautiful locations. None were in New England. I felt the need to use half marathons as an opportunity to explore new and unique places. But eager to run a Connecticut race, I targeted the Hartford HealthCare Mystic Half Marathon on May 15, 2022. I never considered a different race, so I delayed finishing my New England running goal. Mystic’s race is in May, a popular race month. As the pandemic went on, I often checked the organizer’s website. In May of 2020, it was virtual. In May of 2021, they changed it to a 10k, and then, this year, it was “game on.” In February, I asked Jeff if he wanted to join me; he said yes. Over the following months, Jeff and I trained weekly. Running every Sunday together, as we had done for the last two years, we had a running goal; Mystic!

One benefit of Mystic is that it was close enough to my home. Jeff and I could travel on the morning of the race. Still, I didn’t want a repeat of my Jamestown race morning, so I came up with a solution. Before the race, Corinne and I drove to Mystic and back. It was a simple plan that worked perfectly. We accomplished our task on a gorgeous day, thus making race morning easier. Corinne and I had lunch in Olde Mystic Village while picking up Jeff and my race bibs. We could have stayed in Mystic longer, but Jeff suggested a pre-race pasta dinner. I thought it was a fantastic idea, and Corinne did too. As someone from an Italian household in New York, Corinne prepared the sauce and meatballs and asked Jeff to boil water for pasta. Corinne worked tirelessly preparing everything. It was incredible, and our pre-race pasta dinner was a wonderful family meal.

Jeff picked me up at 5 AM and made it to Mystic in excellent time. We soon stood in a corral for the first time in two years. It felt terrific doing an organized half marathon race, and with two-thousand other runners, the energy was electric. Once the race began, I eagerly ran along Coogan Blvd., adjacent to Olde Mystic Village, and left along Greenmanville Avenue and into Mystic. The scenery was stunning, and I felt invigorated. As HalfMarathons.net writes, “early miles of the race will bring you along the banks of both sides of the Mystic River.” It was nice running by visually appealing sites, like aged homes, Elm Grove Cemetery, The Giving Garden at Coogan Farm, boutique shops and restaurants, the Mystic Seaport Museum, and the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, observed through the fog. I turned right on Holmes Street on my way to the Mystic River, which I crossed using the Mystic Drawbridge. 

I traversed “the opposite side of the river” and passed “parks like Peace Nature Sanctuary and Lozier Sub Park, with the Mystic River over” my right shoulder until I made my way into Old Mystic. Through Old Mystic, as HalfMarathons.net writes, “the latter half of the race unfolds through these areas, along tree-lined roads like Deans Mill Road and Flanders Road. Some of the biggest hills of the race also occur in this stretch.” While miles 9 and 11 have stiff hills, the middle miles in Mystic offered a series of never-ending rolling hills. The forests, rivers, and quaint homes were lovely, but those hills were brutal. I felt great, and the “final mile of the race unfolds after you pass by Jonquil Farm and hit Jerry Browne Road,” which brings you back into Mystic, and I crossed the “finish line in front of the Mystic Aquarium.” I received a well-themed lobster medal and observed Jeff cheering for me.

You Are Now Leaving…

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

– Dr. Seuss

New England is home. Whether I reside here or not, it’s impossible to escape it. My regional accent, frequent use of “wicked” as a stellar adjective, the belief we drink from “bubblers,” not water fountains, and consistent inability to pronounce the “r” in most words, like “gender” or “car,” – all make my origin story instantly recognizable. Running a half marathon in each New England state offered a sense of personal appreciation. I love these backroads, town centers, and waterfront parks. Connecting with these places while running 13.1 miles is an experience I won’t forget. No matter if the course was hilly, my knees had pain, or I could pass Quicksilver, let alone Jeff; in the end, I was proud. Where will I go next? Not sure. So, grab a Hoodsie cup, or go on a Dunks or packie run, if that’s your speed, and wait as this Masshole selects a wicked fabulous city for a “runcaction.” This New England native has places to be and miles to run.

3 thoughts on ““You’re Off to Great Places!”: My New England Running Journey

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