In the beginning, there were 254 runners toiling up and over the hills of Middle Road.
Thirty-four years and tens of thousands of racing alumni later, the Chilmark Road Race has become a staple of summer. And though traffic and first aid concerns prompted founder and organizer Hugh Weisman to cap the number of entrants at 1,500 for the past three years, interest in the annual 5K run for the lobster has never been higher.
“[Registration] had been filling up two or three, four days before the race,” Mr. Weisman told the Gazette in an interview this week. “This year it filled up two weeks before.”
Entries were closed after July 30, much to the chagrin of summer residents who began their Vineyard stays in August.
For the first time in the history of the race, registration was an online-only affair. Last year an estimated 65 per cent of entrants registered via the Web, but that still left Mr. Weisman with 600 or so entry blanks and fees to process manually. Now the information is “all out there in the clouds somewhere,” Mr. Weisman said.
This year also marks the first time an electronic mat will be used at the starting line, allowing individual racers to have an exact elapsed time for their run (chip timing has already been in use for several years, but is based on the starting gun, not when a runner actually leaves the line).
“It’s not an official time,” said Mr. Weisman. “We don’t use it for prizes, but it gives people their actual time.”
And by long tradition, the coveted prizes come in the form of “scary-size” [four or five-pound] lobsters from Larsen’s Fish Market in Menemsha. Winners of the children’s divisions receive a pair of chicken lobsters.
Every participant, however, walks away with an official Chilmark Road Race T-shirt. While Mr. Weisman designs the shirts (“They’re variations on a theme,” he said. “IBM doesn’t have a new logo every year.”), color schemes must be approved by his daughters, Jennifer Sullivan and Ali McDowell, both of whom participated in the very first race.
“My girls tell me, you know, Dad, no woman will wear that,” said Mr. Weisman.
While a shirt is included with a runner’s entry fee, non-runners can purchase gear of their own during sign-in Saturday morning. All proceeds from fees and sales go to the Chilmark Community Center; for the past few years, the race has brought in over $20,000 for the center.
“For me it’s . . . giving back to this community and having the satisfaction of doing something that people really love. It’s that simple,” Mr. Weisman said of his many years as organizer.
He offered some tried-and-true advice for first-timers: “It’s not the Olympics,” he said. “It’s crowded; if they’re not going to run a really competitive time they should find their way toward the back and not get knocked down or pushed around by people. Take it easy, it could be hot.” He continued:
“Drink plenty of water, drink plenty of water, drink plenty of water. And have fun.”
The 34th Annual Chilmark Road Race begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Busses to the starting line begin leaving the Community Center at 9:15 a.m. Registrants must pick up their numbers and shirts on Friday evening or Saturday morning before 9:30 a.m.
For more information, please visit chilmarkroadrace.org or call the Chilmark Community Center at 508-645-9484.