Over 1,000 runners will toe the starting line next Saturday for the annual Chilmark Road Race, a running event that grows in popularity every year.
Ten years ago, the Chilmark Road Race was small. Barely two hundred showed up for the inaugural run. But even this number was more than organizers expected, as they busily hand printed extra numbers and apologized for running out of T-shirts. The race was still a resounding success, and has grown in size every year since.
It’s still a small race.
The New York Marathon, by comparison, is a big race. It has a field of 19,000 runners who cover 26.2 miles of city streets patrolled by over 5,000 policemen. The Chilmark Road Race has a field of about 1,000 runners, dashing over 3.1 miles (five kilometers) of bucolic country road under the benevolent eye of seven men in blue from Chilmark and West Tisbury.
The New York Marathon has a paid professional staff and 10,000 volunteers, uses 10,000 paper cups and is watched by million of spectators. The Chilmark Road Race relies on 45 faithful helpers who work for a T-shirt, uses 1,200 paper cups (all handed out at a single water station at the mile and a half mark) and gathers a coterie of hundreds, who cheer friends and families to the finish at the Chilmark town hall.
The New York Marathon attracts elite runners from around the world, who compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes and a new Mercedes Benz. The Chilmark Road Race attracts all types, from four-year-old kids to seventy-five-year-old grandmothers, who vie for lobsters from Larsen’s Fish Market, dinners at the Home Port and candy from Chilmark Chocolates.
But the Chilmark Road Race has much in common with the New York Marathon.
All runners who participate in the New York Marathon get a T-shirt at the starting line and refreshments at the finish line. The Chilmark Road Race T-shirt is treasured by all its recipients (it is rumored Av Morrow of Gay Head has a full collection of all ten shirts stored in mint condition in a locked drawer), who enjoy Vine and Dole frozen fruit bars at Beetlebung Corner at race’s end.
The New York Marathon has a phalanx of city buses to transport runners to the starting line on Staten Island. The Chilmark Road Race relies on two West Tisbury school buses driven by Barbara Maciel and Leslie Look and a motley caravan of pick-up trucks and Island cars to carry the hordes to the start on Middle Road.
The New York Marathon uses computers and bar-coded numbers to time and keep track of everyone. The Chilmark Road Race employs the same technology to carefully record to the hundredth of a second the times of each and every runner. These times are published in their entirety in the Gazette on the Friday after the race and sent by post card to each runner.
What makes the Chilmark Road Race a very big race and a small one at the same time is people.
It is big in the eyes of David Alden, who holds the men’s course record of 14:49 minutes and who considers the race one of the most important in his crowded running schedule.
It is big in the eyes of Lauren Shweder, who has run every year since she was four years old and finally won her division last year at 11 years of age.
People like David and Lauren have a personal relationship with the event and hundreds of veteran and novice runners think of the race as their special race.
The Chilmark Road Race begins at 10:30 a.m. August 13. Entry forms are available at Coach T’s and the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce office in Vineyard Haven, Island Shirtworks and the twon hall tourist information desk in Oak Bluffs, Dukes County Savings Bank in Edgartown, Larsen’s Fish Market in Mememsha and the Chilmark town offices and community center.