The Chilmark Road Race is a chimerical beast, part family-oriented charity jog, part cutthroat competition. Perhaps the contradictory spirit of the now-legendary institution was best summed up by Willy Anderson, age 10. When asked about his plans for the race, the bespectacled youth declared, "I really want to beat my mom. We'll start out together, but at the end I'll try to beat her."
But how to beat her? Asking around, runners had plenty of tips for how to best get though the twists and turns of this notoriously devilish hill run. "Stay on the yellow line," said Aliyce Cognetta-Bertz, a classical violinist who trains by riding her horse Raquelle. She added, "If you're not puking you're not peaking." Ms. Cognetta-Bertz was running to celebrate her daughter joining the Peace Corps.
Nancy Osborne, #1230, was relying on quality shoes to get her through the race. "Once I had to have my toenails glued on for a wedding post-marathon," said the avid runner, "So now I have good, long, running shoes. They are very key." Josephine Beller (age six-and-three-quarters) was also contending with podiatric problems; she had recently broken her foot. Solution? "I'm going to hop and skip instead of running," she said.
Kate Fitzgerald felt the race itself would improve her time, "This race is so great - you feel like you can go faster here with all these other people." She added, "I hope it makes a lot of money for the community center." Others were skeptical of how much the crowd helps. "If you're not up front, you're never moving," said Hilda Lewis, who in her third year running the race had decided to stake a claim in the first row of racers. Her companion Brad Lester, who is a cross country runner accustomed to 5K races, had perhaps the most concise and Nike-esque advice of all, "Start running. Keep running. Finish running."
The air was crisp and relatively cool. Perfect conditions for following Mr. Lester's Mantra.
Team McMaster, composed of 30 genetic and extended family members were running the race for their 21st year. The group started with nine in 1986. The gang has its own internecine contest; each year after their clambake celebratory dinner the McMasters put their predictions in an envelope and reopen last year's. Cousins are pitted against uncles, friends against parents. There is also the team element. Said Sarah Williams, an 11-year-old member of team McMaster, "Every year we get a new colored T-shirt so when we run ahead or fall back we can find people we know." Sure enough, the McMasters covered the spread, with times ranging from under 20 minutes to over 60.
While some ran for exercise or personal glory, others had more profound things in mind as they pounded up and down 3.1 hilly miles of Middle Road. Mark Bergeson, #122, was running the race to commemorate the 20 years since a drunk driver hit him. His leg had been crushed and the doctors had wanted to amputate, but now, two decades later he has taken up running again. Kathi Gilmore was running to celebrate her survival of breast cancer. "I'm a survivor and I've just gotten a good prognosis," she said, "I'm out here to prove I'm alive and I'm celebrating being alive."
Others use the race to memorialize family. The Segal family ran to remember Eli Segal. "We try to celebrate things he loved to do - sailing, lobster dinners, this race, saying ‘yes' to anything the kids ask," said Phyllis Segal. To this end, family members wore T-shirts that read, W.W.E.D?, signifying "What Would Eli Do?" The late Mr. Segal was the founder of Americorps among other accomplishments.
Though the race was to the swift, it did not quite begin on time. No matter - people seemed to occupy themselves stretching, chatting and standing in line for the port-a-johns. Once the airhorn blared the starting honk, the front-runners were off like a shot. Race-winner Steve Meinelt, in yellow shorts and a shaved head, established an early, unchallenged lead. Mr. Meinelt nearly caught the pace truck, an old red pickup driven by race organizer Hugh Weisman. Members of the press, crammed into the truck's bed, had to hold on as best they could as the vehicle surged forward to outstrip the charging runner. Mr. Meinelt made his first mile in 4 minutes and 41 seconds, followed by Eyob Eyualem with 4 minutes 56 seconds. Amory Salem, the first woman, made her first mile in six minutes and one second.
The finish line was thronged with enthusiastic supporters who thrilled to see their favorite athletes crossing the finish line in front of the Chilmark town hall. The tired, sweaty racers slowed to a walk in a raucous, cheering gauntlet of love. Water, bananas and an all-natural energy drink were available to replenish lost fluids and electrolytic neurotransmitters. Someone had rigged a hose that sprayed like a shower, casting rainbows in the dappled shade of a tree.
The volunteers were all doing their part. Bennet and Morgan Collins stood by a barrel and shouted, "Bottles and cans! Please Recycle!" Volunteers from the Chilmark Community Center handed out refreshments sold race merchandise and collected the timing anklets. Mickey Stone, one of the senior race organizers said, "they're doing a great job - it runs so seamlessly now." James Heuser announced times and helped rile the crowd to give their encouragement to winners and stragglers alike. Pricilla Karnovsky, who coordinates the 120 volunteers (and has run every Chilmark Road Race) said of Mr. Heuser, "He knows all the people and is the ‘voice of Chilmark' - that's what makes the race so great."
The first-aid tent, run by the tri-town ambulance had only a couple of customers. Jennifer Haynes, a member of the medical team, attributed this to the mild temperature and humidity, saying, "It's not bad weather for running, so it's been a quiet day thus far."
At the awards ceremony, I caught up with Jim Austin, a wiry bewhiskered sexagenarian mainstay of the race. Mr. Austin finished first in his age cohort, and was one of the first off the starting blocks. Of the contest he said, "It's so special because it's become part of the summer biorhythms. I've got three generations of my family who've run this race. Yesterday I was waiting to get T-shirts and a guy comes up and sez - ‘Think I'm gonna get in?' and I say, ‘Man, this is the hottest event of the summer - there's room for fifteen hundred runners and it's sold out!"
The awards ceremony was intimate. Mr. Weisman, doling out the goodies, joked, "Some of these prizes are great, some are a little funky." The awards ranged from enormous lobsters to rides on the Flying Horses Carousel and Peter Simon calendars.
Amory Salem, who was the first-place woman with a time of 18 minutes and 40 seconds, was uncommonly generous with her prizes. She gave her gargantuan lobster to Hillary Lowitz, the first place winner for girls eight and under, and gave her dinner for two at Atria to Sarah Harris, the second place runner in her age-group. Sarah planned to eat the lobster boiled and give some of her carousel rides to her little brother. Of the race, said Ms. Salem, "I liked the last half-mile - it's just a screaming downhill. It's a great race for a great cause in this community." Her complaint? "They could price it a bit higher. I think people would pay a $25 entry fee, and that would pull in a little more money for the community center. According to Hugh Wesiman, this year's race raised approximately $20,000 dollars for the center. His contribution was duly appreciated. When going for pizza at the Chilmark Store after the race, Mr. Weisman was given a round of applause and many personal thank-yous.
Upon learning of Ms. Salem's complaint, Mr. Weisman said he would consider raising the entry fee, but other than that, he wouldn't want to tweak much. "I don't think it has changed much over the 30 years," he said, "and that's a good thing."
Update: 2007 Chilmark Road Race Results