Our first North American race review.  Regular contributor and reviewer Brian Christensen lets us know what he thought of the Lowell Sun Half / Baystate marathon in Massachusetts.

As a veteran of only the Dublin marathon, I had set my sights on somewhere further afield for my first overseas race. Some friends are living in Boston, so the Baystate Marathon fit my schedule perfectly with plans to be a pacer at the Dublin City Marathon at the end of October.

Taking place in the second week of October, the Baystate Marathon and accompanying Sun Half Marathon take place in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell is an industrial town along the Merrimack river about 30 miles from Boston. The starting gun goes off at 8am, which is an inconvenience for runners coming from Boston, but this is the only negative with the race. The temperatures can creep up into the mid-late teens by the early afternoon, so this is primarily to spare the 4+ hour marathoners. I chose to do the Half Marathon in the end, as my Sumer training hadn’t quite been as good as expected. It also meant I relax could enjoy my holiday a bit more. Registration takes place at the local ice-hockey stadium, a slick operation. Although traffic into town is heavy, we get through logistics easily enough and are at the start line at 0750. It’s chilly, so wear long sleeves and gloves if you tend to get cold. Both races are of 2 laps duration around the Merrimack River, scenery is pleasant if not overly pleasing on the eye. There are some gently rolling hills in the first 3 miles of the Half and Marathon, which means we hit these again through miles 7-9 of the Half. Support is good throughout, I wore an “Ireland” national vest borrowed from a more accomplished clubmate. Intermittent shouts of “Hey Ireland” raise a smile and put a spring in the step. There are 5 or 6 water stops on the half course, with each provided by a local high school, each trying to outdo the next with costumes and encouragement. Gatorade and water is available. A note to overseas competitors, Gatorade is somewhat less concentrate than Lucozade sport or other European sports drinks, so it’s advised to drink this at every stop.

Baystate runners in full flight

A thoroughly enjoyable race, it has a very local ‘feel’ and everyone is super friendly. For anyone familiar with the Boston Red Sox, the race finishs with a lap of the outfield of LeLacheur Park, with the finish line being close to home plate. This stadium is home to the Lowelll Spinners, the Red Sox’ Single-A  affiliate. Post-race refreshments encompass a choice of hot soups, beans and bread, together with Gatorade and sugary snacks – all served in the stadium. A nice touch and not something you’d find in large Irish races.

I would heartily recommend this race to anyone who is planning to be in the area in October. The course is also notoriously fast, with 30+ % of all Baystate Marathon finishers qualifying for the famous Boston Marathon. Registration for the big event opens at very next day, so the race is perfectly timed in that respect. I can attest to the the speed of the course, as I managed my goal of a sub 90 half, my finish time being 1:29:16. Entry costs $40 for the Half and $60 for the Marathon. The finishers shirt , medal and goody bags are all impressive. Weather on the day was perfect, the overall result is happy and satisfied faces all round!

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