– writeup by L.D. Runner – Lowell, MA 10/21/18.
The last race in the USATF New England Grand Prix Series was the Baystate Marathon, their championship race. Two Striders, Cheryl Welsh and Allie Vered, ran all the Grand Prix races and signed up for Baystate hoping to earn the Iron Runner designation and the prestigious jacket. Linda Desjardins had run three of the USATF Grand Prix races and Mike let her know she was second in her age group for the Grand Prix and with a finish at Baystate would probably win her age group for the whole series. Linda signed up too and questioned that move every day for months.
The weather was as predicted: unseasonably cold at 40 and rising to 45 degrees with showers ending by about 9, sun breaking through and winds increasing in intensity from the northwest all day. Right on all counts. Many runners sought the shelter of parking lots before the race and got to the starting line wearing garbage bags. Weather seemed fine at the outset: the rain stopped quickly and the wind was tolerable. We were heading out into it. About 1600 marathoners and 1400 half marathoners shared the starting line and ran together for the first two miles. Yes, we all know what it’s like to run in a crowd. But as the half marathoners veered off for their course after about 2 miles, the crowd thinned out and it was quite pleasant running north with the Tyngsboro Bridge being the 8 mile mark. We could feel the headwind the next 5 miles but it wasn’t horrific. We crossed the bridge and ran a loop back down the Boulevard, (think Mill Cities), crossed the Rourke Bridge, where the half marathoners had turned, and repeated our trek up Route 3A to the Tyngsboro Bridge. But this time the wind was really howling and we turned right into it. The next 5 miles to the Tyngsboro Bridge were…challenging. There were curses in the air. We crossed the bridge, arriving at mile 18 and then straight in to the finish except for the last mile which was back on city streets. The temperature was dropping, the wind was chilling. But folks got to the finish. Well-managed race – lots of support and water on the course, Gatorade and Gu.
When we finished, we learned each other’s results as we only ran together for a short while. Cheryl’s stated goal was to “Start and Finish.” She is recovering from meniscus surgery performed late in June but was hell-bent and determined to complete the Iron Runner series, alternating running and walking for a few races but mostly running the marathon. Her reward? A 5:20:02 finish, a PR! She was 14 of 18 in her age group. She finished with an age grading of 58%. The open age group equivalent was a 3:54 marathon. What a showing, especially with no time goal whatsoever. “Just finishing” she’d say when asked.
Allie got off to an incredible start, running strong. She had hoped to come in maybe under 4 hours. She was running her heart out but neglected to take water along the way and didn’t take Gu and her legs started cramping. She was in agony on the side of the road at 18 miles and a few of us gave her water and Gu chews with 3X normal sodium and another runner offered salt tablets to try to alleviate the condition. A police officer came over and was helping her, too. Allie said she needed a little time for the cramping to stop and could only wait for the remedies to kick in. After finishing, we learned Allie had started back up but could only make it to 20. She had spent every ounce of determination she had; but her legs would not cooperate. After several falls, Allie had to throw in the towel. She certainly made a valiant effort. Allie is an Iron Runner to us. What bravery.
Linda was only running to finish, too. She was hoping, best case, to come in around 5:15. She had been training plenty but at a ridiculously slow pace. In looking through course records offered on the Baystate site, she was surprised to see the Women’s 70+ record, established in 2015, was 5:13:18. She thought maybe…just maybe. Then as the miles went on, she knew it was doable. Then another goal emerged: could she break 5 hours? Hell Yeah. Linda floated across the finish line in 4:57:18 screaming out the same words Shalaine did when she finished New York. Linda’s still smiling. Her age grading was 73% and the open equivalent time was a 3:04 marathon. Linda took an age group first and the three other 70+ women came in 10 minutes, 14 minutes and 27 minutes behind her. Linda now holds the course record (by 16 minutes) for the Baystate Marathon women 70+ category, and her 10 points earned in this race, according to Mike, make her the USATF New England 2018 overall women 70+ champ. Quite a day for all!