By Mary Stevens
Summer rolls in on waves of humid air, and the odds are good that we’ll all be running a race in sweltering conditions. Those odds get even ‘better’ when we commit to run longer races this time of year. Nevertheless, I signed up for Hamilton’s venerable Wiener Run 10K (Roger Perham, director) a couple of weeks ago because it was right in the neighborhood and I wanted a timed, measured course to gauge my training progress.
I’ve managed to stitch together a couple of months of habitual running, but had no illusions about a 10K PR at the Wiener Run. I like this race because it’s an informal, no-frills event that draws a small field. Plus, the wiens ‘n beans are ready when the running is done!
Despite its friendly name and superb direction, however, this 10K isn’t easy even when the weather cooperates. As you trot through Hamilton’s bucolic horse country, the sidewalks vanish into soft gravel. Highland Avenue bisects farm fields and swampy terrain guarded by acrobatic mosquitoes that bite before they land. The second half of the race is mostly uphill. You could say this is a good warm-up for the terrain and conditions at the Newburyport 10-miler.
True to form, race day dawned cloudy and humid. Things had cooled off to the mid-80s by race time at 6:30 p.m. My inner cheetah and sloth agreed to dispense with any notion of “fast,“ in favor of finishing upright. To help make this happen, I started at the back of the pack and ambled out of Asbury Grove. Up ahead, NSS fast guy Sal Genovese and most of the other runners loped rapidly into the distance along the road to Ipswich.
My feet felt leaden as I passed the swamp on right and the huge, loud dogs on the left. The air was as refreshing as an attic. One mile gone.
What to do when a run gets ugly? I say find an excuse to slow down. First I slowed to say hello to Hong Zhang, a legendary Strider alum who was shooting at the water stop where the course turned onto the road through Bradley Palmer State Park. Hong looks the same now as he did when he was winning races several years ago.
I was pondering the age-reversing benefits of running—then stopping—when a bird chortled in the distance. What kind of bird? Better slow down (even more) and listen. The bird chortled again. I was pretty sure it was a . Tune in to one bird, and you hear others. As I ran slowly through the woods, I heard a red-bellied woodpecker, warbling vireos, blue jays, an angry nuthatch. A lime-shirted thrasher ran past me, but then I passed someone else and realized my pace was back on auto-pilot. You can cover a lot of ground trying to figure out what kind of sparrow is on the road in front of you.
The course came out on the other side of Bradley Palmer in Topsfield and onto Asbury Street. I discovered I wasn’t dead, although the final, arduous leg of the race loomed: Two long hills on a busy road stood between me and the finish line. Realizing how miserable I felt on the first steep ascent was not a good way to cope with it, so I tried to focus on the fowl around me. Over my shuffling feet, labored breathing and pounding head, I heard crows. I saw a pair of vultures circling at the top of the highest hill (not today, fellas). The almost-sonar calls of cedar waxwings punctuated the quiet as the road descended back into Hamilton. There were the louder noises of chickadees, then the frantic killdeer in the Green Meadows Farm fields.
What I didn’t hear were footsteps coming up behind me. I can’t say I found wings on that last stretch of road, but I did outrun most of the mosquitoes, finish upright, and hear goldfinches and starlings.
Serious runners log their time and place for each race. Serious birders count the species they identify on a given outing. Combining these, my results for the Wiener run were 69:11, 3rd in my age division, 17th overall; and 11 bird species, including a post-race veery I heard on my slow walk home.
Kudos to Roger and the crew for another excellent rendition of the Wiener Run!