For most families, the 4th of July is traditionally the day for cookouts, boating and fireworks. But like many runners, I??prefer to take a different approach to the holiday. A few weeks ago, I decided that it would be great to start our??weekend off with a road race.??Okay, so I didn’t randomly decide to get out of bed on a Saturday to??drive an hour to run a race. My marathon training plan called for 8 miles on July 4th so??like??most runners I though, “Hmm,??6.2 is pretty close to 8 so lets find a 10K!” Makes sense, right?
I only found a couple of local races that were actually being run on July 4th, including the L.L. Bean 4th of July 10K. Apparently not everyone thinks a road race is a patriotic way celebrate the holiday.????Before signing up for any race??I normally look at past results to ensure there is less then a 10% chance I’ll be dead last. ??As you will find out, I consider myself a??“leisurely” runner. I like to say I get more benefit per mile for my race fees than than faster moving people. ??From the times of previous years, I had plenty of “padding” to finish the race just about mid-pack. ??Now to convince the spouse.
Registration and the Black Cloud Phenomenon
Just a short history of running with my spouse. ??We’ve only run together for a couple of years??and it seems that every time we race together we have less than ideal weather. ??Our St. Patrick’s Day race was postponed??two weeks because of a snow storm and our Trail to Ale 10K had rain and gale force winds up until about mile 3. ??Needless to say, my husband is now a bit hesitant to schedule a race with me.
Before the convincing could begin, I’d need to check for hail storms, tornado warnings and possible locust invasions first. According to??the local weather the day promised to be hot and sunny, there were even warnings posted??on the race website that the day was going to be hot.???? SWEET!!
The actual convincing??didn’t take very long. Apparently??he was??either really busy or didn’t read the entire text.?? Only one “this will be fun” text and he agreed.?? No convincing needed… this time.
In the??pre-race emails, the??race director had strongly suggested that we pick up our bibs the night before the event.????I get it, trying??to get 1,600 people their bibs and shirts on race morning could be a challenge in itself.?? But we like to live on the edge and chose to wait until race morning.?? Okay,??I’m not??the live-on-the-edge kind of person. This decision stressed me out but I really didn’t want to drive an hour north on I-95 on a summer Friday night into the heart of tourist country.?? That’s just for the foolhardy!
Because we didn’t know what to expect for race day traffic, parking and allowing ourselves plenty of time to get lost, we (okay, I) opted to be out of the house before sunrise.?? We arrived at packet pickup just prior to 6:00AM and sleepily crawled out of the warm car to discover the surrounding air was a tad… cool.?? Like get back in the car, wonder if I had enough clothes with me cool.?? Thankfully, we??parked in??a very handy lot that was not only across the street from packet pickup but it had the port-o-potties in it (runner bonus!) so it wasn’t a super long, cool walk to get back inside.
Bib and t-shirt pickup were quick, organized and uneventful.?? We walked??around the area to get our bearings and scope out the competition, then headed back to our car to get warm again and wonder if the sun was ever going to come out??or if the skies would open and we’d continue our reign??of bad running luck.?? Around 7:00AM we headed for the start which was quite literally just up the street from where we parked (bonus again!).
The??L.L. Bean 4th of July 10K??has a couple of unique features. ??First of all it starts on Bow Street heading downhill and we have to wait for the Amtrak Downeaster train to pass across the start line before the race can begin.????As noted by the announcer, not waiting for the train could end up in a very messy race.?? Right on time, the train crossing??arms came down with their red flashing lights and cheers from the crowd erupted.???? As the train passed across the street people waved and took pictures.?? I can surely say I’ve never had a race start quite so uniquely.
After the presentation of the colors and the singing of the anthem, we all struggled to put our hats back on and readied our running watches.?? At 7:32AM the race started and off we went.?? Downhill, across the railroad tracks, a quick right turn and open road.??The race??advertised that 1,600 runners could run and from the tight??pack at the start I??feel like it was a pretty much sold out race.?? I often find when a field is so bunched up that people get frustrated quickly and they start mumbling about the slow people blocking the route in front of them.?? I don’t recall this general attitude from anyone during this race and I’m one of the slow runners so it’s not unusual for me to hear such sentiments.
From the start, the crowds were awesome and plentiful.?? There were very few stretches where we didn’t see people sitting outside their homes cheering the runners on.?? We had music playing, flags flying,??conga drummers and one family even hauled out the kitchen pots and pans to bang on for us.??Words of??encouragement and smiling faces were abundant. ??It seemed that every time we hit a quiet spot in the race, we’d turn a corner and a crowd of people cheering and high fiving us were waiting there.?? For people who have never run a race before, it’s very hard to describe the energy runners get from the crowd.?? When people take time to get out of their homes and root us on, it means a lot to us and really gives us that extra boost we need to get to the next turn or water stop.
Not only were the people along the route fantastic, but the volunteers were just so enthusiastic.?? We’ve all run races where the volunteers are just there doing their shift and can’t wait to leave.?? I never got the feeling at this race.?? Every volunteer I encountered looked me in the eye and smiled.?? They really made me believe they wanted to be there and were proud of the work they were doing.?? I can’t even put into words what that means to a runner, so if you were out there, I thank you very much for your work and smiles.
Okay, so I only have given??you one hint about the course, we started facing downhill (WOO HOO!!). Which is a bonus until you realize what goes down must eventually come back up.?? And oh good gracious did we come back up.?? As you can see by the lovely elevation map below, we were lulled into believing it was an easy course until mid-race!!?? I know to anyone who runs in the mountains that this looks like a typical day on the road for you.?? But we are basically flat landers with a few hills here and there to train on.
When I run I tend to lean forward, with my head down and focused on my steps and my breath.?? So imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw the hill noted above.?? I think I literally did say “You’ve got to be kidding me” and looked at the smiling volunteer who said, “I’ve heard that a lot today, have a great run.” ??It was one of those long, curving hills with a false summit that runners love to hate.?? We know on the other side is a great rest for our weary legs but to get there we have to dig deep inside and focus on the task ahead.
As you can see the rest of the course was mostly a gradual gain in altitude until the end. ??We ran through very rural areas, past inlets that smelled like the sea and onto US Route 1 where we passed people in cars who were waiting to park so they could start their shopping holiday. Even those people were cheering us on! ??It was awesome.
The Finish Line
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Freeport, Maine is the home to L.L. Bean and their iconic Bean Boot. ??Thousands of people flock there in the summer for outlet shopping at its finest. ??As we ran down Main Street, heading for the finish line in front of the flagship store, the sidewalks were packed with people cheering.
As we headed into the yellow-coned finishing chute I can only remember the crowd being almost deafeningly loud and photographers waiting to take our victory pictures as we crossed the final timing mat. ??Thankfully it was pretty flat for the that last .2 of the course and downhill to get water and under the misting hose that a volunteer was holding for us.
There was a small finish line party with the typical runner food and water. ??The small park that held the gathering area was shaded and had lots of bench seating to sit on. ?? After running such a hot race, it was so nice to have someplace to just be able to sit and gather your thoughts, such as, “is that a giant Bootmobile or do I have heat stroke?”
The day also featured some kids races with really cool leather medallions for all of the kids finishers. ??Personally as a medal collector, I would have loved to have one of those for the 10K. ??They were large, circular leather cut outs with a bean boot ingrained into it. ??There was talk of how to get into the one mile kids race to get one of these babies. I am pretty short and could probably pass for an older looking kid, but I decided the risk of being beaten badly by someone a quarter of my age wasn’t worth the embarrassment.
As a race in general the L.L. Bean 4th of July 10K was a well run, efficiently organized race. ??I still can’t say enough good things about all of the people we interacted with. ??You can tell the people of Freeport take pride in their town and are welcoming to others. ??We’re planning on doing this race again next year, will you be there?