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Maple Leaf Half Marathon: New Course Preview

by John Waller

MANCHESTER Ė On Aug. 1, I attempted to break in the new Maple Leaf Half Marathon course. Instead, it nearly broke me. I guess there is a reason most half marathons arenít run at noon in the middle of the summer. By my estimations, it was about 120 degrees Fahrenheit with 110 percent humidity (Later data revealed temperatures were in the low 80s with 90 percent humidity).

The small map I carried with me showed eight water stops along the way. Unfortunately, despite my badgering, no volunteers came out for my trial run (Poor baby). Below my map, an Elevation Profile pointed out all the hills Iíd have to watch out for. My pre-run thoughts: ďOK, so Iíll go up over that one, have a nice downhill, pop over that last one and it should be smooth sailing to the finish line.Ē Not so much. Trust me, the inclines look a bit bigger, and last a whole heck of a lot longer, in person. Funny though, I never seemed to notice the supposed long downhill sections on the course.

But enough of my complaining, Iíd be lying if I said I didnít have fun (Masochist). The new course is really the best of both worlds. For someone traveling to town, it offers great views of Mount Equinox, Mount Aeolus and a bunch of other Green Mountains Iím not too familiar with. Most of the time you feel like youíre running in a postcard or in the images of Vermont Life Magazine.

The new course, much more so than the old one, lets you experience Manchester (Even if your vision is a little blurry by the end). Northshire Bookstore, the Orvis Flagship Store, a lot of bed and breakfasts, Mark Skinner Library, the Equinox Resort, Burr and Burton Academy, the Southern Vermont Arts Center, an old one-room schoolhouse, Town Hall, more bed and breakfasts and Manchester Elementary-Middle School are all along the way (In this order). You also pass by numerous quintessential Vermont farmhouses (Again, even more so than last years course), and I canít overstate the Green Mountain views (Almost one on every step of the way).

For the local runner, you get all this plus you get a really solid running course. By this I mean, itís challenging, but nothing ridiculous. Youíre probably not going to set a personal best if youíve run a lot of half marathons, but it still gives you the opportunity to run a solid time. Itís got a good variety of flat sections, gradual rolling hills and two tough climbs.

Hereís a brief description:

Like last year, the course starts at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park. Leaving it, you take a left on Bonnet Street, which gives you a nice moderate downhill to Malfunction Junction to get your legs moving. There, you take a right on Main Street and follow it into the Village. This section definitely lets you know itís not going to be an easy day. You might not have noticed it before, but thereís a steady, gradual climb from Northshire Bookstore to the Mark Skinner Library.

Once there, you take a short loop around Seminary, Franklin and Dillingham Avenues, which puts you on West Road (At this point, youíve run about 2.5 miles). After taking a left on West Road, itís a straight shot to Route 30 (Warner Memorial Highway). On this stretch, the first significant climb, which is just more than a quarter mile, is sandwiched by two long downhill sections (About eight-tenths of a mile each), including a fairly steep decline into Route 30. Once youíve taken a right on Route 30, you continue declining until you hit Mount Aeolus Lane (About the 7 mile mark). After going down Mount Aeolus and taking a right on North Road, the real fun beings: Wind Hill Road. Maple Leaf veterans may remember Wind Hill Road at about the 2 mile mark of last yearís course. Well let me tell you, itís much, much harder at mile number 8. The dirt road certainly lives up to part of its name, and itís wasnít windy. The good news: Once youíve scaled it (putting you at about mile 9), as Britney said when she broke up with K-Fed, ďItís all downhill from here.Ē

Overlook Road (the longest and steepest decline on the course) takes you to North Road again, which brings you out to Main Street. At Riley Rinkís entrance, youíve just run more than 11 miles. Then, a short stretch on Memorial Avenue and School Street takes you back to Bonnet Street, where you retrace your steps to the finish.

Last year, I thought two sections on the course might have broken the Geneva Convention. The switchback on Main Street, where each downhill step you took you knew an uphill step was waiting, and the steep hill at mile 10 on High Meadow Way.

My main problem with both (I know, here I go complaining again) is that two significant climbs followed two downhill sections, giving you no rest when you crested the hills. Iíd much rather have the gratification of a nice long decline after killing myself going uphill. This yearís course provides just that. The hill on West Road is followed by a long, easy section and the portion after Wind Hill Road to the end comes close to making up for the severe climb.

My one gripe is that West Road is extremely straight. I know when I sign up to run a half marathon Iíve committed to running 13.1 miles, but I donít necessarily want to see it laid out in front of me. However, like most of the course, there are some nice views, so maybe Iíll get caught up looking off to the side instead of at the miles that lurk ahead.

Overall, Iím very excited to run the course again next month with water stops and, more importantly, some friendly competition because, as they say, ďMisery loves company.Ē

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