Race Review: Running Maniacs Fall Festival Run
Sat. Oct. 2, 2010.
8 degrees celcius overcast & sun
A 15km run along the quiet countryside of Newcastle proved to be the perfect tonic to start the recovery process from a big urban race. For those who are wondering, I am not referring to the Newcastle located in England, but rather a “village” located near Highways 401 and 115 in Clarington, Ontario. The urban race in question was Toronto’s Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon, where I was packed along with thousands of runners on busy big city streets. What I badly needed was a near-by rural escape to test my stamina for some fall half-marathons on the horizon.
Newcastle is as rural as you can get, a rare oasis of simplicity and small town hospitality within the GTA’s urban sprawl. There were no “big box” stores (yet), just several streets dotted with small businesses, homes and a community centre. The one “main street” with the businesses along it was closed for the day, as there was a street festival with kids games and a display of vintage cars and tractors. Hey Markham, do you remember the days when that used to be us?
It is here that a group of local runners call themselves “maniacs”, and host a chip-timed 15km road race each fall. This year, the race began at 8:15am on a chilly Saturday morning. A 10km and 5km run/walk followed at 8:30am. With quiet Newcastle being the polar opposite of big city Toronto, the races were equal opposites. The Running Maniacs Fall Festival Run attracted roughly 300 participants, with about 50 of those taking part in the 15km distance. That meant long stretches where you saw no one around you, unlike the Toronto marathons where you are surrounded by dozens of people at any given time.
The route was a mix of loops along roads and paved pathway, a third of which provided several close up views of the Lake Ontario waterfront. Only a small section of the road was closed off to traffic and marked with pylons, so runners did have to look out for oncoming vehicles while on the race route. While I only encountered a few cars during the whole race, I did have one worrisome moment when two large farm vehicles (I can only describe them as two wide boxes on very large tractor/snow plough-like tires) rumbled past me on a narrow, hilly rural road near the half-way point.
The course itself was identified with km markers, directional signs and arrows drawn on the asphalt. A couple of points along the course — both of which are on the paved path during the 6th km — were not as clearly marked as other areas, but volunteers were in these spots to ensure runners did not take a wrong turn. This was especially important in the later stages of the race, where runners were spread very far apart and thus were unable to follow each other (thanks to the volunteers for making a difference). For all those Team Running Free members who are looking for easy volunteer points, please consider helping this race!
Only two or three areas of 15km course provided a significant incline, while the rest of the route was flat and fast. There were a few water stations on the route, all with water (no sport drink) from what I observed. There were also changeroom facilities and showers made available to participants at the local community centre. Finally, the t-shirt and finishing medal were both a hit. Organizers opted for a burgundy-coloured technical shirt, a rare find in my massive collection of souvenir race gear. The finishing medal was in the form of a dog tag and has the Running Maniacs club logo on it. Parking was obviously plentiful and free of charge.
All in all, the race was very well done when you consider this was a small rural race on a tight budget. I was very impressed that organizers charged a relatively inexpensive entry fee (compared to other races) and were still able to provide technical shirts, free post-race massages, chip-timing and a choice of three distances. Yes, it did lack certain elements of the more expensive urban road races, but it still provided a timely and effective tune-up for the fall marathon season. It also provided 15km of quiet countryside and waterfront scenery for any runner who needed a quick escape from the city.