Essays from the Field

The Mad Dash to the Manchester Road Race

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

By Steve Cambria
Special Contributor to

It’s a minute before the starting gun sounds, when that familiar P.A. announcer’s voice rings forth: “It’s Thanksgiving Day in Manchester, where else would you rather be?” That’s an easy one. If I had any smarts I’d be home in my sweats and bathrobe, prepping “Mr. Tom Butterball” and watching the pre-race antics on Fox-61. Instead, I’m packed into a wave of restive humanity, a scene right out of Times Square on New Year’s Eve; pressed-up against two girls dressed like Pilgrims and a rather large framed gentleman who’s testing the limits of “span” on his Spandex running suit. I applaud him. At least he’s out here!

If you only knew the undue pain and suffering we endure, the aching, shredded, sore muscles, the burning sensation of bone grinding against bone, the will power needed to skip that second donut or pass-up that last slice of pepperoni pie—or the energy it takes to hoist us out of bed an hour early, to log that mile or two before dawn—you might be inclined to stay out there just a little bit longer, cheering us on, as we plod our way to the finish line.

For the sponsored, professionals and the hard core amateurs, the 4.748-mile Manchester Road Race is little more than a protracted sprint, a veritable “walk in the park” that barely leads to an outbreak of perspiration. For the rest of us mere mortals, however, it’s the culmination of at least a month or two of intense, physical shock therapy, as we desperately try to swage our wavy physiques into something resembling an athlete. For us, running is the penance we must bear, that grants us more time to partake in the evil living habits we’ve grown accustomed to.

Despite our best wishes, we’re not 6-foot-4 with 45-inch legs, weighing in at 130 pounds We weren’t Cross-Country stars in high school or college, don’t own a chronograph, couldn’t run 100 miles a week, (let alone in a full year) and cannot lay claim to being even .0000001% Kenyan, anywhere in our family ancestry.

What we lack in talent, we make-up for in sheer numbers and true grit.

In the heat of battle, we’re not a pretty sight or the least bit photogenic. We’re a heaving, grunting mass of sweat and toil, a cross between some manic farm animal and a survivor from The Bataan Death March. Our mantra is: “We eat, therefore we run.” Our Holy Trinity is pasta, rice and stuffing—with a breadstick chaser! We drink whole milk, crave red meat and believe that gluten-free is a liberation movement somewhere in Sweden. While many in the front of the pack idolize names such as Rodgers, Burfoot and Kelley, we worship somewhat lessor Gods, a la Ronzoni, Jimmy Dean, and Ben & Jerry.

Our training usually starts in earnest, sometime in late October, when that warning light flashes: “Only six weeks till race time, Fudgy the Whale!” Then we begin the mad dash, the perennial insanity of trying to get our tired, flabby, bodies up, off the couch and out onto the pavement.

Do not, however, take us lightly. What we lack in talent, we make-up for in sheer numbers and true grit. We’re that rowdy mob, that majority rule that spans from St. James Church, clear up to the walker’s net. If you’re looking for us, we amass behind the sign that reads, “Expected Finish Time: Hopefully Before Noon.” For us, the race is the anti-climax, the agony before the ecstasy, the part we just want to get the hell over with! Our supreme goal is only to finish, sans paramedic support, preferably before that dreaded one hour mark and most definitely, a few yards ahead of the first 90 year old to enter the chutes. Then and only then can we relax, grab that bottle of water, a race program, and point skyward in defiance, knowing that we beat the odds one more year.

On our long walk back to the car, as our heart rate downshifts from near, Tachycardia to normal Sinus rhythm, we recite that all too familiar pledge: Next year’s going to be different! I’ll begin training in June, will drop twenty or thirty pounds and finally, start eating right. I’ll shave at least 10–15 minutes off of my finish time and line-up in the 45 minute starting block. By November, I’ll look like a cover photo of Runner’s World. Heck, maybe I’ll even join the Silk City Striders?

Yeah, right, who am I kidding? Rest assured next year will be déjà vu all over again.

In the meantime, pass me that drumstick and an extra scoop of mashed potatoes. It’s Thanksgiving Day in Manchester, and there’s no place I’d rather be!

Steve Cambria is a Manchester resident who lives only 2.763 miles from the starting line of the MRR. He’ll be lost, somewhere in the midst of that “rowdy mob” on Thanksgiving morning, enraptured in the festivities and anxiously awaiting dinner.

Manchester Road Race website »