On November 11, 2012, several members of my running club and I ran in the Monson Memorial Classic. The Monson Memorial Classic features three events – a half marathon, a 5k run, and a 2 mile walk. Monson Mass. was devastated by a huge tornado a few years ago and since then it’s become a popular running spot thanks to several benefit races. The Memorial Classic benefits a number of cancer awareness causes.
This wasn’t my first time running Monson, but several teammates were there for the first time. It was great fun to run the races as a team. Six members of our crew ran the half marathon and five members of our crew (plus one junior member) ran the 5k. I ran the half marathon last year, and decided this was the year to try the 5k. This review will focus on the 5k, but I’ve included some tidbits about the half marathon since I ran that last year and had some spies who could report on this year’s event.
The race begins and ends near the town hall, a lovely historic building. Race day was warm, about 60 degrees, and partly cloudy. The race got off to a rocky start. Packet pick up began just an hour before the race, and race day registration was available. A combination of a late start, plus no discernible organization to the check in/packet pick up area led to really long, disorganized lines.
After waiting about 10 minutes in line, someone came out and began trying to convince 5k runners to go inside. We went inside and found more people. I would say that there were lines, but it was really more a gathering of people standing in an area. No one seemed to know what was going on. We persevered and got packets. There was nice race swag. Everyone got a long sleeve technical t-shirt and a water bottle. Half marathoners got a pint glass with the race logo. In a somewhat odd move, the race organizers passed out finishers’ medals for the half marathon at race check in. I thought it was very strange (and anti-climactic) to get the finishers’ medal at the same time as the race number. It wouldn’t have taken much extra work to pass the medals out at the finish line and I’m sorry that the race organizers didn’t do this. The large crowds at check in were encouraging. I like seeing lots of runners come out for charity races, particularly challenging ones. I really had the sense that the organizers were surprised by the number of registrants.
Due to the chaos of packet pick up, the race started about 20 minutes late. At start time, a bagpiping duo led runners to the half marathon start in the middle of route 32. Traffic was temporarily suspended. The half marathon got started and the remaining runners voyaged to the nearby start of the 5k run and 2 mile walk. Several minutes later, traffic was held and the 5k began.
The 5k course starts on Route 32, the main roadway in the area, and proceeds about 1 mile up Route 32. Then, the race turned right on Route 32, and took another right onto a back road. It was a relief to be on the back road. Traffic was not stopped, there were no cones, and there were no race marshals or volunteers, so traffic was zipping by the runners. Given that Route 32 is a main road, there were a lot of cars. The back roads were lovely, slightly hilly, and scenic. One of the roads was in the path of the tornado that devastated the town a couple years ago, and it was nice to see the rebuilding in progress.
At mile 2, there was what I assume was meant to be a water stop. It was a folding table with several cups of water on it. It was totally unattended and on the opposite side of the road from the race. I wish the race organizers had secured a volunteer to hand out the water, or at least put the table on the right side of the road so runners actually passed it. By the time I realize that it was actually a water stop, I was past it. But, for a 5k, water isn’t essential for me so I didn’t mind.
Unfortunately, the 5k race course is not well marked, nor are there volunteers on course. There are no marshals, and very few signs. The signs that do exist are small pink papers attached to the odd pole. I counted just 4 signs. The course was overall very poorly identified and marked. Two members of my team got lost on the course, adding on a quarter of a mile. There were no marshals to direct them and they were lucky to have found their way back to the course. The making of the course could really be improved and marshals to help ensure the safety of runners and help with directions would have been helpful.
At the finish, there was professional timing and a small crowd. Runners were treated to a wonderful buffet post-race.
The food is really a highlight of this race. The Women’s Auxillary creates an amazing spread of all home cooked food. There were several gluten free and vegetarian options, and, what can only be described as the best minestrone soup ever. Ever. I got the recipe from the nice woman who makes it (that’s her in the blue shirt on the right). It’s that good. They also have a huge selection of drinks, both hot and cold, bagels and donuts, ice cream, apples, and the best non-pasteurized apple cider ever. Seriously. The food is amazing. It’s worth running just to get the cider. Despite the number of runners exceeding what was anticipated, there was plenty of food and portions were large. Complimentary post-race sports massage was available and a blue grass/folk band entertained everyone in the town hall.
Overall, Monson is a decent little race. The RD could make some small, simple improvements that would dramatically improve the overall quality of the race. But, the race experience is saved by the great food, nice amenities, and good race environment.
A few notes on the half marathon – my spies reported that the course was the same as last year, VERY hilly, scenic, and shaded. The first 8 miles are uphill and the race has a somewhat unpleasant finish. The last 3.5 miles are run on Route 32 and there is no effort to control traffic. The shoulder is very, very slim and non-existant in some areas. Runners who are up to the challenge of the hills should use caution in the final miles as cars are definitely present. Despite this, I like the half marathon course. It goes through some lovely countryside. And, what runner doesn’t like a challenge? My spies also reported that there were water stops every mile and a half or so (though some were unattended) and had nice, full cups of water. Chip timing was a huge improvement to the half marathon this year, and made times reliable. Overall, everyone who ran the half marathon reported that they had a good experience. And everyone enjoyed the post-race massage.