The saying “you get what you pay for” oftentimes rings true, be it for a race entry fee, hotel room, or purchase from a store.
The Merrimack River Trail Race 10-miler proved to be an exception.
At just $10, the entry fee was enough to entice me to sign up back in February. The event experience Saturday in Andover, Mass., was worth so much more than the bargain price.
Ten bucks bought entry into the race, aid station support, post-race grub, and a fun run. On top of all of that, the ten bucks bought a whole lot of joy.
From the moment we arrived at the Wyndham Hotel’s back parking lot (site of the start/finish), to the drive home, the day was filled with nearly constant laughter. That’s a tribute to Race Director Steve Peterson, a man whose combination of volume, humor, and enthusiasm had myself—and just about everybody else—laughing throughout packet pick-up, the pre-race briefing, and the post-race awards, followed by a truly epic raffle.
Steve provided a constant pre-race countdown by shouting updates at obscure timing moments (THIRTY-TWO MINUTES!!! TWENTY-NINE MINUTES!!! People on the highway, you have FIVE MINUTES!!!). He had everyone chuckling with his instructions, including “do NOT get hurt!” and “if you don’t see the flags marking the course, then you are NOT on the course.” There also was the ceremonial raising of the T-shirts (the starting line is marked by a clothesline displaying 25 years worth of race shirts), the centerpiece being this year’s 25th anniversary “Silvah Rivah” shirt.
Post-race, he presented winners with baked goods, commemorative “Silvah Rivah” gloves, and allowed them to choose a prize from a table full of leftover shirts from other races. The grand finale was the raffle, which consisted of about 25 items where each lucky participant whose number was drawn had to choose between two options (for example, pickles vs. toilet paper, or Rice-a-Roni variety pack vs. Twizzlers and Yoohoo).
The comedy show lasted all morning, save for during the actual running – which was plenty enjoyable in its own right.
The out-and-back course offered a nice variety of terrain with fast, non-technical running during the first and last three miles and some steep, challenging climbs and descents during the middle four miles. It was also fun to see the front-runners battling for position while crossing paths as they headed inbound, as well as being able to offer encouragement to other outbound runners once I hit the turnaround.
My race went well. I hadn’t planned to push the pace, but I got a little carried away during the first three miles and negative-split each one before the hills kicked in and I was slowed by the climbs and the two-way traffic. After clearing the hills on the way back, I again was able to push the pace and averaged about a 7:30 mile over the final two miles through to the finish line.
My official time was 1:21:41, good for a personal-best time at the distance.
After taking a few minutes to catch my breath, it was great to relax with friends and enjoy a solid half-hour of laughs courtesy of Steve’s awards ceremony and raffle before heading home with a smile on my face.
I’ve been running trails for almost six years and have raced in seven other states as well as in Canada. The Merrimack River Trail Race was my first trail race in Massachusetts, and it was a joyful event in all aspects. For just $10, I got my money’s worth and a whole lot more.