Maple Leaf Moment

Just about every weekend from early spring through late fall you can find a road or trail race somewhere in Vermont, but the half-marathon distance-13.1 miles-is special. According to Running USA, the half-marathon is the fastest growing race distance for the past 10 years with the number of finishers more than tripling since 2000. The Maple Leaf held in Manchester, Vermont is no exception. In 2007, 300 people participated in the event that includes a 5K (3.1 miles) as well as the half-marathon, and the 2012 race saw a 341 percent increase with more than 1,000 participants. Runners come primarily from New England, with 26 states, the Virgin Islands, and Canada also represented.

You can't just wake up one morning and decide to run a half-marathon later that day. Running 13.1 miles requires training, persistence, and a desire to test your body. Jenny Chambers of Hanover, New Hampshire started running one year ago as a release from the craziness of being at home with 3-year-old son Charlie, 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth, and two dogs. She ran the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon in 2012 and says that she is "always moved by the community of runners who come together to share a common love and lifestyle, where you feel part of something larger than yourself and get a great adrenaline rush."

The Maple Leaf Half-Marathon began during the mid-1970s running boom, routinely drawing more than 1,000 runners to Manchester to tackle the challenging course surrounded by the vibrant colors of the early fall season. World records were set in 1979 by Patti Catalano with a time of 1:14:03 and Herb Lindsay in 1981 with a time of 1:01:47. World-renowned runners including Frank Shorter, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Bart Yasso routinely ran the Maple Leaf in preparation for the New York City marathon, held in early November.

The race had a short hiatus in the late 1990s but returned in 2007 with a new course, a 5K race, and energy from the four organizing groups: the Manchester Lions Club, Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce, the Battenkill Valley Runners, and Stratton Mountain. The groups pool their resources to create a first-class race experience as well as an event that benefits the entire area. In 2012, the Maple Leaf organizing groups contributed more than $43,000 to numerous nonprofits in the greater Manchester community.

What fuels interest in half-marathons, and especially the Maple Leaf?

With more than 1,500 half-marathons nationwide to choose from, more people continue to register for the Maple Leaf due to the location, friendly community, and superb organization. More than a road race, the event is a 13.1-mile celebration with music pumping up the runners at the start and along the course, and even a local belly dancing group providing encouragement and entertainment.

Runners who set a goal to complete a half-marathon in every state combine travel and a love of running, and are known as "50 staters." Barb Smith, from Pearland, Texas started running 10 years ago. Her husband had just died, and while watching a friend run the 2001 Houston Marathon she saw runners wearing T-shirts promoting charities. Barb says, "Up to that point I'd felt pretty sad and helpless, but realizing that folks were actually running for a cause, I had a new purpose and direction." She signed up for the Run for a Reason program for the Houston Marathon, choosing the American Cancer Society as her charity. She has continued raising money for the ACS over the past several years and now focuses on the half-marathon distance. Barb started running in gorgeous locations, such as Maui and California's Big Sur, and then realized she was well on her way to completing a half-marathon in all 50 states. She says, "I love to travel and I love to run. The 50 states combine both of those interests and lend some purpose to travel." Vermont is her 10th state, and she says, "I only hope I reach 50 states before I run out of running shoes or run out of energy, whichever comes first."

And then there are the "half-fanatics," people who complete two half-marathons within 16 days or three half-marathons within 90 days. Linda Maness from Pawlet is a local half-fanatic who completed her third Maple Leaf in 2012. "I love the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon because it's local, I can train on the course, and it has something for everyone with some of the course in town and also rural back roads." Linda is one of several walkers who briskly stride along the course. She remarks that she was never a runner, although she completed her first Maple Leaf Half Marathon using a run/walk combination. Now she focuses on walking-fast walking. Linda says, "As a Manhattanite I always walked and was good at pounding the pavement."

Mountains are visible every step of the 13.1-mile Maple Leaf, and the hilly course is another reminder that Manchester sits in a small valley between the Taconic and Green Mountain ranges The race starts and finishes at the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park with plenty of parking, a playground for the kids, and lots of green open space for race participants and volunteers.

Putting on an event of this size and scope requires a small army of volunteers to staff the six water stops along the course, provide medical attention, prepare and serve post-race refreshments, handle race registrations, set up and take down signs and road markers, and direct traffic.

The business community stands behind the event. The Perfect Wife Restaurant, Spiral Press Café, MVP Health Care, and 20 other local businesses sponsor the 2013 Maple Leaf. An entire weekend of events offers race participants a variety of activities.

Dave Pardo, one of the members of the Manchester Lions Club who volunteers hundreds of hours on the planning committee and during the race weekend, says the "Lions participate in the Maple Leaf due to a shared duty of community service."

The 2013 Maple Leaf Half-Marathon and 5K will be start Saturday at 8 a.m. Registration and information are available at /mapleleaf.


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