I volunteered at the the Gansett Marathon in Naragansett, RI on April 16, 2011. Gansett is a qualifier-only marathon with current age-graded qualifying times 5 minutes faster than the Boston Marathon. Runner's World readers may have seen April's story about this race. Or you may have seen last year's article on cnn.com or the piece on NPR. Last year, the race was in Exeter (rural RI town) with about 50 finishers. But because it was so successful, it was moved to the seaside town of Narragansett. About 160 people finished this year. Since I don't qualify (yet), the next best thing was volunteer.
The course was a two-loop course with a 16-mile loop followed by a 10-mile loop on a similar course. I was at an intersection a couple miles from the end of both loops. Runners came by my spot twice.
- The race director is an accomplished runner and is EXTREMELY well-organized. He does great things on a shoestring budget. I don't think this race has broken even yet but I have no doubt it will in the future.
-The runners were super awesome. My favorite was the guy in a pink shirt, pink tutu, and wand. I thought, there's no way this guy can be fast. He finished under 3:20 (BTW, this was Keith Straw ... saw him on the Badwater special on the Weather Channel).
- Handmade mile markers at every mile and half mile on sandwich boards (pictures below). Not chip-timed due to the small size.
- Flat, pretty course - I've ran on just about the entire course in other races. Very scenic. You'll see the ocean, a lighthouse, fishing boats, big houses, and The Towers.
- Weather - Unpredictable this time of year. It was very windy. Now, it is always at least a little bit windy close to the ocean. It was unusually windy due to a storm that came through the evening of race day. Otherwise, the temperature was perfect.
- Large gaps between runners - There were several small packs of runners, but I'd say the majority were running alone, possibly without another runner in sight.
- Minimal crowd support. Given the small size, I wasn't surprised.
- The course was open to traffic with volunteers at street intersections. My spot also had a police officer to help direct vehicles. However, because the course was open, that means spectators with cars can easily drive around the course to see their runners at multiple points.
- Several miles of the course were on the shoulder of a busy 4-lane road. The shoulder still had leftover sand in it. Apparently, the street had been cleaned, but the sand from the sidewalks had been cleared into the street and was still in the road. The race director said the town of Narragansett seemed amenable to the race and he'd try to work with the town next year.
- Swag - minimal and not in a bad way. Finishers get a patch with the Gansett Marathon logo. The T shirts looked and felt nice. No corporate logos on the shirt, just Gansett Marathon in a swirly font on the front and the Gansett Marathon logo on the back. The age category awards were beautiful glass sailboats.
- Course support - can't really comment but I think everything went smoothly. Water stations had water and Gatorade. There were 6 stations, 2 with Gus. I'm not sure how many total stops there were, considering that runners passed most spots twice.
- Logistics - Start and finish lines were across the street from the race host hotel. Pre- and post-race staging ground was the hotel banquet room.
- Traveling - This is not an easy race to get to without a car. Cabs and public transportation to/from and in Narragansett are limited. The airport is far away. Well, 30 miles is far for Rhode Island. Amtrak is closer (the Kingston Amtrak station is one town over), but even that is not particularly accessible.
- I have heard pretty much only good things from runners, volunteers, and spectators alike. Aside from the sand in the road and a runner's comment that you see the mile markers for the second loop including a 1 mile to go sign on the first loop, that's it.
- Did I mention the race director? Yeah. He's so good it's worth mentioning again.
- Southern Rhode Island is a nice place to visit - OK, I am completely biased here. I lived in a neighboring town for 7 years and now live in the Providence area. I realized that I really really really miss living near Narragansett. Sorry, that has nothing to do with my report. But come visit Rhode Island ;-)
What will happen with Gansett next year? To some extent, I think it will depend on what happens with Boston registration. No one really knows how Boston registration with the changes will go. Gansett got a spike in registration right after Boston closed, so some of this year's race was an overflow from Boston. I am certain Gansett will grow as more and more people hear about it. But no idea how quickly.
Gansett is about the marathon and the runners, not the frills. It will always be a qualifier-only no-exceptions marathon. EVERYONE was really nice. The weather is unpredictable, but that's true of almost anywhere. The course is flat and PRable, even with the wind. Overall, Gansett is a well-run quality race. Eventually, I want to qualify for Gansett. I'm not sure when that will happen. Maybe next year, maybe in a few years, but it WILL happen.
The Towers, Narragansett, RI
View from the banquet room of the race host hotel
Runners getting ready to go
Mile 16 1/2 mini sandwich board
I saw the start and then I went out to my position.
Mile 14 sandwich board
Bonus points if you can figure out what the bottom line of this means: