|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XX NUMBER 1 Fall 2004|
A KSC mathematics professor and inveterate runner stays the course
with marathon legend Clarence DeMar
Some people just love to run. Many of those people are children, like the two depicted at right running happily with their father on the campus of Keene Normal School in the 1930s. (Note Huntress Hall in the background.) Many of the others are adults (some of them child-like) who decide to run a marathon. My favorite race is the one named after the man running joyfully with his children – the Clarence DeMar Marathon, run from Gilsum to Keene every September.
The 2004 running of this 26.2 mile event, on September 26, ended, as it has for 27 years, on Appian Way on the KSC campus. The finish line is just yards from where Clarence was photographed running with his children, Dorothy and Robert, in the early 1930s. DeMar worked at Keene Normal School starting in 1929 and lived in a house on Appian Way during his early years at the school. A printer and compositor by profession, DeMar was hired by Dr. Wallace Mason to teach typesetting and industrial history, and to run the print shop in the southwest corner of Butterfield Hall.
By the time DeMar arrived on the campus in 1929, he was famous as a three-time Olympic runner (winner of a bronze medal in Paris in 1924) and as the popular victor in six Boston Marathons. He won his seventh Boston Marathon, a record unlikely ever to be surpassed, in April of 1930 at the age of 41, soon after coming to the school. He is the oldest person to win the race and it is even more unlikely that anyone that age or older will win the race in the future.
I ran my first Clarence DeMar Marathon in 1982, long before I was employed at Keene State. It was not my first marathon. I had been running recreationally for four years by that time, and had run marathons in such wonderful places as North Carolina, Germany, and Switzerland. I'd also run in Paris, the city of DeMar's 1924 Olympic success, and on the original course in Greece from Marathon to Athens, the same route the 2004 Olympic runners followed. But I fell in love with the course of the DeMar. It became my favorite and I returned to run it several times before moving to Keene.
My favorite marathon was conceived in the late '70s by two members of the Keene State faculty and staff, Pete Hanrahan '73 and George Bower. Pete had been the captain of the KSC cross country team, one of the first of many KSC XC teams to earn national rankings. He and Bower were on a training run, discussing the paucity of qualifying races for the Boston Marathon. They decided to do something about the shortage by organizing a Boston qualifier in the Keene area. Both runners were aware of DeMar's Keene connection, so naming the race after "Mr. DeMarathon" was a natural.
The course of the Clarence DeMar Marathon was developed with the College and DeMar in mind. Like Boston, it is a point-to-point course. The similarities to the classic marathon course do not end there. The DeMar course is generally downhill for the early portion of the run. After long flat stretches in the middle, there is a considerable hill in the latter stage of the race (mile 18). A steep downhill section follows, and the last seven miles are mostly flat. After conducting a readers' poll in the 1990s, Runner's World magazine declared the DeMar one of the ten fastest marathon courses in America.
The marathon starts in Gilsum, where Pete lived at the time. Among the notable people who have served as starters for the race are members of the DeMar family and Olympians Bill Rogers and Cathy O'Brien, New England running greats in the DeMar tradition. One of the great things about marathoning is that your athletic heroes may be running beside you (briefly) during the race. The first five miles of the DeMar course leaving Gilsum follow a beautiful country road along the Ashuelot River, a scene made all the more memorable for me one year by having Bill Rogers pass me as he decided to go on a training run after performing his duties as starter.
My fastest marathon was not the Clarence DeMar, but my best ones have been on that course. One year, not far from the spot where Bill Rogers passed me, I struck up a conversation with a woman from Connecticut who was determined to break three-and-a-half hours. Like me, her performances in shorter races predicted that she should be able to run a marathon in a much faster time than she had done so far. But the marathon distance makes for a humbling race, and the challenges can be frustrating. On this day and this course, we enjoyed the scenery, talked our way through the tough times, and both finished in under 3:30. She not only met her goal, but she beat me by a couple of minutes and won an award as the second-place female finisher. The thank-you note she sent me has a permanent place in my running memorabilia. It is the most gratifying award I've received in more than 25 years of running.
It was for those kinds of moments that Pete and George started the marathon. The race was held in August for the first few years, but in a quest for cooler weather, the marathon is now held in late September. Clarence preferred to run in the heat (he won some of his most memorable races by outlasting competitors on hot days), but most of us prefer cooler air. Yet even in late September, the open spaces in Swanzey, around miles 19 through 24, can get hot. More than one hot year I paid for running the early downhill portions too fast by suffering severe leg cramps in the bright sunshine near the airport in Swanzey. (I'm sure I looked pretty silly running backwards, as my legs wouldn't let me run the usual way!)
The miles in Swanzey are there because that's where Clarence DeMar had his farm. He moved from Appian Way so that he could raise animals, a garden, and a family. His farm was across from Wilson Pond, now indistinguishable from the rest of the airport. Clarence sold produce, eggs, and chickens to Keene Normal School faculty and staff, and his children have fond recollections of their days in Swanzey. Most marathoners can't get out of Swanzey fast enough.
The finish of the DeMar is on Appian Way, not far from his former home in Keene. DeMar came to KNS because of his devotion to working with young people. He was a Sunday school teacher and a scout leader, and as he was quoted in the Keene Evening Sentinel after his last Boston victory, he enjoyed working at the school:
"Teaching is a very happy way to earn a living. I like it very much. I like Boy Scout work, but am not keen for coaching. I might help when my ideas are asked on running."
I agree with Clarence: Teaching at Keene State is a happy way to earn a living. At least four Keene State faculty members ran last year's DeMar Marathon, sharing two of the joys – teaching and running – of our famous predecessor. Most acquaintances believe that I moved to Keene because I love teaching mathematics at Keene State. The people who really know me suspect that I moved to Keene because of the DeMar Marathon. Could it be coincidence that the house I had built in Keene is less than a mile from the half-way point of the course? I have run the DeMar every year since moving here, and hope that I will continue to be blessed with the good health that enables me to run the event each fall. Clarence DeMar loved to run, and thanks to Pete Hanrahan we have a beautiful and memorable course for those of us who share Clarence's passion and love for the sport. Like the DeMar children in the photograph, I am usually smiling when I run. Some people just love to run.