Run for Lobster: Chilmark Road Race Attracts All Ages on Hot and Hazy Day

By JACOB KRAMER

Boarding the shuttle from Beetlebung Corner to the starting line of the 28th annual Chilmark Road Race on Saturday, one could smell the excitement.

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The excitement, as it happened, smelled like 50 sweaty runners in a school bus. Race officials blared Highway to Hell by AC/DC in the background, a subtle nod to the day's combination of 90 degree heat and 80 per cent humidity.

Julia Kinslinger, however, was well prepared. In addition to her running shorts and shirt, she wore a utility belt with small elastic holsters for water bottles - "for overheaters" - and carried a bagel with cream cheese - "for overeaters." Slung in a holster was a bright pink spray bottle for cooling. With such gear, she looked as though she was playing for keeps, but when asked if she meant to win, Ms. Kinslinger said: "My time is not an issue - it's whether or not I survive."

Accompanying Ms. Kinslinger was Suzanne Weisman, wife of Hugh Weisman, the race's founder and organizer. Mrs. Weisman recalled that 28 years ago the first race had been a family affair of about 130 people.

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This year's contest drew more than 1,750.

They spanned a wide range of ages and abilities. Toddlers, teens, parents and grandparents all jockeyed for position in the pack. Many had run the five-kilometer race before, and two runners - Morgan Shipley and Priscilla Karnovsky - have participated in all 28.

"Everybody loves to be a part of it. It's the essence of a Chilmark event, a community event," said Mrs. Karnovsky. "I'm always amazed at the job Hugh does.

"At this point, the best part is my kids," she added. "It's so much fun having them say to people, ‘My mom has run all the races.' They're proud of me. If I stopped they'd be so disappointed."

Before the start, Adam Reeve warmed up his muscles by jogging with his father and older brother. He had run two years ago, and said he was trying for the win.

His father, Brock, explained their strategy: "Nate and I are here to draft Adam, like the riders in the Tour de France - we'll break the wind for him."

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Cookie Martin of Lincoln said she has run with family members since 1985. Her finest moment came 17 years ago, when she completed the course while seven months pregnant with her daughter, Ali - who this year also entered the race. "It's so fun. The best part is family," she said.

Hynda Kleinman, Mrs. Martin's sister, wore a 1985 road race shirt. "We come up here from Maryland every year, just for this race," she said.

The runners lined up according to their estimates of how fast they could run a mile. Those who wagered they could do three, five-minute miles were at the front. The less confident racers took their places behind. In keeping with the spirit of the day, there was little preening or flexing, but a few ventured some light boasts. Scott Abel, who had been given the number one as his racing identification, quipped, "My number speaks for me."

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The restaurant l'etoile put together a team of about 30 people, all wearing Team Étoile shirts. When asked if there was serious competition from other teams, Oliver Holmes joked, "They wouldn't stand a chance - there are so many of us, we could hold down their fastest runners."

After a brief delay, an air horn sounded, and the great pack lurched into motion.

Steve Meinelt of Topsfield established a significant lead early on, and barely slowed over the course of the race. He dashed through his first mile in four minutes and 52 seconds, with the closest contenders coming in at a five minutes and 27 second split. The first woman, Marian Bihrle, was right behind, finishing her first mile in five minutes and 27 seconds.

Volunteers offered cups of cool water at the one-and-a-half mile mark. Other supporters set up an independent water table further down the line - an example of the spontaneous goodwill generated by the race.

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The course runs along Middle Road, passing through pasture land and shadier scrub oak forest. Though beautiful, the stretch is full of difficult hills, with a particularly steep one around the two-mile mark. "It kind of throws you back on your heels," said Mr. Weisman, who was driving the pace car.

The sentiment was shared by many.

"It's a hell of a course. It was hard. As soon as you hit those hills you just stop," said Ike Tucker, a 15-year-old triathlete. He finished with a time of 17 minutes and 58 seconds.

Waiting at the finish line were family and friends, all cheering as the racers completed the final leg. Kara Walsh shouted to the runners, urging them on, often calling out to people she knew personally. Some volunteers collected the electronic tags that racers wore to record their official times; others handed out water and bananas to the spent runners.

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"This is my favorite Chilmark event. I live for the road race," said town resident and volunteer Paloma Herman, 22. "I love that everyone, even people who don't have relationships with the Vineyard, everyone comes back every year. These kids [the other volunteers] are so great."

Afterward an awards ceremony was held at the Chilmark Community Center, with prizes going to the first three places for males and females in the various age categories.

As the top finishers overall, Mr. Meinelt and Ms. Bihrle took home prize lobsters. Mr. Meinelt, who runs track and cross country as a senior at Georgetown University, finished with a time of 15 minutes and 28 seconds. Ms. Bihrle of Belmont, La., came in at 18 minutes and 55 seconds.

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Mr. Weisman then distributed other prizes donated by Murdick's Fudge and The Bite among others. He said the donations and volunteer work all contributed to the success of the event, which benefits the community center.

Rumors of a booby prize for last place made their way through the crowd. Orin Shands, the last adult finisher, hoped to claim the fabled brew, but was disappointed to learn that this year there was no such prize.

"The beer got too old," said Mr. Weisman.