Rhode Island was founded by a man on the run, so it's no surprise the state has become a runner's paradise. "I was sorely tossed for fourteen weeks, in a bitter winter season, not knowing what bread or bed did mean," Roger Williams wrote of his 1636 trek from Salem, Massachusetts to the town he would name "Providence."
If he were still around, New England's first ultra-marathoner would gaze proudly on the hundreds of miles of coastline, the beautiful state parks, running clubs, and road races that his state boasts. And as the thick summer heat gives way to autumn air, as the trees burst with color and the grass gets crunchier under foot, there's no better time to lace up. Running season is here. This is your syllabus.
OFF TO THE RACES
The Ocean State has two major marathons. While Providence's Cox RHODE RACES — featuring a 5K, half-marathon, and full marathon — won't arrive until the first weekend of May, 2012, Newport's AMICA MARATHON (and 5K and half-marathon) are only a few weeks away, on October 15 and 16. If you plan on taking part in the latter, stop reading and start running.
If 5K's are closer to your comfort zone, Providence has plenty of options: the FRIAR 5K, on October 22; the TURKEY TROT, on Thanksgiving Day; and the DOWNTOWN JINGLE, on December 4. Don't forget the MONSTER MINI DASH, on October 30, where you might find yourself running between Superwoman and a guy in a banana suit. Nothing prevents drafting like a mullet wig flapping behind you.
For the more adventurous, there are options outside the city limits. Bi-curious runners (runners who like to bike) should try the WISH IT, DREAM IT, DU IT DUATHLON at Camp Sheppard in Smithfield on October 2. There, you can run two miles, bike 13½ miles, run two more miles, and rush back to your dorm to tell your friends how versatile you are. Or, if you like your exercise served with a dash of mayhem, head northeast of Providence to the Rehoboth State Forest and the TUFF SCRAMBLERS 5K on October 1. The course is dotted with hay bales, mud pits, boulders, and enough chaos to warrant a $5 dollar spectator fee. "Runners receive a Tuff Scramblers tech T-shirt, one free beer, food, giveaways and a Tuff Scramblers pint glass when, and if, you finish," the website reads. For you English majors, the key word in that sentence is not "beer," it's "if." Bring ice packs and a proper ID.
If Steve Prefontaine and Inspector Gadget went into business together, their store might look like RHODE RUNNER, on South Main Street, in Providence. GPS wristwatches. Blister protector patches. A flexible plastic baton called a "toothbrush for muscles." Everything you could imagine, and plenty of things you couldn't (Body Glide anti-chafe balm, anyone?), are available at the state's favorite running depot.
Naturally, their specialty is shoes. Rhode Runner's staff will film your stride on their treadmill-video-computer station and let you take a test run around the neighborhood before deciding which shoe fits best. The price tags at the store can run high, but they offer a 10-percent discount for students. If your parents ask, just tell them those electrolyte-rich jelly beans are essential for a balanced diet.