For a long time I thought I was biased. As a Rhode Island native I had always thought that that the charm and beauty of the coastline in Little Rhody was hard to beat. Whether it be the surf beaten coast along the beaches of South County, or the rocky inlets and islands of Narragansett Bay, the Rhode Island coastline offers wonderful scenery. The water is still pristine, the communities are full of New England charm, and the beaches and coastline are largely free of commercialized boardwalks. Little Rhody has many slices of heaven along the water.
This is why I was so excited to see the announcement of a brand spanking new race that spent most of its time along a beautiful portion of the bay in the small town of Bristol, RI. Going home to RI to run this race just felt right.
In its inaugural year, The Anchor Down Ultra was as dazzling as the coastline views it offers. This first time race was the brainchild of local ultra runner and multiple hundred miler Jason Paganelli. While RI offers a number of marathons and a handful of shorter ultras, there was no official 100 mile race that took place in the state. As the sport of ultra running continues to see explosive growth, Jason decided to fill this hole. More and more people are seeking to run 50 or 100 milers in each state, and this race offers those people an opportunity to check Rhode Island off that list. The race Jason created is a fixed duration event with three categories – 6hr, 12hr and 24hr. Those ambitious enough to go for 100 miles could take on the task in the 24 hour event and earn their belt buckle (I myself only went for 6 hours). The 12 or 24 hour events are solid ways to go after that 50 miler finish, and the 6hr should get you to a 50k or 26.2 finish. For an inaugural event, this race went off without a hitch.
To start – the venue is spectacular! The course is a 2.05 mile loop in Colt State Park. For about half of the course you have beautiful vistas of Narragansett Bay. The weather was spectacular and you could see RI landmarks dozens of miles in the distance, including far off views of the Providence skyline. The race started at 7 PM, good enough for a few hours of light and a spectacular sunset on the water behind very distant thunderheads. The course also offered a variety of surfaces and terrain. The first half mile of the loop consisted of a fairly gentle single track (with a few rocks and roots) that included a short ascent and short descent. Coming off the trail, you ran across a small grassy area until you came onto the main loop (pavement) of Colt State Park. As you came onto this loop for the 1st time you were just dazzled by the views of the water and the bay. The next mile or so took you along the bay, before you turned around and headed back to the start. The last portion of the course was on a paved trail along a salt marsh. The course had 2 aid stations, the main (well stocked with your typical ultra fare of candy, salty snacks, PB&J, soda, etc.) one at the start/finish area, and one providing water at the 1 mile mark. The course was overall very beginner friendly, although the trail portion definitely required some care and a flashlight or headlamp after the sun set. I ran 17 loops of the course in 6 hours and was never once bored. The view along the bay was perfect every time and very peaceful at night. The park was closed to visitors after sundown, so it became very quiet. Other than the trail portion, you could run without your light or lamp since the course was pretty open and well marked.
The race was very well organized and well supported. The RD provided frequent communication emails in the days leading up to the event, including course maps, parking directions, general instructions, and available aid and nutrition. The race started on time (within a few minutes) and the course was well marked. There was one minor upset to the course when some high school kids messed with some of the course markings causing a few runners to add a half mile to one of their loops, however the RD corrected this quickly. The race was limited to 100 entrants, so there was a nice small race feel to this, and everyone got to know everyone pretty quickly. They promised pizza to all runners at 11:00 PM and this was delivered! Most runners were from the New England area, with RI, MA, CT and NY well represented. Areas were available for tent set-up/camping for those running the longer distance events. The RD gave a good pre-race briefing to cover the course and logistics. He took extra care to warn us all of the two biggest trail hazards in New England (poison ivy and deer ticks) as well as the potential to change the direction of the loop from clockwise to counter-clockwise if the wind direction changed (course was set up so the wind was primarily at your back for the open section along the water).
This year the race had pretty good weather for August. The temp was in the upper 70’s at the start and dropped to the 60’s overnight. For the 24 hour runners, the temps did go into the mid to upper 80’s the next day. It can be quite warm in RI in August. If you are considering this event for a 100 mile attempt, keep this in mind. With the exception of the trail portion, there are few trees along the course to provide shade.
The race included a tech tee to all entrants, and then awards to finishers based on distance covered (i.e. you needed to cover 20 miles in the 6 hr. race to receive a finisher medal). There is not much I would change about the race, but next year they should consider upping the quality of the finisher medals. Awards were given for the top 3 M/F open and top 3 M/F masters. What would be nice is if the race followed suit of other ultras/trail races and added a local flare to the awards and not make them so generic (give out nice seashells or something that screams RI). Minor improvements to a race that has a great foundation in its inaugural year.
My recommendation is to put this race on the calendar if you are one of the following – one of the true crazy people who is looking for a 50 mile or 100 mile finish in all 50 states (this is basically your only option for RI at this point), someone who likes smaller quieter races that are not your standard “road marathon”, and those looking to check off 26.2 in RI during one of the quieter marathon months (currently the “big” RI marathons are either October or May).
In summary – this race is a great opportunity to check an Ultra off in RI. I believe the only other options are the Rhode Island Red Fat Ass 50k or the Rhode Island 6hr. Neither of those will get you a 50 mile or 100 mile finish. For more info/pictures see:
Career Marathon/Ultra # 32 (3rd Ultra)
Miles Covered – 34.85 in 5:40:59 (longest distance and duration ever run)
Finishing Place – 1st Male, 2nd Overall