It’s amazing to think that The Great Stew Chase 15K has been around for 46 years!
Several times over the years the race has changed a bit. Their web site doesn’t gave a lot of details, but in 2002 they started using the current Lynn/Peabody course and in 2010 they started using the current turn around spot.
Twice the race was postponed due to weather. It is a January race in Massachusetts, so you have to expect that once in a while.
When the race was postponed, participation dropped off substantially.
In the late 90’s into the 2000s the race drew between 200 and 300 runners with a high of 376 runners in 1998.
Since 2010 the Great Stew Chase has had more than 300 runners only once, in 2014. In 2018 and 2019 the race drew less than 200 runners.
I don’t have official numbers for 2020 yet, but I believe that the count was around 150 runners.
I can make a few educated guesses as to why participation is declining.
First, it is a 15K. This is an unusual distance, half-way between a 10K and Half Marathon. It’s too long for people who enjoy running 5Ks and are reluctant to make the leap to 15K.
It’s also too short for people who are training for Boston. At this stage in most training plans, runners need around 15 miles on a Sunday.
Second, the race takes place in January in Massachusetts. It’s not unusual to have ice and snow on the ground and cold winter air blowing in your face.
Third, this race is known for it’s hills. They are not really that bad, but it seems that’s what people hear and remember about the race. The total elevation gain for this race is about 250 feet with the greatest gain of 86 feet in mile 5.
This is the mile we make the turn around and people are starting to feel the race.
Who runs The Great Stew Chase 15K?
2020 marks my 4th running of this north shore race. From my experience, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of who runs this race.
When I first showed up in 2017 I was surprised to see tables full of local running clubs. Each club had a table or two. There were a few unaffiliated runners, but 75% wore club colors.
I’ve come to understand that this is a club oriented event which is fairly unusual. Many races now encourage building teams to get perks like a pop-up tent, but I don’t think Stew’s does this officially.
There are no awards for the largest team or any recognition at all for team size.
Maybe because this is an unusual distance it takes a club to encourage runners to come out? Maybe it’s been a club race for years?
All I can tell you is that there are about six or seven clubs who bring most of the runners to this race.
There are a lot of young hot shots who run this race and do well. There are also lots of older runners who do very well and would be competitive in lower age brackets.
Besides belonging to a club, I think many runners who show up are real runners.
By that I mean people who train in any weather and may have run in high school or college. This is what they do. Some people golf, these people run in any conditions and love it.
This hard core group of runners looks for the challenging races and runs races all twelve months of the year.
When I look around the table at the Melrose Running Club crew, that is what I see. Some of us ran while in school, but most of us came to running later in life and this is what we do.
Less than 10% of our club runs this race, so it is pretty much the hard core runners who show up.
Enthusiasm for running has ebbed over the past five years. There was a surge after the Boston Marathon bombing, but that surge has crested.
Participation in many races has declined and some races have faded away.
While many casual runners now stay home, the hard core runners still turn out in all conditions for races like The Great Stew Chase 15K.
So I believe it is the core of the running community that continues to come out and support races in January that might have an unusual distance.
Melrose Running Club at Great Stew Chase 15K
We had twenty runners this year. This is our lowest turn out over the past four years, but it was mostly our hard core runners. People with grit and goals.
The people who ran this year had a good time even if the course kicked their asses. We’re funny that way.
Lynda Field and Mike Sikkema both won their age group and Marianne Chmielewski placed second in her age group.
Many others placed in the top five of their age group.
Paul Locke, Marty Hergert, Regina Curran and Linda Giesecke all set new PRs for the 15K.
I was just over a minute away from setting a new PR and really thought I had it. My early miles were good and I kept pushing on each hill.
When ever I felt like letting up I kept telling my self that this is the hill that will make the difference. If you let up here you will miss your PR by seconds.
My watch showed my average pace at 8:29 which would beat my PR of 8:33. But I ran 9.53 miles on a 9.3 mile course, and that made all the difference. Oh well.
Overall it was a great day. We had great weather, a challenging course and great people to hang out with.
What’s not to love?
Run well my Friends!