MANCHESTER - Talk about an awesome birthday present.
Arlington's Ruth Damian, part of the running group Training For More, finished her first marathon on Sunday, the day before her 41st birthday - going from Bennington to Manchester in the Shires of Vermont Marathon.
As she got closer to the finish line at Hunter Park and Riley Rink, a loud cheer went up from two handfuls of family and friends seeing Damian cross the finish line.
"I have my husband and kids support, all the Training for More people," said Damian, moments after crossing the line in 4 hours, 12 minutes and 53 seconds - 110th overall and sixth in her age group. "I saw the [end] and sprinted to the finish line."
More than 300 runners competed in the event, now in its fourth year. The course was changed from the first three, starting at Bennington College and ending at Riley Rink.
"The course is beautiful, the Cider Mill, Maple Hill especially," said Damian, standing with her family. "I trained on the course so I knew what I was going into. The hills weren't that bad, until the second hill in Sunderland."
Dave Durfee, the race's former organizer and a part of the race committee, said he's thrilled that the point-to-point marathon is becoming established as the predominant event in Vermont.
"This is the first time in four years we've had perfect weather," said Durfee, standing about 20 yards from the finish line. "The temperature was perfect and running under these skies is great.
Third-place finisher Andrew Pacholec said the conditions and the course were perfect.
"I heard about the Shires Marathon from a couple friends in the Albany (N.Y.) area," said the 30-year-old from Gloucester, Mass. "I want to run a marathon in every state, so I figured out, 'Why not a local one?' I've hung out here, I'm familiar with the area and it's a great race to run.
Pacholec finished the race is 2:52:48, about seven minutes behind Canaan's David Herr, who won the event for a second straight year, this go-round in 2:45:27. Maryland's James Pearce was the runner-up. The top local finisher was East Arlington's Daniel Rosenthal, taking 19th place in 3:20:12.
"It's definitely the most challenging course, it always seemed to be going up or down, never flat," said Pacholec. "It's the most scenic race I've ever run, you get to about mile 8 and you're on the hill, looking down on the valley. I would absolutely run this race again."
Durfee said having the use of the VAPA building at Bennington College to register runners and Riley Rink to let runners take showers made a big difference.
"It's generous of Bennington College to let us use the building to register and the grounds to start," Durfee said. "I like to think they made the choice [to come here.] There's three [other] marathons in Vermont, like the [Vermont City Marathon, in Burlington], but point to point, this is the one."
Along with the facilities, a flea market and mini-carnival were going on at the same time, giving local businesses a chance to interact with the runners and their families.
"There has been so much community support, and that's both shires," said Durfee, from Shaftsbury.
That resonates with Damian, who along with Allison Malmborg (who couldn't run the race because of injury), were smiling ear-to-ear at the finish line.
"I was tired by mile 22, I've done a few half-marathons, but never a full marathon," Damian said. "They have supported me the whole way."
Full results are posted at www.j-chipusa.com and search for the Shires of Vermont Marathon.