It's that time of year when the rubber meets the road — the rubber at the bottom of local runners' feet.
Memorial Day weekend is the starter's pistol that launches the road-racing circuit, and this season's schedule is robust with dozens of events, from one-milers to half-marathons, for runners of all skill levels.
Toe the line at any of the sponsored races, which kick off this weekend and run through Thanksgiving. Running clubs help novices prepare for pavement-pounding and help the elite athletes train in groups to improve times and fitness.
And nearly every town in the Fitchburg and Lowell areas has a club for like-minded aspirants.
Nationally, millions of runners, walkers and wheelchair jockeys take to the asphalt every year in friendly, sometimes profitable competition. With a rather sizable running community in Nnorthern Middlesex County and North Central Massachusetts, a slew of options is needed to accommodate the various preferences and availability of both the avid and the rapid runners.
Lacing up for the morning workouts and countless hours on the treadmills throughout the off-season can finally be measured in their effectiveness. One of the attractive challenges to road-racing is the diverse litany of courses and weather conditions that each offers. From the hilly, the wooded, the out-and-back, the loops and the fields, there is some sort of race relation almost every weekend over the coming months.
The Sun and Sentinel & Enterprise sports staff has compiled a partial list of venues that runners can register for. Some races are steeped in tradition, dating back decades, and many are ritualistic events that some runners simply must conquer every year. Many offer beer or food or T-shirts, mugs, hats or other bonus gifts for the entrance fee, in addition to the pleasure of the agony.
Running is truly an individual and affordable sport, with results determined solely on merit and little on luck. But even for those who finish last, there is victory.
There is also financial victory for the organizations, mosstly charitable, that stage or host the events. Many are sponsored by local civic groups, with proceeds going back, either directly or indirectly, into the community.
So the $20 or so that you pay for the privilege of sweating and aching buys more than a shirt. It buys neighborhood improvements or scholarship funds or food for the hungry.
The sheer number of races offered almost guarantees that a route will come near your house, no matter where you live.
Shoe up and shove off. Bang!
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Here are few highlights of the season.
TIKI TRAIL 5K — The eight-race series starts Wednesday, June 12, at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford. The runs are held on cross-country-style terrain and begin at 7 p.m. All of the races are on Wednesdays and begin at 7 p.m. Entry fee $25, $30 day of the race. For those who want to register for the whole series, it's $175, which includes a T-shirt.
GOOD TIMES SUMMER SERIES — The popular 10-week series begins its 17th season Wednesday, June 26. All of the races are held on Tuesdays and begin at Boarding House Park in Lowell at 7 p.m. Runners can sign up at Dudley's, 19 Merrimack St. Post-race awards are held at Dudley's afterward. Entry fee $100 for the entire series, $15 the day of each race. Fields of 250-300 runners are common.
BOURQUE FAMILY FOUNDATION 7.7K — The race is Saturday, June 8, at Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton. The unique distance commemorates the No. 77 jersey worn by Boston Bruins legendary defenseman Ray Bourque. The race benefits the Bourque Family Foundation. Entry fee for 7.7K race $40. Also, $30 for 5K walk and $10 for Mites Fun Run.
MARKET SQUARE DAY 10K — The popular race in Portsmouth, N.H., begins Saturday, June 8, at 9 a.m., in Market Square and finishes at historic Strawberry Banke. The race is part of the Market Square Day Festival. No race-day registration. Entry fee $40. T-shirts to first 1,100 entrants.
HARVARD PILGRIM FINISH AT THE 50 — Want to finish inside Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, where the Patriots play? This race is for you. It's Wednesday, July 3. The 5K ($40) will begin at 6 p.m., with the 10K ($45) to follow at 7 p.m. Also, a Kids Fun Run will be held inside the stadium. A fireworks display is scheduled for about 9 p.m.
JOHN CARSON JULY 4TH 2-MILER — About 2,000 runners of all ages will take to the streets of Thursday, Chelmsford on July 4. The race begins at 9:30 a.m., behind Hannaford supermarket on Parkhurst Road and finishes in Chelmsford Center. Entry fee for adults $15 (with shirt), $20 on race day. Children under 12 run for $10, $15 on race day. Cash prize of $1,000 for male or female if they break the course records. Proceeds go to the John Carson Scholarship Fund.
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Here's a calendar of some more races over the next few months.
Saturday, June 1
MUDDY PAWS 5K — Lowell Elks Lodge, 40 Old Ferry Road, Lowell, 8:30 a.m. Benefits the Lowell Humane Society.
TRINITY FEST 5K ROAD RACE —Trinity Lutheran Church, 170 Old Westford Road, Chelmsford, 9 a.m. Benefits Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell.
Saturday, June 8
HAVE A JESSIE DAY 5K — The Bromfield School, 14 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard, 9 a.m. In memory of Jessie Peterson.
RYAN'S 5K RUN/WALK & 1K FUN RUN — Phillipston Congregational Church, 64 The Common, Phillipston, 3:30 p.m.; road grade with some bumps and a long grade uphill before finish. Celebrates the life of Ryan Twohey who died Jan. 7, 2019. Ryan was an avid runner and was active in the Phillipston and Templeton communities and the Narragansett School District.
Sunday, June 9
CADDYSHACK CLASSIC 5K TRAIL RACE — The Shattuck Golf Club, 53 Dublin Road, Jaffrey, N.H., 8 a.m. Part of the MAGP series nd one of the most scenic 5Ks in southwestern New Hamphire.
BERRY POND SCRAMBLE — Middleton Road, North Andover, 11 a.m. Benefits the Friends of Harold Parker.
GREAT FUTURES 5K — Leominster.
Saturday, June 15
MORIN 5K — Clark Memorial YMCA, 155 Central St., Winchendon, 8 a.m.; moderately challenging.
Sunday, June 23
RACEFOR7 —NARA Park, 25 Ledgerock Way, Acton, 9 a.m. 7,000 meters (4.35 miles) run/walk in support of patients with rare diseases.
Thursday, July 18
39TH ANNUAL BERNA'S 5K GREAT LEGS ROAD RACE — Reilly Elementary School, 115 Douglas Road, Lowell, 7 p.m. Women of all abilities (walkers and runners) are welcomed and encouraged. Benefits the Lowell House of Hope.
Saturday, Sept. 14
10TH ANNUAL ERICA'S 5K RUN/WALK & KIDS 1K FUNRUN — Merrimack High School, 36 McElwain St., Merrimack, N.H., 9 a.m. Benefits the Erica Pombrio Foundation in memory of Erica Pombrio, who died in 2009 of cancer at age 23.
Sunday, Sept. 15
6TH ANNUAL MILES FOR MUTTS 5K — Mine Falls Park, 24 Stadium Drive, Nashua, N.H., 9:30 a.m. No hills and many curves along a winding river. Benefits Animal Rescue Network of New England.
Saturday, Sept. 28
MIDDLEMISS BIG HEART 5K — Brookside Elementary School, 1560 Lakeview Ave., Dracut, 10:30 a.m. Benefits the Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation and its mission to support pediatric cardiomyopathy research, family and patient support at Boston Children's Hospital, and school kindness programs.
Saturday, Oct. 12
8TH ANNUAL FRIENDS OF NASHOBA HAUNTED 5K — Nashoba Valley Technical High School, 100 Littleton Road, Westford, 10 a.m. Costumes encouraged. Benefits athletics program at NVTHS.
GREG'S RUN —Townsend Congregational Church, 3 Brookline St. Townsend, 10:30 a.m.; kids' race at 12:30 p.m. 4.6 mile run/walk on a picturesque route through rural Townsend, with moderate hills. Supports several annual scholarships for North Middlesex Regional High School students.
MICHAEL'S RUN — Leominster.
Sunday, Oct. 20
ASHWORTH AWARDS BAYSTATE MARATHON AND HALF MARATHON — Lowell.
Sunday, Oct. 27
2ND ANNUAL EMBER'S/NMC HALLOWEEN 5K — Ember's Pizzeria, 34 Lakefront St., Lunenburg. Halloween costumes welcome.
HALLOWS EVE 5K FUN RUN AND WALK —Lowell.