by Adam Kuhlmann
Gloucester seems to have a love-hate relationship with its community of distance runners. On the one hand, the city hosts quite a few road races, including some—like the Fiesta 5K—in which real, honest-to-God townies participate. On the other hand, Gloucester can treat its runners with a casual disregard, or even outright hostility. In the six years that I’ve run the city’s streets, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been heckled from car windows and front porches. More often than you might think, the heckler was a puckered grandmother bent over a cane. Perhaps once a week a driver will blast his horn at me for no other reason than the hope that it will involuntarily buckle my knees. (It works.) And on one occasion four years ago, I was hit squarely in the chest with a fusillade from a Super Soaker aimed by the passenger of an oncoming pick-up truck. Yet I remain motivated by the city’s natural beauty—coupled with the sweet, sweet endorphins that accompany my efforts—and I would encourage others to join me. Therefore, I submit the following guide to two of my favorite Gloucester runs.
Stage Fort Out-and-Back: 3 miles
By tracing the seawall along Stacy Boulevard, this jaunt takes in several of Gloucester’s iconic sights. And in a city that’s lumpier than a cow in Spanx, it is one of the few courses that include a flat stretch of road. Still, it is not without its hazards:
The Fisherman at the Wheel Statue
At the 0.5-mile point in the run, you will encounter a charter bus belching scores of tourists old and Midwestern enough to use the term “score” in its precise, arithmetic sense. These individuals will shuffle together in packs geometrically arranged to hinder your progress. As they snap backlit photographs of the Fisherman, they will expect you to avoid their Nikons’ fields of view, forcing you into oncoming traffic.
The Cut Bridge
Just after you’ve negotiated the geriatric blockade and returned to full speed, you will need to slow down once more. That’s because, no matter the time of day or year, the Cut Bridge will be up. It’s possible that this shining exemplar of municipal infrastructure is performing its intended purpose: facilitating the egress of a column of boats helmed by sunburnt men clutching Budweisers. But, equally likely, the fellow who operates the bridge merely spotted you coming and waited, his finger twitching at the button, until you were steps away from your first unencumbered crossing in months.
Stage Fort Park
Upon entering this leafy sanctuary, the turnaround-point in your run, you will trade exhaust fumes for other dangers. A pet owner on her way to the dog park will prematurely unleash a hyperactive Schnauzer, allowing it to take out your legs as cleanly as a German midfielder. Having stanched the blood with your running singlet, you manage to crest the hill, glimpse the choppy Atlantic, and lean into a gale that snaps and tatters the American flag on your left. Despite the breeze, a baseball game and a dozen family barbecues are underway in the field ahead. Cars will be parked on the sidewalk; a stifling cloud of DEET and grill smoke will sweep across the road.
Back Shore Loop: 6.5 miles
Up for a more ambitious workout? Take this trip around the perimeter of East Gloucester, which boasts some of Cape Ann’s most impressive homes and finest vistas. Don’t let the splendor distract you, however, as this route is similarly fraught with peril:
Leaving behind the hurly-burly of downtown, you’ll soon pass The Crow’s Nest, where a spirited crowd of morning drinkers will cadge you for a cigarette and colorfully enumerate your best physical features. Proceeding east, you’ll run a gauntlet of light and telephone poles, favored roosts of the best-fed seagulls in New England. Just when you think you’ve escaped unscathed, probability will catch up with you, and an alpha gull overhead will loose a stream of partially digested clams. It will strike your shoulder with the force and visual effect of an open can of paint.
As you thread your way past East Main’s quaint storefronts, the sidewalk will disappear and the shoulder will crumble osteoporotically. Consequently, you will be winged by the sideview mirror of an Aston Martin late for a tee time at Bass Rocks Golf Club. The road will dip precipitously toward the sandy expanse of Niles Beach, and as the grade eases, your heart will stop. With his mother busy stowing a 40-quart cooler in the back of her Tahoe, a toddler in a sagging bathing suit has waddled into traffic. Fortunately, the traffic is composed entirely of out-of-state vehicles inching past while the occupants attempt to decipher the parking protocol of this resident-only beach.
Rounding the bend onto Atlantic Road, you will confront a succession of homes whose vast grounds are crawling with landscapers, despite the fact that the owners haven’t been seen since last Memorial Day. Riding lawnmowers will be parked at crazy angles along the roadbed, jostling for room against walkers, cyclists, and the sodden easels and broad-brimmed hats of novice watercolor painters. On the rocks below, a wedding photographer is violently arguing with a striper fisherman who refuses to yield his perch to a throng of bridesmaids passing around a magnum of spumante. You should stop and ask for a quick swig to celebrate having survived another run in Gloucester.