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Marathon hopefuls try to stay the course

Find safer, clearer training run on carriage road

Runners brave the snowbanks and traffic of Commonwealth Avenue in Newton because a path leading from the street to the adjacent carriage road was iced over. Runners brave the snowbanks and traffic of Commonwealth Avenue in Newton because a path leading from the street to the adjacent carriage road was iced over. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Courtney Hollands
Globe Staff / February 22, 2011

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NEWTON — Where Janette Drake lives in Weymouth, the shoulders have been swallowed by snowbanks, forcing her to run in the street with traffic. No thanks. Logging miles on a treadmill isn’t for her either, so she’s been commuting to nearby Bare Cove Park in Hingham or to the carriage road along Commonwealth Avenue in Newton this year to train for her third Boston Marathon.

“It’s nicer to run on the carriage road, especially with the bad winter,’’ she said. “I feel safe running here.’’

Drake, who ran a total of 14 miles from Marathon Sports in Wellesley to the top of Heartbreak Hill and back, was among a steady stream of runners on the mostly clear and dry stretch of the carriage road between Boston College and the Newton fire station the other day. Some traveled in packs, others in pairs, and many jogged solo.

Boston Marathon competitors always have a tough time of it, as they battle the elements and bitter cold to squeeze in long runs in the months and weeks leading up to race day. But Mother Nature has been especially nasty this year, dumping almost 6 feet of snow on Boston. Hardy runners have had to contend with mountainous snowbanks, unshoveled and impassable sidewalks, and icy footpaths. Warmer temperatures last week encouraged some melting, but the melt can freeze on the roads overnight, creating slick spots, and lingering snow still encroaches on many roadways.

Runners seeking out less-treacherous conditions and looking to escape honking traffic have increasingly turned to the carriage road in Newton this season.

Posters in the Runner’s World forums online have recommended the carriage road — even amid the nonstop snowstorms last month. “Carridge [sic] lane on Comm. Ave. from the firehouse to BC may be the best running conditions in the Boston area,’’ reads one post. Another: “I’m running on the carriage trail mainly because it’s the only safe place to run right now. The snowpack and banks have narrowed the roads considerably and with the drivers in this area it’s risky.’’

Marathon hopefuls running along the course in the winter months to get acquainted with the quirks and hills before the big day is nothing new.

Jack Fultz, training adviser to the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team, said he often recommends the carriage road to runners he’s working with in good weather because it’s a great training run for hills. And now, during “one of the tougher winters I can remember,’’ the route “is one of the only stretches where it’s somewhat clear,’’ said Fultz, who won the 1976 Boston Marathon.

Erin Genova of Brookline, gearing up for her eighth Boston Marathon and her 16th marathon overall, lives at mile 23.5 on the course. She’s noticed an influx of people on the carriage road on weekdays, too. “It’s so motivating to see everyone out.’’

Despite the black ice she skirted on the carriage road a few weekends ago, she called it “one of the only places to run where you don’t have to worry about cars, snow, and ice.’’

Mike Amster of Concord, a member of the Heartbreak Hill Striders Running Club who is training for his 11th Boston Marathon and his 22d marathon overall, ran with two friends on the carriage road the other day. It’s also been narrowed by snow, which is why it could seem more congested this season, he said.

On longer jaunts, he might go from Boston College to Wellesley or Natick, but said that some people he runs with prefer to get in their miles by repeating the carriage road. “Everyone is looking for safe places to run,’’ he said.

Courtney Hollands can be reached at chollands@boston.com.