“Thar she blows!” - New Bedford Half Marathon – A whale of a Race!
Get ready! Sunday March 20th will bring the 28th running of this perennial New England favorite.
Posted Monday, 31 January, 2005
Runners know that the New Bedford Half Marathon is a runner’s race that covers all the bases, but did you know that: The New Bedford Half was ranked the number one half-marathon in New England by New England Runner Magazine, and one of the top five half-marathons in the U.S. by Runner’s World?
Frank, a veteran New England runner friend of mine summed it up;
“I ran NB last year and was mesmerized by the fish chowder and fish sandwiches at the post race bash. This race has character and one mean hill at mile 12-12.5 that is criminally placed. Honestly, it's a good course packed with the feel of a well organized USATF race. Definitely put it on your ‘to run’ list.”
What started in the garage of a local runner has grown into a city-sponsored event with over 1750 runners. If you’ve run it, you know it has character and have probably already marked your calendar. If you haven’t, then now is the time to sign up and experience one of the unique and classic New England middle distance events. This is a great tune up for Boston, a great experience and trophy race to brag about, all at the same time.
This year the race is also the USATF-NE Half Marathon championship and is part of the $5000 USATF Grand Prix series.
The stated goal of the race organizers speaks volumes; “We want every runner who comes to feel welcome and to be treated with respect.” This is the race organization’s vision statement and it drives everything they do. This focus makes it all come together, from the complex task of putting on a word-class half marathon to the simple amenities that make us mid-packers happy.
This race has the history, the course and the organization to make it an event worth attending and one you’ll definitely remember.
One of the recurring themes I hear from the locals who run this race is the excellent race amenities. The organizers understand what racers want and how to make the experience a good one for everyone.
The post-race party has legendary food offerings of traditional New England Chowder and Fish sandwiches. There’s nothing like hot chowder to settle the stomach after pounding out 13.1 miles in the cold sea breezes of New Bedford.
What else do you crave at the finish line? A hot shower at the nearby YMCA! It is just the thing to warm up and wash the salt out of your eyes. Speaking from experience, a hot shower is one of the best feelings in the world after a cold hard race.
If answered truthfully what else would be on the ‘top three things important to runners’ list? Bathroom facilities at the start! Admit it, this is major cause of stress for runners already in a stressful situation, and the folks at New Bedford, true to their word, have taken care of it, with plenty of easy access facilities. They know what is important to their target congregation.
What else is important to us? How about easy access off of the interstate and free parking? The New Bedford Half Marathon is easy to get to and easy to park at.
How about course support? Sick of being run down mid-race by cursing commuters in SUV’s trying to get into the Dunky Donuts? That’s not going to happen at New Bedford.
The course support and infrastructure is formidable. This is a race that the city of New Bedford has embraced. The race is personally sponsored by the mayor of the city himself (the Honorable Frederick M. Kalisz, Jr.). This means that the city throws itself into making the race successful, (whereas at other city races you feel like they are putting up with you).
The result is a completely closed course, with up to 90 police making sure it stays that way. The course is patrolled by 5 ambulances and 30+ EMT’s ready to pounce on you for emergency medical treatment if you need it. It also means that the city parking garage is opened up for free on race day to add to your convenience and remove another typical race annoyance.
How about this detail? They send the city crews out to fill all the potholes prior to the race! How’s that for paying attention to the details?
If you are feeling thirsty or unsteady there are 7 water stops on the course itself to keep you going and at the finish line there is a complete medical area sponsored by SouthCoast Emergency Services.
In a word; “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, that’s what you get. This race has grown and become popular and very competitive. They could have easily become smug and self-important, but they haven’t. It remains a runner’s race focused on respecting the runner and their experience.
“Have you heard about the hill?”
The course itself is storied in the annals of 27 New England springtimes. Veteran runners will gather together, comparing mental scars and talk respectfully of the sea winds and the hill at the finish line, but most consider the course to be fairly fast.
The race starts in downtown New Bedford in front of City Hall. There is one hill at the beginning and then it is flat with a tail wind into the sun for 7 – 8 miles. Then the race starts! Around mile 10 you hit the beaches and start to turn into the wind.
Picturesque old New England houses salt the sidelines. They once held those who peered expectantly to the sea for their husbands and lovers return and now watch the runners turn inland for the final climb to the finish. “The hill” starts after you turn back inland around mile 11 and is a long gradual climb back to where you started. Once you hit the crest, it is a third of a mile downhill to the tape.
The weather usually cooperates with temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s the last couple years.
The timing at the race is done by Baystate Race Services and results are quickly posted on CoolRunning so you can look up your results that night. All finishers get a long sleeve T-shirt with the race emblem “Harpoon Guy” on it; definitely a trophy shirt for your collection.
This is a race that attracts some pretty good runners. Most of the New England area clubs send their teams to compete. Last year - 2004 – the fast crowd was led by Daniel Cheruiyot with a 5:09 pace and a 1:07:30 finish time on this championship course.
You can see by the chart below that there is a good-sized contingent of competitive runners that race in New Bedford. Many of these are at the peak of their training for Boston and use New Bedford to test their legs. Top talent from all over the world shows up too. IIngrid Kristiansen holds the women’s record, which she set in 1989 with an impressive 1:08:32. Local favorite Lynn Jennings won in 1999.
There is good prize money for those who out-gun the competition and place in their 5 – year age groups.
You don’t have to be an Olympic hopeful or even a good runner to get treated with respect at the New Bedford Half Marathon. There’s plenty of chowder for the mid-packers too.
“Call me Ishmael” – Historic whaling seaport and museum
Were you compelled to read Melville’s “Moby Dick” when you were young? Turns out it was written about the whaling trade out of New Bedford. The race starts in and about the historic seaport.
The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is an area in downtown that ‘commemorates the heritage of the world's preeminent whaling port during the 19th century’. You can walk around the museums and ogle some well-preserved 19th century architecture after the race.
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park was created in 1996. The park encompasses 34 acres spread over 13 city blocks.
Go ahead, take some time, wander around, get some culture and learn something.
New Bedford was the world capital of the whaling industry during the 1840’s and 1850’s. The whaling merchants of New Bedford operated a complex business network and earned huge profits. For a time New Bedford was considered to be the "richest city in the world."
On March 20th, New Bedford will be rich again. Rich in runners and a quality, picturesque, middle distance race.
A classic spring-time tradition in New England
The fact is that if you have not run New Bedford yet, you should. Don’t miss out on a race that is known to give the runners a class ‘A’ experience. Don’t miss the opportunity to wear the harpoon guy on your chest with pride at your next club meeting. You can talk like a veteran about ‘the hill’, and you can be guaranteed to be treated with respect.