Yankee Homecoming -- A Seacoast Classic
The book says 5K races will draw the biggest crowd. The book says weekends are the best time to hold a race, especially if you want to draw a big crowd. So much for the book.
Posted Sunday, 3 July, 2005
On Tuesday night, August 2nd the town of Newburyport, Mass. will once again throw out the book and hold one of New England’s biggest and best road races, the Yankee Homecoming 10 Miler. There is also a large 5K to go along with the ten miler so the book is half right.
Despite the belief that shorter races will bring in more runners the folks of this Seacoast town have stuck to their guns since the race started in 1960. From its humble beginnings when Eisenhowser was president and 30 runners finished that first Yankee Homecoming race the event has grown to one of New England’s largest events. Its peak was 1997 when over 2200 finished the ten miler and close to 1000 ran the shorter event (which has alternated between 3 miles and 5K over the years). In 2004 there were 1,456 ten mile finishers and 944 who crossed the line after running 3.1 miles.
A race that draws that many runners means a lot of folks traveling to Newburyport from outside the immediate Merrimack Valley and Seacoast Massachusetts/New Hampshire area. That means many have to fight the commuter traffic to make it to Newburyport on a weekday night. So, it begs the question: why bother? Why drive up Routes 495 and 95 in the middle of a work week to spend an evening in Newburyport, Mass. That’s an easy question if you are going to shop at one of the town’s boutiques or eat at one of the many fine restaurants while enjoying a walk along the ocean. But the dozens of folks who show up in Newburyport on race evening have no desire for sightseeing. There must be a reason for the trip.
Begin with history. The Yankee Homecoming race began as an eight miler and was held during an era foreign to today’s typical runner. In 1960 nobody knew from T-shirts, split times, and the only chips we cared about came in cookies (the edible kind, not off the internet). Through the years the race has been a who’s who of the New England and Northeast running scene. The men’s course record for the ten miler is held by Simon Karori, a familiar sight at the Boston Marathon in the early 1990’s. Karori set the Yankee Homecoming record in 1994, running 48 minutes, one second. For a number of years the race was a New England championship race, bringing the best clubs to the race. Prize money totally $5,000 for the ten mile race guarantees the field will always be strong. The 5K history, while younger, has also seen some of the best of the New England running scene as well. Both races have age categories in five year increments.
The course accounts for part of the reason for the big turnout. Newburyport is a sightseers dream. With the sun setting on the old federal style homes and the run through the waterfront section of town runners get a wonderful view of a New England seaport town at its best. Runners finish to large cheers as an announcer calls out names. As one writer once put it. “it is a surreal racing experience.”
Part of that experience comes from the spectators. The race has been around so long that people take its name for granted. What do you think “Yankee Homecoming” stands for? The race is part of a week long celebration in Newburyport so you can imagine the festive atmosphere that surrounds the race. Folks line the street during the first half of the course when the runners are downtown. In the last five miles the course weaves through a residential section of town. It is a disappointment if there aren’t at least five parties or barbecues during that part of the race. It feels like a mid-summer’s smaller version of the Boston Marathon.
While rich in history the race has also kept up with the times. In the mid-1990’s it was one of the first to place its applications on the internet. In 2005, for the third year in a row, the race will be timed using the Winning Chip timing system, resulting in quicker and more accurate results. The race also had to adapt to construction at Newburyport High School which served as the start/finish area for years. A move to the Nock Middle School a few years ago was thought to be temporary. When the new location appeared to be better logistically the change became permanent.
All this work for an event this size requires an organization committed to doing the job right. In 1960 the race was organized by the Newburyport Jaycees. In 1980 the Newburyport Lions Club took over and have been running things since, with Jon Pearson serving as the race director. Dozens of volunteers spread out from the registration and start area to points all over town make sure the runners are taken care from start to finish.
The race also owes a debt of gratitude to its major sponsor, the Provident Bank. Pay all the lip service you want to sponsors, politely applaud when the sponsor’s name is announced, but try and put on an event for 2500 people without someone backing you. With the Provident Bank a lot of runners would have a certain Tuesday night off.
One obstacle that runners often have to battle is the heat. This is New England and it is early August. Some nights the runners have cool conditions to run in but on other occasions the temperature can rise to an uncomfortable level. Not to worry. The Lions Club has official water stops while the spectators also chip in. Almost every mile someone will be out there handing out something to drink but one word of caution. If one of the cups being offered comes from a spectator it may require proof of being 21 or over before consumption.
And when all is said and done there is plenty of post-race refreshments. From the ice cream to the hot dogs, to the cookies, and variety of liquids, runners can celebrate their 5K or ten mile run in fine fashion.
This year’s Newburyport races will be held on August 2. For 2005 the fee for registering for either race is $18 until July 8, $23 until race day and $25 on race day. Proceeds benefit the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research Fund. T-shirts will go the first 1,200 entrants in each race. Start time for the 5K will be 6:30 with the ten miler starting at 6:35.
Need to know more? The race’s website is www.yankeerace.com.