Working Class Heroes!
The New Bedford Half Marathon; 29 years and still delivering a great race!
Posted Friday, 3 February, 2006
If you haven’t run New Bedford before you should check it out. If you haven’t run it lately, they want you back for the 29th running this spring on Sunday, March 19, 2006, 11:00 AM Sharp in Downtown New Bedford.
It’s a great hard working race that keeps on delivering a first class running and racing experience year after year. One CoolRunner summarized rather succinctly after last year’s race:
“The New Bedford Half Marathon is one of those classic New England races that is just so efficient and friendly that you want to come back again and again. No big frills. Simple t-shirt, good food, interesting course, enthusiastic crowd, excellent traffic control, thoughtful volunteers. What more can you ask for?”
Q & A…
Q: Are you looking for a race with great runner support?
A: At New Bedford they continue to be committed to the fundamentals of racer support and the no-hassle race experience.
Q: Are you looking for a race with history?
A: Some of the fastest people on the planet have been testing their metal at New Bedford since 1978.
Q: Are you looking for a race with character and cachet?
A: Ask any of your veteran racing buddies. This race has a definite trophy quality and is something you can be proud of having run.
Q: Are you looking for an awesome course with great diversity?
A: I love this course. It is ‘multidimensional’ in both scenery and topography, close to perfect for mid-packers and racers.
Q: Are you looking for a race in a cool old seaport town?
A: New Bedford and the surrounding area is so steeped with New England ocean charm you will fall in love.
Q: Are you looking for the perfect ‘tune-up’ race for the Boston Marathon?
A: Got those Boston Marathon pre-race jitters? Thinking to yourself “Have I trained enough? Am I Ready?” Do what all the other fast local runners do; come down to New Bedford and put that nervous energy to good use!
Q: Would you like a chance to win an all-expense paid trip to the Chicago Marathon?
A: Two runners from the race will win a trip to the October 22, 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon courtesy of the New Balance Global Centennial Team just for signing up. New Bedford is one of only 50 races from around the world that is participating.
Once upon a time…
There is a place a few miles south of Boston where the local road runners have been gathering in the spring for 28 years. It’s the ½ marathon that started when road running started to catch fire in New England. The NBHM set the ½ marathon standard in the late 70’s and 80’s. Back when Boston and its surrounds was the world’s hub of long distance running. Back before the onslaught of glitzy ‘event’ races there was an honest, working man’s race in an honest working man’s place; New Bedford Massachusetts.
A new year:
Last year, when I wrote the article for this race, I focused on the runner support and amenities. They are still there. The race directors have not wavered in their focus on creating a hassle free experience for the runners and making sure they get world class support and respect. Simple things; like starting on time and having plenty of veteran volunteers make New Bedford, year after year, a safe bet for runners who want to worry about their effort, and not worry about the course support. The NBHM crew executes on the fundamentals as well as any race I’ve run.
- Traditional Post Race New England Chowder with fish sandwiches, juices, fruits and other treats.
- Eighty (80) plus police officers on the route to guarantee safety.
- Three to five ambulances on course during the entire race.
- Thirty (30) plus EMT's for medical emergencies.
- Seven (7) water stations. All with cell phone hook ups to emergency services.
- Complete medical area at finish line sponsored by South Coast Emergency Services.
- Police patrolled, coned and closed loop course.
- Time by Bay State Race Services.
- Times posted on Cool Running Web Site.
- Long sleeve T-shirts.
- YMCA open to all runners for showers two minutes from finish line.
- Cash prizes to winners.
- Number pick up at Carney Academy approximately (4) minutes from start.
- Rated top twenty-five (25) Half-Marathons in United States by Runner's World Magazine.
- Rated top Half-Marathon in New England by New England Runner Magazine.
- Championship course with previous women's world record set by Ingrid Christainson.
- Plenty of bathroom facilities as well as porta johns behind starting area.
- A historic seaport city that embraces the race and welcomes runners as friends.
- We cater to the runner who expects quality and respect.
The race directors pride themselves on taking care of all the little things for runners. One thing I really liked was that they throw the extra shirts from previous races you’re your packet bag. Bonus shirts! The shirts are long sleeve with the ‘harpoon’ guy on the front. They have nice high thick collars to keep you warm in the cold New England night.
The city still wraps itself warmly around the event, from the mayors office on down, they see it as a great vehicle to introduce people to the charms of New Bedford. You’ll find them out scouring the course for pot holes to fill and trash to pick up in the days before. You’ll find them lining the course, handing out support and cheering on the participants. You’ll find a good number of them participating in the race as well. The good people of New Bedford embrace the race as an opportunity and a celebration, and the runners can sense that.
I love this course!
“I ran the NB Half for the first time last year and loved every painful moment of it.”
I was intrigued by the buzz surrounding the course when I first signed up. There was definitely something in the air. Something in the voices of those who had run it. Something special. I heard different things. I heard it was fast. I heard it was windy. I heard it was scenic. I heard there was a big hill. What I discovered running it, is that it is all these things and more. The best way I can describe it is ‘multidimensional’. It’s a race where strategy matters.
“The course support and volunteers were great and perhaps it is because this was my longest race to date that I felt especially grateful for them.”
As you read my description you may be tempted to think, “Yikes!” but there is no need to fear. New Bedford is a fast course, and thoroughly interesting from both a visual and challenge point of view. If you take some time to peruse the commentary of people who have run it you will find that they predominantly did better then they thought and turned in faster than expected times. You should not be intimidated; it’s a good ½ marathon for all abilities. They keep the finish open and walk in even the slowest participants.
“This was my first half marathon and I am grateful to Mother Nature. No rain, no wind (well, I was braced for much more wind along the water), no freezing temps -- happy spring in New England! I was pretty pleased with the experience and thought the race was well-organized with runners' needs in mind, as promised in the CoolRunning article.”
Because it is a half marathon, the course has a chance to plumb the intricacies of the New Bedford topography, giving you a little bit of everything. 13.1 miles is a good recipe to explore a small city thoroughly.
From a racer point of view you have to use all your tools; uphill running, downhill cruising, wind drafting, core body temp control, and downhill kick. From a mid-packer point of view this is a uniquely urban course with ever-changing scenery, the city, the 19th century whaling captain houses, the parks, the working class immigrant neighborhoods and the ocean front. You get this entire multidimensional mélange in 13.1 miles of kick ass racing.
What I really liked was that, as a runner, the course challenges you both mentally and physically. It makes you use your brain and skills, not just brute force. It forces you to strategize. Are you a hill runner? Do you want to save energy for the end? Do you want to take advantage of the downhill to make some time?
There are plenty of fast club runners at New Bedford who are at the peak of their training fitness. They use New Bedford as a final tune up race before Boston to burn off some adrenaline as they move into their taper. As a result, the start empties out of the city center in an orderly and rapid fashion. I started back with the sneakers and sweatshirt crew and was running free within a ½ mile.
“I did have a ball at the beginning of the race, slapping hands of kids who were lined up on the course looking for high 5's”
As you move out of the city, the course is fairly flat and uneventful. This part of the course goes through what might be referred to as a ‘tough’ but colorful neighborhood. The first couple hills are in the first couple miles. They are fairly steep and relatively short. This early in the race you’re still fresh so there isn’t any problem here, but you still have to think hard about where you want to spend your energy supply and how much you need to save for the rest of the race.
Then you come to one of the most interesting features of the course. 2-3 miles into the race you turn down Rockdale Ave. Rockdale Ave. is a beautiful 3-4 mile long slight downhill. Some racers refer to it as ‘the speedway’. The decline isn’t a brutal quad-buster like the beginning of Boston, it is a nice easy ~2% decline that you will fall in love with. If you have ‘gliding’ pace, you can use it here. Close your eyes, stretch out your stride and relax. It’s like riding a magic carpet. As a heel-strking Clydesdale, I was like a pinewood derby racer on this long downhill, using gravity to my advantage.
The Ocean Breeze…
At the bottom of the hill you have to wake up from your reverie and get back to work. The course cuts back on Cove Road where there is a hurricane dike that blocks the sea breeze and you think, “This wind isn’t too bad.” Then you realize this is a red herring as you turn into Rodney French Boulevard and the real Atlantic wind sets you straight.
“Great race, the wind off of the water was crazy, I had read about it, but experiencing it first hand was a completely different story. A ton of fast runners out there.”
If you’ve got a wind running strategy, now’s the time to use it. You’ve got the grey Atlantic Ocean on your right and a stiff cold New England breeze right across your bow. Some years it is a timid breeze and some years it is a fearsome gale that will stand you up straight. It’s only for a mile or so, but it hits you after you’ve heated up on the long down hill around 8-9 miles into the race, so it has a big psychological ‘Oh my God!’ factor. It drags on you and won’t let you relax. You can work with the people around you and take turns drafting. I’m an expert drafter. I could draft an under-fed 6 year old. Once again the course makes you think about what you’re doing and dig deep into your bag of mental and physical tricks.
“The event seemed to run very smoothly and gave me a great deal more confidence heading into Boston.”
The temperature is typically right on the border between shorts and tights. There have been snow squalls and hot sunny days, but on average you can expect mid-40’s. In this way the course makes you think hard about what you’re going to wear. You need something that won’t overheat on the raceway downhill, but you also need something that will keep you from being uncomfortable when you’re head-long into a sea breeze. The fast guys mostly go with shorts and singlets. The mid-packers would be well served to dress in layers that they can configure as conditions warrant.
The Big Hill…
“Once I got over the big hill around mile 12, I knew that I would be able to finish with the time I was looking for, and came into the finish smiling and felt really good! Volunteers were great, kids were great (at one water stop they had written encouraging words all over the road in chalk)”
Eventually you beat the breeze and make the final turn back towards the finish. You get to catch your breath with some sheltering buildings for a little bit. Soon you’ll start to hear Portuguese and the ‘big hill’ starts. I put ‘big hill’ in quotes because I didn’t think it was that menacing after all the worrying I overheard. The hill is relatively shallow by New England standards and once you crest it you have nothing but steep downhill running to the finish line.
“Volunteer support was good at the finish too. From taking off the chip to handing-out tissues, volunteers were all around.”
Then you are smothered by friendly volunteers and trundle off to the school for fish sandwiches and chowder!
“The Fish sandwiches brought me back to my elementary school lunch days.
and the Chowder was great too!”
A Race with history and lots of it!
The New Bedford Half Marathon has a serious pedigree. It burst onto the world stage in 1989 when Ingrid Kristiansen set the women’s world record there with a 1:08:32. Lynn Jennings won in 1999. Geoff Smith (defending Boston champion at the time) holds the men’s record with a 1:02:05. There have been plenty of fast runners competing at New Bedford over the years. Last year Kassahun Kasibo broke the tape with 1:06:45 for the men and Alemtsehay Misganaw took it for the women with a 1:18:48.
Reading through the list of past participants you will find many familiar names. The local club elite have always treated this race as their preferred warm up for Boston. Out of the almost 1400 runners last year the first 90 broke 6 minute miles! The BAA had a strong showing with 11 members finishing in the top 20. There is usually a rash of last minute signups as people who are running Boston decide to run New Bedford. This makes for an exciting time for the racers, not knowing who they area up against until the last minute.
“New Bedford always has great support from the police department and this year seemed to be no exception.”
One of the great stories is when Aurora Cunha of Portugal ran the fourth fastest women's half-marathon ever with a 1:09:39, which broke her own course record by two minutes and 27 seconds. The local Portuguese population went crazy that day. She ran several years, one year out-kicking gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson.
“Oh yeah, pretty good crowd support overall as well. I enjoyed the race!”
The closest race was decided by only one second when local favorite Dave Dunham out-dueled his former U-Lowell college roommate Dennis Simonaitis in the last 200 yards in 1993.
A great place to visit!
You could easily think of New Bedford as a destination race. It is smack dab in the middle of a scenic part of the world. New Bedford has the whaling history of Moby Dick fame with the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.
“New Bedford is a really cute town and I enjoyed the scenery during the run. The volunteers were great as well.”
On the course you’ll pass a dozen churches and other landmarks including a sign marking the ride of Paul Revere. Runners will pass the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and St. John the Baptist Church - the oldest Portuguese church in North America.
As runners approach Union Street, they will be treated to Victorian homes with ornate woodwork that date back to the whaling era. Many still bear "widow's walks," small rooftop rooms that were used by captain's wives watching for the return of whaling and fishing vessels night after night.
New Bedford is centrally located for day trips all around the Eastern Seaboard. You are close by Cape Cod and the Islands, Rhode Island with its Newport mansions, Connecticut and not too far from New York and Boston.
It’s a easy call!
For racing and reveling set New Bedford as your target ½ marathons in March and you can spend the weekend discovering the history and beauty of the New England coast.
The meticulousness and quality of the support will win you over. The beauty and culture of the city keep you warm. The New Bedford Half Marathon is a race for runners who have been around and who appreciate the little things.
If you’ve never run New Bedford, this year you should. It’s a New England institution and a slice of running history. There you can run in the shadows of greatness and challenge yourself on the same course as local and international talent of yore. If you have run in the past, come back and run it again to see what’s new.