Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women – What’s Not to Love?
When Conventures, Inc. presents the 31st Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women at Noon on October 8th this year, it is expected that 7,200 runners and walkers alike will take off in unified celebration of health and fitness.
Posted Monday, 13 August, 2007
The Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women is like a much loved great-aunt of women’s running. Ask any female runner, especially in the New England region, what she knows of “Tufts,” and first of all, the likelihood that she has run it at some point in her life—at least once—will be high. Ask her what she thinks of the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women, and she will reply with a level of reverence typically reserved for elder relatives, even though at age 31, you could argue that the race is just now reaching its stride. There is just something about the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women, whether its the tradition it embodies, the respect it has earned, or the field it attracts, that makes it the premiere all-women’s middle distance event in the U.S.
Everyone has their own reasons for loving the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women, and many different ones. Some will say it’s the course, or the fantastic organization, perhaps the fun around the event, even the early October weather, but there’s one reason you hear over and over again from all who have run this classic—it’s the camaraderie.
Runners start on Beacon Street just below the State House in Boston, and turn right onto Charles Street, arguably one of the most charming streets in the city, lined with shops and restaurants at the base of Beacon Hill. For some runners there will be no time for window shopping as they race for the title of US 10K champion, since the Tufts Health Plan 10K is once again the USATF National 10K Championship. Others will be chasing a personal record time on this super-fast mainly flat course. And some may be walking the distance with a group of friends, perhaps trying to reach the 10K mark for the first time ever after a summer dedicated to training. Some will have just given birth, or are expecting to soon. For others this will be their very first running race, or the only race they do—year after year.
At the end of Charles Street, the runners approach a slight incline at the Longfellow “Salt and Pepper” Bridge over the Charles River to Cambridge. If the runners take a quick glance left at this point, there is one of the best views of the Esplanade along the river basin, with the Back Bay skyline stacked neatly behind the trees. The bridge drops the pack onto Memorial Drive in Cambridge, where runners head west along the river with a full view of Boston on the left, and the domed halls of MIT on the right. One of the highlights for many runners is that the entire route is closed to traffic. Some people run this event primarily for the privilege of running through traffic-less streets of Cambridge and Boston—and on a Monday no less!
For some runners the next section of the course is one of the main draws. Once the field reaches the Boston University Bridge, it loops around the rotary there and heads back parallel on the eastbound lane of Memorial Drive. For many runners this affords a great view of the lead pack. It is such a treat, especially for those not in the front to watch the elite field coming head on. To be in the race, but to see and cheer on the frontrunners as well, is truly a rare double treat.
There is a hair pin turn at the MIT Sailing Pavilion, as athletes head back west toward Massachusetts Avenue and the Harvard Bridge back toward Boston. At this point of the race, runners who train along the river will most likely turn to their friends and explain that the bridge is measured and marked not in yards, but in lengths called Smoots. Smoots is the height of a former MIT student by that name who was rolled end-to-end across the bridge several years ago as a kind of academic yardstick.
Back into Boston, the course takes a left onto the broad, tree-lined Commonwealth Ave, and the alphabetical countdown from Hereford to Arlington Street begins before ending at the Public Garden. On Arlington Street runners take a quick jog around the Public Garden past the quiet memorial dedicated to local victims of September 11, 2001. Up Boylston and back to Charles, runners finish on the flat road that dissects the Garden and the Common. Spectators line the route, many of them families and children of the runners, while other support comes from envious office workers who take an extended lunch hour to cheer on the field in what has become a Columbus Day tradition.
The Elite Tradition
The Top Three Finishers list at the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women over its 31 years reads like a who’s who of American women’s running history. When Lynn Jennings won the inaugural event, originally known as the Bonne Belle Mini Marathon, in 1977 at the tender age of 17, it catapulted her to a stellar running career that would span many years, including six wins at this event and 13 top three finishes.
The second year it was won by Joan Benoit, who would become the first Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist in 1984. Joan Benoit Samuelson has won the race three times, including breaking the course record with 31:39 in 1983, a mark that still stands as the second fastest time, and only one second off the current course record. Joan still runs the race, speeding through a 6:02 per mile pace in 2006. Joan is the spokesperson for the event.
Other top finishers such as Anne Audaine, Judi St. Hilaire, Cathy O’Brien, Libby Hickman, Patty Lyons Catalano, Jan Merrill, and Francie Larieu Smith, are just some of the running stars who made their imprint on the Tufts Health Plan 10K, while earning a spot in women’s running history. Many American records have also been set at the race, owing to the fast course and caliber of competition. Many international running stars have also toed the line at the Tufts Health Plan 10K, such as New Zealander Anne Hannam (course record holder at 31:38 in 1988), Elena Meyer of South Africa, whose 31:39 in 1994 is equal to Joan Benoit Samuelson’s, and elite marathoner Ingrid Kristiansen, fourth fastest finisher. In 2000, Kenyan Catherine Ndereba, the four-time Boston Marathon winner, inched out Libbie Hickman by one second in a tie for the closest ever finish.
This year, Katie McGregor of Minneapolis returns to Boston to defend her winning title for the third time in as many years. In 2006, Katie managed to cross the line in 32:37, just 8 seconds in front of Kara Goucher on a warm, sunny day.
The Pack Tradition
Another group of women in Tufts’ lore represent those who have maintained a streak of finishes. Eighteen amazing women have completed this race every year it has been held. While most live in Massachusetts, Kathy Sastivickas makes the trip each year from California—talk about loyalty to an event. This special group reunites annually for a pre-race dinner that represents a gathering of old friends at this point. Louise Rosetti of Saugus is in the club. At age 85, Louse was third in the 80 and over division in 2006!
Marilyn Licciardello of Andover, Massachusetts, will leave for a triathlon in Hawaii a day later than her husband this year in order not to miss the Tufts Health Plan 10K start. Marilyn’s most memorable year was the 20th running when her two grown daughters joined her in the race. They each ran faster than she, but that didn’t seem to matter. Marilyn had started running just months after her second daughter was born, eight months before the first Bonne Belle. She almost didn’t run it one year—that was when the entry fee was raised from three to five dollars. But she coughed up the fee, and when she got to the race, the organizers refunded back the two dollars because people had complained.
Marilyn wouldn’t dream of missing the race. She doesn’t remember her best time, but that doesn’t seem to matter either. When asked about the biggest change she’s seen over the 31 years she’s been doing the event, she doesn’t hesitate to say, “It’s really how we’ve changed culturally. Young women today do whatever they want in sports, but we had to forge the way. I remember in the early days when you couldn’t go out running without getting jeered by people in cars because it was so unusual. We didn’t let it stop us and it was very special to do this race, and show we could do it.” Marilyn continues to run it today because it is simply, in her words, “a joyful event.”
Many others have done the race multiple times, and some remember their clock time and others don’t, but all have their favorite impressions, and reasons for loving it. Heather McClurg of Wellesley has run it eight or maybe nine times. As she recalls, “I used to do it with friends, and when the kids were young our husbands would take them into the park while we were running—they loved it. I like it because the weather is usually ideal, and it’s often around my birthday. Last year it fell on the day, and my running club gave me a crown to wear and a cake at the race. It’s just a good time—lots of excitement.”
The Prizes and Awards
The race includes a total cash purse of $38,200, and awards at many levels will be awarded this year. The overall winner will receive $3,500, while the top American will claim $7,000 for capturing the 10K championship. The cash prizes for the National 10K championship go 10 deep. Cash prizes are also awarded to the top three finishers in the Masters and Wheelchair divisions. The top five teams in the USATF Associations teams will also receive cash awards, ranging from $650 to $200. To be eligible for this prize, all team and members (three-five members with the top three times counted) must be in the USATF association. Corporate teams are also recognized with awards, and all teams must be declared by race morning.
In the spirit of health and fitness, which the race represents, Tufts Health Plan also presents a $10,000 cash award to the American Heart Association.
Another award that is unique to this race is the Marie Fitzherbert Award for Perseverance. Marie Fitzherbert was a runner at the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women for 27 years, even finishing the race while undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer; and the award in her honor recognizes an individual who demonstrates a commitment to health, fitness, family, community involvement, and perseverance through adversity. All entrants are encouraged to submit a personal story describing why they or someone they know qualifies. Entries for this special recognition must be received by September 14th.
Two age-group divisions recognize fast young runners, Age 14 and under, and Age 15-19, a structure sure to inspire young women to run with the best, and a nod, perhaps, to the legacy of a young Lynn Jennings. The youngest finisher in 2006 was 12-year-old Marika Crowe of Sudbury, Massachusetts, who clocked a 53:41. From the Open (20-29) to the 80 and over division, awards are in 10-year groupings.
The Race-Day Activities
There are many events scheduled for participants on race day, so organizers encourage everyone to get to the site early. The popular Health and Fitness Pavilion will open at 9:00 a.m. where participants can learn about dozens of products and services available from the healthcare industry. This includes samples of food and beverages, clothing and accessories for sale. There are also fitness-related activities.
For the youngest would-be runners, a special 1K race is held at 10:30 a.m. Joan Benoit Samuelson will lead this “race,” sure to plant the health and fitness seed early, while giving the children a good chance to participate in the event along with mom. There will be entertainment, healthy snacks, and fun activities for the kids to enjoy.
Beginning at 10:50 a.m., runners will prepare for the race with professionally led warm-ups and stretches courtesy of The Boston Globe, accompanied by music to add to the energy. Coaches will also lead post-race stretches at 1:00 p.m.
Once everyone has cooled down, the Awards Ceremony/Cash Grant Presentation will be held at 2:00 p.m.
The Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women is produced and directed by Conventures, Inc. Conventures has over 30 years world-wide experience with athletic, maritime, social and educational events for which they manage strategic planning, budgeting, site planning and preparation, marketing and promotion.
Other races which are managed by Conventures, Inc. include the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge, The Boston Aids Walk, and the Sixth Annual Boston Marine Corps Honor Run 5k and 10K--scheduled for September 30th. For more information on Conventures and their upcoming events, please visit their website at www.conventures.com.
About Tufts Health Plan: Since 1979, Tufts Health Plan has been committed to providing a higher standard of health care coverage and to improving the quality of care for every member. “Tufts Health Plan, through our philosophy, our people, and our
innovation, offers you a local health plan with a national reputation for excellence. No one does more to keep you healthy. Learn how we've earned that distinction”. Visit www.tuftshealthplan.com.
Run it. Walk it. Love it!
The slogan for this year’s event is, “Run it. Walk it. Love it!” This race just oozes the spirit of health and fitness for all women, regardless of age or ability. The level of camaraderie women feel participating in this very special event is hard to describe unless you’ve been there. So, after 30 years on the line, Marilyn Licciardello knows the feeling as well as anybody. “When we’re in that starting line together, we’re all sisters.” What’s not to love?
For registration information, visit the website: http://www.tuftshealthplan.com/tufts10k/.