The Great Bay Half Marathon: Sightseeing and Running on the New England Seacoast
This is the spring half marathon for you. Running on rural roads along the shore of the famous Great Bay estuary on April 5, this is the one to plan on, the one to motivate you and keep you in training for the season ahead.
Posted Sunday, 15 March, 2009
It’s the dead of winter in New England and cabin fever will soon have us all staring longingly at singlets and running shorts as we pull on our tights and don our mittens and balaclavas for a run through the snow. But optimists that we are, it seems like there’s no better time to plan your 2009 spring and summer races. When putting dates onto your calendar, be sure to put a big red X on Sunday, April 5, 2009 -- the Great Bay Half Marathon and 5K Sponsored by the Exeter Hospital in Newmarket, New Hampshire. There’s no better way to appreciate the beauty of spring (and the end of winter) in New England than by running these courses.
And that’s exactly how the Great Bay Half Marathon came to be. Race director Mike St. Laurent was running the route one day with some friends as part of a long run (as he had many times since college) when the idea hit him.
“I thought it would be cool to have a half marathon right here in Newmarket,” said St. Laurent. The group decided to measure the course they had been enjoying for years, and discovered the distance was right. It was time to share their favorite route with a thousand or so other runners.
For the third straight year, the Great Bay Half Marathon runners will set off from the Newmarket Elementary School on Main Street at 11 a.m.; walkers have an earlier 10 a.m. start time. The 5K will start with the Half Marathon runners at the same time, same location, but will follow a different route, of course. Immediately after the start, the scenery is sure to please everyone. Whether you’re interested in soaking up the visual history of a quaint New England mill city; gazing at old stone walls; running along the coastline; or even winding your way through a Cape Cod-style neighborhood, this interesting trek is for you.
Be sure to join hundreds of other runners at the Health and Fitness Expo at the High School on Saturday, April 4, beginning at noon and running to 5:00 p.m. Packet pick-up will also be available at this time (as well as on race day 8:00 a.m. to 10:30. The Expo and the race are presented by primary sponsor Exeter Hospital; they bring this enjoyable and informative Expo to the running community—take full advantage of it.
Also on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. the Kids’ Fun Run will take place outside the Expo, including a sweet little toddlers “race” along with the kids’ fun run. Bring the kids along, pick up your packet, and enjoy the wealth of information offered at the Expo.
Let your scenic tour of Great Bay begin…
It’s not just the scenery that starts when the gun goes off. Runners are also welcomed to some rolling hills within the first 2.5 miles of the course that continue on Dame Road, which switches to gravel at about mile 3. “You feel like you’re in the White Mountains on this road,” noted St. Laurent. “You’ll see big rocks and trees, fields and pastures. It’s just a really beautiful spot.” Since this well maintained dirt road sees little traffic and has few houses, take advantage of the uninterrupted views of natural preserve land speckled with hay fields, forests and ponds. The landscape will most definitely keep your mind off the hills you encounter. At mile 5, runners hit the pavement again at Bay Road to run along the Great Bay coastline.
The first eight miles of the course are the most challenging due to rolling hills, said St. Laurent. But those are also some of the most picturesque miles, including overlooks of the Great Bay Estuary. Often described as New Hampshire’s hidden coastline, the Great Bay Estuary is one of the largest and most recessed estuaries in the U.S., adding 144 miles of tidal shoreline to the Granite State. Comprised of Great Bay, Little Bay and the Piscataqua River, the Great Bay Estuary is the spot where ocean tides meet freshwater from seven different rivers. This drains a watershed of roughly 1,000 square miles in size and is home to native grasses, fish and birds.
If natural beauty and the sounds of nature aren’t enough to occupy you, there are also different musical groups set up along the course. Last year, runners enjoyed performances from a local belly dancer. And the fact that this race is both scenic and walker-friendly gives everyone the opportunity to appreciate all the sights and sounds of Newmarket and its rural environs. Visit http://www.locorunning.com/greathalf.php to view pictures and a video of the course in all its glory.
The remaining five miles contain a few short rolling hills, followed by an easy, flat section that takes you though a classic New England neighborhood. Water stops will be at miles 3, 6, 9 and 11.5. Finish at the Newmarket High School, just a short distance from the start. There runners can compare race experiences, recall the fabulous sights on the course and (most importantly) feast on some great post-race grub, including chili, soup, bagels, fruit and sweets. And once you’re legs are loosened up and your stomach is full, don’t forget to head to the designated “Loco Bar” for some complimentary beer from Smuttynose Brewing Co., of nearby Portsmouth. That’s right; I said complimentary beer… more on that later.
Race organizers have also built a new 5K race into the festivities for 2009. As noted, the 5K starts at 11:00 a.m. with the half marathon runners. After about ½ mile, the 5K course splits off onto a separate course before heading back to finish at the high school. Both races are USATF-certified courses and will be chip-timed using the Chronotrack D-Tag, a lightweight strip that attaches to your shoe and works just like the larger plastic timing chips. However, this chip is disposable, meaning that -- after a long race when all you can think about is getting a drink and resting your sore muscles -- you don’t have to worry about returning your timing chip. Registration is open now for just $45 for the half marathon and $22 for the 5K. Costs go up on race day, so sign up today!
What more could you ask for?
The first 1,000 registered runners will receive a long-sleeve technical t-shirt; registered runners after that get long-sleeve cotton tees. All half-marathon finishers also earn custom-designed medals. Prizes will go to top male and female finishers as well as the top three runners in each age group (5-year age groups). Race walker awards for the half marathon will go to the top 3 and age group leaders (10-year age groups). Are you new to the racing circuit? You’re in luck as well! Race sponsor Loco Running will also provide special raffle awards to lucky runners who have never run a race or competed in a half marathon prior to the Great Bay. Top Newmarket resident finishers will also receive prizes.
But all the good stuff doesn’t only happen during and after race day. Plan to visit the free Health and Fitness Expo Presented by Exeter Hospital on Saturday, April 4th at the Newmarket High School gym. The Expo runs from noon to 5:00 p.m. and features about 40 different booths geared toward health, fitness and running. Chat with doctors, nurses and other experts about injury prevention, nutrition, health testing and everything else you need to make sure you’re in tip-top shape for the 2009 running season.
Running club member? Beer connoisseur? This race is for you!
The Great Bay Half Marathon has been included in two very different 2009 race series. First is the competitive New Hampshire Grand Prix (NHGP) series, which consists of seven races ranging in distance from 5K to half marathon. The N.H. Grand Prix is a friendly competition between local running clubs in which members earn points for each race they run – depending on age-group placement.
I’m sure the beer connoisseur is still reading and asking, “Didn’t she say something about complimentary beer?” What’s all this talk about beer, you wonder? Well, the Great Bay Half Marathon is also part of the “Gone Loco Will Run for Beer Series”, which includes six races on or near the seacoast. For the Great Bay races the post race beer party will be at a nearby “Loco Bar” with kegs of Smuttynose available to thirsty runners.
As for the Run for Beer series, register for and run five out of the six races and you’ll receive a nylon wind jacket. The final race/party of the series will also feature a beer tasting courtesy of Smuttynose. Need a little more incentive aside from a beer tasting and party? How about the fact that registering for and running the Great Bay Half Marathon will get your double points in the series? Check out all the details and register for the race at http://www.locorunning.com/greathalf.php.
Racing for a few good reasons
These events are about giving back to the community. Several charities benefit from monies raised at the Great Bay Half Marathon, including the Newmarket Guidance Department Scholarship fund, University of New Hampshire (UNH) Track, Oyster River High School Track and Cross Country team, Newmarket Recreation Department, Club Chameleon, Newmarket Elementary School running program, Newmarket Project Graduation and others. Newmarket Project Graduation gives local high school graduates a chance to safely celebrate their last high school days together. Each year, the school holds an overnight graduation party for seniors, ensuring that they remain safe and drug and alcohol-free. For the past few years, the Great Bay Half Marathon has been a major fundraiser for the Newmarket Graduation Project.
Everyone has their favorite hometown route that often they’d like to keep to themselves… a little gem that they savor as a private escape from a crazy week. The Great Bay Half Marathon is one of those routes. Luckily, Mike St. Laurent and his friends were willing to share it with the entire running community. Don’t you think it’s about time you found out what’s keeps them running this course over and over again?