The Great Bay Half Marathon—Beautiful Coastal New Hampshire in Early Spring
Run a half marathon along Great Bay—beginning and ending in Newmarket, a small mill town and home of Hall of Fame Olympian Lynn Jennings.
Posted Monday, 18 December, 2006
This race is new, and it will be a gem. Running two weeks and a day before the Boston Marathon, this will be a regional magnet for many. Running April 1, 2007, it will include a running division with an 11:00 a.m. start time, and a walking division, which will step off at 10:30. Race headquarters will be the Newmarket Junior-Senior High School on South Main Street.
And you know what they say about the early bird. The first 100 to register will get FREE Loco Bandito running shoes; the next 400 to register will receive long-sleeved wicking tech shirts; and the next 1,000 will receive short sleeved tech shirts. The course is beautiful, and nearly all of it will be rural roads—very rural indeed--along the great estuary. You will love running along these roads—especially at the time of year when the entire Great Bay region explodes into spring buds and blossoms.
This race will introduce Newmarket to many runners. It's a small mill town with a rich history and distinctive character. Newmarket drew its early residents, native and later the European settlers, because of the rich resources of Great Bay. Newmarket became a port on Great Bay. The Lamprey River was another resource, including Lamprey Falls, where the river cascades into tidal Great Bay. The river was a rich source of fish and water power. Early mills were built there, powered by the falling waters. These mills were fascinating tributes to Yankee ingenuity and are now monuments of masterful granite and brick works.
The Great Bay Half Marathon course is terrific, with the first and last mile in town and all the rest winding through miles of forested roads; ancient stone walls line many miles. Vernal pools and tidal marshes will be in evidence everywhere. This will be an intriguing route that runs adjacent to wildlife refuges and conservation areas with gorgeous views of Great Bay. There are some hills on the course, but the highest point in the entire town is 281 feet (and only half that along the course), so hills are small and climbs short.
There will be a Health and Fitness Expo in the high school gym the day before the race, on Saturday, March 31 from noon to 7:00 p.m. This will also be an opportunity for number and chip pickup for all runners. Packet pickup will also be available race day morning, April 1. Computer chip timing by Yankee Timing Company will provide accurate and immediate results for all.
They will have 5-year age groups with terrific prizes for the overall winners and age group winners. And new runners are encouraged with an interesting category of award: Loco Shoes will give awards to those who have never run a half marathon before, and also for those who are experiencing their first race (sign up at registration). They will also have special awards for top Newmarket finishers.
There will also be special prizes for those who excel in raising funds for designated charities—the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation and the Derek Johnson Scholarship Fund. The principal sponsor is the Exeter Hospital.
Detailed Notes About the Course
The starting line is adjacent to the Newmarket Elementary School on Durell Drive, just off South Main Street. It is just east of the intersection of Grant Road and Wadleigh Falls Road (the entrance to the school and the parking lot is on Durell Road, off Grant) and 3/10 mile from the high school. From the start line on Durell, runners turn right on Grant Street, then head east on South Main, passing the high school heading toward the center of town. The course crosses the railroad bridge at ½ mile, and then turns left on Beech Street Extension. A right on Elm Street takes runners past the famous Elm Street Murals, which are adjacent to the library. They include interesting views of Newmarket, painted on the foundation wall of an old mill building—a town parking lot now sits above the wall where the mill stood. (I suggest you walk to them before the race so you can appreciate the artistry and town history on display.)
Elm Street intersects North Main just south of the Lamprey River, and the bridge carries runners over the river and above the Lamprey Falls, which powered the entire mill complex. Just beyond the river, the course turns right on Sanborn, followed by a left on Lamprey at 1.3. Runners follow Lamprey briefly with a right on Dame Road and a quiet, scenic, tree-lined country excursion.
Dame Road crosses the town line into Durham at 2.3 miles, and shortly thereafter the road turns from asphalt to hard packed dirt and gravel.
This section is terrific. It runs along a nature sanctuary, with pine trees dominating at first, and then several miles of the course are lined with majestic hemlock groves. The sweeping evergreens will contrast with the flowering of spring buds on the first day of April. This area is an ideal wildlife habitat, with vernal pools and marshes visible among the trees. Granite outcroppings stand like monuments among the evergreens, and the road is lined with those famous stone walls, which appear to be undisturbed since Newmarket was founded in 1727.
This section is quiet and peaceful, with just enough roll to be invigorating. Dame Road intersects Bay Road just after the five-mile mark. A right turn on Bay Road takes runners southwest and parallel to the Great Bay shoreline. Just after turning on Bay Road, the course passes the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory (5.3 miles-Adams Point Road), followed by a quick down and up hill at 5.5. Another hill between 6.3 and 6.8 provides a terrific panoramic view of Great Bay. Bay Road is also lined with stone walls, with open fields for views, including the vista at the crest of the rise at 7.6 miles.
At 7.9 the course passes the Lubberland Creek Nature Conservancy area. There are many trails for running and hiking in this area, and you will want to return to explore. The Great Bay Office of the Nature Conservancy is on the left at 8.2 miles.
At 8.7 miles the course turns left on Cushing Road for a flat, quiet out-and-back on Moody Point; this totals 2.6 miles through a beautiful shoreline development. When runners return to Bay Road they will be at 11.3 with only 1.8 miles to go.
It is only a half mile back to North Main Street, the river, and the mills when they turn back onto Bay Road. Runners have 1.2 to go when they cross the bridge, followed by a right on Elm Street, running past those murals. Runners will turn left on Granite, and right on Pine Street back to Beech Street Extension. Then they will retrace their first mile back to the finish directly in front of the Junior-Senior High School.
Historic Town of Newmarket
Newmarket has a very interesting history and prehistory. The earliest Native American archaeological site was discovered on the Lamprey just above where the town now stands, dating from 8,430 years ago. Settlers came in the mid 1600’s, and the town was incorporated in 1727, then part of Massachusetts. Early on there were dams and mills developed in the region to take advantage of the Lamprey River and its tributaries. Early mills used the power of the river to saw logs, grind flour, make knives and farm implements, make wood products, wagon wheels and carriages, matches, paper, and cloth. The Newmarket Manufacturing Company established the first textile mill in 1823, and eventually there were seven mills powered by the Lamprey River. The Lamprey Falls, where the river drops 54 feet into tidal Great Bay, was where entrepreneurs built these early mills, and where the later, larger mills still stand.
With an outlet to Great Bay and significant manufacturing in the water-powered mills, Newmarket became a significant New England seaport. Great Bay was one of the first major commercial waterways developed by early settlers. Gundalows were flat-bottomed sailing vessels that could carry tons of cargo; they loaded and unloaded at Newmarket and plied the Great Bay for over a century until railroads were developed in the mid to late 1800’s. They carried bricks, lumber, and importantly the cotton that went into the Newmarket mills. Newmarket was instrumental in New England shipping and trade with the West Indies.
The mill buildings in Newmarket are marvels of masonry, with mixed stone and brick buildings dominating the river’s edge. These mills are as much works of art as they are industrial buildings—especially the stone work. The master masons’ work is in such good condition you would never know they are over 150 years old. They are now used for various residential and commercial purposes. For many years they were the home of Timberland Shoes.
Visitors should take time to appreciate these fine examples of New England mill buildings, where Yankee inventiveness took root and flourished. The Macallen Dam (which had one of the earliest fish ladders) is also a terrific example of how water power was harnessed for industry. The river upstream of the dam (visible from the bridge) is beautiful, especially in early spring. Below the dam and across the river lies the Heron Point Wildlife Sanctuary with trails and viewing decks.
Main Street has an interesting mix of historic buildings, over 140 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Restaurants and shops now occupy the lower floors on Main Street and adjacent streets.
Newmarket has just over 8,000 residents, so there is a small town atmosphere. But they enjoy close proximity to major New England cultural centers. Newmarket is easily accessible from Interstate 95 via Route 101 (Newmarket is 6.1 miles from Route 101), and is five miles south of US Route 4 at Durham.
Great Bay is Truly Great
Great Bay is not only a beautiful natural area, but also plays a major role in providing wildlife and marine habitat. It is a mixture of rocky shoreline, salt marshes, open fields, forested waters edge, and tidal waters. It is a major estuary beginning at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. It has very active tides, deep channels, and penetrates inland for miles. And it provides beautiful views from many coastal locations, including Newmarket and Durham. New Hampshire has the shortest coastline of any US state bordering oceans, but there are 150 miles of coastline when Great Bay is added. It is one of the largest estuaries on the east coast and one that goes inland further than most. It has a wide variety of plant and animal life within its banks, and is vitally important to the health of the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean.
Be a Part of the First Great Bay Half Marathon
Check the race Website for details and directions on how to get there. But do get there on April 1st, and help make some history—the first half marathon in historic Newmarket and Durham. Have a great run along Great Bay.