Ode to the Hometown Road Race: The Shirt Factory Five
To find a quintessential New England hometown road race, look no further than the Shirt Factory Five, the annual October road race in Salem, New Hampshire.
Posted Monday, 16 September, 2002
Somehow there's nothing quite so savory or so satisfying as an old-fashioned hometown road race.
The ingredients go something like this. Start with a solid, well-organized local race. Add a dash of patriotism, sprinkle some fundraising for a local charity, throw in some kids' races. stir in a neighborhood block party, and top it all off with a healthy dollop of hometown pride.
This sweet runner's confection can be found in various flavors on Main Streets around the country, but to find a quintessential New England hometown road race, look no further than the Shirt Factory Five, an annual October road race in Salem, New Hampshire.
The Shirt Factory Five combines all the best elements of the local road race. Although it's just eight years old, the event captures a kind of bygone Norman Rockwell nostalgia, an ode to both the hometown road race and to small-town community.
"It's just a great, low-key event," said runner Julie Hanover. "It's a nice, relaxing atmosphere even though it's a fast and competitive race."
"It's a good race -- a great race -- and a really good family event," said runner Kassie Rubico, who has run the race three times, bringing her children to enjoy the event, too.
Running, of course, is at the center of the Shirt Factory Five, with two fast, flat road races of 5 miles and 5K. But in the best tradition of Main Street road races, the event spills over to embrace the larger community.
There's face-painting, clowns, and a "nickel arcade" where kids can play ring tosses and other carnival games for prizes. There are some 3000 home-cooked meatballs to be consumed by runners and spectators alike. It's a full-blown family festival.
"We try to make this a family day, that's our number-one key theme throughout the whole thing," said event organizer Sonny Tylus. Combined with the fact that the race benefits the Salem Boys & Girls Club, the family focus puts the spotlight on the 100 children in the kid's runs that follow the adult races.
"The kids' races are really the highlight of the day," said Mike Goodwin, executive director of the boys and girls club. "Recreation and fitness is a big part of what we do, and it's important to get the kids involved. It's a tremendous thing to see the looks on the kids' faces as they come through the finish chutes with all the people cheering them on."
Go Out with a Bang
The 5K and 5-mile road races start with a patriotic (and high-decibel) flourish. Bedecked in period Civil War uniforms, half a dozen members of one of the oldest reserve military units in the country fire an authentic Civil War-era cannon to send the runners on their way.
"It's very festive the way they start it with the cannon. It's a nice touch," said Rubico, adding with a laugh: "It scares the crap out of you if you don't know it's coming."
With that booming beginning, the runners embark on their tour of Salem, trailing the sports cars provided by a local car dealership as pace cars for the race. ("People just go nuts for those cars," said Tylus).
Both the 5-mile and 5K courses are built for fast times; in 1986, Lynn Jennings set an American 8K record on this 5-mile course when it was part of an earlier race called the Screen Five. The courses are almost entirely flat with a downhill finish.
"They do a good job of separating the 5K and 5-mile courses," said Rubico. "It's really well marked, really well organized."
Finish with a Meal
Like the best hometown road races, this is an event that prides itself nearly as much on its post-race party as it does on its running. Runners routinely praise both the quality and quantity of the food, much of it prepared by hand by the staff of the Shirt Factory, the title sponsor and the folks responsible for the event's unique long-sleeve shirt designs.
"I've got to hand it to them, they really know what they're doing," said Tylus. "They come down as early as 5 in the morning, and almost the whole staff comes and cooks."
"The food is really good," said Rubico. "You don't always get that at races, but this is like an entire meal."
In other words, the Shirt Factory Five, like all the best hometown races, leaves a good taste in your mouth. The race provides all the pleasures of quality racing in a smalltown atmosphere amid a glow of family fun and community service.
"It's quite an enjoyable experience," said Hanover. "If you're going to do a race in the northeast this fall, this is one of the better ones to consider."
The Shirt Factory Five website
Oct. 27, 2002
Approximately 250 runners in each the 5M and 5K
5M walk, kids' races