The Big Lake Half Marathon—Lake Winnipesaukee in Spring
It gets better and better each year; Big Lake is one of the best New England spring distance races.
Posted Monday, 17 March, 2008
In the past year the state of New Hampshire has seen a growth in major half marathons. Having a number of 13.1 mile races that draw over 1,000 finishers is quite a compliment to the Granite State racing community. When you take a closer look, it is also quite a tribute to one half marathon in particular.
The Big Lake Half-marathon is not that old. On May 10, 2008, the race will be held for the 7th year; but, when looking at the half marathons in New Hampshire, it could be called the Granddaddy of them all. That’s because race director Keith Jordan had a vision earlier this decade.
Jordan, who has earned a reputation in the world of triathlons as one of the best organizers in the country, decided in 2001 that he wanted to start a half marathon in the small town of Alton and hold it in the middle of May. The first reaction from those Jordan consulted was not to have high expectations. Jordan was told that if the race drew 500-600 runners he should be happy.
Jordan would have none of that. By now the running and triathlon world has learned that Jordan only thinks “big”. His Timberman and Mooseman triathlon festivals, weekend long events, are two of the biggest multi-sports events in the nation. Why, Jordan thought, couldn’t the Big Lake Half Marathon be the same kind of race?
And so it came to pass. Big Lake has consistently drawn about 1,500 finishers and has been, since its first year, one of the largest races in New Hampshire.
How did this happen? It starts with Jordan and continues with the family, friends, and others that make up his company, Endorfun Sports. They are driven to produce the best event possible for runners, triathletes, spectators, and probably a few passersby that happen upon the event. No stone is left unturned. Activities that surround an Endorfun Sports event have included live music, fireworks, seminars, pre-race dinners, sponsor expos, kids’ events, and post-race parties that rock.
The locations of an Endorfun sports event are not chosen randomly. Every event is chosen for its scenery. In the case of the Big Lake Half Marathon runners run along Lake Winnipesaukee, ending right on the water at Alton Bay. Are you familiar with Route 11 in Alton? Then you know about the sign that says “Scenic View Approaching” as you near Mount Major. Runners reach that point at about the halfway mark in the race. It might be a good idea to bring a camera along and stop for a moment. A picture from that spot has been seen on many a postcard. If weather permits, the finish line and post-race area also offer beautiful views of the lake. There will be many other scenic views along the way.
While on the subject of the course, let’s take a look at it in great detail. It starts out with some incline in the first mile but the first few miles are relatively flat. Then the rise begins as the midway point approaches. While running on route 11 there is downhill portion, perhaps the fastest point on the course.
Then “the fun begins”, as a turn off route 11 brings runners to route 11D and rolling hills, probably the toughest portion of the course. Rolling hills are always tough to deal with—and at this race there is another interesting challenge. As you travel from mile eight to the eleven mile mark, you start heading back to route 11. A quick glance to your right and you think you are almost back to route 11 and a flat portion of the course. Problem is you’re not as close as you thought. Eventually, though, you get back on route 11 and the last couple of miles are flat and fast. It won’t be the toughest 13.1 miles you have ever run, but it will be far from the easiest. This is part of the charm of this event.
And it may be the most fun you have running a half marathon. That’s because the support people, serving at the water stops will be there to entertain you. Runners aren’t the only ones competing on race day. There are prizes for the best water stop, known as the Big Lake Battle. Runners vote for the best-decorated water stop. Winners have included a stop made to look like a MASH unit and the Elvis impersonators. There will also be music at water stops, along with the water and sports drink that you will want to keep you going. The race takes no responsibility if you linger at a stop because you are enjoying yourself too much.
How well you run will be due in large part to the weather. It is hard to know what to expect from that part of New Hampshire in mid-May. The first three years of the race it was sunny, a bit warm some years, and sometimes windy. However, in 2005 and 2006 it was rainy and cold, not very good for spectators but a fast day for the runners. Be prepared for anything.
Also, be prepared to stuff your face when the race is over. There will be 300 pizza’s, Jordan’s Ice Cream (yes, a family business), and yogurt, along with all kinds of juice and soda. Then sit back and listen to the music of Paul Warnick, the official entertainer of Endorfun Sports events. Do you want to enjoy a sample? Check out www.paulwarnick.com. And if you win an award you really need to stick around. Do you know any other race that gives out bottles of real maple syrup as age group awards?
As for the other particulars, rest assured you are in good hands. The finish line is a mile and half from the start so there will be buses to take bags to the finish line and to take runners back to the start. There will be volunteers galore to help and get you where you need to go, before, during, and after the race.
Other amenities include a unique custom designed T-shirt, professional photographers capturing runners throughout the race, ChampionChip timing by Granite State Race Services, clocks at every mile and finish line announcing. The race has also teamed up with the Maine Half-marathon and Hyannis Half-marathon for the Tri-state series. Run all three events, earn points, and you will win some nice prizes.
While most runners will arrive the day of the race, everyone is invited to attend the carbo loading pasta dinner the night before. If you have never been to Lake Winnipesaukee, come up the day before, do some sight seeing, and attend the dinner. You won’t be sorry.
So, how do Jordan and the Endorfun Sports pull it off? Not only do they work hard but they have strong partnerships with their sponsors, groups that have been with Endorfun Sports from the beginning. Laconia Athletic and Swim Club, Aegis Bike, Metrocast, Fuel Belt, the Citizen Newspaper Company, and a whole host of others have supported the Big Lake Half Marathon for years and make it all possible.
The Big Lake Half also welcomes runners who are part of the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training Program. Many members of this program run Big Lake every year, raising thousands of dollars.
Not surprisingly, the front of the pack has seen some of NH’s best runners take part. Big Lake has been part of the NH Grand Prix series and counts amongst its winner Rod Viens of Sunapee and Scott Rowe of Dover, two of NH’s best. On the women’s side Abi Watras, formerly of Vermont is a two time winner, the only two time winner in the race’s four year history. Viens holds the course record of 1 hour, 11 minutes, 22 seconds with Watras holding the women’s record in 1:21:23.
For more information, go to www.endorfunsports.com. Follow the link to the Big Lake Half-marathon. In the meantime, circle May 10 on your calendar. We’ll see you at the lake.