I recently had the honor of speaking to a New Hampshire running club about how the Granite State road race/triathlon world has changed in the past 20-25 years. I thought I would share my findings.
A couple of things to know about the local road race/triathlon scene. Participants tend to re-cycle every five to seven years. A look back at race results over the past two decades shows that within that time frame participants tend to come and go and a new batch of runners seem to appear. As a result the changes in the local racing scene can also be broken down in a similar fashion.
1990-1995: THE END OF THE OLD SCHOOL ERA. Prior to the 1990's the road race scene was mostly made up of serious competitors. The most common distances for races were longer than 5K's, typically five miles to 10K's. There were nowhere near as many races so it was common for runners to travel one to two hours to an event. In the first half of the 1990's this trend started to phase out. More races were appearing on the horizon and 5K's started to pop up. The internet was in its infancy so the best way to find out about races was by reading magazines like New England runner or picking up entry forms at races.
A race that had 250-300 was considered large in New Hampshire. There were a couple of major events in the Granite State, the Chubb Life Ten Miler/5K in Concord and the Market Square Day 10K in Portsmouth. The Cigna 5K in Manchester was just coming into its own before it developed into the state's largest race. Top local runners included Art Sorrell, Laconia, Guy Stearns, Newcastle, and Gina Sperry, Durham. The state also boasted two Olympians, Newmarket's Lynn Jennings and Durham's Cathy O'Brien.
There was only one timing company of significance in New Hampshire during this time frame, Granite State Race Services. They timed racing using the "manual" system of someone pressing a button on a machine every time a runner or walker crossed the finish line.
1996-2000: 5K's, FITNESS, AND CHARITIES. In the last half of the 1990's the state saw a major expansion of 5Ks. Across the state health clubs were seeing a growth in membership. This health conscious crowd was looking for ways to exploit their new found fitness and found road races to their liking. However, this group of new runners was not interested in longer distances and 5Ks were to their liking.
At the same time the Granite State saw a growth in participants a new attitude about organizing races was created. Races were being created as fund raising events and organizers believed the more the merrier. Since these new events had to appeal to a larger base of participants the races went after the new runners who were looking for races. An "anybody can complete a 5K" attitude paired new runners with new races and the number of 5Ks in New Hampshire grew.
The top male runners in this time frame included Stearns and Mike O'Brien. Cathy O'Brien started showing up at more local races, and winning them, and was joined by Newmarket's Lisa Brady.
The Cigna 5K started topping the 5,000 finisher mark and was clearly the state's biggest race. In Portsmouth a new race, Runner's Alley/Redhook, joined Market Square as races with over 1,000 finishers.
Chip timing was coming into play at the end of this time frame.
2000-2005-INTERNET AND THE INTRODUCTION OF TRIATHLONS. The internet was around in the last part of the 1990's but it wasn't until the new century when its impact hit full force. The internet opened a new way of communicating and allowed runners and walkers a quick and easy way to find out about events. The result was a growth in numbers as more people started running and walking at events. It became more common to see races with 500-750 participants. The Cigna race continued to be the largest event but the Rock N Race in Concord came onto the scene and started pulling in big numbers. It was also during the end of this time frame that the Seacoast Series was created, a phenomenon that would sweep that region of the state. By 2005 there would be five or six races that topped 1,000 finishers.
Prior to 2000's there were a few triathlons in New Hampshire but nothing compared to what surfaced during this era. Gilford's Keith Jordan started the Timberman and Mooseman triathlon festivals and the two events would become major players on the national multi-sport scene. The success of these races created a new generation of triathletes in the state.
The top runners included three former Keene State University runners: Wilson Perez, Mark Miller and Mary Proulx.
Chip timing came into vogue during this era and any large race in the state went with this new technology.
2005-PRESENT-RACE MANAGEMENT, SELL OUTS, THE "1,000 CLUB", THE SERIES. Since this period encompasses more than five years it is the period of the most growth. In the past few years New Hampshire has seen the emergence of professional race management companies. As races have grown the management companies have produced major events throughout the state. The result has been an explosion of large races. In 2012 there were 25 races that were part of the "1,000 Club", the nickname given to races that had over 1,000 finishers.
Part of the growth can be attributed to a number of race series that have popped up. The Seacoast Series has been joined by the Will Run For Beer Series and the Capital Area Race Series as hundreds of participants raced for souvenir jackets.
Use of the internet became more than just a publicity tool. Online registration created an easier way to sign up. That led to more races selling out their entries which created some new stresses. Race organizers became inundated with requests for entries after events sold out and runners showing up on race day became frustrated when told they could not sign up.
The Granite State has also fallen in line with the rest of the country in seeing a couple of trends. The first has been the expansion of half marathons. Runners have turned out in big numbers to run 13.1 miles at events all over the state. New Hampshire has also joined the nation on one particular day: Thanksgiving. The New Hampshire numbers have been staggering on Turkey Day as thousands have shown up on that holiday all over the state.
The more things change the more they stay the same. The Cigna race, now called Cigna/Eliot is still the largest race in terms of timed finishers. However, Adventure Runs, like obstacle course events and color runs (when people get non-toxic paints sprayed on them as they run) have drawn thousands.
Top runners over the past few years have included Dover's Scott Rowe, Nottingham's Brandon Newbould, and Walpole's Heidi Westerling.
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Running shorts...Congrats to Rochester's Eric Couture and Larissa Park of Somerville, Mass., winners of the May 26 Runner's Alley/Redhook 5K in Portsmouth. ... Also fun to report when a New Hampshire runner wins a race out of state so give it up for Dover's Nathan Huppe who finished first on May 19 at the Kittery Fire Association 5K in Kittery, Maine. ... A couple of events coming up next weekend worth mentioning. The Market Square Day 10K takes place on June 9. On June 10 Windham is the site for the Windham Flat 'n Fast 5K.
Andy Schachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org