Andy Schacht's Andy on the Run: Ranking NH's most prestigious events
March 22. 2014 12:40AM
ONE WEEK ago, I stood at the start and finish line in New Bedford, Mass., as the announcer for the New Bedford Half Marathon. Over the years, the New Bedford Half has drawn some of the world's best runners, building a reputation as one of the most prestigious 13.1-milers in America. As I took in the atmosphere, it made me wonder: What are New Hampshire's most prestigious races?
Prestige can be defined many ways, but for me the best tool is what I call the "Boston Marathon measuring stick." Years ago, a friend of mine told me the Boston Marathon did not need elite runners to be special. His argument was that the race had become big enough to transcend elite competition - that the event itself was the attraction, and that without elite runners, we would devote all our attention to runners whose abilities and personal stories were relatable to our own.
My counter argument was that Boston needed both elite runners and a large field to be prestigious. Without the elites, it would be little more than a big race. (At the time, it wasn't the biggest race in the area.) And if it was an elite-only race, there would only be a few dozen runners, and most of us wouldn't give it much attention. Combine the two, an elite field and a large race, and you will have an event that stands above all else, I opined.
What about history? It helps, but it's not required for a race to be considered prestigious. The Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, is a good example. In its first year, 1998, Beach to Beacon was Maine's largest race and attracted some of the best runners in the world. Right off the bat, B2B was Maine's most prestigious race.
Here's my list of New Hampshire's five most prestigious road races/triathlons.
5. USA Track and Field-New England Grand Prix: OK, this is a series, not a race. But every year, it seems, New Hampshire lands one or two events on the schedule and those events instantly gain prestige. In 2013, the Hollis Fast 5K and Manchester City Marathon were on the schedule. This year, the Merrimack's Ribfest Five Miler and Manchester City are Grand Prix events.
Why is being on the Grand Prix schedule prestigious? New England Grand Prix races bring a faster and larger field than usual to the event. That faster field adds a certain flair that draws attention from media within and outside of New Hampshire. New England Grand Prix events also create more buzz on social media than most other races. In 2013, the Hollis Fast 5K was the fastest 5K in New Hampshire history. This year, the race is not in the series and therefore is almost certain to lose that "something extra." On the other hand, Ribfest will make its first appearance in the series and and as a result will attract a bigger spotlight.
4. Cranmore Hill Climb/Loon Mountain: Being a New England championship is one thing. Being a national championship - that is something different. Since 2007, in odd-number years the Cranmore race has been the USATF National Mountain Running Championship. The top American mountain runners have gathered in North Conway for this event during its national title years and have fought for spots on the USA team that has competed in the world championships.There's something in the air when a national title is on the line, even if it's in a niche such as mountain running. Yes, the fields for such events tend to be small - after all, it is still mountain running - but carrying the national championship moniker is enough to overcome the size. The rules change every year for USATF national mountain championships. In odd-numbered years, the race is an up/down run, for which Cranmore is well-suited. In even-numbered years, the race is point to point, base to summit. In the past few cycles, the Mount Washington Road Race has been the national championship in even-numbered years. This year, the honor goes to Lincoln's Loon Mountain, giving that race its turn in the spotlight as a national championship and the honor of being on this list.
3. Cigna/Elliot Corporate 5K: This Manchester event is where speed meets size. Using the number of timed finishers as a measuring tool, Cigna/Elliot is the largest race in the Granite State, often totaling more than 5,000 official finishers. In front of the pack is the fastest field that runs a record-eligible course in the state (the Hollis Fast 5K course has too much of a net decline for USATF records). Twice in New Hampshire road race history have runners broken 14 minutes on a record-eligible 5K course, and both times were at Cigna/Elliot. The race has been around more than 20 years, and every winner has broken 15 minutes. There may not be another race in New Hampshire this year that sees a runner break 15 minutes. It's also quite a sight to see thousands line up at the start on Elm Street. That's why the speed/size combo makes Cigna/Elliot prestigious.
2. Timberman Triathlon: If New Hampshire had more triathletes than pure runners, Timberman probably would be No. 1 on this list. It's a two-day event at Elacoya State Park in Gilford. The sprint race, held on the first day, is big but doesn't attract a national field. Then there is the half-ironman on Day 2. Regional champions, national champions and world champions make their way to the Granite State to race. Generous prize money turns this event into a spectacular weekend for triathletes who travel from all over the country to race. Trust me: The Timberman Triathlon Festival is a major player on the national triathlon scene.
1. Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race: This is a race that takes advantage of its history. The first Mount Washington Road Races took place from 1936-38, and even with a 23-year break before it resumed on an annual basis, it is the state's oldest race. It has attracted Olympians, world champions, Boston Marathon winners. It has served as the national mountain running championship on a number of occasions, has been the subject of multiple documentaries, essays, and magazine articles, and it has its own hallof fame. Its list of winners is a who's-who of New Hampshire and New England running. There is nothing like it in the state. It is our most prestigious event.
RUNNING SHORTS: Was it the fact that the Dover now had its own series, or was it the appeal of a pub crawl? The first Run Before You Crawl 5K, kicking off the new Dover Road Race Series on March 15, had more than 700 finishers, making it one of the city's biggest races ever. Dover's Nathan Huppe and Portsmouth's Rhyan Radack were the winners. ... On the same day as Run Before You Crawl, there were more than 400 finishers for the Holy Grail 5K in Epping and more than 350 finishers for the Clover Run 5K in Portsmouth. The next day, 780 runners and walkers completed the St. Paddy's Five Miler in Portsmouth. That's quite a weekend for the Seacoast. ... Hollis' Nick Karwoski finished second at the New Bedford Half Marathon. Always great to see New Hampshire runners do well at big events outside the state.
Andy Schacht's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.