I expect those of us who have been running and racing for a number of years all have our favorite races. Reasons might include location, time of year, race management, course layout, and vivid memories from those races. Our favorites may change year to year.
However, my unwavering favorite is the New Bedford Half Marathon, held the third Sunday of March. After a two-year hiatus due to Covid, it is set to be held in four weeks. And I can’t wait to toe the line! This will be the 20th time I’ve run New Bedford – by far the most I’ve run any race. The first time was 1990. Since then, I’ve lived in Vermont and Boston: from Vermont, it’s a destination race, from Boston a long drive.
So why New Bedford?
- It’s a rite of spring – it falls on or about the first day of spring. To be truly ready to race New Bedford requires training perseverance through the coldest months of the year.
- Optimal size – usually around 2,000 runners. And with NB often being in the USATF-NE Grand Prix series, it attracts the top New England runners – often 600+ from USATF clubs – a chance to see friends and fellow competitors at the end of winter. There is a notable “buzz” at the start line.
- It’s very well-organized, run by volunteers – a rarity these days. Has a reasonable entry fee with net proceeds going to local charities. The race committee leaves nothing to chance. Police coverage is superb, aid stations well-staffed, plenty of port-o-lets, and volunteers posted around the course.
- NB has an interesting, single-loop, traffic-free course with about four miles along the water. Weather conditions force some strategic decisions, depending on the wind, a given in March. The course heads generally north for two miles, then south for about 6.5 miles with the final ~5 miles north again. The first two miles are flat, then two of unjulating hills, then four really fast miles of gradual downhill, before four more flat miles that change direction three times. The 13th mile is a bear – first gradually up and then more so! If facing the wind, this tests one’s will for sure! While always tough, at least you know the finish is close! The last .20 miles start downhill, then turn towards the finish, briefly retracing the start of the race. Many fast times have been set here. And it’s where I set my half marathon PR!
- New Bedford is a nice place to visit. Originally a whaling port, it came upon hard times but in more recent years has worked hard to develop the downtown, including the Whaling Museum and a variety of fun eateries.
- The distance. I find the half-marathon a perfect challenge. Whether you’re world class running close to 60 minutes or something much slower, one is nevertheless out there for a while. Preparation pays off — you can’t fake it. Adequate training includes progressively long runs as well as speed sessions, tempos, and plenty of stretching and weight training.
I’ll line up with my Cambridge Sports Union teammates this March, the team I’ve run with for most of those 20 New Bedfords. I’m sure as final announcements are made and the National Anthem sung, I’ll revisit many fond memories of this race. And hopefully I have a few more New Bedford Half Marathons in me!