Andy Schachat's On The Run: How big are NH races going to get?
TWO WEEKS ago, New Hampshire road race history was created at the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon/Half Marathon.
There were 948 finishers in the marathon and 3,825 in the half marathon, resulting in the biggest marathon and half marathon ever held in the Granite State.
The combined total, 4,773, was also the first time a New Hampshire road race other than the Cigna/Elliot 5K (held every August in Manchester) had more than 4,500 timed finishers.
The numbers for Rockfest also signified tremendous growth for the event. In 2011, the two races combined for 2,371 finishers. Doubling its size in two years while closing in on 5,000 finishers begs the question: how big are New Hampshire races going to get?
Background information is in order. There are a number of ways to define the size of a race. Some race organizers use the number of entries to define their size while others will estimate the number of participants. Yours truly uses another measuring tool: number of timed finishers. Why? Number of entries are not who races and estimating leaves too much room for interpretation. Timed finishers are an exact number that appear in the results and can be used to compare one race to another. It is not a better or right way to measure the size of a race. It's just the preferred way to do things. Based on number of timed finishers, the largest Granite State race is the Cigna/Elliot race and it has been that way for years.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the Cigna race has drawn about 5,000 finishers, hitting an all time high of 5,475 in 2013. Until the past few years, no other race had more than 2,000 timed finishers. As already mentioned the Smuttynose Rockfest race started growing over the past couple of years and is closing in on Cigna.
Two races in Manchester, the Northeast Delta Dental Shamrock Shuffle and BASC Santa Claus Shuffle, are pulling in numbers. Just under 1,200 finished the first Shamrock Shuffle in 2011, the Santa Claus Shuffle had 2,519 in 2012 and this year's Shamrock race drew 2,724. At the pace they are growing, the Shamrock and Santa races may match Cigna in the next two to three years. In the past 10 years, the Cigna/Elliot race's growth has leveled off and the race has not seen the increases that Smuttynose, Shamrock, or Santa Claus have seen.
It is the growth of the latter three events that are starting to raise eyebrows and raising the question of how big they will become. The people in the best position to answer that question are the race directors, Mike St. Laurent of Smuttynose and John Mortimer of the Shamrock and Santa Claus races. In recent conversations the two talked about what they perceive the future to be.
"We could get to about 8,000" St. Laurent said. "We wouldn't want to go beyond that because it would then lose some of its smaller race feel."
St. Laurent also knows that the growth has got to be managed. "At this point we want to limit our growth to about ten percent each year," St. Laurent said. "We have to be careful about being able to handle the growth. We have to be able to manage things like parking, traffic, and other logistics."
The parking situation is one aspect of growth that St. Laurent is particularly focused on.
"There are still place in the Hampton Beach area we could park cars. However, if the race continued to grow we would have to consider parking elsewhere and using buses to shuttle the runners."
Mortimer thinks there is a possibility of one of the Manchester races hitting five figures. The Santa Claus Shuffle gives its participants Santa suits and Mortimer thinks thousands of runners running or walking in those suits would be quite a sight. "I would love to see 10,000 runners and walkers participating in the Santa Suits," he said. "It would be something to see."
There is one difference between Smuttynose Rockfest and the Manchester events. Because Smuttynose Rockfest offers a half marathon and marathon it draws from a larger geographic base. The larger geographic base means a larger population base. The Shamrock Shuffle is a two mile race while the Santa Claus Shuffle is three miles long. Mortimer knows the geographic base for his events is smaller.
"The question is how large is the running community is the Manchester area," he said. "It will be interesting to see how many runners and walkers we can draw from this area."One thing is for sure about the Smuttynose, Shamrock, and Santa Claus races. They are not getting smaller. Expect the growth to continue. Only time will tell where it will stop.
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Running shorts: Winners of the Smuttynose Rockfest races: Jason Eddy, East Bridgewater, Mass. and Christine Irish, North Yarmouth, Maine in the marathon and Kevin Alliette, Methuen, Mass. and Alexis Jurrlink, Oakland, Nova Scotia, in the half marathon. ... The final Applefest Half Marathon took place on Oct. 5 and Connor Jennings fo Concord and Elizabeth Edwards of Dudley, Mass. were the winners of that Hollis race that closed its books after 31 years. ... Two weeks ago I wrote about former UNH runners who have excelled at road races upon graduation. Since the article was written here is how former UNH runners have done: Casey Carroll was the men's winner of the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol, Erica Jesseman won the Hartford Marathon in Connecticut (and qualified for the 2016 Olympic trials) and Mary Klene won the UNH Homecoming 5K. It was Klene's fifth win in a row at the UNH Homecoming race. ... On Saturday, Oct. 26, the final race of the 2013 Seacoast Series takes place, the Great Bay 5K in Stratham.
Andy Schachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at email@example.com.