1st Run in Lowell: Starting the New Year Off Right

One of my biggest quirks can also be considered as one of my greatest assets. I'm a planner. I like having a schedule and sticking to it. I love getting a training plan and transferring it onto every calendar in my house. I can tell you what I did last Tuesday and what I will be doing three Wednesdays from now. That's why I can tell you exactly where I'll be at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 1, 2011—the starting line of the second annual 1st Run in Lowell, Massachusetts. And another thing I can tell you for certain... It's going to be one heck of a good time.

When race director Sean Donnelly suggested to some running buddies his idea to create a great local race on New Year's Day, they were all ears. If you're familiar with any of the other events Donnelly heads up—like the Hynes Road Race that is part of the Wild Rover Series—you might be able to detect a theme. He loves to run and he likes to have a blast doing it; during and after the event, but especially after.

That doesn't mean this isn't a serious event by any means. The 1st Run is above and beyond any other holiday-themed race. With two fast and flat courses to choose from; cool race schwag and a post-race catered party that can't be beat, Donnelly's dedication to the local running community shines through.

Case in point: When last year's participants requested more hats and shirts, Donnelly listened. In 2011, the first 750 registered runners are guaranteed to receive a commemorative 1st Run hat. Register before December 10, 2010, and you'll receive a technical wicking race shirt as well. But that's not the only benefit of planning ahead—runners who sign up before December 15th will sport personalized bibs on race day your name on your bib for the first race of the year! You get all that for only $30. Talk about bang for your buck! Register now at http://www.lowell1strun.com/

The Merrimack Valley is one of the hotbeds for running in the entire USA, and also a hotbed of innovation. And here runners know how to race well and have fun!

Choose Your Distance: 5K or 10K
Both the 5K and 10K races start and end at the Lowell Elks, 40 Old Ferry Road, giving you a place to stay warm before the race and a hot spot to relax after all your hard work. Ample parking is available within walking distance to the Elks, which is easily accessible from points north and south, right off Pawtucket Boulevard.

Both races start at 11:00 a.m., with 5K runners doing one loop and 10K racers covering the course twice. After a short warm-up on Old Ferry Road, racers turn right onto Varnum Ave. and can settle into their pace for 1 ? miles before turning right onto Pawtucket Blvd. Just as your lungs are starting to burn, distract yourself with views of the Merrimack on your left before turning back onto Old Ferry Road and giving it that final push to the finish.

Runners in the 10K will follow the same route, except they'll take a small detour onto Bedford Avenue and Jennifer Road just before mile 4 of the second loop. The great thing about this two loop course is that you can learn the roads the first time around, meaning you're prepared to kick it in for the second loop. And if you pace yourself properly with a 5K racer on that first loop, you just might start the year off with a personal best! It will certainly be a PR for the year! For maps of the 5K and 10K courses, visit http://www.lowell1strun.com/. Both races are chip-timed with mats at the start and finish using the lightweight ChronoTrack B-Tag; Yankee Timing will be on hand to provide instant race results. Timing clocks placed at each mile will also help to keep you on pace—whatever your goal.

And you'll know for sure that you're ringing the New Year with style when you get to that finisher's mat. Seeing the professional set up of the finish line bridge and timing clock combined with hearing the familiar voice of New England's most-traveled race commentator and columnist Andy Schachat as he calls your name will make you glad you made this your first run of the year.

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