That's why, on Tuesday night, July 27, thousands of runners from the area will return to Newburyport, Massachusetts for the 2010 edition of the Yankee Homecoming 5K and 10 Mile Road Races. They have a terrific course and great competition, good post race and lots of prizes.
Through the years the race has been a who's who of the New England and Northeast running scene. The men's course record for the ten miler is held by Simon Karori, a familiar sight at the Boston Marathon in the early 1990's. Karori set the men's Yankee Homecoming record in 1994, running 48 minutes, one second. Debbie Mueller set the women's record of 55:04 ten years earlier, in 1984. For a number of years the race was a New England Championship race, bringing in the best clubs to compete. And that tradition continues. Prize money totals $7,950 for individual and team awards, which guarantees the field will always be strong. The 5K history, while younger, has also seen some of the best of the New England running scene as well. Both races have age categories in five year increments with running shoe gift certificates offered as prizes.
This year marks a special year for the race, the 50th running. As part of the golden anniversary two runners who ran the first year, 1960, will run again as John Booras and John DiComandrea run the 5K.
Not surprisingly the race has evolved in half a century. Over the years, as technology has changed the face of road racing, Yankee Homecoming has kept up with the times. From manual timing to chip timing, and now Chronotrack timing, Yankee Homecoming has provided the best services to runners. For a number of years the race has also had an announcer proudly calling out the names of runners as they approach the finish line.
The course accounts for part of the reason for the big turnout. Newburyport is a sightseer's dream. With the sun setting on the old federal and colonial style homes and the run through the waterfront section of town, runners get a wonderful view of a New England seaport town at its best. Runners finish to large cheers as an announcer calls out names. As one writer once put it. "It is a surreal racing experience."
Part of that experience comes from the spectators. The race has been around so long that people take its name for granted. What do you think "Yankee Homecoming" stands for? The race is part of a week long celebration in Newburyport so you can imagine the festive atmosphere that surrounds the race. Folks line the street during the first half of the course when the runners are downtown. In the last five miles the course weaves through a residential section of town. It is a disappointment if there aren't many parties or barbecues during that part of the race. It feels like a mid-summer's smaller version of the Boston Marathon.
Over the years there have been small alterations to the course. Construction at Newburyport High School forced a move to the Nock Middle School.
All this work for an event this size requires an organization committed to doing the job right. In 1960 the race was organized by the Newburyport Jaycees. In 1980 the Newburyport Lions Club took over and has been running things since, with Jon Pearson serving as the race director.
Dozens of volunteers spread out from the registration and start area to points all over town make sure the runners are taken care from start to finish.
It can also not be understated that having an important local business step up as race sponsor is as valuable as any other part of the race. In 2010 Provident Bank returns as sponsor, guaranteeing a successful event.
One obstacle that runners often have to battle is the heat. This is New England and it is mid-summer. Some years the runners have been lucky to have cool conditions but on other occasions, like 2006, the temperature has risen. Not to worry. The Lions Club has official water stops while the spectators also chip in. Almost every mile someone will be out there handing out something to drink but one word of caution. If one of the cups being offered comes from a spectator it may require proof of being 21 or over before consumption.
The first race was in 1960 when 30 runners finished the original distance of eight miles. From the beginning this one had a solid reputation. And as word spread and the running boom grew, so did the Yankee Homecoming road race. A shorter race was added (alternating between 3 miles and 5K) and the race's popularity grew dramatically. In the 1990's the event had 2,200 finishing the ten mile course and around 1,000 in the 3-mile.
This year's Newburyport races will be held on July 27. The race's website is www.yankeerace.com and runners can check out the race on facebook.