For some it starts in the morning, for others in early afternoon, but one thing is for sure: The New England running community gets very distracted on the last Tuesday of July. Whether it’s all day or for a few hours in the afternoon, runners stop concentrating on their work and start focusing on their evening activity. That’s because the last Tuesday of July means only one thing to a New England runner: it is time to head to Newburyport, Massachusetts for the Yankee Homecoming Ten Mile and 5K races.
What started as a race with 30 to 50 will now celebrate its 50th year of existence with over 3,500 runners. That’s a lot of people who will be deviating from their normal weekday routine to travel to Newburyport for this road race. For many it means taking a day off from work or leaving work early. For everyone it is a special “can’t miss” day on the regional road race calendar.
How has this come to pass, that a weekday road race would become so big? Perhaps the race’s website describes it best when it states, “It is a picture perfect location. Imagine a beautiful summer evening in the equally beautiful summer town of Newburyport. The Yankee Homecoming will once again live up to its billing as a New England classic race. Imagine hundreds of runners in both the 5k and the 10 mile, enjoying a beautiful course through the bucolic seaside town, running along the ocean for several miles before winding through a state park and upscale neighborhoods.”
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 Yankee Homecoming record in 1994, running 48 minutes, one second. Debbie Mueller holds the women’s record at 55:04. For many years, including 2008, the ten mile race has been part of the New England Grand Prix series.
Not that the 5K has to take a back seat. The 5K has a younger history but has also seen some of the top New England runners participate. In fact the 5K has become so popular that in 2008 the 5K had more finishers than the ten-miler (1,578 to 1,464).
Prize money is factor in the appeal for the ten-miler, with $500 awarded to the top finisher, $400 to top master, and other cash prizes given out to top overall and age group finishers. The 5K gives out gift certificates to the top finishers, and both races have age categories in five-year increments.
The course accounts for part of the reason for the big turnout. Newburyport is a sightseers dream. With the sun setting on the old federal style homes, the course runs through the waterfront section of town, and 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.”
A lot of that experience comes from enthusiastic spectators. The race is part of a week-long homecoming celebration in Newburyport, so you can imagine the festive atmosphere that surrounds the race. Folks line the streets 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 are not many parties or barbecues during that part of the race. It feels like a mid-summer’s smaller version of the Boston Marathon.
While rich in history, the race has also kept up with the times. In the mid-1990’s it was one of the first to place its applications on the internet and advertise on line. In 2009, for the seventh year in a row, the race will be timed using the Winning Chip timing system, resulting in quick and accurate results. The race also had to adapt to construction at Newburyport High School, which served as the start/finish area for years. For a few years the course was changed to finish at another school in town. When the construction was completed the race went back to the high school and, last year, returned to its roots by finishing on the field behind the high school. This finish allows spectators the option of lining the course or sitting in the stands to cheer.
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 Race Director. Dozens of volunteers spread out from the registration and the starting line to points all over town to make sure the runners are taken care of from start to finish.
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 to become a potential problem. Not to worry, the Lions Club has official water stops while 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.
And when all is said and done there are plenty of post-race refreshments. From ice cream to hot dogs, to the cookies, and a variety of liquids, runners can celebrate their 5K or ten-mile run in fine fashion.
This year’s Yankee Homecoming Ten Mile and 5K races will be held on July 28. Need to know more? The race’s website is www.yankeerace.com.