This was my first time running the Great Bay Half Marathon. I had heard about the hilly course, and I did drive most of the course prior to the race so I had the opportunity to check it out for myself.
I’ll talk a little more about the course further along, but let’s get to the basics. I originally had not intended to run this race this year; however, after the cancellation of the Half at the Hamptons in February due to the weather, we were given the opportunity to run this race for a discount so I took advantage of it.
The race is largely through the back roads of Newmarket, NH. Newmarket is a quaint New Hampshire town with a population of just over 8,000 people located in the southeastern part of the state. Since I don’t live that far away, I went to Newmarket High School on Saturday to pick up my race bib and t-shirt. This was well organized, and I was in and out very quickly.
On Sunday, my wife and daughters dropped me off as they headed over to the water station at mile 4.5 to help out the volunteers from the Coastal Athletic Association (there were five water stations throughout the course). I arrived just over an hour before start time. There was music being played, announcements being made and plenty of bathroom facilities available. The race also provided complementary bag check service since the finish line was down the road from the start line. Overall, everything was very well organized and was a welcoming experience.
The race starts on the edge of downtown and goes through a residential neighborhood before heading out of town. There is a small hill at the beginning, but nothing to be too concerned about. After heading out of town, we turned onto Dame Road, which starts off as a paved road through a residential neighborhood. This road then transitions into a hard-packed dirt road for about 3-4 miles. It is also on this road that the rolling hills became a regular part of the course.
After leaving the dirt road around mile 6, we turned back out on to the pavement and the more significant climbs and descents. Up until this point, I had been running with a friend and training partner at around an 8:44 pace. With the hills, however, I decided to dig in and up the pace. For the remainder of the race, I ran an 8:00 or just under 8:00 pace and felt great. Along this part of the course, the views began to open onto Great Bay, which was a great distraction.
Once we got closer to town, we did a quick out and back through a residential neighborhood. The most surprising part of this course is that on the map it appears that it will be quick out and back. When running it, however, it is much longer than expected. Upon leaving this neighborhood, there are a few more rolling hills and ends with one last bump up before turning into the downhill to the finish line.
At this point, I was still feeling great, so I decided to add a little kick into the finish line. Passing people going into the finish always feels great. I crossed the finish line with a net time of 1:50:02 and a pace of 8:24. This gave me a new half marathon PR by more than 1:10/mile place (I completed the Seacoast Half Marathon in November with a 9:37 pace).
The volunteers and police did an incredible job keep the streets safe and relatively traffic free. The course was well marked, and all the volunteers at the water stations were incredibly friendly and provided great support. In addition, there were pockets of musicians along the course playing instruments and singing. At one point, there also was a group of belly dancers performing. All this just was a bonus above and beyond any expectations for a half marathon.
This was definitely an enjoyable experience at a great race. I highly recommend that anyone looking to add a spring half marathon to their schedule next spring should sign up for theGreat Bay Half Marathon next April.