"These legs conquered the hills of the Great Bay Half Marathon." This was the phrase predominantly displayed across the neon yellow long-sleeve tech shirt for our New Hampshire race. Set in Newmarket, NH, a quaint, historic town, we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into since this was a last minute addition to our racing schedule (Kristin had a work-related conference in Boston that we thought we'd capitalize on). After talking to some locals and volunteers at the expo, they confirmed the challenging hills, and noted that the back half of the course is really challenging. Although this is something you never want to hear 12 hours before a race, it did help us mentally prepare for what we were in store for. Race morning we welcomed the 11 am start time, which was much later than most races, but gave us a chance to get some much needed rest, eat a normal breakfast, relax before the race, and allow the remaining snow on the course to melt (the area got hit with a freak April Fool's snowstorm of ~4 inches two days before the race).
Since there is little parking in the small town of Newmarket, we were advised to park near the finish and take a complimentary shuttle (we got to the start on time, but shuttles were running about every 20 minutes or so). The first half of the course felt like an uphill climb with rolling hills, but all in all, not too bad. We went through some very pristine, wooded areas, including a 1.5 mile section on compact dirt that gave the legs a break. The second half of the course was very windy (~19mph), much hillier and our legs proved that the first half may have been tougher than we initially thought, and that we probably should have paced ourselves better. Miles 7-8 were very scenic with some fabulous views of the bay area. Mile 10 was the beginning of a 2 mile loop, which was fairly deceiving as it looked downhill on the way out (oh, no we have to run up this on the way back?), but once we made the turnaround past the barrage of belly-dancers we could clearly see that while the hills were rolling, most of the toughest hills were actually on the way out (mini-internal celebration; huge external smile)! The last mile offered a few more challenging hills, but the finish was downhill and fast. Considering how tough we found the course (the hilliest course we have ever run by Kristin’s account) we did surprisingly well and were both quite happy with a finish of 1:52. The post race pizza-palooza (huge triangle slices fresh cut by volunteers) was dynamite!
Highlights: The belly-dancers at mile 11 dressed in traditional garb with some really funky music were incredibly entertaining and made everyone smile (runners and fans alike). The finish line area was well packed (2-3 deep) with fans shouting words of encouragement which gave us a little something extra to push through the final 0.5 mile.
Tip: Arrive 20 minutes earlier than you think you need to if you plan to use the shuttle. Energy gel was handed out at mile 6.5, but the next water stop wasn't until mile 7.0, after a seriously hard uphill - so our advice is to grab the gel but wait until you see the water station to tear it open. Given the late start time, do a test run a few weeks before hand where you get up have a full breakfast in the morning and then eat a snack before a relatively long run in the late morning/early afternoon.
Day 1 (Saturday):
Bob's clam hut, located in Kittery, Maine, this gem featured on diners drive-ins and dives is a very short drive from Portsmouth (just across the Piscataqua River bridge). We both tried the lobster roll (make sure ask for the mayonnaise on the side and get yourself a container or two of the fresh tartar sauce). The lobster roll is essentially fresh lobster pieces in a toasted hot-dog like bun and is simply delicious! Try a side of sweet potato fries (crisscross cut and well seasoned) and some homemade coleslaw (nice and tangy flavor and not overly doused in mayonnaise). Good spot for some local lunch flavors.
Red Hook brewery tour (Portsmouth). First off, a big caution that tours are supposedly offered every hour on the hour from 11am-4pm, but the 3pm tour didn't start until 3:30pm. The tour was very basic and besides seeing some of the brewery equipment (through glass windows) the tour is more about free samples than the actual brewing process. Once in the sampling room the guide did a great job explaining the origins of the beers we were sampling as well as providing some interesting tid-bits about each (did you know that extra hops were added to beer made in England to be shipped to India as the brewers expected some of the bitterness to dissipate during shipping, hence the birth of IPA: India Pale Ale). The sampling room was a bit unusual as everyone on the tour passed pitchers around the room and filled our own glasses (free sample glass to take home too). Samples were very generous, but we were not overly impressed with the tour/tasting.
U.S.S. Albacore is a decommissioned submarine that is located on dry land just outside the city of Portsmouth. Tours are offered inside the sub ($5 for adults), but a quick stop at this attraction for a walk around the warship and a few photos should suffice most curious tourists.
Radici, in downtown Portsmouth is a fairly trendy casual restaurant offering a variety of dishes with an emphasis on Italian inspired-fare. We enjoyed a pre-race meal consisting of: the fig and almond salad (fresh greens with roasted walnuts and smoked prosciutto pieces in a tasty basil dressing, on the side of course), a healthy serving of complimentary bread with a fantastic olive oil and garlic dip, and a very interesting take on spaghetti and meatballs (polpette pasta noodles, flat almost like egg noodles, with three huge veal meatballs stuffed with aged provolone in a basil marinara sauce). The meatballs were absolutely fantastic and are highly recommended.
Tip: Unless you are insanely hungry go for the half portion of the pasta dishes, as the serving sizes are generous.
Annabelle’s Ice Cream is a staple sweet-shop in Portsmouth and with good reason. After a long day of travel and touring we opted to take our ice cream to go and were very impressed. The shop is famous for its’ New Hampshire maple syrup and walnut blend for good reason - pure heaven in a cup! It was similar in flavor to butter pecan with some serious New England pizzazz. Make sure to save room after dinner to try this local treat.
Day 2 (Sunday - Race Day):
Portsmouth Brewery, voted the #6 best restaurant in the entire state of New Hampshire, this brew-pub offers a ton of locally brewed beers and some great food. The food offerings were beyond typical bar food and included unique items like the bratwurst burger (a bratwurst patty grilled to perfection, topped with sauerkraut and stone ground mustard top a pretzel roll which was tasty but very filing) and some dynamite clam chowder (white). The brewery also offers a healthy selection of beers (watch the alcohol content as most of the beers are 7%+). Unfortunately, the restaurant does not offer a beer menu, so instead of struggling with which beer to choose we opted to try "the paddle" which included a 2oz sample of several Portsmouth and Smuttynose beers (Portsmouth Brewery’s sister brewery) and then chose our two favorites to pair with our lunch.
Tip: This restaurant always appeared crowded, but check the seating at the bar, which offers full food service from some very entertaining local bartenders.
Portsmouth Harbor Trail self-guided walking tour. Check online for a map of the three different walking trails (marked with blue Portsmouth walking tour signs). While we weren't always sure who/what we were locating at, the self guided walking tour was very enjoyable and is highly recommended. A lot of very cute shops to browse as you check out this quaint port town. If you venture this way during the peak season (July through October) guided tours are offered for $8/adult.
Tip: Bathrooms are scarce in this small town, but Starbucks offers a central location (directly across the street from the North Church) and free/clean bathrooms in the back of the store.
New Hampshire Half Marathon Medals
April 3, 2011: Great Bay Half Marathon