In order to check New Hampshire off my list, I chose a small race in the country. Sept 8, 2013 was the second running of the Applecrest Half Marathon, which started and finished at Applecrest Farm Orchard in Exeter, NH.
They have pretty nice website for a small race www.applecresthalf.com. I signed up for this race about 2 weeks before the race. Their online registration is done through Active.com. Their website had all the basic info you need regarding start time, course, packet pickup, aid stops, port-a-pottys, etc. Only one small inn was listed on the website, which was already full. But I was able to find a couple options within a few miles of the race. All packet pick-up is day of the race, which I like not having to worry about getting there in time for an expo the day before the race. Realizing this is a relatively new race with a small field, I was not expecting a lot of frills.
On the road:
I drove up from New York City and stopped in Boston for a little bit on the way up. The drive was not too bad. About 5 hr total. Exeter is about 1 hr outside of Boston. I arrived at my hotel the Exeter Inn around 9. The women at the front desk was really pleasant. I asked to get a late check-out so I could come back to the room for a shower and nap before I headed home. She said it was no problem to check-out at 1pm. It is a pretty small town and most places were closed by the time I got there. Luckily, the restaurant at the hotel was still open so I ordered dinner at the bar. The food was great. I had a steak salad with heirloom totatoes. You could tell it was definitely locally grown farm fresh ingredients. There was a wedding at the hotel that day which had just ended. A few of the guests were hanging out in the bar. After a few laughs with (at) some of the wedding guests who clearly enjoyed the open bar I headed up to bed.
Morning of the race:
The race starts at 8:30 am. The hotel I was staying at was only a few miles from the start so I woke up at 7:30. I splashed some cold water on my face and got dressed. I had my standard pre-race breakfast of powered donuts and orange juice, enough carbs to give me some energy and light enough not to upset my stomach. I left the hotel around 7:45 am. That gave me plenty of time to get there, even stopping at Walgreens to get headphones which I realized I forgot at home. I pulled into the farm and was directed to a field to park on. They recommended bring shoes to walk to the start in because the grass is usually wet. But they don't have baggage check, so I guess you need to have family or a friend hold your shoes. Luckily, the grass was not wet and it was not a far walk to the registration tent so I just wore my sneakers. I was able to easily pick up my bib and my t-shirt. I decided to walk back to car and throw my shirt in the car so I did not have to carry it the whole race.
It was small field, less than 500 people. The start was on a dirt road on the farm. It is on a farm so there is plenty of room to warm-up and stretch. They had about 6-8 port-a-potties at the start. If you needed to pee, you better go at the start. The only port-a-potty on the course was at mile 8. The race start was pretty smooth. After a few announcements, I started within seconds of the gun time.
As I said we started on a dirt road. That lasted only about a 1/4 mile then we were on paved roads. It is a loop course. You run through rural roads surrounded by fields and orchards. There was some rolling hills, but it was not too bad. There were a few challenging hills around mile 10 and 12. The roads were open to traffic, but it was pretty rural so there were not many cars driving by. They had cones making a lane for the runners and course marshals at the bigger turns.
They had mile markers ever mile. There were only 5 aid stops at miles 2.5, 5, 8, 10, and 12. They had water at all the stops, gatorade at 1 of the stops and Hammergel at 1 stop. 1 more water stop would have helped 3 miles is a long way to go for me without water. If I had to do this race again I probably would wear a hydration belt. The only port-a-potty was at mile 8. Luckily, I felt fine this race and did not need to stop at all. But if I had 8 miles would have been a long way to go. But again, it is a small race and this is only the 2nd year they are doing it so you have to keep your expectations low. The crowd support was pretty much non-existent. I can probably count the number of spectators on my fingers. There were a few dozen people waiting at the finish for family or friends. If you are looking for a race with a lot of crowd support cheering you on, this is not the race for you.
Overall I felt pretty good for the first half of the course. There were a few rolling hill, but nothing that scared me. I was tracking myself with Mapmyrun on my phone. I was on pace to run under 2:10 because I was averaging around 9:40-9:50 min per mile. The benefit to fewer water stops is that you don't lose time stopping for water. I started to feel a little tired around mile 7. I did not bring my gels and I was regretting that. I hate the taste of gels. They are so sweet. So sometimes I like to delude myself and pretend I don't need to take them for only a half marathon. But this race definitely reminded me that I should just suck it up and have at least one on the course. Around mile 9, my phone turned itself to airplane mode in my pocket which cut off my tracking. I did not realize this until around mile 10. I debated resetting the tracking, but I figured it was only 3 more miles so why bother. Unfortunately with a large hill between miles 10 and 11, no gels for an energy boost, and no tracking, my pace slowed down considerably. The sun came out in full force and the heat of the day started to set in for the last 3 miles. I was definitely regretting not bringing my own water. I usually will try to skip the last water station in order cut a few seconds off my time. But I was dragging. So glad I stopped and drank a cup of water and dumped one on my head. It gave me the pick me up I needed to finish strong. I was able to pick up the pace for the last half mile and I was so happy when they announced my name as I turned the last corner to cross the finish line. I ended up finishing in 2:13:04, that is a 10:10 min/mi pace. It is my best half this year but still a little bit of a let down. I'm really hoping to get under a 10 min/mi pace for a half marathon.
All finishers get a cute, little, apple-shaped medal. The t-shirts are tech material but a little flimsy. They had white and green ones in men's sizes and hot pink ones in women's sizes. I opted for the men's tee because the smallest size they had left in women's was a large and I liked the color of the men's better. The finish line food was really good. They had bottle water waiting for you right at the finish. A few feet away there was home-made apple pie and ice cream, Stonyfield greek yogurt, apple cider donuts, and of course apples. All finishers could get a Smuttynose beer, which I decided to skip.
The appeal of this race is the post-race harvest festival. They have pick-your-own apples, blueberries, pumpkins, and flowers. It would be a fun day for families with small kids. For the kids, they had hayrides, a petting zoo and face-painting. Apparently, there was an antique tractor show later that day. The farmers market had a great selection of fruits and vegetables, homemade jams, baked goods, juices, and apple cider. The folk singers that were preforming were cute. I have to say this city girl is a real sucker for this kitschy "day in the country" kind of stuff.
After the race, I headed back to the hotel. I was able to get a shower and a hour long nap before I had to check-out. I drove to Hampton Beach which is about 20 min away from Exeter. I took a quick walk on the beach. The Hampton Beach Seafood Festival going on there. It was OK. You had to pay $5 for a wristband, but there was not much going on. They had some music and a few craft stands. The food vendors were a bit crowded and it was kind of a mess. There was not really anywhere to sit. I ended up siting on a curb to eat my lunch. The food was descent, but I was not blown away. I grabbed a lobster roll and some lobster bisque then headed back home.
My final thoughts on the race:
My take home message from this race. Don't skip the gels. They do really make a difference. Keep the pace tracking on the whole race. A few bad miles can ruin the race. It was nice little race. I would say come for the farm activities, skip the seafood festival.
Pre-race info- B+
Packet pickup- A
Overall organization- B-
Course support- B-
Swag/post-race food- A
Surrounding area- B-
If I lived in the area I probably would do this one again, but I don't see myself traveling to New Hampshire again just to run it. After heading home with my pumpkin and some veggies from the farmers market, I was happy to hang my New Hampshire medal on the map.