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25th Anniversary FirstRun Burlington – part 1

by Joe Connelly on January 8, 2013 · 0 comments

in News,Notes from the Station

After two years of unseasonably warm temps in the 40s and 50s for FirstRun, 2013 was a return to real winter running with Burlington sitting at a brisk 20° when we arrived at Memorial Auditorium to start setting up.

Notice we’re calling this the “25th Anniversary” FirstRun, not your more typical “25th annual”. That was intentional. We know the first FirstRun Burlington was held on January 1, 1989. With FirstRun and VCM both starting in 1989 I recently dug into my archives and scanned through the GMAA newsletters to come up with the facts on the early years of these races. Here is what the GMAA had to say in their Winter 1988 newsletter:

First Run ’89, to be held at 10 AM New Year’s day is going to be a fast 5k in Burlington using a loop that starts at Memorial Auditorium, north on Union to North St, North to Willard, south on Willard to Union and back to the auditorium. The course has been measured with a calibrated bike so come to run hard.

In the next GMAA newsletter the following was published:

Gordon reported that the combination of GMAA, Burlington Parks & Recreation and WIZN produced a successful first First Run ’89…

96 people ran that first FirstRun. The Kids Runs did not start for many years, so if you were running FirstRun in the early days your only option was the 5k. Steve Stebbins won in 15:37, with Mark Keller running with his son Zak coming in together at the end in 34:03. I finished 9th in 18:15, a time I would never come close to in about 10 subsequent tries. The median time of that race was 21:35 with 25% of the field under 20:00! While the times up front have not changed too much over the years, our goal to make this a race for everyone (start the year on the right foot!) has certainly changed the composure of the pack. This year our last finishers came in around 57 minutes and the median time was 29:00. It’s great to see that the Burlington race scene has a place for everyone!

So if 1989 was the first FirstRun Burlington why isn’t 2013 the 25th annual and how many times has this race taken place? That’s a tough question to answer definitively. Through 1996 FirstRun happened every year and we have the results for each year. Between 1997 and 2000 we are missing results. If anyone has results for those years please drop me a line, we’d love to get a copy! Starting in 2001 the results can be found on Cool Running. The results listed for 2001 say “11th annual”. That’s either a mistake or the race did not happen twice in the 4 years between 1997 and 2000. Cool Running lists results for 2001-2002-2003 but not 2004. Somewhere in the back of my brain I have the idea that at least one year there were very high snowbanks so the race organizers cancelled FirstRun. Maybe that was 2004, or maybe it was between 1997 and 2000? Since 2005 RunVermont has produced FirstRun.

In any case, it has definitely been 25 years since FirstRun Burlington started up. The GMAA played a huge role for 15+/- years and it is their initiative that we have to thank for getting the ball rolling. Burlington Parks & Rec was a major player for many years. If I remember correctly this race was part of their “Tour de Burlington” race series which included the St Patrick’s Day race, the Winter Blues 5k, the Tomato Two (held in the Intervale), a July 4th race, and the Halloween Howl, which was a very fun night race on the bikepath with paper bag lanterns lighting the course.

Besides the question of how many times this race has taken place we also know that the course has changed a bit over the years. Although the description above from the GMAA newsletter is pretty clear that the race originally was a clockwise loop I seem to remember at least one early year where we raced counter-clockwise. I also know that for at least 2003 the course was a 2-lap 5k all on the south side of Main St. I think that was probably done to cut down on the number of course volunteers needed. I was talking with Jake Hollenbeck at the SkiRack during packet pickup this year. Jake won this race in 2003 so of course he’s a strong proponent for returning to the 2-loop course! For most years prior to 2006 the course went all the way to the Rotary on Shelburne Rd and the northern end was North St between Union St and Willard St. For 2006 we wanted to move the finish line a bit south to give us more room for the chutes so we redesigned the course to add some streets on the northern end and to use Beech St, same as the marathon does. As part of that redesign we certified the course for the first time. One of the amazing things, to me, was when we did the certification we also measured the old course to see how close it was. Despite subtle changes in the measurement process since 1989 when we measured the old course it was within 5′ of being right on accurate. Pretty darn good!

If you have been a part of a lot of FirstRuns we’d love to hear from you – When did you start running FirstRun? What do you like about the course? If you were designing it what would you do differently?

Check out PART II of the FirstRun Burlington post-race wrap up…

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