Jean Cann’s tribute to NER’s 2012 Race of the Year, tracing its origins and rising popularity with runners following a course along the Emerald Necklace (that only took Frederick Law Olmstead 20 years to complete). Scroll to bottom for Open and Masters winners through 2011.
B.A.A. Half Marathon—Event With An Emerald Twinkle
by Jean Cann
2001 winner ( 1:10:57) Wayne Levy taking the M45-49 title in 2010. Photo by FitzFoto/NERunner. Medfield’s Sarah Nixon breaking the tape in 2001. Photo courtesy of the BAA.
The B.A.A. Half Marathon, established in 2001, has quickly become a New England favorite for its superb organization and scenic Emerald Necklace course, as well as popular distance. While the B.A.A. name alone attracts a crowd, many positive attributes of the race have helped it prosper and grow annually. Registration for the 2011 race reached the 7,000 runner field limit within four hours. For the qualities that make it a top choice of runners from New England and beyond, New England Runnermagazine has designated the B.A.A. Half Marathon its “2011 Race of the Year.”
The event’s field size and number of finishers has expanded each year, with 2,517 finishers the first year and 5,179 in 2011.
Forty competitors have completed all 11 B.A.A. Half Marathons. One of those runners, Wayne Levy, won the inaugural race, took the masters title in 2005 and topped the 45-49 age group in 2011. “The race has always had a special meaning to me,” said Levy, who works in Boston and competes for the B.A.A. Running Club. “Even when I wasn’t really fit, I went and ran the race. My fellow B.A.A. teammates always teased me and asked, ‘Are you running your race again?’ Knowing that this is an important race for the B.A.A., I also felt compelled to support the club by running.” The support of Levy and other club members has helped the B.A.A. capture the men and women’s team titles every year.
Even as a master’s runner, Levy, 46, has often scored for the open men’s team, as recently as 2010. “I am not sure how long I will be able to continue,” he said. “Streaks are a funny thing. They require a great deal of luck. You have to hope you are not injured, not sick, and not traveling for work. I do consider myself fortunate and lucky. After saying all that, I do hope to continue the streak for a long time.”
Inaugural women’s winner Sarah Nixon returned to win in 2002. “I remember crossing the finish line and not believing I won,” said the Medfield resident. “I remember Dave McGillivray [B.A.A. race director] saying to me, ‘You broke B.A.A. tape—you made history!’” Nixon tackles an historic B.A.A. event annually—in April she will run her 17th B.A.A. Boston Marathon for the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge. She has not run the ‘Half ‘ in recent years because of her children’s sports’ schedules. “I still cherish the race,” she said. “I’ll be back.”
Nixon is likely the only Dana-Farber runner to have won the B.A.A. Half Marathon, but everyone on the Dana-Farber Team wins the prize for philanthropy. Through the B.A.A. Half alone, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Running the Race Against Cancer Team, with a record 500 runners in 2011, has raised approximately $3 million for cancer research and treatment. Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund have served as presenting sponsors for the B.A.A. Half Marathon since 2003.
Entry fees from the race also benefit the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, helping to preserve the Emerald Necklace parks that lend their picturesque views to runners in the B.A.A. Half, and offer year-round parkland, waterways, paths and gardens to more than one million patrons per year from Boston and beyond. Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead took nearly 20 years to create the 1,000-acre linear park system winding from the Charles River to Dorchester. Runners stride through or alongside the Back Bay Fens, Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park.The race starts and finishes in Franklin Park, the largest jewel of the Emerald Necklace.
The race also runs past several animal enclosures in the Franklin Park Zoo. “Although I’ve lived and worked in Boston and am familiar with much of the city, I had never spent any time in the Franklin Park area,” said Hopkinton’s Kelly Ianelli, who has run the race twice. “The arboretum is gorgeous and I love enjoying the scenery of Boston from a different vantage point. This year was especially cool since we had recently watched the movie Zookeeperwith the kids. They were very impressed when I told them the race was being run at that same zoo. They were only slightly disappointed when they learned that the animals didn’t talk to me.”
Levy, Nixon and Ianelli named the turn-around on the Riverway as a preferred spot on the 13.1 mile journey. “Another favorite part of the course is when you turn around and see the other runners. It is nice to see and hear the support from everyone,” said Levy, who also named the scenic Riverway and Jamaicaway as favorite areas of the course.
“The whole course is beautiful but I especially like the turn-around point at mile 4.75,” said Ianelli, a runner for almost 30 years. “It is so motivating to see runners cheering on those behind them as they loop back around.”
Many have been motivated to fast times at the event. While the rolling hills and switchback turns slow paces, the elite field, seasonally temperate weather, and $30,000 prize purse keep runners rolling. Tom Nyariki set the men’s course record with a photo-finish 1:02:20 in 2007. Caroline Rotich cruised to a record 1:10:52 in 2010 to break the seven-year-old record of Irish Olympian Marie Davenport by five seconds.
While most runners are not vying for prize money or records, they all benefit from the B.A.A.’s professional staff, plentiful volunteers, generous sponsors and other perks like free training programs and clinics leading up to the race. Comparing the B.A.A. Half Marathon to the Boston Marathon, Ianelli said, “Both races are very well-run and organized. The packets are mailed to the runners in advance so you arrive at the race in the morning with your number. Having one less thing to worry about on race morning is a bonus. There is also a tremendous amount of information available online to help with logistics. There are even buses available to get runners to the start, just like the marathon. Oh, and the adidas race shirts are great too!”
In an effort to keep improving, the B.A.A. has tweaked aspects of the race, from adding and then removing a lap of Fenway Park, to reversing the course to allow for more space in the start/finish area. The B.A.A. recently announced the creation of the B.A.A. Distance Medley, a three-race series including the B.A.A. 5K, 10K and Half Marathon. The male and female winners of the series (determined by aggregate time) will take home $100,000, in addition to prize money they win at the individual races. Runners completing all three races will earn a commemorative medal to complement the finishers’ medals from each race.
Aspiring B.A.A. Half Marathoners should not wait until the leaves turn before signing up for the 2012 event, as it’s sure to fill quickly.
2001 Wayne Levy 1:10:57
2002 David Hinga 1:09:47
2003 Laban Kipkemboi 1:03:04
2004 Luke Metto 1:02:57
2005 Celedonio Rodrigues 1:04:09
2006 Samuel Ndereba 1:03:03
2007 Tom Nyariki 1:02:20
2008 Charles Munyeki 1:02:46
2009 Martin Fagan 1:02:21
2010 John Korir 1:02:21
2011 Ali Abdosh 1:03:36
2001 Sarah Nixon 1:21:16
2002 Sarah Nixon 1:22:34
2003 Marie Davenport 1:10:57
2004 Lornah Kiplagat 1:12:05
2005 Nataliya Berkut 1:12:21
2006 Marie Davenport 1:12:10
2007 Edna Kiplagat 1:13:36
2008 Azalech Masresha 1:11:44
2009 Belainesh Zemedkun Gebre 1:11:07
2010 Caroline Rotich 1:10:52
2011 Janet Cherobon-Bawcom 1:11:58
Men’s Masters Winners
2001 Dave Oliver 1:16:12
2002 Bill Rogers 1:16:05
2003 Eddy Hellebuyck 1:05:12
2004 Dan Verrington 1:14:16
2005 Wayne Levy 1:12:50
2006 Oscar Gonzalez-Barreto 1:10:59
2007 Henry Scollard 1:15:07
2008 Gregory Picklesimer 1:14:20
2009 Joseph Koech 1:07:42
2010 Joseph Koech 1:11:08
2011 Joseph Koech 1:11:30
Women’s Masters Winners
2001 Patricia Greene 1:29:23
2002 Nanci Cahalane 1:30:13
2003 Maria Servin 1:17:49
2004 Valentina Yegorova 1:15:55
2005 Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova 1:15:19
2006 Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova 1:16:12
2007 Lucy Canavan 1:32:07
2008 Susannah Landreth 1:24:46
2009 Laura Lipcsei 1:30:45
2010 Kara Haas 1:21:44
2011 Francesca Dominici 1:34:38