(23-May) -- If you drove past the headquarters of Millennium Running in Bedford, N.H., recently you might have noticed a road race finish structure in the parking lot. Sheathed with black panels and bearing the name "Anytime 5K" across the top, you could be forgiven if you thought that in-person road races as we used to know then before the COVID-19 pandemic struck were back.
PHOTO: Barry Lewandowski, director of marketing at Millennium Running in Bedford, N.H., poses under the finish structure for the Anytime 5-K (photo courtesy of Millennium Running)
Well they are, sort of.
The Anytime 5K is indeed an in-person road race held on a locally-permitted, well-marked course which has fully automatic chip timing. The twist is that it has a unique "start as you please" format allowing runners to compete any time they want (literally day or night) from May 16 through August 23. Runners get a bib with a timing chip, and their results get posted to a live, web-based leaderboard. Unlike the typical approach with virtual races, runners don't need to use a GPS-enabled device to record their distance and time. And because the event is held on a real road-racing course, athletes can even get a classic finish photo as they pass through the finish structure (if they can convince a friend or family member to come along and take one). Think of it as a self-service road race.
"I think we're all forced to think outside the box a little bit," said Millennium Running founder John Mortimer whose company produces 25 events each year and provides timing services for another 130 in addition to being a running retail store. "We have seven full-time people who work in that space. I think when you put people's brain power together, creativity together, and are forced to think about our industry differently they come up with some pretty creative solutions."
To register for the event, runners need to pay an entry fee to get a physical bib with a timing chip. Participants can buy as many bibs as they like, and enter the race multiple times during the racing period (each bib is good for only one course attempt).
When they decide to race, athletes approach the start area in the parking lot and a 24/7 chip reader beaming from inside the store picks up their starting time. The course itself has a two-loop, counter-clockwise configuration that Mortimer, a former elite steeplechaser, measured which allows runners to move safely on a sidewalk or the side of the road with no traffic crossings. There is a brand new, greenway-buffered sidewalk on Route 101 in front of Millennium's headquarters on which athletes run for nearly a mile before making the first left turn on Bell Hill Road. There are only two more left turns to complete each of the two laps.
"We live in a very rural community," Mortimer stressed in a telephone interview with Race Results Weekly. "Not a high-traffic zone."
Because the staging area for the event is on Millennium's own property, they were able to use their own in-house equipment without the worry of bringing it to a public place, like a park or city center, where it would have to sit outside unattended, potentially vulnerable to damage or theft.
"We're able to use the timing technology we have; we wired it into the building," Mortimer explained. "(We) use our antennas and MYLAPS timing equipment permanently plugged-in in our building safe and secure. We have all of this work on our wi-fi and live to the web. So, we had some logistical advantages and the space to do that." He added: "The town cooperated with us very easily."
To help avoid "consumer driven mistakes," as Mortimer called them, in the timing, the Millennium team set up a barricaded chute at the start to guide runners to the correct starting point where the MYLAPS antenna can get a clean chip reading. Similarly, the lead-in to the finish is also barricaded to guide runners through the parking lot to the finish line.
"We made it pretty foolproof," Mortimer said.
Runners can choose to run with a few friends or family members, but must maintain a 6-foot (about 2-meter) distance between them. According to the guidance* given by the New Hampshire state government, "sporting events will be limited to small group or team-based training activities," and "group size is to be limited to 10 total people." Mortimer doesn't see that as a problem.
"What we've asked people to do is just come when you're ready," said Mortimer. "If there's people there, just wait in your car and let those people go. It's not like we'll have thousands of people at this point."
Typical road race amenities like T-shirts, medals, fluid stations, goody bags, and portable toilets are not provided. But, at only $10 the Anytime 5K entry fee is still a great value.
In the first eight days about 350 people have signed up for the race, and 62 runners have completed the course according to the official results at millenniumrunning.com. At the top of the leaderboard is Mortimer's wife, Jen, who ran 18:56 on the very first day.
"She's pretty fast," said Mortimer of his wife, the former Jennifer Kramer who ran a 5000-meter personal best of 15:47.83 back in 2004 when she competed for Boston College "She's still got some wheels."