By Brian Canova
The sun shone down on the 122 contestants that arrived for the annual Homecoming 5k URun/UWalk on Saturday Nov. 5. The race began at the northeast corner of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, extended up the Amity hill, cut down Lincoln Street into the heart of campus, then down Massachusetts Avenue to Stadium Drive, the gravel road that runs through the woods behind the stadium, before finishing at the original starting point.
Participants ranging in age from 14 to 61 came out for the race, spanning decades of UMass Alumni, and their family and friends who returned to campus for homecoming weekend.
Half of the approximately $1,500 raised in the contest will go to general scholarships for students of the university. The other half is allocated for National Intramural Recreational Sports Association scholarships provided through the Campus Recreation Center. The scholarships will send students to conferences providing meaningful opportunities for personal and professional development, scholarship, and research, according to the NIRSA Foundation website.
With a winning time of 15:22 21-year-old Frank May finished first in the Men’s division, followed by 28-year-old Matthew Clark with a time of 16:19, and 18-year-old Jeffrey Okerman with a time of 17:57.
In the women’s division 21-year-old Lauren Ross finished with a winning time of 20:32, followed by 22-year-old Isabella Donadio with a time of 21:08, and 19-year-old Sara Graham with a time of 22:20.
The aftermath the Oct. 29 Nor’Easter was still visible on race day as event organizers were surprised to find five downed trees littering Stadium Drive when they arrived early Saturday morning.
“Minus the trees everything was fine,” said Allie Delay, a UMass junior who works for the Campus Recreation Center and showed up at 6:30 Saturday morning to begin preparing the event. “It’s really cold at six in the morning, we found that out too.”
At the start of the race organizers bundled under sweatshirts, ear warmers and hats, but by the finish the day had warmed and participants and organizers alike shared complimentary cups of coffee, water, apples and bagels, which were donated by UMass Dining Commons and Bruegger’s Bagels in Amherst. Award donations were provided by Bueno Y Sano and the University Store.
Sophomore UMass student Raquel Manley, who has taken a break from training for marathons since returning to classes this fall, said she was happy the race was a full 5k, as opposed to other races held on campuses that in her experience haven’t been the exact five kilometers, or 3.1 miles.
Krystal Nowak, assistant manager, building operations at the Recreation Center, said the certified route used for the race is the same one used by many other races on campus throughout the year, and expressed equal surprise as many of the runners at the length of the grueling hill that seemed to stretch forever up Amity Street to start the race.
“When I started driving the course, I was like ‘Oh! This hill never ends!” said Nowak, who is coming off her second marathon that she ran a month ago.
The event required one police officer who directed traffic at the intersection of Amity and University Drive near the start of the race, then travelled across the course once the runners had passed to direct traffic at the intersection of University and Mass. Ave, near the intramural soccer fields. Two student EMTs were also on hand at the race.
Nowak said that next year she hopes to use digital chips to track finishing times more accurately, which presented difficulties for event staff Saturday with runners finishing close together. Nowak was thrilled with the unexpected turnout, which spiked from 67 last year to 122.
Nowak said the goal for next year’s event is 200 participants, but worries what effect a Homecoming weekend away from the UMass campus, as football games are moved to Gillette Stadium, will have on the race.
Walter Mullin, 62-year-old Amherst resident and last year’s winner of his age category, said he doesn’t support the move to Foxboro.
“I think it takes away from the UMass campus,” said Mullin. “I think it’s a much stronger statement to have UMass events right here in Amherst than to have them in Foxboro, Massachusetts. I can’t imagine any students will drive two hours to go to a football game in Foxboro.”
While Mullin said he thinks the move could collect more fans from the Boston area, he will miss the homecoming weekends spent on campus with his friends from the University who have met here for Homecoming weekends since they graduated with the Class of 1970.