By Jim Sullivan
---- — SALISBURY — With snow on the ground and temperatures predicted to be in the low 30s, New England is preparing a cold welcome to the heartiest of runners, as the 32nd annual Winner’s Circle Running Club New Year’s Day Classic 5K and 10K races will take off out of the Carousel Lounge.
“It has been a great tradition for the Winner’s Circle,” said Don Hennigar, Newburyport High School cross-country coach and well-known runner, of the race (also know locally as the Hangover Classic). “And they do a great job with it. So, hopefully, the weather is going to cooperate. That’s always a big factor in all this. How the weather is going to do.”
Weather certainly played a part in last year’s success as spring-like, 50-plus degree temperatures greeted the over 1,300 runners, making the race’s non-official second leg — a dip in the Atlantic —almost bearable.
“You’re not going to get many of those,” Hennigar said of last year’s warm weather. “There’s also been years where it has been sub-zero.”
This year, the weather should be decidedly colder and Hennigar has yet to decide if he will run, but he does know what he will do about that little dip if he does.
“That I have not done,” Hennigar said of the polar bear plunge. “There are plenty of people who do, but I stay out. The only water I jump into is a warm shower at my house. That’s the only water I jump into. There are a lot of people who go into the water and, as always, there’s a big party afterward.”
Hennigar has run the Classic more than a dozen times, which means in all kinds of weather, and, as with all New England activities from November to May, he said that preparation is key.
“You just bundle up and get done as fast as you can,” Hennigar said of the cold runs. “I’ve actually worked a couple of those as opposed to racing it and that is a whole lot worse because you’re just standing still. At least, when you‘re running, you’re moving.”
A flat, simple, coastal course is one of the Classic’s big draws, as well as that fact that it is one of the only games in town at a slow time of the year.
“A lot of it is the fact this it is New Year’s Day,” Hennigar said of the Classic’s appeal. “There are not a lot of races around and once you get past Thanksgiving and until you get into St. Patrick’s Day, there’s not that many opportunities. It’s kind of a nice way to ring in the new year and it’s a race that has been around for 30 years.”
The Classic raises funds for the Winner’s Circle, which is known for their numerous charitable contributions to the local area, including an annual Santa’s Toy Trot in Merrimac. The club also donated over $14,000 to local charities in the year 2011. This year, the proceeds from the Classic will benefit the club’s charitable activities and youth and adult running programs.
“There’s a lot of runners who seek out races where the entry fee is going to go to a charity of some sort,” said Hennigar. “If people know there is a charity, they are more likely to run a race than if not.”
The two races, which begin at 11:30 a.m., are run simultaneously. For more information, go to www.runthecircle.org.