Ready — steady — go! The New Bedford Half Marathon is back again this year, under the guidance of veteran Race Director Dan McCarthy of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
Each year, The New Bedford Half Marathon Race Committee, led by McCarthy, works hard to come together with the local community to organize the 100% volunteer-run and non-profit event.
The NBHM Race Committee works closely with the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, its parent organization. In fact, every member of the race committee is also a good-standing member of the FSSP.
McCarthy was an active member of the FSSP back in 2009 when the founding race committee reached out to the charitable organization in hopes they could take over organizing the race, a now daunting task after other organizations had tried and failed to do so in the past.
But McCarthy’s leadership skills showed through during the race’s time of need, and he continued to demonstrate his leadership skills every year to follow as he amplified the reach of the race to over 1,000 runners per year.
For a time, McCarthy was even organizing the race remotely from Texas, where he was working for a business consultancy specializing in foreign trade. McCarthy attributes the success of his long-distance endeavors to his team — stating that it really was “the strength of the volunteers that come back year after year” who have composed an ingrained knowledge of how to run the race.
Since then, McCarthy has moved back to New Bedford and is now the proud parent of a 17-month-old toddler.
When you see McCarthy at the race this year, make sure to say hello, because, as he says, the best part of the race is “the people you meet.”
The Half Marathon goes off at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 19.
New Bedford Light: How long have you worked with the NBHM?
Dan McCarthy: We shadowed the original membership team heading into the 2009 race, and we have been the managing body ever since.
NBL: And it has been the same team since 2009 when the FSSP took over?
DM: Yeah, so that was the race’s 32nd year, so we were very fortunate that many long-serving volunteers of the original race committee and previous race committees had decided to stay on, and many hands make a light load. And we would not have been able to do it without them. We have our committee meetings here at the Wamsutta Club this year, and some of the people who have been on the committee have been on the committee for more than 25 years. The original founders of the race are still active. We are very fortunate.
NBL: How did you and the FSSP end up getting involved?
DM: We did not know that [running the race] was a possibility. We are not a running club. But what happened was that the original founders were looking for someone to take the event over and carry it into the future. They were looking at a couple of organizations who had stepped up, and after a year or so, it just was not working very well. A lot of the organizations that were interested were not necessarily 100% volunteer, so it was not financially viable to pay people to work it. It just works better in a completely volunteer environment.
So, we were approached by Dr. Larry Finnerty, a founding member of the original race committee and a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. He spoke with our then treasurer, Bill O’Connor, about the possibility of us taking it over. We met with the existing committee several times and thought we would give it a shot. It has worked out really well for us, and I think that it has really worked out for the race in general.
The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick is a 501(c)(3), a charitable non-profit here in the City of New Bedford. We are an organization underneath them, separated for liability reasons, but all members of the New Bedford Half Marathon Race Committee Inc. are also members in good standing of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
NBL: What does the FSSP do?
DM: We are so involved in the community. Throughout the course of the year, we are active and supporting other charitable events in the city and other non-profits. We host the Taste of South Coast event in the summertime down at Pier 3. We also feed families during the holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Several, if not four of five hundred turkeys and all of the fixings go out then.
The primary fundraising goal of the organization is to sponsor scholarships for local students. Those can be needs-based, as well as an Irish essay contest award, which you do not need to be of Irish heritage to win. It is open to anyone who applies.
NBL: Can you give some history of the race?
DM: The race began back in the late 1970s as a training test for long-distance runners planning to do the Boston Marathon. A lot of the local runners from the Greater New Bedford Track Club and other affiliated runners wanted to evaluate and test their readiness for the Boston Marathon.
So, they came up with a date, which is the third Sunday in March, and we have always kept it the third Sunday in March, and they kept it at an 11 O’clock starting time so that people from further afield could come and race with them. In a lot of communities, when you have a marathon or a half marathon, you start really early. It is a real tribute to the people of the city, the mayor’s office, the department of public infrastructure, and the police on traffic detail that were still able to do it at 11 O’clock on the third Sunday in March.
We have had some great history happen here. Our course records are held by two-time Boston Marathon winner Geoff Smith and Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen, who, at the time when she set the record, and I believe it was 1989, it was the then women’s world record for the half-marathon distance. Really prestigious accomplishments.
NBL: How has running the race changed since COVID?
DM: Last year was our first year back. It was interesting in that many events scheduled in 2020 were canceled in March, but not many of those events were scheduled for five days after the cancellation. So, the entire organization had done all of the planning, all of the prep work. We were ready to go.
And that was a really unique week where we were trying to find if there were going to be alternate venues, say if the location of our number pick-up and the post-race meal was going to be closed, could we do it somewhere else. But then the governor’s office said initially no meetings or groups of over a hundred people. I believe that was on the Tuesday, and by Friday, it was revised to no public activity. So, we had no choice but to cancel. It was canceled for us.
In 2021, it was bizarre because we just knew we weren’t going to be able to have it. We did not have to go through the steps. It was like learning to ride a bike again in 2022. We have a great committee, and we use 1,000 volunteers on race day, and many of them were excited to be back to help last year.
NBL: Have you made any other major changes to how the race runs because of COVID or has it mostly stayed the same?
DM: It has mostly stayed the same. I think that the numbers are down. In general, most runners are back to competing, but not all of them. And, they are being more selective about their winter and early spring races because it is that season where it could be either a really nice day or a really cold day. But we are optimistic that we will get back to pre-COVID numbers.
NBL: What was it like running the race from a distance while you lived outside of the state?
DM: It was great while I lived in Texas! I am really fortunate that our organization is strong and that the people who run our volunteer groups, our first aid, and our start-and-finish line have been doing it for so long that the institutional knowledge allows the team to run the race. I just try to get people to sign up. I go to some additional meetings, but I get far too much credit. It really is the strength of the volunteers that come back year after year.
NBL: Why is it so important that the NBHM remains a non-profit?
DM: This predates me, but I think that there was a time when they had larger sponsorships back in the early ’80s, maybe ’90s, when some people thought that it was appropriate that people get paid. And I don’t think that it went over well. It has never been a consideration of ours.
When another organization comes to us wanting to take the race over and carry it into perpetuity at some point in time, it would be great if it was an altruistic non-profit. It is important for us because we all have to work together. We want our sponsors to feel good that their money is going back to the community. We try to work with as many local vendors and contractors as possible.
NBL: Why is keeping this race alive important to you?
DM: It is the kickoff to the city’s tourism season. It is the largest event in the first quarter of the year. Hope springs, there is a chance that we will have good weather, that people have been indoors all winter and they want to get outside.
It touches upon so many different areas of the city. It runs up into the near North End, along the West End, and a considerable amount of time throughout the South End and the peninsula. It gives such a good representation of the city to people who are from outside of the city. It is a positive thing, and it’s exciting. We have a lot of fun doing it.
NBL: What is the most satisfying part about your role with the NBHM?
DM: The most satisfying part takes place the minute the starting horn goes off, and the runners clear the finish line. All of the planning has been done, the race is off, and you know that those people, some of them are going to have the best race of their lives, some of them are not going to have a great day, but it worked.
Many of us will then stand at the finish line and thank the runners as they cross because we really can’t do it without them. There are so many fixed costs associated that we need well over 1,000 runners to cover all expenses and things like that.
It is just that moment of “they’re out there.” I’m sure, for our course marshals and volunteer stations throughout the course, that is when their work is at its heaviest, but for me, that moment is the best part.
NBL: What is your most memorable experience from working with the NBHM?
DM: The people that you get to meet. People come back year after year, and thank you. I really cherish the fact that I got to meet and know Dick and Rick Hoyt of Team Hoyt before Dick passed. I think that was really special.
And I think that just working with this group of volunteers that we have is a highlight. Whenever we get together, it is like family. It is people from all different backgrounds. Runners, non-runners, parents of runners. Just people who want to be affiliated, and it’s great.
NBL: Have you ever participated in one of your races?
DM: Ha, no! That is a funny question because I am clearly not a runner. I did track and field in high school and college, so I was runner adjacent. My father ran New Bedford many times, my father-in-law has run it many times, and my wife has run it.
I have never caught the running bug, but I do my best to volunteer and help along the way.