Willimantic; a Small City to Run, Drink, & Be Merry

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This past weekend was the Willimantic Classic Half Marathon. This was my second year running the event, and as I expected, it was a great day for racing! This race perfectly fit into my marathon training schedule and it was a really good excuse to get the family out & about in the refreshing Spring air.

As usual, my family was running a bit late, so we arrived shortly before 8 a.m. Thankfully Jillson Square is a large and well organized place, so there was ample parking right next to the starting line. I quickly found my buddies for the Run 169 group picture and did some drills and slow jogging down Main Street while my family headed off to the Kids’ Race.

This year the Willimantic Athletic Club added both a 5k and a 10k to the line-up.  Both races took off ahead of the half marathon. Despite the large number of entrants (over 600 runners) and three events, everything was well organized and went off without a hitch (and on time!)

My race, the half, took off 30 seconds after the 5k start which did cause a bit of a jumble as the lead pack of the half marathon caught up with the back of the pack of the 5k. Several of the half’s front runners ended up following a few 5k-ers and took the wrong course – though it was well marked with signs, cones, and volunteers.

The course is fantastic! Everything a road runner could ask for; a little trail and woods, but enough road to keep it fast – some city streets, a bit of residential, and lots of lovely countryside. The race starts off down Main Street in Willimantic, the “Thread City” (so named because the American Thread Company built a mill along the river in the 1830s). A quick jog left, then right onto a newly built section of the Airline Rail Trail takes you past the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum, a really fun experience for kids of all ages. (My family has been there a couple of times and the guys that run it are a lot of fun!) You stay on the dirt trail for about a mile, crossing a side street once, before you make a right onto pavement. You’ll encounter a few hills before you hit mile 6, but nothing too strenuous, and the winding New England backroads will distract you from them with their typical quaint beauty. About half way you head back into town, crossing the city’s famous “Frog Bridge”. But the “urban running” doesn’t last long as the course takes you around Jillson Square and back to the countryside for a few miles of farmland before you are brought back down Main Street and through Jillson Square to a bombastic finish.

The Willimantic Classic is a small crowd with a big event feel. White vendors’ tents dotted the green. Port-o-lets – amazingly clean ones, I might add – lined the far end of the open space. Music was playing, pictures were snapping, spectators were given cow bells for cheering. The joy & adrenaline was just awesome. The Farmer’s Cow had a booth with free ice-cream cones and chocolate milk; an immensely satisfying treat after a long race! I also visited the Bodyworks booth for my complimentary post-race massage.  Any kinks I got from those sparse hills were rubbed right out!

The race swag was also pretty cool. Mylar blankets for the half marathon finishers, some nifty medals, and delicious Fitboxes filled with yummy goodies!!

After the Awards’ Ceremony it was time for lunch. You can feel free to leave your car right there in Jillson Square, there is plenty to eat within walking distance, or go ahead and cruise around Willimantic a bit.  The Willimantic Brewing Company, aka WilliBrew is the most popular of lunch destinations. The restaurant is a converted post office with a zip code themed menu. Their beer list is phenomenal with some fantastic craft brews, however, I’ve always found their food to be ill-prepared. Last week while we were out, my husband ordered swordfish and it arrived to the table still frozen. It’s always busy and the waitstaff is always rushed, so we went across the street to a tiny little hole-in-the-wall called Cafemantic.  It’s a bit hipsterish in vibe, but really is a great place to bring your family. (We were not the only ones with children.) The wait staff was great; they noted that we had just come from a race and made a point to keep us stocked with plenty of water. I ordered the Marinated Ruby Beets ($11) with chevre, pistachios, and rubarb, drizzled with a pomegranate vinaigrette. It was light and refreshing, yet still satisfying and filling. I also ordered some liquid bread to pump a few calories back into my system. I chose a nice dark Scotch ale – the Founders Dirty Bastard hit the spot. My husband and children all ordered the Five Cheese Mac & Cheese ($10), complete with speck ham and peas, which of course I helped myself to. It was warm, creamy goodness. We also shared the Artisanal Cheese Plate ($13) that was paired with three kinds of cheese, jam, candied walnuts, and truffle honey. The cheeses and vegetables were all incredibly fresh having come from local farms. The food was all high quality and well worth the price.

 

Come visit Willimantic –  run a race, see some trains, stop in some historical museums, eat some good food, and find some great beer!

Links:
Willimantic Classic on Facebook with commentary from the Race Director as well as fabulous photos of the race course.
Willimantic Athletic Club for course maps, elevation charts, registration, etc.
Thread City Hop Fest over 45 breweries, craft and local beer all in one place!
The Mill Museum Windham Textile & History Museum
Willimantic Downtown more stuff to see, eat, and do!

 

 

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