Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon – Race recap

Admittedly I am falling behind on updating my blog. With a few big events coming up in the next few weeks I have to catch up so expect a few back to back posts over the next few days.

Back in April I ran my third Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon. I have not run this race since 2016 and as the last time I ran this I earned my half marathon PR this is one of my favorites. I had a quick time in both 2015 and 2016. Admittedly I am nowhere near the shape I was in in 2016 (I’ve been a little out of sorts physically since my accident in the 2017 Rev3 Williamsburg Half Ironman…okay, I’ve added a few pounds) but I was looking to a fairly decent time considering the course.

This race is put on by CGI Racing which is one of my favorite race organizers. Responsible for ‘The LOVE Run‘ and the ‘New Jersey State Triathlon‘ which are always well organized. Unlike the last time I ran, they were not offering race day packet pickup which meant I had to do the trek up and back to New Brunswick twice that weekend. It’s about an hour each way from where I live so not the end of the world. At least this year it did not fall on an alumni weekend and I was able to get quickly in and out of the expo.

The Expo as usual was contained in the campus sports center and it was easy to navigate in and out. Packet pickup was fairly easy and as it was small I wasn’t there too long and was able to get back home reasonably quick.

The Expo was held on campus in the sports center

A small expo but not crowded

Packet pickup was easy and the volunteers were helpful and attentive

This photo shows nothing more than I really needed a haircut!!!

Yup…still need a haircut!

Early the next day I woke up and headed out in the dark for what would be an early start to the day. The race was due to start at 8am but unlike in the prior years where I parked at the starting area and had to get a shuttle bus back from the finish line, this year I decided to park at the finish and shuttle over to the start. Knowing from prior years that it was usually cool in the morning and could warm up later, I dressed to run warm but made sure I had a few layers on prior to the race start.

When I arrived at the finish line I was early enough to get a parking space really close to the finish area and waited until I saw some other runners up and around the area to follow. The race guide suggested you could walk to the starting area and I started to follow a few runners but I realized that I needed some personal time (i.e. a bathroom stop) so headed over the to the shuttle buses that would take us over to the starting area. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t walk as it was quite a ride over there. Of course we couldn’t take too many short cuts with the bus but it was still a good ride that I’m glad I was not on my feet for too long before the race.

Arrived early and got a good parking spot near the finish area

I decided to take the shuttle buses to the starting area

It was a very foggy morning and I new it would be a humid run. It wasn’t too cold at the start so I checked my bag early and just hung around waiting for the start. As you can see from the pictures below, the visibility wasn’t great…but I wasn’t going to be leading the race so as long as I could see the guy in front of me I was good. A few people liked my InknBurn shirt and joked that there was no way anyone could lose me in the fog.

Entering the starting area

The fog was quite dense in the area.

You are not going to lose me in this outfit

…not to mention my shortish shorts

Ready to get moving

As the National Anthem was playing I was already in the starting corral. Having run 1:51(wish) last time I was here and although I knew I was not in the best shape I still thought I could hang with the 1:45 guys and settled myself near the 1:45 pacers waiting for the word to go. With little delay we were off.

I did a fairly good job of hanging with the pace group over the first few miles running near their pace and staying within ear shot of the pace runners as they chatted amongst themselves. As we ran through the more modern side of the campus I heard them saying they were actually running ahead of pace…as confirmed by all of us struggling to keep up with them. It was around mile 6 or 7 that a few of us commented that it was getting warmer and we seemed to be lacking aid stations in this part of the course. Nevertheless I hung on the heels of the pacers until around mile 8 when, as I was beginning to heat up, I decided that it was better to enjoy the run than to fight to maintain the pace.

The humidity was already beginning to take it’s toll on me and my heart rate was elevated so I decided to slow down and let the pace group go ahead of me. My pace dropped from 8:45 pace per mile to around 9:30 as I tried (unsuccessfully) to lower my heart rate which was now pretty much stuck in zone 5. I dropped to a run/walk for the back side of the course from mile 8 to the finish line. It was the right decision for the day.

As we crossed over from bridge high above Route 18 a fellow runner recognized me as the ‘Philly2Goofy’ guy and this cheered me as we entered the park for the long out and back. Although we drop in elevation on this half of the course it generally feels like it’s uphill for the remainder of the run up until the crest of the hill leading to the finish line.

Was I glad to see that hill, knowing that in less than half a mile we would be at the finish line. I honestly struggled on the back half. I could not get my heart rate down. I put this down to the more than a few extra pounds I had gained since running the New York City Marathon in the previous fall. It hadn’t been my best winter for maintenance. I certainly saw the results of that today as I crossed the line in just over 2:05. This was 14 minutes slower than my 2016 race or over 1 minute per mile slower over the course. Wow.

However, a finish line is a finish line and it’s always a good thing to get over it standing upright. Not my best performance by any means but far from my worst. I still like this race and would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice spring half marathon. If the weather is good it can be a fast course. Still one of my favorites.

It’s always good to cross a finish line

My 3rd Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon in the books

Post race area for the athletes

Great organization as usual

A great tasting pretzel. Earned!!!

Short shorts but a good backdrop on the old side of the campus

The finish line area is great as you are on the main campus and so there is plenty of space to sit on the grass and catch ones breath. The post race area was, as usual well, set up by the volunteers and after a soft pretzel and a cold bottle of water it was back to the comfort of my car and the journey home. Another Rutgers half in the books.

 

2016 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon – Race recap

newunitetm

On Sunday April 17th I ran my 20th half marathon, the Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon. It was a race I ran in 2015 and really enjoyed (I had a good race after a long winter) and it fit nicely into my training plan for the upcoming New Jersey Marathon. This was another race put on by CGI Racing who also host the Love Run Philly and the New Jersey State Triathlon, both of which I have participated in over the last couple of years. They do put on a good event.

I was looking forward to this race as I remember it being a fast and fairly flat course and was looking forward to seeing how my pace was during race conditions. I’ve been taking it a little easy this winter as my goal is to stay fit and healthy for the upcoming HITS Hudson Valley Triathlon this July. My goal race is the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in October. I was close to my PR last year and I felt that it was achievable the way I was training.

This year I opted to pay an extra $15 for race day packet pickup so I didn’t get to attend the expo. From what I recall from 2015 it was a small expo so I didn’t miss out on too much. The extra $15 was probably the gas and tolls I would have spent driving up and back prior to the race.

The forecast was looking good and so I was able to put away the winter gear and planned on wearing a short sleeve shirt. I decided that this was a good enough excuse to debut my new INKnBURN Magnum PI tech shirt. Actually, I didn’t really need an excuse.

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Hard to tell the difference I know!!

I grabbed a cup of coffee and one of my new Honey Stinger waffles (mmm….tasty) for my pre-race breakfast and set out while it was still dark for the 40 mile or so drive to the start line. I got there early on and was parked fairly close to the start line and was able to walk to packet pickup and back to my warm car (it was still a little chilly in the early hours). Packet pickup was quick and seamless, although I was told I had to pick up my shirt and mug at the finish line. Not a big deal. In fact, I probably could have arrived a little later as it was a quicker process than I thought. My tip, register for morning of race packet pickup.

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You know when you have arrived on campus

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Packet pickup was quick and easy. Just had to show ID.

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Packet pickup was quick and easy. Just had to show ID.

It had not warmed up by the time I left my car so I was wearing a warm up jacket which I planned to check so I would have it at the finish line. I had packed a large trash bag to wear in the start chute so headed out to bag check. While I was there I met up with fellow Mickey Miler and host of the Runner Of A Certain Age podcast, John. It was thanks to John that I signed up for this race last year. I hadn’t seen him for a while but I had been a guest on his podcast a couple of times before and we keep in touch on social media.

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Meeting up with John pre-race.

In writing this recap I took a look at my last year recap. As you can see below, this picture made me chuckle when I re-read last year as we took the same photo in the same spot.

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Meeting up with John (host of ‘The Runner Of A Certain Age’ podcast)

It was almost time to start so we made our way over to the start line. I made the same mistake as I had the previous year and entered the chute at the back and had to make my way forward between the 8 and 9 minute pace groups. There were no corral placements, you would just line up at the approximate pace you planned to run. It was only when I reached that point that I realized I could have entered the chute from the side. Oh well. Not a big deal and I was very polite as I made my way forward. I was wearing my trash bag to keep warm but realized I didn’t need it as it was warming up nicely so I took it off to the side and waited for the gun.

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I made my way from the back to my pace time area.

 

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Always a stylish choice. Black goes with everything.

 

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I made it a little closer to the front.

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Get the chopper TC. I’ll meet you at Rick’s for a cold one after the race.

As this was a goal race, I didn’t stop to take pictures of the course. The course itself was a little changed up from last year. There was more time on the newer side of the campus and it seemed to take us around more of the back of house areas than through the campus itself. There isn’t much course support from spectators as such on the back side of the campus (glad I wore my headphones) and there is only so much maintenance equipment and housing blocks you can see before you get bored. The second half of the race (once crossing over the highway) is more picturesque as you run through a park but you really don’t hit the campus area until after the finish.

2016.1

2016 Course – more time at the back of the campus

2015.1

2015 Course – more time in the park

About 15 minutes after the half marathon started the organizers sent off the 8K runners. They started on the same place as we did but on the opposite side of the start line. Essentially they run the last 8K of the half marathon distance and would explain why we ran back through the start line around mile 8. It was noticeable that there were more water stations on the second half of the course as a result.

Personally I was having a fairly decent race. I was feeling good and the course wasn’t too congested. There were some nice open stretches and for the short inclines, there were plenty of declines. It was a fairly limited elevation through the first 8 miles. Here are my splits for the first 8 miles.

First half

My first half splits.

I was feeling good going into the second half the race. My 10K split was within a couple of minutes of my 10K PR so all I had to do was keep it going.

As I was going well I started to do running math in my head. Big mistake. It was a distraction and my numbers and timing didn’t seem to make sense. I abandoned that as it is a bad habit. I didn’t think I could make my goal time (sub 1:50) but I still knew I could make a good go of the race. There are no pictures that I took on the course but I did get this professional shot from the second half of the race.

pi

Doing my best Flyin’ Hawaiian pose.

The second half of the course in the park features a long out and back. It is about a mile and a half or so. As I had run this last year I had a sense of where I was. I remember it feeling a lot longer last year as it always does when you don’t know where the turn around is. I found this section a lot more comfortable to do this year.

Once out of the park you run through the back of a nearby neighborhood and into another park. The last couple of miles have the two biggest inclines (not hills as such). There is a final turnaround in the park as we run around a gazebo. It was at this point when I hit a mile to go that I realized I wasn’t going to hit my sub 1:50 goal, I was getting a little tired. I still thought I could be close to a PR but either way I knew it would be a good run for me.

second half

My second half splits. It shows that I slowed around mile 10.

After the final crest of course it is all downhill to the finish line. I just picked up my pace and ran it in. I was feeling strong and pushed through to the end.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:51:55. Really happy with my time but sad because I hadn’t PR’d. Still, I felt good.

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I grabbed a bottle of water and excited the finish chute making sure to take a couple of photos to document the experience.

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It was a great run in to the finish line.

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Happy to be done. I worked hard.

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The medal was so much nicer this year.

Before I left the finish line I took a quick look at my running data to see how close I had been to a PR when I realized that I actually had PR’d the race. No wonder my math hadn’t worked out on the course. I had my old PR of 1:52.43 (2013 Atlantic City April Fool’s Half Marathon recap) wrong in my head and I actually PR’d the race by almost a minute.

UNITE

My official finish time.

Needless to say I was very happy once I realized. It had been over 3 years since I PR’d so you can excuse me for forgetting!

Once past the finish chute we were shepherded out to the food and back check areas. The food was well organized. Everyone was given a plastic bag containing post race refreshments as well as more water and they had Coke/Diet Coke available (although I haven’t touched soda since last August).

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Post race refreshments were restricted to runners only.

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Food bags were well organized and runners were moved very quickly through the tent.

We then were able to sit and stretch out on the lawn area just outside of the race set up. This is really a wonderful area to sit and cool down after the race. It really was the most picturesque part of the day. Shame it was after the race and not during.

 

 

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Post race food done right. There was also a bag of potato chips included.

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Definitely earned this today.

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Some nice views of the post race area.

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A great place to rest up and relax post race.

After sitting for a while I went to bag check to receive my bag. I didn’t need my jacket after all as the weather was glorious. The bag did come in useful though as I had to pick up my race shirt and mug and it was nice to have something to pack it all up as I then had to line up for the shuttle to return to the starting line to get my car.

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In additional to my medal and race shirt (not shown) I got my race mug which CGI gives out for each race.

Really pleased with my day and again this would be a race I would recommend and return to. I think I would like my wife run it next year so she gets a chance and I will do something else, probably the Love Run Philly as they are back to back weeks and both run by the same company.

I guess it was all down to the shirt for me. I was thinking of heading the blog ‘Magnum PR’ but that would have been a little too cheesy.

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I outran ‘Apollo’ and ‘Zeus’ to earn my PR.

Thanks for reading. Sorry about all the Magnum references 🙂

2015 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon – Race recap

newunitetm

It has been a very long winter and as a result I haven’t been able to get outside to run too much over the last few months. So with that in mind I was looking for a spring race to get me ready for the upcoming season and as a tune up for the Pittsburgh Marathon next month (May 3rd). I had a choice of running the Bucks County Half Marathon in Tyler Park which I have run 3 times already or try for something new. As I listen to my friend John’s ‘The Runner Of A Certain Age‘ podcast (as well as being a guest now and again) I decided based upon his review from the prior year to sign up for the Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon.

2015 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon Course

2015 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon Course

The Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon is put on by the CGI Racing team and they are responsible for other races such as the LOVE Run Half Marathon which I ran last year and also the New Jersey State Triathlon which I signed up for this year (my first triathlon) and I’ve had a good experience with this organization in the past.

So, before we start, I have to confess that I messed up a little with the planning. I know that locally Rutgers has a campus in Camden, NJ which is not too far away and is an area where I have run races before (Benjamin Franklin Bridge 10K) and we live not to far away from Rider University. For some reason in my mind I thought I would be running locally. Not so much. The main Rutgers University Campus is up in Piscataway, NJ which is over 45 miles away and a good hours drive. Hmmm….

Once I figured out that I realized my mistake in not signing up for race day packet pickup. I had to travel up to Piscataway the day before and on the day of the race. I probably spent more on gas and tolls than the cost of the race day packet pickup. Now before you think I’m completely crazy my experience of race day packet pick up is fine if I was to run a 5K or 10K but I don’t want to feel rushed before a half or a full marathon. In fact, based upon my experience with the LOVE Run marathon from CGI the year before it was a big race and I didn’t fancy the idea of fighting the crowds. Also, the race guide talked about parking at the starting area or the finish area and shuttling to and from. I didn’t want to deal with that on top of this all.

On the day before the race I got up early to be at the race expo as it opened so I could get back home and not be too disruptive to our planned family activities. I didn’t know at the time that it was Rutgers Open House weekend. The weather was beautiful and it was an easy drive for the most part. It took me under an hour to get to the campus but once upon arriving it took me almost 20 minutes to get into the parking area for packet pickup.

Finally made it to the expo

Finally made it to the expo

The packet pickup was at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center. It was a busy morning there. There were swim meets going on, there were other sports being played so there was a quite the foot traffic inside. The expo however was well signed and separate from all the general hubbub outside.

The expo itself was held inside a large gymnasium. It wasn’t huge but it was set up clearly. As you entered there was a small area for a speaker series and next to that a desk to look up your race number if you didn’t already have it with you. Then at the far end of the hall was the bib pick up and next to that the shirt pick up.

Expo set up

Expo set up

Bib and t-shirt pick up

Bib and t-shirt pick up

Race mugs

Race mugs

There weren’t too many vendors displaying. The National Running Center was there for any last-minute purchases as well as a local therapy provider giving back massages. Also, one of the sponsors (Agua Enerviva) and a local fitness equipment dealer. They also had a table to pick up your souvenir mug. This is quite a nice perk and something I also received when I ran the LOVE Run last year.

I got what I came for

I got what I came for

Ready for the next day's activities

Ready for the next day’s activities

In hindsight this would have been an ideal race for same day packet pick up. I would highly recommend this option if you are going to sign up for this event. The race itself isn’t small but it isn’t a huge field and there is ample parking at the start line area which is right next to the start line. Also, I met up with John at packet pickup and it was calm and orderly and well run.

Race day arrival

Race day arrival

Race day arrival

Race day arrival

Race day arrival was very easy. The drive, the parking on campus and the whole traffic flow was a breeze. I arrived with plenty of time before the start of the race to stretch, use the port-a-potties and loosen up. I headed down to the packet pick up area to meet John before the start of the race. I always like to meet up with people I know before a race as just chatting with and hanging out with people helps calm the nerves and just generally lifts my spirits before a race.

Meeting up with John (host of 'The Runner Of A Certain Age' podcast)

Meeting up with John (host of ‘The Runner Of A Certain Age’ podcast)

It was a little chilly at the start but I knew it was going to warm up based on the forecast. The sky was clear and the sun was out. I pulled a mylar blanket out of my check bag to wear while waiting in the corral with a plan to throw it out just before crossing the start line (TIP – if you have mylar blankets handed to you at a race keep them for future races so you can stay warm in the corral of another race).

I walked to the corrals with John and we noted that the corrals were set up by pace per mile not any designated letter. I left John at his prefered pace and I moved up towards the 8:00-9:00 pace area. I didn’t notice any side entrances for the corrals so I had to move slowly through the crowd (politely I may add) to get to where I was going. Once there I settled in and waited for the National Anthem and the starting signal. The start was about 5 minutes delayed but the crowd seemed to be cheery enough. After all, this was some of the best weather we had experienced here in a long time!!!

Foiled up and ready to run

Foiled up and ready to run

My goal for this race was to see what I had in me after a long winter of running indoors. I recently have been struggling with injury. I tweaked my back and pelvis shovelling snow during the last couple of snow storms we had. As a result of the injury I had taken a full week off from running. If you know me that is a big deal. I was also on antibiotics for chest infection and back on Ventolin for my asthma (for the first time in three years). Also, with the upcoming Pittsburgh Marathon I wanted to try out some gear in race conditions. I have recently been experimenting with Injinji running socks and although I had already run some longer distances in them I was playing around with the thickness options they have (original weight vs medium weight). My goal therefore was to see if I could comfortably be under 2 hours. With a time goal in mind I didn’t get a chance to take too many pictures on route.

The course itself takes you around the Livingston Campus and Busch Campus for the first 9 miles before you cross over the bridge to Johnson Park and then finally through to the finish along College Avenue. It is not flat and fast as was advertised as there were a number of turns involved on the course and some gently rolling hills but nothing that would lend me to say this was a hilly course.

There were plenty of water stations on the course but very sparse spectators, although it should be remarked that this was very early on a Sunday morning on a college campus so I cannot imagine how many students would really be up early. The weather was fantastic and really made for a relaxing run. It actually felt like I was out for a simple weekend long run. The race wasn’t too large so as a runner you had plenty of space to move around and although the streets were a little narrow in places you never felt jammed in.

The first few miles ticked away and everyone just set into their own pace. I had started out with the 9:00 minute pace group but soon passed their leader and headed out for my own race.

Having never been to college here it was nice to see the campus. I was impressed by the amount of space that there was and that the campus looked pretty well looked after. The roads were a little cut up but I think that was a result of the harsh winter we had and the toll it took on the roadways. You had to be a little careful with footing in some places.

Around mile 7-8 we started heading back towards the start line area and in fact headed back up the starting chute for the second part of the race. It was around here that we started experiencing the first of many of the turn arounds. I hadn’t really studied the course map too much and you can never really tell the detail from a picture but from mile 9 onwards there were four hairpin turnarounds. I’m not usually a big fan of turnarounds but based upon the need to squeeze 13 miles into their campus I understand what needs to be done.

I settled into a pretty good rhythm and was really enjoying the scenery of the campus and also the park when we crossed over the bridge. Once we entered into the park we stayed along the pathway and ran from one hairpin turnaround to the other. That was probably the least enjoyable part (but still enjoyable race) and we saw a few more spectators on that side of the course as other people were getting along with their own activities in the park at that time of the morning.

Heading towards mile 12 all I could see ahead of me was a hill. Uh oh I thought. I was just beginning to feel a little tired at that point. Before the hill however we had to turn right into Buccleuch Park for what turned out to be the final turnaround of the race. At least this wasn’t a hairpin as we got to run around a little gazebo.

Buccleuch Park Gazebo

Buccleuch Park Gazebo

Once out of the park we had to tackle that hill I had seen confronting us as we entered. To my surprise it had just been a trick of the eye. Yes, there was a an uphill to run but it was short and not as steep as it looked and once you hit the crown you could see pretty much all the way down College Avenue to the finish line.

The run down College Avenue was so nice. It is a natural chute funneling you to the finish. Crowds were lined on both sides of the street and they were cheering you along. The downhill wasn’t to steep and allowed you to just glide through the finish. I felt great at that point. I was running around 8:33 pace which was the best I had achieved in a while and I felt comfortable doing it. I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:53:49. Well under two hours and within a couple of minutes of my half marathon PR. I was very pleased with the result.

I crossed the finish line and received my medal and also was handed a bottle of water. It had warmed up quite a bit at this point. Not too hot but was just a beautiful day.

Feeling great at the finish

Feeling great at the finish

By the way, my choice of outfit was my new INKnBURN Flow shirt. I think it was a perfect choice and very comfortable for the conditions. This has become my favorite shirt recently. I had been trying to decide between this shirt and my Mickey Milers shirt (as I was meeting up with fellow Miler John) but went with this combo. The socks worked out great too. I would recommend trying a pair if you get the chance. A little weird to look at and to put on but if you are prone to blisters these offer great protection.

After coming through the finish line chute we turned left to the post race area. The campus was ideal for a post race area as the streets were wide, the crowds were separated to the family reunion area and there was a lot of green space to stretch out and relax.

Post race area

Post race area – nice and open space

Post race area

Post race area – a great place to chill

The food tent was labeled clearly for runners only and they checked your bib to go through. I was very grateful for the soft pretzel. What I didn’t see was any sports drink to replenish any lost electrolytes. That was probably my only complaint.

Food station marked for runners

Food station marked for runners

Very ordered food hand out

Very ordered food hand out

One of the best post race treats

One of the best post race treats

The medal was a decent size but a little ‘lightweight’ and a little plain. Also, on the medal and on the ribbon it said ‘Half Marathon and 8K’. I wasn’t sure if this was the same medal handed to people who ran the 8K also. That seemed a little strange that these wouldn’t be unique to the race.

With my medal

With my medal

Front of the medal

Front of the medal

Back of the medal

Back of the medal

Note the ribbon says Half Marathon and 8K

Note the ribbon says Half Marathon and 8K

Overall though I would totally recommend this race. Timing was perfect, we lucked out with the weather, the course was enjoyable and the size of the field made it feel like a big race without being a big race (i.e. plenty of room to move about). I would recommend that if you register for this race (and you should if you are nearby) you opt for race day packet pick up as the expo wasn’t a compelling reason to go twice in two days.

John and I spoke about this race on his podcast. Here is the link to the episode (Episode 35 – It’s A Beautiful Morning Edition’).

Thanks for reading.