Favorite races for kids in NJ

I don’t always force the family to come along to my races, but there are some races that my kids really enjoy and look forward to.

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RVRR Youth Series


RVRR Youth Series

When they found out that the East Brunswick Road Races were coming up they were very excited. So, here are our favorite kids races in no particular order:

1. East Brunswick Road Races

The kids races take place before the 5k/10k races start (you can even choose which one to run when you’re out on the course – both start at the same time and if you don’t feel like doing the 10k just follow the 5k turnaround to head back). The kids race is known as The Pumpkin Dash and takes place on the baseball field. The kids race in groups organized by age and all receive a ribbon. They also receive a pumpkin – after the races the kids head back over to the registration area where they can pick up their pumpkin and decorate it with the provided supplies.

2. Jimmy D 5k

The carnival atmosphere is the best thing about this one – with various activities for the kids and plenty of food it’s always a fun event for the whole family. The kids races take place on the track after the 5k is over.

3. RVRR Summer (Youth) Series

This year this series of 4 races in June and July moved back to Donaldson Park in Highland Park NJ. Kids can take part in as many of the events as they would like (1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 1 mile, and the ever popular Lollypop Dash – a short run to claim their lollipop). Each run is also followed by free pizza. I wrote about this event here.

4. Stomp the Monster

First off I have to say that I have not been to this one, but I have heard good things, and it may well make it on to my to-do list for next year. This event is another with a full festival going on, with food, ice cream, bouncy houses, etc.

Let me know if there are others you would recommend!

Happy running – Newport Liberty Half Marathon

Smiling (almost) all the way.

Smiling (almost) all the way.

This past Sunday was the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. This race always attracts a pretty large field and this year there were 2700 finishers.

It seems that I missed some key benefits of running as part of a club in my last post because this was a perfect day at least in part because of RVRR.

I was able to find someone else in the club who had similar goals for the race as I did, although after about half a mile I was slightly ahead of him so didn’t really know whether he was still there – as we entered Liberty State Park, at around 4.5 miles in, there were members of the club cheering us on (another big benefit – definitely gave me a boost), and I heard them say his name, so I knew he was still there and we were both still on the same pace.

At this point the pace had been faster than I had really expected or intended, but I felt strong. Somehow my pace was incredibly consistent with the first 4 mile splits according to my Garmin being 6:48, 6:49, 6:49, 6:48.

I did start to think I may have to slow down and at some point during the 6th mile I really felt like that was it. At some point during that mile I was passed by the club member who had a similar goal. As he passed, he encouraged me to keep with him and I pushed myself to stay behind him (without that I’m not sure I would have been able to keep the pace going), and that’s where I stayed into the 8th mile. During much of that time there was a strong head wind and I had the benefit of using him to shield me (as he tucked in behind others too where possible). During the 8th mile I felt good again and pushed to pass him again (hoping I could return the favor to some extent – although I’m pretty small so don’t offer good protection from the wind). It was here that the cheer squad reappeared and I got an extra boost from that again. Splits for those miles were: 6:52, 6:48, 6:48, 6:46.

During the 9th mile with the Statue of Liberty behind us, I felt so good I smiled and waved for the cameras as we passed by (my pictures are here – be warned that a video with sound starts playing when you open the page. The photo above is an official photo – first time I’ve felt I wanted to buy one, and with the Active Advantage benefit of $15 reimbursement I decided it was worth it).

It was at this point that I realized that I was out on my own again but I was determined to finish strong.

I knew I was going to struggle to maintain the pace all the way to the finish, and my splits for the remaining miles show how much I had left in me: so from mile 9 at 6:53, I dropped to 7:02 in mile 10, then 7:08 and 7:13 before being able to give a little extra push in mile 13 for a 7:04.

Thanks to the running club I have a new half marathon PR – clock time was 1:31:01.99, and it seems that the chip time is listed as the same (it looks like maybe the chip time didn’t work for the first few seconds as there seems to be quite a lot of that on the results page). I stopped my Garmin at 1:30:59 so I’ll call that my PR – 59 seconds faster than my previous PR.

Benefits of a running club

Technically speaking, this should probably be entitled “Benefits of joining the right running club”. I joined a running club (the fantastic RVRR) after running for a year and a half. I had decided to sign up for a half marathon (after only running in 5k races. and running a maximum of about 4 miles in a single run).

I saw the benefits early on – the simple motivation of being around people who could run much further, much easier, but also within a group of people which included such a wide range of runners that I could find people who were running at a pace I could manage. At that time I remember running with people who were chatting away as we ran but I was incapable of maintaining a conversation.

Reflecting back on that I see how much I have changed as a runner – just the other week I realized that now I’m one of those running “fast” and having conversation with others, as newer members huff and puff to keep up (don’t worry, you’ll get there, just keep going and before you realize you’re looking back as I am now at how far you have come).

Last week I ran more miles than I have ever run in a single week (51.5 miles total), and I can credit that to the running club in many ways, and I didn’t even do that many of those miles with the club.

I certainly pushed myself to do more in the weekly club speed workout on Tuesday, and I turned up early for the Wednesday club run to join a few people for a few early miles, which helped, although the Tuesday workout had taken its toll and I didn’t complete the whole Wednesday course with those I started running with, but even on Saturday, when I decided not to join the club run so I could run long without stopping, and at my own pace, the club helped.

I ran out fairly early through Johnson Park and out to the towpath of the D&R canal with the intention of running 20 miles. At first there was nobody around at all, but as it got later I came across more and more runners on the path. Then at about 8.5 miles I recognized a runner from the club going the other way, and it was enough to make me smile (which always gives a boost). I carried on, and turned around at about the 10.1 mile mark of my run. I managed to pick up the pace – I wonder if part of this was the motivation of seeing if I could get back in time to see others on the towpath running as part of the club run.


At around my 16 mile mark I saw a fairly large group of fast runners from the club coming towards me in the opposite direction – as they passed I heard a shout of “looking strong” (I’m sure they were going faster than me though, but thanks anyway) and I’m sure that gave me a boost too. My final four miles were the fastest of my whole run at about 7:55/mile (mile 18 was affected by the fact you have to walk across rocks to get off the towpath back to Landing Lane) – http://www.strava.com/activities/82334472/laps

I feel positive about the marathon again – 20.2 miles in 2:48 would mean that I would have an hour and twelve minutes to do 6 miles and beat that 4 hour barrier in my first marathon and it feels like that could be fairly easily within reach (although I know I still don’t really know how I will react to those extra 6 miles).

The planning has already started to find out who from the club is running Philadelphia, and who will come along to support, and most importantly, how many will attend the after-party. I’m looking forward to it again!

Do you run with a club? Are you lucky enough to have found a group that has such a wide variety of runners that you can always find someone to run with on any particular day, no matter what you feel like doing?

Too many 5k races?

In New Jersey at least, there are a lot of 5k races… 921 in NJ over the year according to this. That’s quite a lot for somewhere only 170 miles long and 70 miles wide; not to mention that many places also have easy access to NYC or the Philadelphia area where there would be more races accessible to NJ residents. And that’s just the 5k races.

As someone I know likes to say “5k mania!”.

It seems that quite a few of these are charity fundraisers. It looks like charities see holding a 5k as a good choice of event to raise money (and awareness). Often though they don’t have any experience in helping run such an event and it can make it difficult to get it right first time.

Yesterday I took part in a first-time charity 5k – Run for Warmth which fit this profile. Before I get too far into a critique of what was wrong the race, I want to make it clear that I actually really, really enjoyed it, and I sincerely hope that the organizers learned a lot from the experience and can come back stronger next year. They really are a very nice group of people raising money for a worthwhile cause – helping people find the help they need for paying bills, particularly heating bills in the winter. With programs being cut recently they were looking to find ways to raise funds so they don’t have to turn so many people away: http://spreadthepurple.org/

I pretty much knew what to expect when I signed up for this race – although I haven’t taken part in one before, I have seen, or heard about, similar events. I initially signed up for this because I wanted to run a 5k in March and this one was local. I just wanted to get an idea of my speed at the time. Unfortunately they postponed it just a few days after I signed up. I wasn’t sure if I would end up running it simply because it was rearranged for Labor Day – the day after the Jimmy D 5k which is a large run for another good cause. I’ve taken part in that 5k every year since I started running, so knew I would be doing that one.

My initial thought was that this was postponed due to having very few people sign up and that was partially confirmed at the run talking to the organizer as she said there seemed to be too many other races at the same time which lead to the decision.  It was an unfortunate choice to rearrange for the day after Jimmy D because that’s such a big race only a couple of miles away from this one. With the sheer numbers of races in NJ, it’s going to be tough to find a time when you’re not up against some other race.

Thinking this was going to be a small event I decided to go along anyway – why not see how well I could do the day after running a fairly solid race, and besides, with all the fast people having run Jimmy D with only a small chance of them coming out again the next day, maybe I could place quite high.

As I noted above, I was expecting this to be small, and along with that comes concern over how well organized the run is going to be. When I arrived that morning, my concerns appeared to be well founded. Registration was from 8:30 to 9:30 so I got there around 9 to find very little activity. The catering guys were there, the timing company were there, a volunteer was there, but the word was that the organizer was going to be there in about 15 minutes. It turns out they had very little volunteer help and she had to load the van herself that morning and was running late. It didn’t seem to matter too much – there were only a handful of runners there at that point and the timing company was proactive in giving out numbers and chips, writing down our names, and trying to make sure we would still be able to start at 10am.

There was a slow trickle of runners turning up, some were pre-registered and some were not but everyone was checked off and ready in time for a pre-race warm up (if they chose to do one). I don’t think the organizers were ready though. I wonder if maybe they expected the timing company to do more because although they had printed out course maps, they had not set up anything on the course to indicate where the turns were, and I wasn’t sure they were going to even have volunteers out there. I had taken a look at the map and recognized the course as one I had seen used before (but not run myself). The turns were at the far ends of the park so should be easy to work out and the only slight complication was a detour along a road within the park that took you up to a parking lot. I had seen that you had to run around the parking lot before coming back out on the same road.

By 10am there were 20 runners – apparently more had signed up online but did not show up. The forecast was for rain so that may have been a deterrent for some, but other than a few small spots of rain closer to 9 it looked like it would hold off. Some may also have signed up in March for that date but maybe could not make the new date. The small field made it quite a pleasant atmosphere with an “everyone’s in this together” attitude. The faster looking people were working out how fast the others were (well, okay, I was trying to work it out) and the fast looking young guys seemed to think they would have to try to keep up with me after I told them about my previous day’s race. I still wasn’t sure how fast I would be so there was a chance they could beat me.

When we started they did stay right with me, although they left me to lead, but after the first turnaround they came past me. A spectator was kind enough to stand by the parking lot road to direct us in, but pointed out she had no idea what we had to do when we got up the road. At that point I pulled ahead of the two youngsters again and lead them around the parking lot and back out to the main road. They started to drop back slightly at that point but I was determined to stay ahead. I think the threat of them catching back up to me was enough to push me hard to the end and I actually won – I got to break through the tape at a finish line!

The distance was a bit short according to my Garmin and, if that was a full 5k, then my time was amazing so I knew something wasn’t right. I checked afterwards with the USATF course map and it confirmed that the finishing line was seemingly in the wrong place and the course was short. If it had carried on to the full length at the average pace I had done for the race I would have had a time of around 19:30, which was slightly faster than my pace the previous day (but this was a flat course). My recorded finish time was 19:04.9 http://www.coolrunning.com/results/13/nj/Sep2_Runfor_set1.shtml

As others came in, it became clear the chain had broken in terms of those behind being able to follow the full course. At some point people didn’t realized that the course officially went around the parking lot so they just ran up the road, round some garbage cans at the end, and back down again. Nobody seemed too bothered by it though (finish order was not affected in any way).

Food was provided after the race, and I have to say this was the best post-race food I have ever had. They had a few guys volunteer from a program that trains young people to be chefs and they grilled up some fantastic burgers and chicken (I’m thinking they may have done better holding a fundraiser with just the food rather than a 5k).

I spoke to the organizer after the race and she seemed pleased to get the feedback on what she would need to do next time. If they were to hold this again next year I would probably participate if it fit around my schedule, mainly because I liked the cause and what they were trying to do. Perhaps they can make it work. Maybe I could even try to help out.

I’m not sure whether they would have raised much money with this event with the associated costs but at least it hopefully raised some awareness and if you can help out in any way, you can donate here.

I was hoping to be able to include some pictures on this post, but I didn’t take my phone with me on the day and no pictures have been posted yet – they haven’t posted anything at all on their facebook page since before the race, but I should probably give them a break as it can’t be easy running something like that in addition to working full time… but I really want to see the finish line photo.

Do you think there are too many races? Perhaps you like the choice of small and large races so appreciate the choice? What makes you choose to run a particular race?


Unusual training with a 5k at the end

Following my last post I had an interesting week of training. I don’t usually use this blog to talk about my individual, daily runs, but as this was an unusual week, I thought it was worth talking about.

At the point of my last post I had already run a few fast miles on Monday of that week, despite heading out for what I thought would be an easy, slow run – it just felt right at the time. In the post I talked about the Tuesday night speed workout and following the discussions that I had that night, I knew on Saturday I wanted to try for a relatively fast 15 miles.

On Wednesday I ran relatively fast again, 3.25 miles at 7:45 pace, and then another 1.35 miles barefoot (therefore slower at about 9:30 pace). Then on Friday morning, again feeling good, I ran about 10k at 7:15 pace. This was turning into a fast week.

On Saturday I skipped the club run (although I did pass the group at one point) to try to do that fast 15 mile run. I managed 15 miles at 7:46 pace, resisting the urge to do more at the end as I still felt relatively good.

All of this running gave me a week of just under 38 miles with an overall average pace of about 7:51 per mile. Crazy, right? Particularly as it followed on from another high mileage week (by my standards) of just under 43 miles.

After that effort I decided to have a low mileage week to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it. I only had 2 runs from Monday to Saturday totaling 14 miles (both runs still faster than 8 minute miles).

On Friday I made a return to Bodypump classes after a couple of months off (various excuses for not going) but I now know that I need to keep going regularly. While the class didn’t seem too bad at the time, the next day my quads were hurting (and my arms too, but that was more expected). My quads were bad enough that it hurt to walk down stairs.

This lead up to a weekend of racing, with two 5k races over two days (the second of these was due to a postponed race earlier in the year – I will write more about that second race in my next post as there is a lot to say about it).

Sunday was the Jimmy D 5k which always attracts a large, competitive field. It’s a USATF NBGP 700 point race and a women’s championship race hence the fast field. I’ve done this race since the year I started running, and I’ve got faster every time.

This year was no exception, although I had no expectations for the race at the start. I decided to focus again on running form. I wanted to focus on how I lifted my legs as I ran. It’s tough to tell whether I really did anything different than I would normally do – perhaps I lift as much as that naturally – but focusing on it forced me to think about it (almost) constantly. It seemed to be working well as I went through the 2 mile mark at an average of 6:10/mile, and, although the third mile was slower due to it being mostly uphill, I did seem to be very gradually closing the gap on the next group ahead so felt as though I was doing well. I didn’t catch them though, but equally, nobody passed me, so I’m very happy with that. My final time was 9 seconds faster than last year at 19:40.

As this race is usually so competitive it’s tough to get age group awards. Last year I was 6th and I wasn’t expecting to get any closer this year. However, I did manage to get the 3rd place age group award which made me very happy.

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What surprised me most following the race was how much my biceps were hurting. As I mentioned before, Bodypump caused me all sorts of aches the day before but I wasn’t expecting a run to make things worse – I guess pumping your arms while running must really give your arm muscles more of a work out than I thought. This has demonstrated to me the importance of upper body strength in running so I will try to get to Bodypump more often.

On Monday I wasn’t sure what to expect – having run so well on Sunday I expected Monday to be harder and slower. You’ll have to wait to find out what happened in the next installment.