Three weeks, three half marathons.
This week was the CGI Racing Rutgers Unite Half Marathon. Unite has a special place in my heart. Not only does it run through my old alma mater and where I used to live for over a decade—and partially through a park I often did training runs in before moving to Jersey City—but its inaugural year was also my very first half marathon, back in 2010. Plus, as I mentioned two weeks ago, CGI puts on great races that are well-organized and bridge the gap between rinky-dinky local race and crowded big city race.
Back when I was putting together my spring racing and marathon training plans, this was supposed to be a goal race. I wanted to snag a PR here. However, after running nearly race effort two weeks ago and full race effort with a new PR last week, plans changed. My legs spent last week being mad at me so I “downgraded” this race to a fun training run instead.
I originally didn’t have any extra miles on the schedule for before this race, but after downgrading it, I decided I should work it into what a logical long run would have been for this week, 17 miles.
I woke up nice and early at 5am to get dressed and get my stuff together to drive down to New Brunswick. The drive was nice and quick and I showed up much earlier than planned. I took the extra time to in the warm car and relax for a bit. Eventually, it was time to get on out there. The race is a point-to-point race so I parked at the finish and planned to run four miles beforehand. I threw my running backpack on and set out to run to the start. Because of how the course winds and loops, parking by the finish still only gave me about two miles so I did a little loop in Johnson Park to rack up another two miles in the middle. I’ve done many miles in Johnson Park in my Central Jersey days, so this was a nice little throwback. Anyway, weather was fantastic for running. Low 40s, sunny, zero wind.
I ended up getting to the start nearly twenty minutes earlier than I originally planned, but I just took my time checking my bag and hitting a porta potty. Then I stood around in the sun looking for all the people I knew running. I saw exactly none of them.
When it was time to get into the corral, I lined up with 8:00 mile pacer. The plan was to stick with this group and keep myself in control. The last two weeks made it clear I’m incapable of doing that on my own right now. This would put me at a hair under a 1:45 finish.
The first few miles of the race were pretty uneventful. I stayed glued to the pace group and chatted it up with my fellow runners. We chatted some about Rutgers itself and some trivia and then about upcoming races and PRs and such. The course through Livingston Campus was a little different than the last time I had ran this race, but it wasn’t bad at all. I lived on Livingston for two years and spent nearly nine years of my life at the radio station there so it’s always nice to get extra time to check out how much it’s changed since I graduated. Anyway, these miles ticked off pretty quickly.
After heading back to Busch Campus, where the race had started, I was feeling a little tired. We had been running slightly under our target 8:00 pace, but still well under race effort for me. Mostly, my legs were still tired from the last few weeks of training. After crossing mile 7, I pulled just a little ahead of the pacer. Not much, I could still hear him talking and coaching, but enough that I couldn’t see him anymore. I kept trying to pull back enough to fall back in with the group, but struggled to not keep pulling slightly ahead. My body seemed to find a rhythm it liked and I was okay with letting it do it’s thing at this point.
Looping back around through Busch Campus breezed by and mile 9 showed up before I knew it. From there, the rest of the race was about 90% the same route I did my warmup miles on, just in the opposite direction. We made our way into Johnson Park for an out-and-back and then across the Landing Lane bridge over the Raritan River and into New Brunswick. Coming over the bridge, I reminisced about the hundreds of miles worth of long runs I did on the Delaware-Raritan Canal Tow Path, which I would often pick up at this exact point. Such blissful miles, those were!
I was happy to find that the steep hill in Buccleuch Park was no longer part of the course. This hill used to always hit me right in the legs. It’s not long, but it’s pretty steep and comes at you in the last mile or so of the race. I didn’t miss it! Our route in the park was little more than in and out before making our way down College Ave—the center of College Ave Campus—to the finish line.
I was still slightly ahead of the pacer who had continued running slightly fast all race. I crossed at 1:44:06 and he was only a few seconds behind me. So that was about a 7:56 pace which I think is reasonable for an 8:00 pacer, to be honest. Either way, I was pretty happy with myself for sticking to my plan for the day and taking it on the easier side of things and not going too fast. My legs really didn’t need another hard effort long run.
Overall, I really love this race. Now that I no longer live in the New Brunswick area, it was really nice to come back for a race through areas I spent so much time in. And I also just love what CGI does. They’re races are pretty fantastic.
With this race down, I’m halfway through my half marathons for the season. I’ve got this weekend off and then runDisney Star Wars Dark Side and the NYRR Shape Women’s Half Marathon on back to back weekends after that. Until then, training continues!