The Rutgers Half Marathon, held in mid-April each year on the campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick New Jersey, passes through the picturesque campus and back through the athletic fields. With some nice swag including a mug, shirt, and a pretty hefty medal, it’s great for a beautiful spring day race. This year, the weather couldn’t have been better. It was sunny with a nice moderate breeze and never went above about 68.
The race begins by the athletic fields, winds through the rest of the athletic facility, through some wooded park like areas, and finally up to finish in the Piscataway campus. With the sun out and shining, it’s beautiful.Though the crowd support is strong at the beginning and end, and section in the middle where the course loops back toward the start line, it gets a bit thin in the middle. Still, the course is pretty flat and makes for a quick run without killing your legs.
Instead of recapping this race mile by mile, I’m going to share my favorite runners I encountered in this race, a race that was oddly full of characters. When you are running the same exact pace for the entire race, you tend to see the same runners mile after mile. I ended up in a pack full of interesting ones.
The Six Types of Runners in Every Half Marathon
The Middle School Track Stars
At some point in every race not in a massive city, I don’t know why they don’t show up in cities, a group of teenagers from the local middle school will come flying past you like you are barely moving. I don’t know why they always seem to start in the back and then attempt to make their way to the front, but judging by the always ecstatic look on their faces, this is the most fun thing in the world. They are usually singlet wearing, long haired to match their not caring attitude, and even when running a 5 min / mile pace up the side of Everest, they have smiles on their faces. In middle school I was busy playing video games. These kids are busy making old chumps like me question life choices.
The American Pride
These flag-toting runners are an inspiration to everyone else. Usually decked in running shirts for awesome organizations like wounded warriors, they aren’t always the fastest runners, but they tend to be very consistent. Let up your pace for a minute, and all of a sudden they are passing you again. I like to model my running on their style. Not only is carrying a heavy flag an order of magnitude more difficult than without, even a mild breeze can make it far more difficult in terms of weight and just having the fabric smacking your head. Way to go!
The Special Op
This runner is a bit more elusive as blending into the shadows is his specialty. Well that and the fact that this is the first race I’ve noticed one at. Through most of the race I tailed a runner in a MARSOC shirt, realizing toward the end that this is Marine Corps Special Operations Command. Pretty cool. Knowing they were in that field pushed me to fight harder, and I set a personal goal on passing them and finishing first. For those of us who are never fighting for an overall top finish, we usually find one or two other runners who look like they should be better, and try to beat them, for a personal victory. MARSOC was my personal mountain to climb at Rutgers. And my training on the hills of Wanaque led me to speed past him on a lengthy hill around mile 10. Now I need to watch my back. As long as I stay away from bodies of water with suspicious looking weeds that might be acting as snorkels, I think I’ll be ok.
The Power Couple
Before this race, I had encountered flavor of these runners, but never the full blown buffet I was to experience at Rutgers. Throughout much of the second half of the race, I was stuck behind a couple. This was not a normal couple who was running together for support. No, this was officially the most irritating running couple in the world. I phoned Guinness Records after, and they confirmed it. The bro was dressed in a spandex onesie that left little to the imagination, especially toward the increasingly sweaty end of the run. She was more modestly dressed. I imagine that he was part of some running club, and supporting her, but that is giving them a ton of benefit of doubt because they truly just seemed like horrible people. At each mile mark, no less than six devices began beeping to tell them their pace. At each beep, he would tell her how great their pace was. Broseph, if you are at the same pace as me for multiple miles, I hate to be the one to tell you, but it isn’t great. They also both had headphones on and music apparently quite loud as they had to yell all of this each time. I thought I lost them several times at water stations, but each time they’d surge back to catch me. At one point they loudly complained about someone “hanging onto” them, which I could only assume was me. This offended me so much, after all it’s not like I was exactly drafting them to push for the lead later on, it isn’t exactly easy to draft on someone in skin tight spandex. At this point I surged forward and finally lost them on a hill. I lost track of them at the finish, but I’m fairly sure they are the exact people who stop exactly on the finish line to turn off their six devices and block other finishers from cooling down.
The Run / Walking Dead
The only person who may have bothered me more was a man running in a Hawaiian shirt and visor. That in itself was interesting, his style of running however was not. He ran at approximately a 7 minute mile pace, though of course didn’t start in an appropriate place for this pace. Instead, he shoved his way through countless slower runners for the first two miles, then bonked and began a slow paced walk. I figured he had just over-cooked the starting pace and was done, but a mile later, I heard the unmistakable sound of him elbowing his way through again. He got past me among others, and at the next mile marker, began his slow walk again. This transition was so sudden another runner literally ran smack into his back with a plop sound. From this point, his alternating pace continued though I eventually lost him a few miles in. I don’t mind people walking when they are out of the way, but he was both in the way, and so aggressive when actually running that it drove me crazy. I saw him taking Snapchat selfies at the finish line and felt better about myself. He was approximately 45.
The Bringer Up of the Rear
When a race course loops back upon itself, there are two sets of inspirational runners you encounter. First, the leaders fly past you, sometimes causing a ripple in the air as they speed away. This usually causes an adrenaline rush in me and others and is especially cool in major races where these are the true elites. Later on, while on the second part of the loop, you eventually encounter the back markers of the race. Sometimes you’ll even find the very last runner still taking part. At first when encountering them, I felt superiority and scoffed, but recently I’ve realized that these runners are inspirational for a different reason. They may be in the back, but they are still miles ahead of all those who didn’t run. Most often these runners are just starting, or are running for personal health reasons, and they are taking an active role in improving things for themselves. More people should strive to be like them.
Rutgers was a unique race in that I encountered some of the strongest examples of each of these type of runner, though oddly no barefoot runners. It was a literal breath of fresh air on a warm spring day and the vast field of normal, considerate runners was just as noticeable. Running is essentially life in miniature, the same types of people are encountered in both. The trick to surviving the thing is to figure out how to get around them and run your own race.