The Big Chill at Rutgers University was this past Saturday. It is a race that I found the same year I started running, and it is a favorite of mine, simply because of its mission and because it is my home area, my students. Even though I am not a Rutgers grad, my roots are here: I grew up in Central Jersey, my brother is an alum, and I am lucky enough to be employed there. This race’s main purpose is to collect toys for local children. In lieu of a race fee, each participant brings a new toy to donate. The pile is always awesomely massive at the end. They even give you the option to NOT get a chip timer on your bib so that money that would have been spent on the race can instead go to charity.
It is just plain fun to see my students spill onto the lawn in front of the College Ave gym, everyone in their Big Chill/Rutgers/Holiday finest. This is a race with plenty of walkers, lots of folks dressed up, dogs, kids, joggers, you name it. This year they implemented a “seeded” area for serious racers, cordoned off at the front of the pack of what would be 9,000 runners.
The rest of us were just in it for the workout, the spirit, the fun. It is not the most organized race (the race’s exit “chute” and line for snacks at the end are a hot mess of people and crowds). It is not a race I was planning to PR at (spoiler alert: I didn’t). I was just there for a good time. Which I got. As you can see below, I had a SWEET snowman headband, and decided to get all matchy with it, going blue. In other years I have gone more thematic, but this year, the snowman headband was where it was at for me!
Mom and I arrived early so that parking wasn’t going to be a problem. New Brunswick can be a tough town to park in, especially with a few thousand extra guests. Luckily a lot of the runners are students, who take buses or walk to the start. None the less, I always allow extra time to find parking (even though I know the lay of the land well). We were parked and sitting eating our bananas by about 7:45. The weather was warmer than in many previous years, but was still chilly. We braved the cold at about 8:15 to walk over to the start (9am start).
My younger cousins had mentioned that they might join us, but we weren’t sure. I got a text just as we were getting into the starting corral that my cousins Lexi and Shawn were there! Somehow, we actually found them in the crowd and got to snap a few quick pics. They had both chosen to “seed” themselves with their young little deer legs – so they left us behind in the unseeded part of the corral. The race started pretty close to on-time, though a bit anticlimactic.
This is a hilly course, and I haven’t been pushing myself training, so I wasn’t expecting a great time. Maybe somewhere in the 35’s?
The first half mile takes you up College Ave, past Old Queens toward what is now the “Rutgers clock” and the train station. It is, of course, a hill. Then you turn left and left again and go up George street, in front of some of the dorms (another hill), where you hit Mile 1. I was astonished to hit mile 1 at 10:05. It had taken me a good 15 seconds to cross the start line, so color me surprised. Even more surprising? My mom was still with me. Two hills and a 10 minute mile. I’ll take it! At this point, mom paused to take off her sweatshirt as the sun got warmer and we started to sweat. I lost her at that point, but I found out later that she kept me in her sights nearly the whole time.
Onward toward mile 2! The next turns take you into Buccleuch Park, which, surprise surprise, contains another large hill. This one is steep but short, and is after you go around a little gazebo. One fun aspect, just after you enter the park, you can see the Speedy Mcspeedersons that are a mile or so ahead of you charging toward the finish! I don’t mind that so much in a short race. When I know they are WAY ahead of me in a long race, it makes me sad, but in a short race, I can live with it. I kept my eyes peeled for my speedy cousins but didn’t catch a glimpse of them. You come upon Mile 2 about half way through the park. It was at this point that I realized I was still running at a decent clip. I definitely felt more sluggish than that first mile, but seriously? Things were starting to hurt, but in that “I’m working hard and it is okay” type way. So I kept hauling.
One positive about a race that is not-so-serious: lots of folks who don’t actually run start walking around mile 2. It was in the park that I started passing people. And that, for a back-of-the-packer, is always good for morale.
Once you leave the park (up a short hill, of course), it is smooth sailing, winding through a few streets behind the gym and back up to finish where you started but in the opposite direction. At this point, I was still feeling like I was working hard but not dead. When we took the last turn, I decided to leave it all out there. I had no idea where I was time-wise, I just opened up my stride and passed a few people in that last stretch. I always try hard to find a little “kick” in my finish, even if that race isn’t going so well.
Miraculously, I got to the finish and saw my time: 33:12.
Probably just under 33 with the crowd to the start line, if I had been chip-timed. Quite frankly, I was surprised! I have been taking my runs pretty leisurely, no watch, just got the sheer exercise of it. I knew while running that I was running hard, but really wasn’t sure how it would pan out because of the hills, all the turns, and just… who knows.
Pleasantly surprised. AND? Even better? My mom rolled up behind me coming in around the 34:50s. That is amazing for her! She kept me in her sights for a while and really turned it on. She couldn’t believe it. She is really coming into her own as a runner (::tears up:: SO PROUD!).
I should note that in the course of the race, I was passed by at least two Santa’s, one Santa who was running while holding his reindeer costume, and a Grinch. I’m sure there were more, but those were the notable ones.
Yup. Someone wearing one of those passed me. Damnit.
All in all, a great time was had. I love when holiday spirit combines with my favorite hobby… we all know I can’t turn down a theme party!!
Do you have a favorite holiday race and/or race “costume”?