Race Report: Watchung Run, NJ Trail Series

I ran the NJ Trails Series Watchung Run on January 7, 2016 and it was trail running at its best. The race (and directors) keep me coming back, year after year with a non-profit focus, great trail markings, friendly aid stations and a beautiful course. Rich McNulty of NJ Trail Series knows how to make outdoor experiences accessible and challenging.

The race consisted of 6+ mile loops through a large park in the middle of New Jersey. Runners were able to go various distances, from the 10k (a little more than 6 miles), to half-marathon (a tad over 13 miles), marathon (26 and change) to 50K (about 31 miles) by simply adding more laps. The whole run was on trails aside from a short jump through two parking lots.

 

The Trail Runner Mindset

Trail runners have a slightly different mindset, and it is apparent everywhere in a gathering like the Watchung Run.

  • First, while the distance everyone runs is nearly identical, everyone’s GPS watches will total to a different number. Experienced runners accept this as part of trail running.
  • There’s also no way to precisely compare one race to the next because they have different hills, surfaces, stream crossings and everything else that draws us into the outdoors. Smart trail runners know not to make an apples-to-apples comparison of one trail half marathon to another.
  • Lastly, for a large majority of the runners, the experience may be competitive, but it is based on mutual success. You’ll frequently see runners encouraging one another, giving tips or even helping one another out. For many, they aren’t competing against one another, but their former selves. It is a beautiful sight.

 

Avid Trails Runner Anthony

A snowy selfie to check in with family after 13 miles.

Race Report

The race is incredibly well managed every year I toe the line. It is billed as a “low key, minimal support, informal trail run” aimed at donating all money from registrations to the Jersey Battered Women’s Service. It’s a great way to gauge winter outdoor fitness. Other road races can be marred with confusion and no-one to answer questions before a start. Race Director Rich McNulty & his wife handle check-ins and answer questions enthusiastically. After a simple start at precisely 8 am, we were off. With nearly 130 runners on the first lap, congestion was dense and those looking to maintain high speeds found their way to the front. I’ve gone out of the gate too fast before, so knew I’d be happier with the slow and steady approach.

Course Description & Experience

The course manages to bring you deep into the woods while trail running even though you’re sandwiched between two of New Jersey’s busiest roads and only about 10 miles from Newark Airport. You hop from one well-marked trail to another. On race day, engineers’ tape accentuates existing markings. You pass over small footbridges, run on the lip of 20-foot ravines, climb very short and steep sections, and hop a few creeks. Eventually you near Route 78, and meander through the woods for a mile or so. Soon, you hit a promising Aid Station stocked with water and electrolyte mix, some snacks and most importantly a healthy dose of encouragement. Another mile or so takes you down toward a lake and after circling that lake you climb a short distance to the start/finish and aid station.

My 5 lap run was slow and steady, totaling more than 31 miles. I made two friends as I covered nearly 12 miles with each. We walked almost all the hills, a strategy that is popular for nearly everyone in trail running. I drank about 90 oz of electrolyte mix and 30 oz of water. I really enjoyed dried figs during 2 stops, and otherwise felt very comfortable with a few handfuls of pretzels. The only “racing specific” food I ate was a single Cliff bar on my second lap.

We finished about 15 minutes before the “cut-off” with a time of  7 hours and 43 minutes. The weather was absolutely beautiful with hard snow, freezing temperatures and very little wind. Rich greeted us at the finish line, congratulating us on finishing. We cheered a marathoner who came in a few minutes later, got in our cars to warm up and left feeling strong and grateful for the time outside. Craig Williams shot photos and offered encouraging words to participants. Thanks Craig!

Results for all runners are here courtesy of NJ Trail Series.

 

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