If a university doesn't currently sponsor a half marathon, it should! The Rutgers Unite Half Marathon was an event particularly meaningful to Rutgers students and alumni, and seeing the streets draped in scarlet was enough to inspire any finisher, regardless of school loyalty.
The race expo was held from 9 am to 4 pm on the Saturday before the race at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center on the Rutgers University campus. For an added $18 runners could choose to pick up their race packets on the morning of the half marathon. Since we flew in the morning before the race, we swung by packet pickup on our way back from Newark airport. Of note to future runners of this race, this year's event was held on the same day as Open House for future Rutgers students, and we rolled onto campus as Open House was beginning. As a result, we sat in some traffic. Friends who visited the expo later in the day had no problems entering or exiting the rec center, so we recommend going a little later. With that being said, arriving early ensured that we scored some great deals, got some free stuff, and enjoyed a quick massage without having to wait in line.
Runners who arrived at the expo knowing their bib numbers were sent directly to packet pickup, where the 6,000 bibs were evenly distributed across thirty volunteers. A clear drawstring backpack was provided to hold our bibs, gender specific technical shirts, and advertisements for local races and event vendors. The shirts for this race may be the best we've ever gotten, particularly the women's shirts. In fact, they're so great, they'll make you wish you were a Rutgers grad or student!
Within seconds we had our race packets and were free to browse the rest of the expo at our leisure. This was not a massive expo by any means, but it felt like the vendors that were there were the ones who really counted. Emergen-C, Nuun, Mama Chia, and Agua Enerviva were all offering free samples to attendees. A local running store was selling discounted running gear, so we snapped up the deal of the day, a pair of Nike Flash tights for 50% off (though two Nuuns for $10 and a free water bottle wasn't bad either). We left the expo already feeling satisfied with our decision to run the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon.
If you've got friends in the Rutgers University dorms, this is the ideal place to stay the night before the race, as the course winds through the Rutgers University Campus.
If you're over 21 and don't have any student dorms at which to crash, the closest hotels to the Rutgers campus are the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick and The Helrich Hotel. Both of these are nearly a 5K from the race start, so you'll still have to do some driving on race morning.
Places to Eat
If you've never heard of the legendary Grease Trucks, you're not from NJ nor do you watch the Food Network. These food trucks are a favorite eating spot for college kids after a long night out, and are dispersed all across the different Rutgers campuses. A meal from the Grease Trucks is ideal post-run, especially if you're looking to replenish all your burned calories, and then some.
Downtown New Brunswick, home to the RU campus, has an array of dining options. If you are an adventurous eater there plenty of ethnic restaurants to try, ranging from Ethiopian to Indian to Mediterranean.
The course began at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center (also home to packet pickup). An inflatable Rutgers arch marked the start of the race and gateway to the slightly rolling hills of the Rutgers campus. The course may be familiar to recent Rutgers grads, and alumni may find that it showcases all the new and renovated buildings that didn't exist when they were students. Anyone not affiliated with the school will get a good tour of the campus by foot (which in our opinion is the best way to really see any new place).
Aid stations were located approximately every 2 miles and were well manned with volunteers distributing water and Gatorade. Runners could also grab energy gels around mile 7. Intersections were also well-manned with volunteers clad in neon green shirts and often waving flags. Getting lost will not be a possible at this event.
The course's on-campus location makes this an easy event for spectators. Fans could be found all over the course, though were stationed most heavily at the start and finish. It is possible for ambitious fans to get to at least four points along the course; one man, his two kids, and their "touch here for power" sign made it happen.
The course ended on College Avenue (making it point-to-point) which was draped in scarlet race banners (in honor of RU's mascot the Scarlet Knight).
After finishing under another inflatable RU arch, runners were presented with their race medals (which are sure to please anyone affiliated with the university), given a bottle of water, and corralled into the finish area where more free goodies were waiting for bibbed participants. Emergen-C was on hand again, this time allowing runners to spin their game show wheel for prizes (the neon orange aviators being my favorite).
A band was entertaining runners lounging lazily in the grass on one of the prettiest parts of campus. Some lounging was well-deserved after this race. We heard a number of runners who, like us, were exhausted by the long, gradual inclines of this course.
While no hot food or beer was served post-race, goodie bags contained yogurt, fruit cups, and cookies. Plenty of options for re-hydrating were available. Sports drinks were the logical choice for most, but it was nice to have the option of drinking a Coke, and that was a choice here.
Shuttles were available to get runners back to the start (as they were pre-race, where runners could be shuttled from their parked cars at the finish to the race start). While we didn't take advantage of either option, we heard no complaints during the race of anyone unable to board. Instead we battled traffic out of New Brunswick, abandoning our original plans to drop friends back off at the start. They graciously volunteered to hike it back to their car so we could race out of the city and catch a flight back home. Based on this experience, we recommend the shuttle over taking two cars and trying to drive back to your original location.
This race is a must-do for anyone affiliated with the university. We were lucky enough to have friends and family members who were Rutgers alumni and employees, making the race a more meaningful event.
If you live in NJ and are considering a half marathon, this is a great option. The race was flawlessly organized and the course manageable (though not easy!) Both the expo and post-race party were enjoyable, probably due to the manageable size of the event (about 3,000 half marathoners and almost 1,000 8K runners).
Our friends declared we make this event a yearly tradition, and we'll agree...after we do some more hill training.
For more information visit http://www.cgiracing.com/unite/.