Another day, another race report. This time it’s about a somewhat unusual race, but a fun one.
It all started a few weeks ago when a message appeared in my Facebook inbox, calling upon all who had once worn the colors of the Hightstown High School (NJ) cross country team to return to the area Thanksgiving weekend for the opportunity to take on the current group of Rams XC runners in a little “alumni vs. team” race. As someone 26 years removed from my high school graduation I chuckled to myself, “this could be ugly.” And then I promptly clicked “yes” on the invitation.
A couple of days before the event I went to the web page set up for it and saw a two other people from my era at Hightstown, who had confirmed they would attend. I wondered if us old-timers would be bringing up the rear, but decided I didn’t care; this was just for laughs.
Finally on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Lynn and I made the drive up to Central New Jersey from Philadelphia, where we’d been staying for the holiday weekend. I have to admit I have spent very little time in these old haunts recently, and I had to jog my memory of where some of the roads went. Moreover, I had never run at the site chosen for the race, Veterans Park in Hamilton. I wondered why the home course at our school wasn’t selected; only later did I find out that old course hadn’t been used in years. In any case, after some driving around the park looking for people who appeared to be runners I finally found the group. I even ran into one of the old teammates of mine who said they’d attend, but the other never posted.
I also noticed a group of very young runners warming up. I assumed they were the current crop of Hightstown Ram harriers, but it turned out they were from a different high school, nearby Steinert. Moreover, at some point they had agreed to turn this thing into a race between two schools’ contingents. So no longer was it a little internal race between the Rams of today and yesterday. It was now yesterday’s Rams vs. (mostly) today’s Steinert Spartans. Oh boy…was the smell of a slaughter ever in the air.
Hightstown runners get off the line heading towards the woods
After some milling around at the start, the old fashioned command of “go” got us off. Very quickly two of the young Spartans took off towards the front. I settled in with the next pack, content to follow along, since frankly, I didn’t know the course anyway. After some running along a bike path we took a quick turn into the woods over some mildly challenging single track. By now the pack had begun to string out a little and I had settled into about 5th place, which surprised me given I was the oldest person running this race at age 45, and that my legs were still not fully recovered from last week’s half marathon. I knew I wasn’t racing anywhere near my peak 5k race pace but was content to go at a tempo effort. As my pulse settled I even started feeling a little stronger.
Then with about a mile to go another young guy went flying past us. Hmm, I figured that was probably another Steinert guy. This may all be for fun, I thought, but I don’t want my team to get blown out either…better go with him. So I did, for a while at least. Eventually he started pullling away but by now I was all alone in 5th again, 3 Steinert guys and 1 Hightstown guy ahead of me. Well, at least this score would be competitive.
I crossed the line in 5th feeling fine, not the least bit concerned that my time of 20:13 was the slowest 5k result I had this season. It was about the best I had that day, and I’ll take it.
After the remaining runners in the field of 20 or so crossed the line, it was time for tabulating results and going to awards. As expected the Spartans pulled out the team title, but not by much. Our group of Ram veterans were within 3 points of victory, a pretty good result given our significantly higher average age. Not only that, my 5th place overall finish was even good for an award…a 3 pound ham. After all that turkey over the weekend it seemed appropriate. I know this morning’s ham and eggs breakfast tasted pretty good.
Everyone from both teams comes together for a group shot after the race
All in all, this was a really fun run down memory lane. It was great to swap stories of our times as Hightstown harriers with alumni from all different years. One thing remains consistent though; our team is good. Hightstown was a cross country powerhouse during my time and it still is today. That said, it’s a really special feeling to know that we’re all part of such a tradition of excellence, one that started even before I entered as a freshman.
This is said to be the first annual edition of this event. Will I do it again next year? Sure…if my Thanksgiving holiday plans put me in the area again, why not? There’s even talk of expanding this to involve more than just two schools. Nothing like rekindling old rivalries…er, I mean acquaintances. 😉
This race also concludes my fall racing season, and a very successful one at that. I now look forward to a short “off-season” of one month before training for the 114th running of the Boston Marathon begins on New Year’s Day.