Tuesday, October 25, 2016

2016 Jonas Cattell Memorial 10 Miler: Race Report

Running nerds and history geeks can finally find common ground.  Introducing the best race in New Jersey that you've never heard of: the Jonas Cattell Memorial Run.  It's also quite possibly the oldest, having been run every year since its inception nearly fifty years ago.

The race was started in 1969 to commemorate Jonas Cattell's 10 mile run from Haddonfield to Fort Mercer on the east bank of the Delaware River in 1777.  18-year-old Cattell had been arrested the night before by British troops and spent the night in jail, where he overheard the plan for Hessian troops to attack the fort in the morning.  As soon as he was released, he took off westward, using his experience as a hunter and outdoorsman to easily navigate the trails to the fort.  His advance warning gave American troops, expecting an attack from the water, enough time to prepare appropriately.  Despite being outnumbered, they won the battle while experiencing few casualties.

What is remarkable about this race is that no one seems to have heard of it, despite its age and remarkable backstory.  Unlike other races of the 1960's and 70's that started modestly and have since swelled to the thousands (Falmouth Road Race comes to mind), this race stays true to its roots with roughly 150 runners each year.

The race does little, if any, advertising.  There is no official race website or any presence on social media of any kind.  The only way runners seem to hear about it is through word of mouth, and indeed that's exactly how I came across it.  Erik from Who's Up?, also a history buff, told me he was planning on doing the race, and I agreed to do it with him.

This race is point-to-pont, so organizers provide bus transport from the finish line at Fort Mercer to the starting line in Haddonfield.  I made the drive down Rt. 130 at 6:30 in the morning, parked at the battlefield park's parking lot, then boarded the bus to Haddonfield. Registration forms were distributed on the bus to those who still needed to register.  How much was race-day registration?  Are you ready for this?  $30.  For 10 miles.  That's probably the best bang for my buck I have ever found in a race of any size or length.

Once in Haddonfield I was able to complete registration, use a toilet at a local supermarket, meet up with some of the guys from Who's Up?, and drop off my bag to be transported to the finish.  At 8:00, police stopped traffic on King's Highway, Haddonfield's main street, and 170 runners lined up to race.

Erik and I run similar paces, and planned to run together at roughly 7:30 pace.  Neither of us had a Garmin, though, and we were forced to run by effort, which is never a good idea for us as we always end up going out with guns blazing at the start of races.  We were surprised to pass the first mile marker in 6:50.  This time a year ago, 6:50 would have been child's play, but I'm just not in the same shape now that I was then.

The entire course is brilliant - gently rolling hills and almost a straight shot all the way to the river.  The roads were not shut down, but there was plenty of police support along the way to ensure smooth crossings at intersections.

Somewhere in those early miles, Erik and I got to talking about my marathon training over the years.

Erik: How do you do it?
Me: Do what?
Erik: Run for so long by yourself?
Me: I spend a lot of time building mental toughness.  It gets easier after awhile.

Just before the halfway point, I pulled away from Erik and began running on my own, slowly picking off runners.  Minus a few strong wind gusts, the weather was a picture perfect fall day, and I felt strong and confident throughout.

I ended up finishing in 1:09:27, good for 9th place overall and 1st in my age group (though if I had run the same time in last year's race, I wouldn't have even placed.  Just goes to show you it's sometimes about who shows up, not how fast you run).  The good news is it was a 10 mile PR, though not exactly a hard-fought one because my last ten mile race was almost a decade ago, which I ran in 1:31:20.

I gasped for breath and yelled "The Hessians are coming!"  It could have been my running daze, but I think I got a few chuckles.  Erik pulled up shortly afterwards in 1:10:54, taking second in our age group.

The post race scene was a bit sparse, with nothing more than Philly pretzels, bananas, and sports drink on offer (though for $30 I'm really not complaining).  But Red Bank Battlefield Park itself was in full fall swing with dozens of Revolutionary War reenactors patrolling the grounds and getting ready for an official show that afternoon.  Alas, Erik and I each had to return to our respective households and resume fatherhood duties.  I'm told I earned a medal for my AG win, but I'll have to wait until tomorrow night to get it.

Overall, I cannot recommend this race more.  I love races like this where competition is a large factor in entering.  It's not about the bling.  It's not about the costumes.  It's not about the post race party.  It's not about the swag.  It's not about the music on the course.  It's just about the race.  What a novel concept in today's running industrial complex.

Already can't wait for next year.

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