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Metuchen Resident Wins Iconic “Hangover 5k Run” On New Year’s Day

Like Hub City's Own "Big Chill 5k," Holiday Race Increases in Size
Metuchen resident, and local runner, Rufino Mendez, is seen here in the first loop of the 2016 Hangover 5k on New Year’s Day. Dave Schatz

WESTFIELD, NJ–With 106 acres of land, Tamaques Park had no trouble on Friday accommodating 72 more finishers than last year for the 34th annual New Year’s Day “Hangover 5K Run.”

The USA Track & Field (USATF) “New Jersey Grand Prix Event,” grew by about 9% this year, its biggest ever, according to data provided by timing and scoring company, CompuScore.

A record 350 people registered on race day, rather than pre-registering in advance, apparently not deterred by the extra fee to compete on a beautiful winter day.

While this race has seen its share of very cold conditions many times in the past, Friday was not too bad for the runners and spectators. The temperature was 40 degrees and not terribly windy by the time the race started at noontime, but a little morning sun had virtually disappeared and it was cold. 

“No need to get up early for this one,” explains Central Jersey Road Runners Club (CJRRC), the event’s organizer, in race literature.

"This is our flagship event," says Michael Metzger, the club's president.

"It's all in the pre-planning," he told New Brunswick Today, explaining that a club committee keeps very close tabs on pre-registration numbers, daily, going into race-day, so that final arrangements can be made and enough long sleeve hoodies are ordered to insure that all registrants take one home.

The good turnout brought the total number of registrants to 938, before no shows, which averages 10 percent of all who register by the time the race starts, but varies depending on the distance and the weather. By comparison, in 2014, and 2015, a total of 859 and 858, respectively, registered for the run.

Asked what she might attribute the increase to, Staci Siconolfi-Lymperopoulos, President of CompuScore, said she assumed it would be the weather, which reached a high of 44 degrees on Friday. 

CompuScore scored 867 finishers this year, so only about 6 1/2 percent of all registrants did not show up or finish the race.

Rufino Mendez, 35, a resident of Metuchen, crossed the finish line in slightly over 17 and-a-half minutes, improving his time on the course over last year by a full minute, and moving up ten places this year to take first place.

“I just tried to stick behind the first ones and then I said ‘you know what? I’m going to try to catch them and beat them,’” said Rufino.

He added that he consumed lots of beer on New Year’s Eve but came to race it off.

“I just came to take it out, and I tried to do my best to win this race and I did it.”

Prior to last year, Mendez had not entered the Hangover run since 2006, although he usually races on New Year’s Day in either Hamilton or Fair Lawn.

Back in 2006, when he first ventured the race, he took third place in under 17 minutes at the age of 24.

The overall female winner was Angela Colarusso in 19:05.    

Raritan Valley Road Runners Club (RVRR) member, Drew Pennyfeather, traveled up the Parkway from Highland Park to run the Hangover 5k for the first time in his career easily winning his new age group: 30-34, with a speedy 6-minute per mile pace, finishing 11th overall.

“It was a good day today for the start of the [USTF Grand Prix] season,” Pennyfeather said, noting the unseasonable conditions.

“Good course, the only complaint I have is – move the start back a little bit, that way we don’t have to turn at the finish. Make it a straight shot right in. That would be perfect.”

A young Bergen County runner, Stevie Ritter, just 13, competed for his 4th consecutive year taking the male 14 and under bracket, in 18:36, although he said it wasn’t his personal record on the course. He finished in 8th place overall.

Woodbridge resident Sean Gavor, 37, who said he also participates regularly in track races, trail runs, marathons, and even ultra-marathons (50-100 miles long) scored 4th place in his age group in just over 19 minutes.

“This is a fun race, there’s a lot of people so there’s a good chance to score a lot of points for USTF, said Gavor.

“That’s mainly why I do it.”

Sreeni Nair, 46, also a member of RVRR, drove up from East Brunswick to take part in the event for his first time. He said he became more competitive, getting hooked as the race progressed.

“Initially I was not even running fast, then you see people passing you midway onwards, I was trying to do my best …”

Jack Livesey, 20, a resident of Westfield, and member of RVRR, found himself volunteering to help others. Livesey proudly explained that he recently completed his first New York City Marathon.

“I worked - I just handed out the water - I volunteered,” said Livesey.

“I’ve never raced this before but maybe I will next year. I handed out water to all the runners. I was helping out the runners.”

As we reported, in Hub City’s own iconic Big Chill 5k, a holiday race held two and-a-half weeks before Christmas, registration was also up.

The final number of participants registered was 9,480 – more than 525 people than in 2014, when 8,955 registered.

Since 85 percent of Big Chill participants this year chose not be timed, there is no official number of finishers recorded. That is, only the 15 percent wearing the optional race-timing chip actually score when they cross the finish line. But the cost of each timing-chip, $3/piece, is saved and this leaves more money for the charities.

CJRRC eliminated the award ceremony at the Hangover Run three years ago. 

"We changed it, because people are just so cold ... We found out it works so much better when we just have the runners come to us [to pick up trophies] after we get the official results [from CompuScore], which is usually pretty fast," Metzger says. 

"This way the person who came in first - you could get your trophy before the race is over."

“This is a fun race, you are here for fun. I didn’t get one complaint – I usually get complaints from people,” says Metzger.

“Everybody was happy.”

He added that CJRRC could get even more people to Tamaques Park on New Year's Day, but said his club doesn't think it “wants that many more people,” citing concerns "about the safety issues and the logistics.”