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5K Summer Series Kicks Off in Highland Park After Six-Year Stint in New Brunswick

True Cross Country Race Moved Back To Highland Park in 2013, New Race Directors Carry on Tradition
5K Summer Series
Runners going into second loop of 5k after crossing a tricky area of accumulated water. Photo Credit: Michael Given

HIGHLAND PARK, NJ—Race number one of the 31st annual Raritan Valley Road Runners (RVRR) 5K Cross Country Series kicked off this week in Highland Park’s 90-acre Donaldson Park, across the river from the Hub City.

The summer series includes four 5K’s, with a "Youth Development Running Series" held before each race, taking place over four Tuesday evenings in June and July.  The remaning dates this season are: June 24, July 8, and July 22.

A free informal preview run was held on the USATF-NJ cross country course last week and included a guess-your-time trial (no watches allowed) practice run to get familiar with the twists, turns, drops and hills found over the two-loop, grass and trail, course.

After the preview run, New Brunswick Today caught up with race director, Kay Hallenbeck, one of three new race directors to take the helm this year since the original two race directors have stepped down after 30-years.

Asked how she felt about the transition to race director after “apprenticing” last summer, Hallenbeck said that she was happy “to carry on the tradition.”

"It’s been a great event for the club [RVRR], a great series of events for the club every year. We want it to be good for everyone."

"We want everyone to come out, have a good time, do the run they want to run, and get out of it what they want to get out of the race. If they want a personal best – great, if they want to get faster over the four races – great, it’s just whatever people want to get out of it individually."

Although this year represents its second consecutive summer back in Donaldson Park, the series was moved to New Brunswick’s Buccleuch Park in 2007 due to the renovation project in Donaldson, and remained in New Brunswick for six summers until 2012.

In a last-minute decision before the summer of 2013, longtime race director Doug Brown opted to move the series back to Donaldson Park, its original venue.

Brown said working with the City of New Brunswick was becoming increasingly difficult, and that it sounded to him “like they did not want us there.”

About 300 feet of the course in Buccleuch at both the start and finish was on the grass and the city complained to Brown that the race was damaging the grass.

The kid’s race would need to be run on the road and Brown was asked to pay New Brunswick Police for two officers $40/hour each for a minimum of 3 hours to close the road.

Since Donaldson Park is a Middlesex County Park, it offers a few advantages over Buccleuch Park.

One is that you are allowed to have an “open flame” for barbecuing, unlike in parks controlled by the City of New Brunswick.

Another advantage is that you can purchase an alcoholic beverage permit from the county.

Staten Island resident, RVRR member, and track coach Peter Priola won his age group (male 40 to 44) last night in 23:05, and compared the two courses.

He told New Brunswick Today he prefers running the series in Donaldson Park.

“Buccleuch is too urban. You are on a path. Here you are mostly on grass. It’s true cross country. A true cross country involves a lot of grass and that’s what this course has. The other one is just a dirt path that you go around.”

Priola added that the Highland Park course has roots which makes it perfect for cross country.

Imme Dyson, a Princeton resident still running at age 77, finished in 35:03, the only woman running in the 75-77 age group .

“I really love it,” said Dyson.  “I think it’s wonderful. It’s a small group and everybody stays until the end. Usually [at other races] people run the race and then they split and there are a few left… I like it very much.”

Another newly minted race director, RVRR member, Peter Schaeffing, told New Brunswick Today the event had a great turnout, with about 125 runners.

"We are lucky that the thunder storms held off." Shaeffing said.  "Doug Brown and Janice Reed, both were here - the old race directors for 30 years. There are still people hanging out at 8:45, so it must have been fun.”

“It was a lot of fun [calling the start for first time], it was a good feeling to help plan the race with my two co-directors and to see it starting off on a beautiful summer day.”