Here’s Why the NJ Half Marathon Is One of the Best Races in the State

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The NJ Half Marathon is a flat, fast course that takes runners through the iconic Jersey Shore. Here’s Why the NJ Half Marathon Is One of the Best Races in the State

The smell of salt water is in the air, the sound of crashing waves is off in the distance to the right. Your body starts to get tired, but the endorphins kick in. It is the homestretch, and you are fueled by the cheering spectators that clap, yell and ring cowbells. Your eyes scan across the smiling faces until you spot your family members and suddenly feel so proud of this accomplishment. You widen your stride, dig down deep and speed on ahead. You cross the finish line, a New Jersey Half Marathon finisher.

New Jersey is known for many things, and maybe running isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But when it comes to going to the shore, it’s a sure thing to take part in the New Jersey Half Marathon. Held on April 29, the 2018 Novo Nordisk NJ Half Marathon began at Monmouth Park Racetrack and took runners through nearby beach towns to the finish line at Long Branch.

Credit: MarathonFoto

There is something really satisfying about completing a half marathon in a runner’s home state, so this race needs to be on the bucket list of any NJ resident. But it also attracts a large crowd from nearby states, across the U.S and even overseas.  And while the race might be over, that only means runners are that much closer to competing for their first time in 2019. (The date for the 2019 New Jersey Half Marathon has yet to be announced.)

Here’s what you need to know about the NJ Half Marathon so you are prepared for next year!

It’s a Big Race Weekend

Things really start early for this event, specifically with its race expo and a 5k. The Novo Nordisk NJ Marathon Race Exposition ad Runner Mercantile event was present by Diadora and took place from Friday, April 27 to Saturday, April 28. Held at the starting line location of the race at Monmouth Park Racetrack, the expo allowed runners to see how long it would take to get to the venue for race day and get a feel of what to expect. There was plenty of parking for the expo, which was good to know for the morning of the race. Runners picked up their bibs and shirts, took photos played games and could even get their wristband to enter the post-race beer garden.

There was a section of race merchandise from Diadora which included cozy sweatshirts, lightweight shorts, running hats with the race logo on it and more. The merchandise was a bit pricey (about $50 for a sweatshirt and $25 for a hat), and choices were limited. There wasn’t much to browse through, and no other running gear company’s set up shop to sell apparel or other items. This was a slight disappointment, but at least there was limited temptation to shop.

The best part of the expo was the selfie station where runners got to take a printed photo home with them, as well as cowbells for their cheer squads, and there was a station to make race signs.

Getting a taste of what to expect for race day is like the cherry on top here. Not only did the expo give insight on where the starting line was (and other important info like where to park and where the bathrooms are), runners could get a jump start on racing by competing in the 5k held the day before the half and full marathon.

Long Branch Beach, New Jersey By David Shankbone (David Shankbone (own work)) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Called, the RWJBarnabas Health Family Day, this event included a 5k and kids races on the boardwalk of Long Branch.  It doesn’t include the exact homestretch of the half marathon, but it gives runners another way to get prepared for race day by exposing them to the area and the terrain. It too was a flat and fast course that took runners along the beach.

Those looking to register for the NJ Half next year should also note this event. It’s a good way to get family members involved in the big weekend. It also serves as a way to stretch the legs and get one last run in, or strive for a PR. All finishers received medals and there was entertainment, food, crafts, and more fun that followed.

And then just like that, the weekend ends with a bang, with the half and full marathon events. Because it is both a full marathon and half, expect there to be lots of people. This means more traffic to and from the venue. And longer bathroom lines. But also more cheering along the way and others to inspire and motivate along the course.

Great Location and a Flat, Fast Course

It’s not cheap to register for this race ($120), but worth it if you are from Jersey or nearby states—a great option for those who don’t have to travel far to compete as well as a great race to travel to cross off a 50 state goal.

Monmouth Park Racetrack is a great starting point because it has ample parking (with a free lot with shuttle buses that take participants and spectators back and forth from start to finish) and allows the runner to explore the nearby towns until reaching the shore.

Runners are broken up into corrals based on their estimated pace and finish time. This makes for a very organized and not overcrowded start. The only downside to starting at the racetrack was the lack of open bathrooms. Sure there were portable toilets in the parking lot and nearby the starting line, but these lines were long. The track had two open bathrooms (one for men, one for women), but this line was so long many were still waiting to go when the gun went off. Getting to the event super early is a must for those who like to use bathroom beforehand. For those who rather wait, there were porta-potties about every two miles, which was nice but these also had lines for those who opted to wait. Sometimes nature calls, so it was a huge plus to have restrooms throughout the course.

The course itself included running through the towns of Oceanport, Monmouth Beach, and Long Branch. Runners rack up the miles through quiet neighborhoods with neat lawns and the occasional couple sipping coffee on their porch while looking on. There are plenty of places along the course where families and friends cheered runners on, and some with signs that surely put a smile on any runners’ face.

There is music thanks to DJ booths and an occasional guitar player strumming along the side of the road. Friendly neighbors hand out candies, water, and sports drinks to help fuel the runners. This is in addition to aid stations scattered about two miles apart.

The course of the NJ Half Marathon is peaceful and has that beach town feel to it.  It is in the homestretch where runners finally reach the boardwalk with the crowds of supporters growing in numbers as the anticipation to the finish line at Ocean Promenade builds.

Credit: MarathonFoto

For most of the race, half marathoners are running with the marathoners. Then the course splits (with signs and cones). These longer distance athletes head their own way before making their way back to the same finish. It is inspiring to see runners of all shapes, ages, races, and speed put the same foot forward to a common goal.

The course is mostly flat, with some slightly rolling hills like when running over a bridge. But the scenery is so beautiful that any incline goes almost unnoticed. This makes it a good race for a first time half marathoner. It also is great for those looking to crush their personal record.

Get Cool Bling and Ice Cold Beer

Free beer? Say no more!

All finishers receive a medal for their accomplishment, and the bling’s design slightly changes each year. Not only is the runner meeting their own goal, but they are also running for a good cause. Fundraising for the event goes to various charities such as the American Cancer Society.

Credit: MarathonFoto

Swag includes a race shirt and Asbury Park Brewery beer at the post-race party. Because there is no better feeling than the weight of a medal around the neck with a refreshing gulp of beer.

It’s An Iconic Race

This event gives a new meaning to going to the Jersey Shore. It allows runners to run in the same footsteps of Bruce Springsteen and be in the heart of Jersey Shore. It is organized— even with so many participants. There are tons of cheerleaders for morale boosts. Plus, runners get to earn their Jersey bling. It’s a memorable race that will leave finishers ready to sign up for their next half marathon.