Running The Navesink Challenge 15k: What To Expect, Course Tips And How Bad Those Hills Really Are
It’s a hill, get over it.
This is the motto of the Navesink Challenge, a 15k held in the more rural and picturesque area of Middletown, New Jersey. And this phrase pretty much sums up this race. Like its name clearly states, it is a challenging event. The Navesink Challenge pushes runners to their fullest potential, testing their grit, spirit, and strength while climbing up multiple hills. Just when the runner thinks they conquered one hill, the next one lies just beyond it. But once you defeat them, runners are left feeling like they can do anything.
This is one of the best races to compete in the fall for multiple reasons. For starters, a 15k race is perfect for those looking to test the waters when it comes to potentially training for a half marathon. It is also ideal for those long-distance runners who need to shake things up a bit and focus on hills.
Then there is the course that screams fall, complete with burnt orange and vibrant yellow leaves that line the dirt trails near Bodman Park. Runners pass horses cows grazing and are able to really take in nature and appreciate the season as the leaves then start to fall and temperatures drop.
There is no denying that the hills are serious and slow down even the speediest of racers. Then there is the cold temperatures and potential rain, snow, or worse mud. But the Navesink Challenge is a challenge that can be completed with the right training and tips.
Here’s everything you need to know about the race.
The Navesink Challenge: The Stats
Hosted by the Jersey Shore Running Club, the 18th annual Navesink Challenge 15K and 5K took place on November 25 at Bodman Park. The race itself is hard but absolutely doable for all types of runners (with the proper training). In fact, it is so popular, the race has sold out weeks before the event date for the past four years. The organizer’s cap registrants at 1100. Those looking to run it next year should keep up with updates and register early.
A race entry costs $38 with proceeds going to Middletown Youth Athletic Association, the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, local first responders, and other local non-profit organizations.
The race starts at 10 a.m. so runner’s don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn. Plus it is light out and a little warmer depending on the weather than early morning late fall/ early winter runs.
The winner of the 2018 Navesink Challenge 15k was Gregory Langley with a time of 55:30.99. He was followed by Antonio Meza Soriano with 55:35.34 and Keith Matiskella with 57:20.75.
Kiera Russo finished first for women with 1:01:26.07, and Beth Marzigliano with 1:02:19.40 for second place.
The Course: What To Expect
I had no clue what to expect after signing up for this race. Typically a runner who says away from hills most of the time, a running friend encouraged me to join a few of us in my running group She Runs! to take on this challenge. Feeling good while half marathon training and knowing how important hills are for runners, I went home and completed my registration.
Training for this race overlapped with training for a half, but I recommend at least 8 weeks to slowly increase the mileage for newer and seasoned runners.
Run hills. I cannot stress that enough. This is a hilly course and the only way to make it through is to get the body used to it and the mind mentally prepared for the effort it takes to climb them. At least run the long run of each week with some hills.
Lucky enough to live about a half hour away from the course, we began tackling the course under the guidance of our coach. Located at Bodman Park, the course includes road running on Cooper Road before taking the through Huber Woods.
Before running the course, I was anxious about how hard this race would be. This race has a 2-hour time limit. First-timers should set the main goal of just to finish and not focus too much on their time. However, after running the course in training a few times, the scariness of the challenge dissipates. Run it once (even if only running 6 to 8 miles), then you know you can do it on race day. That boost confidence and makes it more of a welcoming challenge. Once you know you can do it then you can focus on getting up those hills the most efficient way.
The course is described as taking runners past “scenic country roads” with “several hilly sections.” At its heart, the Navesink Challenge 15k has a great course because of how pretty it is. It’s impossible not to fall in love with this course—even if the runner has a love/hate relationship with hills.
This is another reason why running it in the weeks leading to the course is a great idea to really see the fall foliage before it all falls. Word of advice is to take along someone who knows the course, or map it on your running app because it’s easy to get confused about where to turn to mimic race day for newbies.
The course includes a few turns that take runners from the main road through the dirt trails then back on the road through the neighborhood before turning and heading back to end on the trails of Bodman Park. Because there are sections on the dirt roads, bad weather can cause it to be muddy, which was the case this year. However, volunteers warned runners about when puddles where coming up, when it watch for potholes filled with mud and water, and to be mindful of roots (which were painted white for visibility).
The biggest tip to successfully finishing this race is to get lots of running on hills in beforehand. This gets the body used to how it feels to climb them and how to master them. Navesink starts off fairly flat with a bit of an incline that first mile. But it looks so pretty running alongside farm animals and then off into the off beaten path that running on the gently rolling hills becomes enjoyable. But once the runner turns into the woods they are faced with the first bigger hill. It’s a steep one that takes effort, but with practice, it is a challenge yet one that can be completed. This hill is hard, but what is even more difficult is the fact that is just the beginning. The runner needs to learn to be able to pace themselves to be able to continue running at their desired pace while climbing a few more hills. The rest of not as steep as this big one, so there is a relief in that fact. However, expect them to feel like hills.
It isn’t until on the way back around mile 6.5 that the runner is faced with the biggest hill in the race. This hill is so steep that it feels like the runner is walking. Heart pumping out of the chest, sweat dripping with fall running gear on, this is a massive hill that takes a whole lot of heart to get to the top without stopping. Many choose to walk up to it, others slow down the pace to barely jogging to get up to the top. Others go steady and then give themselves a few breaths at the top to regain their composure before picking up the pace. And then in a few yards, there is another hill.
The good news is after this massive hill, there is a great downhill section. The worst is over and the finish line is only a mile or so away. But then the inclines come back, nothing steep but enough to feel it on tired legs. And then just like that the runner is directed into Bodman Park to finish and cross that line and bask in all the glory of overcoming this challenging race.
So how bad are the hills? After running them a few times, honestly not that bad. But they are big hills and running hills is hard. But with practice, it gets easier. If this runner can do, anyone can. A good approach is to do this race for the challenge and not for a PR. Then try again the next year for speed demons looking for a better time.
Other Tips And Things To Expect
The race wasn’t packed and had a nice local vibe to it. It is run by those of local running groups and the front leaders are the same familiar faces seen at NJ races. A huge tip is to carpool or get to the race early because parking is limited. Parking was available at the local school that was a short walk away from the starting line, but limited. Street parking might be the best way to go, but getting a spot can be hard. Travel together or opt to get dropped off.
There are no medals given besides awards for the top finishers and age groups winners. This might be a deal breaker for those who are looking for a way to show off their hard work for completing a long distance and challenging race. Even still, the sense of accomplishment is greater than any piece of metal.
Participants are given free beer tickets for those of age for a post-race after part at The Downtown in Red Bank. The restaurant has great food but expects it to be crazy crowded, meaning long lines at the bar and long waits for food.
Overall, the Navesink Challenge 15k is a great event that is nicely organized, smaller scaled, yet big accomplishment to check off on any running bucket list. The distance is great for those about to train for a half or looking to go out of their comfort zone. The course is unique, gorgeous and humbling when it comes to trying to ascend those hills. It is among the best races to run in the fall, a great goal to set for stay committed to running leading up to the holidays.
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