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Notes from the middle of the pack: March 2023

Why I Like the Spring Distance Classic 15k

Running in the middle of the pack
Face it. Most of us are in the middle of the pack.

By Jim Nicosia

Okay, so Sunday March 19 was cold and windy, and much of that wind hit runners right in the face as they hit the straight final four miles of the race. And 15k races are tough when they come early in the training season, as this one does.

But I love the Spring Distance Classic 15k. And the primary reason is because it’s the ideal race for team members. I’ll explain.

In most races, the only time during a race you get to see a team member is when you might occasionally pass one… pr they pass you. And face it, that’s usually a bit awkward either way. We all know when someone is faster (or slower) than us, but when we get that clear reminder as the passing procedure occurs and one of us roots the other on (or, worse, doesn’t), it is uncomfortable for the passer, and demoralizing for the passee.

At the Spring Classic, however, while passing can and does of course still occur, the design of this course actually causes runners to encounter each other several times, the best way—-facing each other. WIth a club like the RoadRunners, this is actually an encouraging moment for both runners. I'll explain. But first, here's the course map.

Area 1:

After a straight-ish opening mile (with, yes, a 1/4-mile stretch of gravel), runners take a right hand turn that brings them out and back on Something Street (no the name isn't Something Street, but let's just call it that because, well, face it, we don't care what the name might be when we're running on it).

Depending on your pace, this means that somewhere around the halfway point on Something Street (Area 2),, you get to see your fastest teammates heading back after their turnaround. And of course our club being the friendliest running club in New Jersey, this gives each of us multiple opportunities to cheer each other on. At this time, face it, you might be a little discouraged to see some of your friends being seemingly so far ahead of you. But most of those speedsters appreciate your cheers and they in turn seem to really enjoy encouraging you.

Area 3:

Then, after your turnaround, you get the opportunity to cheer on those runners who are going at a slower pace, and repeating the process, this time with you as the faster runner, feeling mighty speedy yourself, and the others being the ones that might need a little encouragement from you.

Area 4:

Then it’s back on the main road, for about a mile, and you’re alone with your thoughts once more (I, for own, appreciate the opportunity to focus on me alone, and this race gives you ample opportunity to do just that.)

Area 5:

Then, once more, a right turn greets you, and you face another out-and-back. Let's call this one Anything Street. This time, those faster runners greet you even quicker, because they’ve widened the pace between themselves and you. But just like the first time you saw them coming your way, looking relaxed and not nearly as tired as you, they appreciate your shoutouts and return the encouragement with a wave, shout, or (thanks Greg!) peace sign. I like to think the other runners around get a little jealous because the Clifton RoadRunners seem to be the only ones supporting each other as regularly and loudly as we are. That too puts a little more pep in your step.

Area 6:

Then you turn around once more and you repeat the encouragement of your teammates behind you. Okay sure, you might also see a rival who isn’t as far behind you as they were the last turnaround, but that’s another thing that you can use to motivate you . If you’re the competitive type (and aren’t all runners, at least a little?) these turnaround opportunities allow you to see all those who are seconds or minutes ahead or behind you, and if you have the energy, it can push you to speed up the pace just a bit.

Area 7:

Then, once more your on the main road heading (yes, still) away from the start, and before long, if you’re among the faster runners, (or immediately, if you’re in the middle or back of the pack), you encounter the race leaders are heading home. This, to me at least, is encouraging, because I know that, before long, I too will be on that homeward stretch (Area 8).. And once more my roadrunner teammates will be giving me support, at least until the final homestretch (Area 9),, where the typical running experience of just seeing the back of runners returns and you can focus all your energy and attention on you.

Hills? Crazy twists and turns? There are none (except for the aforementioned easy-to-remember ones that the course clearly maps out for you).

I don’t suppose I would want every race to be like this one, but especially at the first run of the year, where you’re enthusiastic about the months of running with new and old running friends, the Spring Distance Classic 15k (kind of weird for a fairly new race to call itself a classic, but hey, that's what they decided to call it) gives you the rare opportunity to really feel like you’re running as one team, one community; you’re seeing most of your teammates multiple times on the course. Then, when it’s over, you can share your stories of joys and sufferings with each other in a way that is that much more meaningful, because you actually saw them tearing up the course, or actually saw that look of misery on their face at the last homestretch.

And that’s why I like the Spring Distance Classic 25k. Thanks for sharing it with me, teammates.

Course rating: 9/10 (the gravel isn't great, but everything else is relatively well-paved)

Organization: 8/10 (the line to get your bib is longer than most; somehow I was given a ladies' small shirt instead of a men's large.)

Support/fans: 7/10 (there's almost nobody on the course rooting you on, but for the reasons I mentioned above, you don't need them). There were enough but not an abundance of water stations.

Swag: 7/10 (reasonable long-sleeve cotton shirts, but not as nice as the hoodies they gave out in the past)

Parking: 7/10 (my biggest criticism. If you don't get there an hour, or more, ahead of race time, you will have to park at the high school. It's at the top of an enormously steep hill, and if you have to get back to your car for any reason, you'll be doing a mile and a half of intense speed work before your race. Be prepared. Otherwise, you are likely parking along a fairly busy street, so watch yourself before you open your door.)


Jim Nicosia is a teacher, author and children’s literacy advocate. He is a Rutgers University-certified coach for children, and earned his first victory in his age group in a race at the age of 50. He placed second in the USATF New Jersey Mini-2 championship, and first in the Mini-3 championship for 2019. In 2022, he placed third overall in his age group for the New Jersey USATF Grand Prix. He's still mostly to be found in the middle of the pack.

His website is

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