Sunday, June 26, 2016

Spectating at the President's Cup Night Race

Published by the DAILY RECORD of Morris County, New Jersey
On Sunday, June 26 2016


I love being a spectator at the President’s Cup Night Race 5K in Millburn.  Sure I’ve run the race and when I was fit it was a great race for pitting myself against the clock and my rivals.  It’s just that you can see so much of the race if you do just a little bit of shuttling from Millburn Avenue to Essex Avenue.

This Monday I left the racing shoes at home and dedicated myself to watch, not run.  The race starts on Essex just half a block or so from the Charlie Brown’s parking lot where all the pre and post race activity takes place.

I’d like to say, “When the gun sounded for the start”, but in Millburn last Monday night there was no gun.  It happens.   All that the runners heard was “Go!”  No gun.

So, when the “Go!” was shouted I was down Essex at the finish area chatting with a friend as we waited for the field to come past.  Leading the field, and with a substantial lead was a teen, wearing the race shirt and basketball style shorts.  He had such a delighted grin on his face I could only smile and laugh with him as he was quickly swallowed up by the serious runners at the head of the field.

I didn’t stay long on Essex as the lead runners would soon be on Millburn Avenue, a quick jog over from Essex.   Indeed I and the other spectators did not have long to wait.  A lead pack of about eight runners had already separated themselves from the rest of the field, but with a sub pack not far behind them.  Up they charged heading to the turn-back curve to Essex.  I waited a short while, but decided to switch back over to Essex to watch the race from there.

The lead pack, which by now had hit the first mile marker had already dropped a runner or two and was now down to five or six.  At that point the course takes the runners out on Milburn to Millburn High School where they use the school driveway as the turn-back.

I stayed on Essex looking for and spotting people I knew.  Two who I did not know found that spot to take a tumble.  The first, a woman runner was helped up from her fall sporting a bloody leg.  Soon after a man fell in nearly the same spot.  He seemed to have survived the tumble without lose of blood. 

At ten minutes into the race, and yes, of course I had my watch on it, I knew that the lead runners would soon be coming back up Milburn to loop over and fly down Essex to the finish.  I glanced over and saw the men flying past the intersection on Millburn, no longer in a solid pack as before but now strung out.

Soon the motorcycles leading the race were coming down Essex.  With no one near, in long strong strides Eric Chirchir of Newark was heading for the finish which he reached in 14:56.9.  Coming next, with a gap of say maybe fifty meters was Kyle Price of North Brunswick.   Clearly Price had no chance of overtaking Chirchir and appeared to be hanging on in the heat, his trademark blond Mohawk fringe standing straight up on his head, with second place a lock.  Or was it?

While Price wasn’t going to challenge Chirchir, Stephen Mennitt of North Brunswick and Thomas Young  of Fort Lee,  running side by side, were having the race of their life.  With faces contorted, arms pumping and legs churning the two men could have been throwing punches by the intensity in their faces

What a sight as the two raced each other toward the finish line – catching the unsuspecting Price  as they swept past in their personal duel.  It ended with Mennitt hitting the line in 15:04.38 with Young a second back in 15:05.06.  Price, who won the race in 2015 finished fourth in 15:07.62.

The spectating was better than I had imagined.

The Fitzgerald’s 1928 Lager Run 5K is for 5K runners the culmination of a great eight days of racing.  Beginning with the New Milford 5K last Saturday, then the President’s Cup on Monday night and now this open men’s championship with its fast net downhill course.   The early evening start of 6:15 p.m. is the one downer.  It is often still quite warm at the start, felling this runner a time or two.  The beer and pretzels after the race do make up for the distress.


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