PRINCETON: Half Marathon set for Princeton roads

Event rebounds from cancellation

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Catharine Vaucher was moved to tears last year when a handful of hearty runners unofficially completed the Princeton Half Marathon course after Superstorm Sandy forced the cancellation of the inaugural race.
   The rain and storm damage proved too much for the course’s safety.
   Vaucher, the race director from organizer HiTOPS Health Center, is hoping that the only moisture this year is more of her tears of joy as the Princeton Half Marathon finally gets underway 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
   ”To fully see it happen, it will be spectacular,” Vaucher said. “On race day last year, all of the staff, we had been working toward that day for a year and a half, we’re in our houses licking our wounds. Word got out that some of the runners were running anyway. I rode alongside the runners. It brought a tear to my eye. I was cheering them on. They were going through Herontown and Snowden. There were 30-40 that ran anyway. It did my heart good to see them running.”
   Over 1,000 runners will take to the scenic course that winds its way through Princeton starting at Paul Robeson Place. Runners will head out to Library Place then down Mercer Street and eventually onto the trails in Princeton Battlefield Park. They return to the heart of Princeton via Alexander Rd., Faculty Rd. and a climb up Washington Rd., then head out Hamilton Ave. to Snowden Lane and eventually up Herrontown Rd. before coming down Bunn Dr. Runners steer onto Jefferson Rd. before turning onto Wiggins St. and finishing on Paul Robeson Place. There will be road closures during the race, in which runners must complete the course in at least 15-minute mile pace.
   ”There’s minimum changes to last year’s course,” Vaucher said. “There was one funky little loop that USATF put in, and we thought it was weird. We made that improvement. That’s in the battlefield area. We moved it into the neighborhood by Snowden. Everything else is the same. USATF came out and certified it and we’re good to go for 10 years.”
   All proceeds from the race benefit HiTOPS Health Center, the nonprofit dedicated to adolescent health care since 1987. HiTOPS is hoping that the race will raise visibility of the importance of addressing adolescent health care. They aim to help young people make healthy, responsible decisions that set them up for success later in life.
   ”Part of it is a gift to the community, part of it is a gift to the runners, part to us,” Vaucher said. “It has a lot of layers. One thing is it’s a great half marathon course. It’s a great community event. People wanted to bring their lawn chairs out and watch the race. It’s a culmination of all that.
   ”It’s why HiTOPS wanted to do this. We didn’t want to just do a gala. We wanted a large community event that brings people together and has a community feel to it, more of a community feel than a private event.”
   Last year organizers tried to help ease the disappointment of the cancellation of the race by helping victims of Superstorm Sandy.
   ”We had a day for the registered runners to come here and pick up their shirts,” Vaucher said. “Everything else, there were a lot of T-shirts and other items, we donated to Hurricane Sandy relief at the shore and to the American Red Cross. A lot of our sponsors donated items. That was great to be able to give to them.”
   Runners began picking up their race packets for Sunday’s race from the Princeton Running Company on Thursday, and packet pick-up continues at the Nassau St. store today 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Runners can find their numbers, goodie bags and pick up any last-minute running needs all in one spot. The Running Company got involved with the race this year.
   ”The Princeton community is very active and very involved,” said Alex Tarlow, the head of the Running Company’s community outreach. “We wanted to pair with them.
   ”We have been promoting it on our Website,, and with social media, and we have a training program called ‘Run This Town,’ which we’re building toward the Princeton Half Marathon. It sells itself. It’s a great race in a scenic area.”
   The race is the first half marathon to be held in Princeton since 1986, when the nine-year event ended. In the days leading up to its return, the excitement is growing, maybe even more so after the disappointment of last year’s cancellation.
   ”If the race would have run last year, we would have photographs,” Vaucher said. “We would have had momentum and been able to build on that experience. We were able to build and enhance some things this year. We’re calling it our second inaugural event. We’re still trying to kick it off, and we’re excited.
   ”It means a lot more to us this year,” she added. “It can be lost so quickly too.”
   One of the reasons cited for the cancellation of the original half marathon in 1986 was a lack of support from local police and government officials. The Princeton Half Marathon has seen the opposite of that in its organization.
   ”Something that has been fantastic and has remained that way,” said Vaucher, “is the partnership with the Princeton Police, the Mercer County Sheriffs Office and Homeland Security, Princeton University, the West Windsor police, New Jersey Transit and fire. We’re getting everyone to go through the course and make sure public safety is taken care of. It’s a good partnership. Because of their expertise, I feel this event will happen the way it’s planned to happen. There’s lot of players involved in making it safe, making sure runners pass at a certain time so traffic can pass or the dinky can pass at a certain time.”
   The Running Company’s training runs have introduced some runners to parts of the course. The store will also help runners on race day.
   ”We’re going to have a race day presence,” Tarlow said. “It’s more logistical. We’ll be on hand with free energy fuels throughout the course. We’ll be helping out. We’ve been building toward this, and come race day, this is HiTOPS’ show. They’ve done a great job of setting it up and getting it organized.”
   Tarlow is hoping that the half marathon will continue to promote running in Princeton, and he is looking forward to seeing the growth of the event.
   ”I do foresee the Princeton Half Marathon being a premier race,” Tarlow said. “It’s on the same weekend as the New York Marathon, but it’s a great race and it’s run well.”
   The field hit its 1,000 cap in early October, and Vaucher believes that there are more volunteers ready for this year’s running than would have been there last year. About 200 will assist in making the event run smoothly.
   ”What we’re trying to do is coordinate all those jobs and the skills and make it all run great and concentrate on what the runners get,” Vaucher said. “We’re making sure they get water and know where it’s at so they can have a good run.”
   Organizers are expecting upwards of 2,500 spectators. The staging area will be in Hinds Plaza.
   ”Most of the festivities were happening on Palmer Square,” Vaucher said. “This year, we moved it to Hinds Plaza. It’s a better downtime flow there. Our vendors seem to like it. It seems like a good move for us. We have the whole four-block downtown area for the runners to take off, and for the spectators I think it’ll be an easy flow for them.”
   Superstorm Sandy helped organizers we that much more meticulous in trying to ensure the safety and security of spectators, runners and the community.
   ”It helped me think about disaster planning a little more,” Vaucher said. “That’s what we’ve been doing with the Princeton Police too. Since the Boston Marathon bombing, you have to do some things a little different. The canine police force will be there checking things out. There is a little extra attention if something happens. We’re talking about that and we’re prepared to make adjustments if adjustments have to happen. Hurricane Sandy brought that to us, something can happen that you’re not prepared for, and how to handle that.”
   Nothing could have prevented last year’s cancellation. Police could not guarantee the safety of the course after Superstorm Sandy, and there were plenty of people still suffering the effects of the storm. One year later, there is a buzz about the half marathon finally returning to Princeton and Vaucher is hoping that forecasts for partly cloudy with a high of 55 degrees hold up.
   ”Sunny and dry would be fantastic,” Vaucher said. “It doesn’t look like there are going to be any weather issues. It’s a rain or shine event. We’re just hoping for great weather.”