The last time members of the Koontz family ran the Princeton Half Marathon together, Jimmy Carter was the president of the United States, first-class stamps cost 15 cents, and Donna Summer’s song “Dim All the Lights” was a top-40 music hit.
Andrew Koontz was only 10 years old back in 1978 when he completed his first half marathon with his parents, Rebecca and Warren Koontz. The family lived in Chatham, New Jersey at the time and participated in races across the region, including the Princeton Half Marathon, which was run by the YMCA.
Now almost four decades later, all three will run in the HiTOPS Princeton Half Marathon again as a family activity today.
“Running in Princeton when I was a kid, I never imagined I’d be living here,” said Andrew. “It’s a beautiful place to run. I thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to all do the race again together now.”
The Koontz family is a tight-knit group. Members of the family play in a band together. Andrew plays the fiddle, his dad plays the bass and guitar, and Rebecca calls herself “the sound guy.” Even though they have not run in a race since 2006, Rebecca and Warren thought participating in the half marathon with their son again sounded like a fun family activity. They both have continued to run and stay fit all these years, just not for the sake of racing.
Rebecca is the one who sparked the family’s interest in running back in the early 1970s when she was about 28.
“I felt I needed to do something physical,” she said.
“I started the day after she did,” Warren said.
Rebecca smiles: “No, he’s not at all competitive.”
She recalls how there were no running shoes or jog bras for women back then. “All those things came later,” she said. Often she was the only women in a race, and she enjoyed winning.
Rebecca and Warren sometimes trained together, pushing each other to do more.
“It was incredibly hard to begin. It took so long to get where you wanted to be. In high school we had to do four laps around the tracks, or one mile. How many weeks it took to be able to do that again when I first started running — but I was determined,” Warren said.
Warren, Rebecca and Andrew all ended up running marathons, with Andrew participating in the New York City Marathon in 1978 when he was only 10 years old. Minors were still allowed to sign up for the marathon at the time.
“When Dad ran the marathon in 1977, I was rushing to the finish line and I remember I saw a kid my age running,” Andrew said. “I thought if he can do it, I can do it, and I started to run.”
“We told him if he didn’t prepare, he couldn’t run,” Warren said.
The original Princeton Half Marathon ended in the 1980s and HiTOPS revived it four years ago. The new course is a more scenic route than it was almost four decades ago. Both races share the same start on Paul Robeson Place, and both include major hills.
“The old course was more cut and dry. We went up Elm Road, into Montgomery, and came back via Princeton Pike, then finished at Palmer Square,” Andrew said.
“Those were some whaleback hills on Princeton Pike,” Warren said.
The two toughest hills of the 13.1 mile race today will be on Washington Road and Herrontown Road. The strategy for the Koontz family is to run a steady pace, regardless of the terrain, and recover on the downhills before the major climbs. Warren and Rebecca live in Florida now, so they have not trained much on hills. “If the weather is hot, we’ll have an advantage though,” Warren joked.
“We won’t be as fast as we were in 1978,” he said. ” But we’re looking forward to it.”