May 7, 2010

Race Report: New Jersey Marathon

Despite getting about 10 hours of sleep the night before (hurray for 9am race starts!), I didn’t feel that well-rested when I woke up. I hoped that wouldn’t spell trouble when it came time to pace.

We had a very easy drive to the start (hooray for the race website advising us which hotels wouldn’t have traffic on the way to the race, and me ending up in one of those!). Once there, I immediately headed off to find Dave (the timing guy) and get my chip situation resolved. His wife was manning the van when I got there, and in less than 2 minutes, she had me assigned to a new bib and chip as a full marathoner. Phew! I was really relieved and glad that things were off to such a good start.

In bad news, while at the start to get the chip issue fixed, I was wearing my race outfit of skirt, tank top, and pacing t-shirt, and I wasn’t cold at all. It’s never a good sign when you’re not cold at the beginning of a race – it means you’re going to be very, very hot later on!

I met up with the other pacers to collect my signs and group up, and my friend Lauri offered me some waterproof sunscreen that I gratefully slathered on my arms and legs (I was already wearing moisturizer with SPF 30 in it). Soon enough it was time to line up for the start, but not before one quick picture with my mom and her cute spectating sign!

The corrals were already full of people when I lined up, and the 4:15 and 4:45 groups hadn’t left much room in between them (probably not the best spacing of the pacers). I was there a few minutes later than everyone else because of the picture and a few side conversations with some 50 state buddies, and when I walked in and raiesd my sign high, a lot of people started following me through the crowd because they wanted to run with me. At the expo, over 50 people had signed up to be in my group, and I had also gotten about a dozen e-mails from people who said they wanted to run with me, so when you add those to all the people who didn’t even sign up or get in touch beforehand, it was a huge group! With my followers amassed around me (I’ve never felt so popular!), I explained my pacing strategy: we’d be doing 10:07 splits for the first half, to finish in 2:12. At the 13.1 mile mark, the half marathoners could get excited because they were now done with running for the day; meanwhile, the full marathoners could get excited because they got to slow it down for the rest of the race. Something for everyone! We’d be running the second half of the race in 2:18, giving us an extra 20 seconds per mile to make up for the exhaustion that would start to set in.

As the start approached, I was busy answering questions about pacing and my quest for 50 states, so the half hour went by very quickly. There was no National Anthem that I heard (though much earlier, I had heard “America The Beautiful”), so after a few short announcements, we were off!

The race was extremely crowded, but we managed to hit our pace fairly quickly (though that did involve a lot of bobbing and weaving to get there). I was just getting to know my group in the first mile when disaster struck. There had been someone running directly in front of me (kind of unavoidable with the narrowness of the road and the 10,000 runners on it), and they came upon a cone directly ahead of them, so they jumped out of the way at the last possible second. Problem was, because I was running right behind them, I didn’t have any advance warning, and tripped over it. For a second or two, I thought I was going to be able to stabilize and maintain my balance, but then down I went. Fearing for my legs and face, I instinctively tried to use my hands to break my fall (and tried to come down lightly), but the result was not pretty: huge gravel-filled wounds on my palms, and one nastily scraped knee to boot. I wanted to cry like a four year old after that tumble, but I knew I had a group to lead, so I picked myself up and tried to think while everyone clucked and fawned over me. I was walking now, but I knew I needed medical attention – I was bleeding all over the place, and everything hurt like heck.

I tried to maintain a professional and upbeat manner, so I gave my stick to a loyal follower (Stephanie and I had been e-mailing back and forth for weeks, and this was her first marathon!), and my friend Jackie helped me over to the side of the road where we saw some policemen. I hoped they could either provide me with first aid or direct me to the next medical station. They didn’t have any first aid to offer, but told me that the medical station was about a mile down the road. They offered a ride, but I knew that meant dropping out of the race. No way was I doing that! The pain in my knee had gone down, and I could tell that while it was bleeding a lot and was stinging really badly from the gravel, I hadn’t actually hurt any bones or muscles, so I could still run.

I caught back up with my group, and took the stick back from Stephanie. Everyone seemed impressed that I was back, and I tried to just convey the attitude of “fearless leader,” letting everyone know that while I needed to stop at medical up ahead, I was still “in it to win it.” Glancing down, I realized that my leg was now dripping with blood (yuck), and my hands were pretty disastrous too. One well-stocked runner offered me a tissue, which helped me to at least blot and clean up my hands a little bit, but I just really wanted to get the wounds cleaned out so they wouldn’t get infected.

Around mile 2, we saw the aid station approaching, so I again gave the sign to Stephanie, then sprinted ahead to try to get in and out of medical and catch back up. The paramedics, while standing on the road seemingly prepared for action, were shocked when they actually got a runner with an injury (me). Despite me trying to convey a sense of urgency, the EMT ambled slowly to the back of his ambulance, and told me he needed me to fill out a waiver before he could help me at all. Fine, fine… just give me a pen so I can get this done and get back to my group! After filling out a ton of info about myself, the guy handed me a few bandaids. Huh? I asked for peroxide or some kind of antiseptic to clean out my wounds, but he told me they weren’t allowed to give that out, despite the long waiver they had made me sign. He offered me some (dry, scratchy) gauze I could use to wipe out the wounds, but that did next to nothing, so I just slapped the bandaids on and headed out. What a useless medical station! I didn’t need bandaids (I already carry those in my fanny pack); I just needed peroxide. What would happen if something were really wrong instead of just some surface wounds? Would they still just say “sorry, no medications allowed?” Bizarre!

I had a really hard time catching back up with my group after that long (and unhelpful) pitstop, and I started to worry that I’d never make it. I was running between a 7 and 8 minute mile (and dodging tons of people in order to do so), but the stop had taken so long that it was about 2 miles before I could even spot the orange 4:30 flags up ahead. I finally arrived back with my group, thoroughly exhausted and sweating like crazy… only to find that my bandaids were already falling off because of all the sweat. Fabulous. Not only were my wounds still dirty and gravel-filled, the stop had been totally useless since the bandaids wouldn’t stick!

It didn’t matter though – I was going to finish this and lead my group to a 4:30 finish, blood or no blood. I tried to just keep up a constant chatter to distract myself from the stinging in my hands and knee every time my salty sweat got in there. Ouch!

As we came into the town of Oceanport (with a big finish line-like banner heralding our arrival), it started getting really hot. We were now away from the ocean breezes, and while some of the more residential streets were tree lined and therefore had a bit of shade, we were starting to roast in the sun. Forget what I said earlier about enjoying being able to sleep late for a 9am start – why on earth was the race starting at 9am if it was going to get that hot? It should have started at 6am so we could have avoided the heat! Perhaps it hasn’t been quite as hot other years, but May is definitely time enough where heat can be a problem.

In good news, the course was very flat, and the late time meant that many residents were out on their lawns, tailgating and cheering us on. A lot of them had set up sprinklers to go onto the road and cool us down, which were thoroughly appreciated, especially since I didn’t see any who made the amateur error of having them go across the road (assuming that every runner wanted to get wet). In fact, I saw one mom helping her 6 year old kid man a hose that he was using to spray down individual runners, and she was reminding him to “ask them if they want to be sprayed first.” Thank you!!! This early in the race, I didn’t want to get wet, but I was happy that I’d have the option later if I so chose.

We had been told that there would only be gels in the second half of the course, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a Gu stop at mile 9. Yay! I recently ran out of gels, so I was going to resort to Larabars (which are actually what I used to eat during marathons before I got cheap and switched to gels). I was grateful to get some free gels instead 🙂

Despite my little ambulance dash, the group had managed to stay right on pace, and by mile 10, we were in fact about 20 seconds early – I was fine with that. The group was hanging on pretty well and staying together. I was especially happy to see that Anthony was sticking with us. His mom had e-mailed me before the race to let me know that he’d be joining my group – he was only 13 years old and this was his first half marathon! Wow. Wonder what kind of 50 state record I could have set if I had started running ten years sooner 🙂

It was definitely getting pretty hot, and we were sweating like crazy. Fortunately for us, at mile 11.5, we headed back out to the boardwalk for 1.5 miles of ocean breeze. It was incredible – I knew it was going to get cooler when we headed along this part of the course, but I hadn’t realized just how much cooler and how suddenly the change would be! We were running on a hot and sunny street through the middle of town, and then literally when we turned the corner it was all of a sudden about 10 degrees cooler. It felt so amazingly good, and I tried to savor it while I could. The half marathoners were almost done, but the full marathoners had a whole second lap to go on the hot and sunny course!

The tricky part about pacing both half and full marathoners is that you have to remind the half marathoners that they’re almost done… but simultaneously not make the marathoners stressed that they’re only halfway. This is a big part of the reason that I like to do positive splits: I can encourage the marathoners by pointing out that at the halfway point, they’re going to get to drop the pace by about 30 seconds. Having incentive for both groups of runners to reach the 13.1 mile mark helps everyone to stay happy and me to feel like I’m doing my job as a pacer.

The last bit around the boardwalk was crowded with people, and I encouraged the half marathoners to really push the pace now – “it’s your last chance! Don’t finish with any regrets!” I stayed at a steady pace for the full marathoners, but really focused my efforts on cheering for the half marathoners. Right around the 13 mile mark (though I actually didn’t see a mile marker), the boardwalk split with half marathoners on the left and full marathoners on the right. This made it a lot easier to cheer for the runners who were finishing the race, and I enjoyed being able to cheer over the metal gates between us while watching them come into a strong finish. So much nicer than having the full marathoners turn off in one direction and not get to see the half marathoners finish!

Once we crossed the halfway point, I rallied my troops together. First, I reminded them to watch the ground so as not to trip and fall in the mile we were now running (where I had tripped the first time around). Second, I reminded them that because we were now halfway done, we could now slow the pace down to a comfortable 10:30. We were so settled into the old pace that it took us a few miles before we were able to keep it steady at the slower pace, but hey, faster never hurts too much.

So all that was the good news… but the bad news was that it was definitely heating up. As we started moving away from the shore and heading into the neighborhoods, I consoled myself with the fact that every step we took after the halfway point was one step closer to mile 24, where we’d hit the ocean breezes again. Just 10 miles to go!

I started drinking water at the aid stations like crazy, and instead of avoiding the sprinklers put out by many residents (I usually don’t like to get wet because then my clothes get heavy), I started running through them for at least a few refreshing drops. As we came into mile 15, I saw something my friend Lauri had warned me about: a group of neighbors who were having a little tailgate party at the end of their driveway. Sure enough, they had tons of Bloody Marys out (yuck!), but taking her advice, I asked for a beer. The guys were shocked, but quickly offered up a can of Bud Light in a coozie. Purely because I wanted to impress my pace group, I quickly chugged half of it before resuming the race, right on pace. Yes, I AM that awesome 🙂

We stayed slightly ahead of pace for several miles, though I tried to keep pulling the group back and urging them to slow down. By the time we got to the one hill in the course (a short bridge on a slight incline around mile 15), we were about 2 minutes ahead of where we should be, so I told the group we’d walk the hill for a quick rest break. But on a hill that short, you don’t really lose much time by walking it, particularly because we sped up a bit on the resulting downhill on the other side.

As we came into mile 19, I started prepping guys for what’s become my signature stunt as a pacer: the “music mile.” This time I opted to play Rascal Flatts’ “Stand” and call out a few of the really key lyrics, reminding my group to be sure to listen to the words. “Every time you get up/and get back in the race/one more small piece of you/starts to fall into place.” Really, is there any better song for inspiring and motivating during a marathon? That is, assuming I never get up the nerve to play the one that got me through my first marathon, by Rodney Atkins: “If You’re Going Through Hell (Keep On Going)!”

We had one last hill to get through: the reverse of the bridge, this time at mile 21. We walked it again, dropping a little bit of time in the process. From here on out, it was just a matter of hanging in there till the end. Only 5 miles to go, and all of them flat!

However, with the day heating up like crazy, “hanging in there” was not going to be easy. This was my first warm marathon of the year and I couldn’t believe how hot it was! I’m glad I didn’t know the temperature, or I probably would have felt worse than I did – I later found out it was in the 80s. Hot! I just kept pointing out to my group that by mile 24, we’d hit the very cold ocean breeze, so it was just a matter of getting through a 5K until then. And we could all do a 5K, right?

Well, unfortunately one of my runners, Stephanie, couldn’t make it. The group had been dwindling down and down, but because Stephanie and I had e-mailed back and forth so much in advance, I thought for sure she’d push through and make it, even if it was her first marathon. I was so disappointed with myself when she decided to walk around mile 23. We were so close to reaching the nice cool boardwalk, and not that far from the finish either! I hung back from the rest of my group a bit, begging and pleading with her to just hang in there a little bit longer and keep running with us, but it was to no avail. Finally, I went on ahead with the rest of the group. It was so frustrating to have to do that, as I REALLY wanted to finish with Stephanie by my side, but my responsibility was to finish in 4:30, not to finish with any one runner, and I had to do my job. Still, I turned around a few times and yelled back “come on, Stephanie, catch up with us – you can do it!” We soon turned a corner though and she was gone forever 🙁

In good news, I looked her up in the results and found she only finished about 5 minutes behind us – not bad at all for her very first marathon! I’m really proud of how long she lasted at our pace. Most exciting of all, she told me that while she originally planned to do this marathon and then never run a marathon again, she’s actually decided to sign up for the Hartford Marathon in the fall and try to improve her time. Hooray! I told you all this marathon stuff is addictive…

With just a few members left in my group, it was now time to rally the runners around me. I started introducing myself to runners along the way, and if they were walking, encouraging them to pick up the pace and come run with us. I assured them that we were right on pace for 4:30, and they could hit that time goal too if they stuck with me. By the time we hit the cool ocean breeze of the boardwalk (ahhhh, amazing!), I had a decently-sized group of people yet again.

The breeze didn’t feel as suddenly cold as it had the first time (maybe just because I was anticipating it this time around), but it still was great. Plus, now it was time for my favorite part of being a pacer: getting to encourage and cheer on all the runners in a very active way from now until the finish. I’m telling you, those last few miles are the BEST. The whole rest of the race, while I’m trying to be a cheerleader, it can be kind of dishonest. Saying “woo hoo, halfway done!” is not admitting the unspoken “if you’re tired now, you still have to do it all over again one more time.” Or at mile 17, when I try to keep people going with “three more miles till the surprise at mile 20!”, it’s just not as effective as “three more miles till you’re DONE!”

I kept picking up new runners as I headed down the boardwalk, trying to encourage everyone I came across. I felt the strongest loyalty to the people who had been with me throughout the race, but that didn’t stop me for at least yelling out to other runners that if they could get it together and stick with me, they could break 4:30. Two miles to go – we could do it!

I always say the last few miles of a marathon are not at all about how well you trained or how good/bad your body feels. We’re all tired and hurting; it just becomes about how badly you want it. The human body is a pretty amazing thing, and I think once it comes down to that last 10 or 20 minutes… it’s just how mentally strong you are to push through the pain. I for one couldn’t wait to be done (and especially to get my wounds cleaned out and hopefully get my salty sweat to stop going into them and stinging!). However, when I’m pacing, I can’t just gun it to the finish (as much as I’d like to get done sooner) – I have to just stay steady.

That didn’t stop me from encouraging everyone else to pick it up though! As we approached mile 25, I started reminding my charges that this was it – 10 minutes or less left in the race. If they had any extra energy in them, now was the time to use it. I encouraged them to run ahead of me and just give it everything they had; if they ran out of gas, I’d catch them and force them to finish with me 🙂 I didn’t get quite as drill sergeant-ish about it as I’ve done in past races (National Marathon comes to mind – I think everyone in my group finished a full minute or so ahead of me!), but it was enough to get a few people to pick up the pace. I was soon running nearly on my own, though continuing to pick up stragglers as I went.

When I finally saw the finish line approaching, I was so proud. Checking my watch, I realized I was just about on schedule – maybe about 20 seconds slower than perfect. Knowing that I had come that close to my target time, even after falling and hurting myself and even with the intense heat… boy, was I proud. I saw my mom and Jackie’s husband Pons a few hundred yards from the finish, and they snapped a great picture of me, holding my sign tall and proud. I had done it!

The announcer called me out for finishing right on time as I came across the finish, and I was thrilled. I collected my medal and a bottle of water, but didn’t really see any food around. Instead, I headed for the medical tent – first priority was to get the blood cleaned off me and my wounds cleaned out, especially before my mom caught up to me and flipped out about me being hurt. However, when I headed into the medical tent, I was surprised to find it was the same story as before – they wouldn’t provide any antiseptic to clean out the wounds, even if I signed a waiver! Ridiculous.

I headed out of the tent and nearly ran smack into my mom, who had come to the finish to find me. She didn’t take my injuries nearly as badly as I thought she would, though she too was appalled that they hadn’t given me the medical care I needed. We ended up stopping at a drugstore on the way home to get me cleaned up! Though not before I insisted we stop at a Tasti D Lite for a little treat to make up for the lack of food at the finish. Brings me back to my roots, running for ice cream 🙂

So now I’m done with the last semi-local state… all that’s left are those northern midwest states: Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Getting closer!

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:30:46
Pace/mile: 10:20
Overall place: 531/1280
Gender place: 165/575
Age group place: 20/71


7 thoughts on “Race Report: New Jersey Marathon”

  1. Wow Laura – you are so awesome! To have fallen down, and yet you kept going and kept that smile on your face and kept on encouraging your group of runners. That’s either crazy or shows you are one class act! 🙂 I think you’re a class act. Congrats on a strong finish and I hope your cuts/scrapes are healing nicely! Great write-up; can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!

  2. That’s so hardcore of you! I would’ve cried like a baby and called it a day, lol. Did you at least throw some water on your wounds throughout the race to clean them out?

    I recently found out that my aunt and uncle are going to be running the Minneapolis Marathon….it’ll be their first full marathon!

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