May 15, 2012

Race Report: New Jersey Marathon

(This race was run on May 6 – and now I am finally caught up with back race reports!)

After doing everything right for last week’s race and going into it feeling great (except for my crazy nerves at the start), I wanted to duplicate that this weekend. Having paced the New Jersey Marathon for the last two years, I knew the course well. I knew it was mostly flat, fairly easy, and not terribly mentally challenging (pretty scenery, lots of crowd support, no end of race hills, etc). But then I started striking out.

Strike 1 – Ashley and Gia arranged a free hot Figure 4 class for bloggers on Friday night. Having never done Figure 4 before, I didn’t know too much about it, but figured I would take it easy on anything that worked the legs, and then kill it when it came to upper body work. Turns out, Figure 4 is basically all legs – we used dumbbells to work our arms for one song, and then did a few pushups during another song, but the rest was all lower body work. As a result, I ended up doing a few moves until my legs were shaking – which might not have been the best idea before my race. On the bright side, the class was amazing, and I wished I could have pushed myself to the max – I am really looking forward to giving it another try this Sunday.

Strike 2 – after killing my legs in Figure 4 and also sweating all the water out of my body thanks to the hot nature of the room, I headed out on a date. We had intended to get dinner and then part ways early, so that I could get a good night’s sleep (I’ve always found that the sleep I get two nights before the race is way more important than the night before). Instead, I skipped dinner, got a little too into my 12% ABV Allagash Curieux, and stayed out sampling more beers till 3am. Since I hadn’t planned anything on Saturday until late afternoon, I reasoned that I could just sleep in to make up for it… until my internal clock woke me at 8am and wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. 5 hours of sleep when I was already in sleep debt from a busy week at work? Not good.

Strike 3 – On Saturday, instead of staying home to rest up and carb load, I inadvertently skipped both breakfast and dinner and enjoyed several delicious frozen sweet tea lemonades at Ashley’s Diamond Derby party. (Aside from the drinks and desserts, there wasn’t anything terribly carb-heavy on the menu, so I mostly just had a few crackers with pimento cheese dip, because that’s obviously a good thing to eat the night before a marathon). Since I hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep Friday night and because I had to get up at 4am to get to the race Sunday, I planned to call it an early night on Saturday. However, I ended up having way too much fun at the party, and didn’t get to bed until 11:30pm – giving me only 4.5 hours of sleep.

That’s three strikes, so I should have been out – and I thought I was. My first thought on rousing myself Sunday morning was how much I just wanted to stay in bed and just sleep all day. Economics says that my race entry fee was a sunk cost and shouldn’t be considered, right?? But I dutifully slathered myself with Body Glide, threw on my race outfit, and headed for Penn Station to meet my friends for the train to the race.

On the train, I was exhausted, and started to regret my decision to leave my pillow at home. Last year, I spent the train ride reading because I was perfectly rested and wide awake; this year, I tried to do that and kept nodding off. Finally, I stretched out on an empty row of seats and allowed myself to doze. Unfortunately, I never truly nodded off, so it ended up being kind of an unproductive train ride.

When we got to the end of the line and people started piling off, we were at a completely different station than the one that I’m used to. I had just heard a few days before a race that the course had changed, but getting off at a different station threw me for a loop. So we wouldn’t be waiting for the start at the usual hotel, and the start and finish were in totally different places? This was news to me, and I started to get a little bit concerned about how different the course might be. However, my nerves were quickly quelled by all the aforementioned strikes against me. While I had originally decided to run this race thinking I’d aim for a sub-4 time, there was no way that was happening for me now, and I didn’t have any other time goals I cared about reaching. It was going to be just a fun run day, so whether the course was hilly or not didn’t matter.

Carla dashed off to the start of the half marathon as soon as we got off the train, since the organizers had moved the half marathon start up to 6:50am (vs 8am for the full marathoners). It was strange to me that the half marathon would start first, and I hoped that we wouldn’t run into any congestion issues with the front-of-the-pack marathoners catching up with the back-of-the-pack half marathoners. However, it turned out that Carla needn’t have worried – Jocelyn and I watched from the sidelines with amusement as half marathoners meandered over to the start more than 40 minutes after the official start time. While the announcer started out by saying it was the last call for half marathoners to start, he kept saying that for nearly an hour, at one point even changing his plea to “if you’re a half marathoner and still haven’t started, please raise your hand and we’ll keep the timing mats going longer.” It was very odd to see people starting the race in groups of 2 or 5 instead of all at once! It seemed like the extremely early start time didn’t give people enough time to get there. For my selfish part, I wished that the half marathon had started later so that the train from Penn Station could have left later – granting me more sleep and less time hanging around and killing time waiting for the marathon to start.

Jocelyn and I were able to entertain ourselves fairly well though, catching up on gossip, people watching, and me belatedly carb loading with a bagel and cream cheese that were being sold at the start by a local charity (sidebar: bagel and cream cheese was $1.50; small cup of coffee was $4. Guess they knew what was hottest in demand!). Jocelyn’s one rule was that we couldn’t talk about anything race related, because she wanted to avoid thinking about it. Jocelyn had been training insanely hard and was going for her first sub-4 marathon, and she seemed to have done everything perfectly – even skipping the Derby party on Saturday night in favor of getting more rest. Thinking about how she was to achieve her goal of sub-4 and how I was going to be left in the dust thanks to my stupidity over the last few days was frustrating – I knew that I had a sub-4 marathon in me, if only I had done things right. Irresponsible!

We made a few friends in the line for bag check, and again in the porta potty lines. While the line for bag check was long (because this year the bags had to be loaded on trucks and brought to the finish line intsead of staying in one place), the lines for the portat potties were surprisingly short, and the porta potties also surprised me in being very fresh and clean – mine smelled strongly of air freshener and had extra rolls of toilet paper stocked just in case. Go, organizers! That’s a small detail that makes a big difference at the start of a race.

By the time we headed to the corrals, my coffee had kicked in and I was giddy with excitement. I didn’t care that I wasn’t going to run fast – I was just glad to be out there on what was shaping up to be a perfect day for running (temps in the 60s, sky slightly overcast). Furthermore, I couldn’t wait to cross the finish line and celebrate Jocelyn’s major accomplishment when all of her hard weeks of training paid off.

Before long, the race had begun – and unlike Country Music Marathon, the field was small enough that we got to cross the start fairly quickly (about two minutes after the elites). As our starting song, the DJ had chosen “I’m Sexy and I Know It (I Work Out)”, which got me totally pumped up and ready to go. We run marathons! We are sexy ! We work out! The song had a great beat and I quickly fell into step with the runners around me as we took off from the race track grounds and headed… well, I didn’t know where we were going, but I knew we were still ending on the boardwalk, so I focused on the ocean views that I knew soon awaited me.

The first mile was fairly quiet, with everyone just getting into the zone trying to find their pace. For my part, I put on a great Jack’s Mannequin album, Glass Passenger, and rocked out to “Crashing” and “Spinning,” each of which had great beats for kicking off the race. Most people seemed to be pretty introspective, but in an attempt to break the ice, I called out “hooray, just 25 miles to go!” at the one mile marker. A few people laughed, and it broke the ice for us to chat. There were a few first timers but also a lot of veterans, many of whom were locals that run the New Jersey Marathon every year. It was great to have people who knew where we were and where we were going, and I soon learned that while we started in a completely different place from last year, the course would actually be pretty similar. It was nice not to have to deal with those awful potholes in the road that did me in last year!

I noticed that my pace was quicker that expected for the first few miles (8:40, 8:50, 8:54, 8:58, 8:56), but it felt completely comfortable, so I just went with it. I didn’t mind at all if later miles ended up being slower as a result – I just wanted to do what felt comfortable. I found myself running right by the 3:55 pace group, so I chatted with the pace team leader there (who was awesome, calling out “right turn ahead!” so we’d know when to start cutting diagonally across the road in preparation) and some of the runners in the group.

But then, what really felt comfortable? Seeing a tailgate party up ahead, and taking the proffered mimosa. DELICIOUS. Over the next three miles, I found several tailgate parties and managed to pick up a mimosa and two beers along the way – earning the respect of many of the runners around me (particularly the guys whose shirts read “Sorry for Party Rocking”), who couldn’t believe I was drinking as we ran. Except for a particularly foamy Bud Light, the drinks went down smoothly and served as a nice little pick-me-up, and my times didn’t seem to be suffering as a result of sipping a few cold ones – miles 6-10 clocked in at 8:42, 8:54, 8:41, 8:31, and 8:46, respectively. Powered by alcohol? Yes indeed!

I hadn’t seen Jocelyn since I started the race, because she said at the beginning she needed to be left to her own devices to focus, but at mile 10, I thought I got a glimpse of her up ahead. Was that her? I hurried to catch up and discovered that it wasn’t – it was another blonde wearing hot pink compression socks. Those certainly are popular! I’ve never given compression gear a try, but one of these days will probably have to do so (though I don’t think I’d want to wear them while racing, since that just looks like it would be too hot).

Between miles 10 and 11, we started to catch up with some of the half marathoners, and I tried to cheer on as many as I could when I passed. While I had initially been worried about congestion, there were fewer walkers than I expected still out there, and they all courteously positioned themselves along the side of the road so running marathoners could pass with no trouble. My pace stayed solid as the course split into two lanes – one for half marathoners headed to the finish and one for full marathoners heading out for an out-and-back before returning to the boardwalk.

As I neared the halfway point, I started thinking about my time and realizing that I was doing much better than expected. The sub-9 minute pace per mile was fairly comfortable for me to maintain, probably in large part due to the amazingly perfect weather, which was nice and cool, not sunny and hot like past years. Despite taking a slightly longer time with mile 13 thanks to a stubborn Sports Beans pack that I couldn’t open, I crossed the halfway point in 1:56 – and was still feeling awesome. Did I want to try for a PR today?? I would have to run the second half just two minutes faster than the first, and given how strong I was feeling, that was a definite possibility if I decided to push it. On the other hand, I was having an absolute blast just running by feel and not concerning myself with time. After Tweeting some advice from friends, I decided to go not with the majority vote but with my mom’s advice, who told me to just have fun. It may have been lazy, but I decided to stick with that – I hadn’t gone into this expecting to run any kind of good time, let alone a PR, and I had been enjoying myself so much thus far that I didn’t want to mess with it. Run easy, run happy! (Hey Brooks, want to make me your new spokesperson?)

And “run happy” I was. Though I don’t think it will beat my first New York City Marathon, where I had such a perma-grin that my face hurt more than my legs when I was done, I was smiling the whole way and thanking all the volunteers and spectators that I could. As we hit the 7 mile out-and-back down the coast, I transferred my grin and energy to the runners on the other side, cheering “You go girl!” for the fast women I saw on their way to the finish (oh yes, I am totally dorky like that), and generally trying to catch the eye of and offer a “Great work! You can do it!” to anyone I saw struggling. I saw a few faster friends that I hadn’t known were running the race – Lam leading the 3:10 pace group, and Dane right around the 3:00 group – and gave some extra cheers for them.

But when I reached the turnaround at mile 19, I still hadn’t seen Jocelyn – and the sun was now coming out to turn the run into something a little more challenging. I wondered if possibly I had missed her on the small loop that was part of the turnaround? It would have been excellent if I had, because I was now right about on pace for a 3:55 finish, so as long as she was less than 1/2 mile behind me, she’d finish in her goal time of sub-4. But then I saw her just after mile 20 – which meant she was at 18.5 on the outbound leg. She was running with Meggie, who had come with us to help pace Jocelyn for the last 6 miles, and she did not look too happy – which I completely understood. I gave her the biggest cheer I possibly could as we passed each other, hoping that I could somehow magically transfer the energy from my body to hers, but then as soon as I passed, I felt awful. I knew how badly she wanted this sub-4, and unless she could pull a superhuman feat and drop a full minute off her pace for the remaining miles, she was going to miss that.

Knowing that there was nothing more I could do at the moment, I focused on my own race. While I had decided not to push the pace for a PR, I still wanted to finish strong and not wuss out in the last few miles. with the sun coming out, though, it was getting a bit tougher to run easy, and extending my water station walk breaks became more and more tempting. Mile 23 was my slowest of the race (at 9:02!!! Still super fast for me), in large part due to losing motivation and enjoying my Gatorade a little bit too much. But with only 3 miles to go, I did some calculations and realized I could come in under 3:55 – if I could average a 9 minute mile or better for these final miles. Game on!

Mile 24 was fine, netting me an 8:45 split, but mile 25 was a different story. Despite it being so close to the end of the race, this was an unshaded incline to get back up to boardwalk level; while it wasn’t a bad hill by any measure (this course was flat, it was enough to get me tired. Knowing the course, I just kept reminding myself that at the top of the hill I’d get to do two quick turns to make it onto the boardwalk, and then would have just one final mile, right on the ocean front, with tons of cheering crowds to keep me going. I finished mile 25 in 9:01 – not at all a bad pace given how late in the game it was. Sometimes 9:01 is my fastest mile in a marathon, so I was thrilled to be doing so well and yet also feeling pretty good. I still had the perma-smile!

The final mile took us right along the boardwalk and eventually up onto it, with tons of spectators lining the course. I kept reminding myself that I only had one measly mile to go, and that it was not the time to stop pushing! Still, I felt like my pace wasn’t necessarily agonizing; it was just more work than taking a walk break, which is what I wanted to do… especially when I saw a water station at 25.2 (really, race? Don’t tempt us at that late point!). I skipped the water and kept going – I’d get all the water and rest that I wanted in less than 10 minutes.

I started to pick up steam as one of my favorite songs came on, a piano/cello mashup of Taylor Swift’s Love Story and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, written by the amazing Jon Schmidt. With the instrumental cranked up and the breeze whipping through my hair, I felt fantastically in the zone and was excited to pick up the pace even more than before for a strong finish – I was beaming as I went through the crowds on the boardwalk.

However, as I began to approach the finish line, I realized that while I felt strong and good and like I could keep going, I didn’t think I could push the pace any faster. I didn’t think I’d be able to do my final sprint to the finish that I usually do in the last 200 yards. But with the finish looming in front of me and a huge smile plastered across my face, the crowds started cheering me on like crazy – and I managed to kick it up to a sprint to pass two more people before crossing the line. 3:54! I couldn’t believe it, and especially that it had come so easily. Not gonna lie, my eyes welled up a little bit as I stood there catching my breath; I was so proud of the great race I had run!

I got my medal and a water bottle (props for having water so close to the finish line; SO many races overlook this), and then bumped into a few marathon friends I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I spent about 5 minutes catching up, but then had to cut things short – I needed to get back to the finish line to cheer for Jocelyn. I tried to slip out through the gates next to me, but the police guarding the barrier told me I had to go all the way to the end of the line and wasn’t able to exit sooner. Here is where New Jersey Marathon loses back the finish area points they got by having water at the beginning – there is nothing worse than being forced to go all the way to the end of a long chute just to get things you don’t want anyway (Gatorade? AFTER a race? No, thank you). And yes, New York City Marathon, I’m talking to you on this one.

By the time I made it to the end of the chute, five more minutes had passed, and I started to worry that I was going to miss Jocelyn’s finish. I ended up running through the crowd, holding my medal in one hand to keep it from painfully pounding on my chest as I ran (so that’s why they give them out at the end and not the beginning! Ha). Passing the finish line, the crowds were two or three deep along the fence, so I just kept running until I finally saw an empty spot of fence about 100 yards further down. I kept wondering if I ought to keep running until I saw Jocelyn and then run with her to pace her in, but I was afraid it would make her feel worse that I had finished sub-4 (her goal) and was coming back to run more. Maybe it’s stupid, but I was so conflicted that I ended up calling our friend Laura to try to figure out what to do. I had just run a fantastic race, but I was actually near tears for my friend, because I knew how hard she worked for this goal and how badly she wanted it. As the minutes ticked by, I started to wonder if I had missed her in the time it took me to get from the finish back to the course?

And then I saw her. Or rather, I saw Meggie (knowing she was already running with Jocelyn was a big part of why I decided just to stay put and cheer). Meggie was alone, but I correctly assumed she was just ahead of Jocelyn (later found out she sprinted ahead to take a pic of Jocelyn at the finish), and then a few seconds later, I saw Jocelyn’s hot pink socks and started yelling for all I was worth. She looked fine – still strong, not doing the marathoner’s shuffle, and with a great time of 4:24. And then all my anxiety cleared up when I discovered something I hadn’t realized: she had PRed off her previous marathon time by FORTY MINUTES! Amazing, and I was so excited for her.

Post-race, I grabbed a small vanilla softserve cone from McDonalds on the way to the train – I was craving 16 Handles but couldn’t wait to get back to the city! Once showered and presentable (except for my massive sunburn despite the cloudy day – oops!), I headed out to celebrate the race with a Mexican feast at Blockhead’s – naked burrito and a margarita! (Because tequila was pretty much the one alcohol I hadn’t yet had this weekend). And after that, hopefully a good night’s sleep – I was in desperate need of it.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 3:54:22
Pace: 8:56
Overall place: 768/2304
Gender place: 189/900
Age group place: 44/170


6 thoughts on “Race Report: New Jersey Marathon”

  1. That’s awesome that you had such a good race despite your three strikes. I think that PR is just around the corner.

    MM #2629

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