Marathon number 5 is now complete. It wasn’t pretty but I got the job done. I finished in 4:04:53. My goal was 3:55:00.
I had high hopes going into this race that I could earn a PR. I had run just under 4 hours (3:59:05) in last year’s Philadelphia Marathon and had successfully completed the 2013 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge and survived the extra distance. The New Jersey Marathon course was considerably flatter than the previous two marathons and I was just coming off a PR at the 2013 Atlantic City April Fool’s Half Marathon (1:52:43) in similar conditions, however, my PR was not to be on the day.
Am I disappointed, a little, but I am still proud that I ran 26.2 miles and finished standing up with a smile on my face ready for my next marathon.
Firstly I must give kudos to the Race Director Joe Gigas for a fantastic job in running this event. Despite all that has happened at the Jersey Shore in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (needing to change the actual route of the marathon) and the recent events in Boston (increased security at the start and finish areas) this went off without a hitch (to the observer) and even the weather cooperated. Joe and his team did a great job in getting everyone prepared for the race and for the last 10 weeks leading up to the event regular race director updates were sent out to participants. Each update focused on a specific aspect of the race day and preparations and I kept revisiting them to make sure I was prepared. This included updating security concerns in light of recent events. Thanks Joe and all your volunteers.
As with most races run after Boston the race directors and runners have encouraged each other to wear blue and yellow in support of Boston. As I checked in on Facebook after arriving at the start area I checked in to ‘A Sea of Blue and Yellow on the Jersey Shore – NJM honors Boston’.
The race itself was different from my last marathons. First of all there were around 2,300 entrants in the marathon. Philadelphia had around 12,000 marathoners and Walt Disney World had around 20,000 runners so this was a much more scaled down event and that did make a big difference out on the course. There was more space to run and the weaving in and out of runners was pretty much limited if at all.
The start was held at Monmouth Park racetrack. I got there early (around 6am for an 8am start) to avoid the traffic and road closures for the Long Branch Half Marathon which started at 6:45am and which followed the same route for the first 11 miles.
As I was there early I went and sat in the pavilion which meant we could sit inside a heated area and use indoor bathrooms (nice). Just after 7am I headed out to the bag check. This was a point to point race so if we wanted a jacket or other personal item we had to get it on the trucks so they could leave for the finish line before the roads closed for the marathon.
I guess due to all the Full Marathoners staying warm indoors the lines to the port-a-potties were non-existent. Awesome. They did get a little busy nearer the start of the race as people started to leave the pavilion but still no long lines. I had chosen this race over doing the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia together with 39,999 of my closest friends and thought about my experiences there waiting in line to go and hoping I didn’t miss the start of the race.
It was getting near 8am so I sent my wife a good luck text message (she was running the Broad Street Run) and headed off to Corral ‘C’. I had packed my gear bag in the truck and was wearing a throwaway old sweater with a short sleeved T-shirt underneath. Shivering with my teeth chattering I wished I had decided to wear a long sleeved T-shirt as it was colder than I had expected based upon the forecast as there was more of a breeze than anticipated. As we were all assembling into our corrals, as if by magic, the sun came out.
The National Anthem was sung by a marathoner who was celebrating his 100th marathon. This was followed by a short burst of Neil Diamond singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ as we celebrated running for Boston.
I had planned to run 3:55 and had made myself a pace band and taped it around my left wrist beside my Garmin. I lined up in the corral between the 3:50 pacer (with a very well coifed moustache) and the 3:55 pacer and waited for the gun…or in this case the bugle horn (we were at the race track after all) and off we went.
This is where I should have known something was a little off. I passed the 3:50 pacer within the first mile. My first ‘oops’ of the race. I tried to settle into a good rhythm using my Run/Walk interval of 4:00/0:40 and for the most part I was running very even splits (see the chart below). One thing that I did notice was that my heart rate was elevated around 170bpm (I wear the Garmin heart rate monitor). I put this down to adrenaline at the start of the race and looked for my pace to settle. Usually it is a little high within the first mile or so until I get into my rhythym and then it rises and falls between walk breaks (usually ranging between 135bpm-165bpm). For some reason no matter what I did my heart rate stayed between 165bpm and 170bpm. Strange.
The course took us through many neighborhoods along the shore and there were still reminders of Hurricane Sandy. Some empty houses jacked up on stilts, houses with construction equipment out front, some stores still boarded up and burnt out. It puts lots into persepctive. The course itself had to be significantly altered this year as there was no Boardwalk. That was sad. To see broken wooden studs all along the shoreline where it is usually a great place to walk/bike/run. It is close to Memorial Day and the traditional start of the summer season and where there should be lots of foot traffic here. There will be none for while. But as they say, Jersey Strong. The tag line for the race is New Jersey – Up and Running and there we signs of revitalization and renewal showing hope amongst all the destruction.
Getting back to the race itself, I seemed to be running steady if a little ahead of schedule for about the first 8 miles with no problem. Yes, my heart rate was elevated but I wasn’t suffering in any way. Around mile 8.5 I got passed by the 3:50 pacer. Oh well, that was not to be achieved today. I just had to get my head down and keep going.
As I was running around mile 12 I was at the water station when I heard a volunteer say some ‘choice words’…in other words a pace group was heading in their direction and it was a big one! I looked over my shoulder and sure enough there was the 3:55 pace group. I didn’t think I had slowed too much so I thought as long as I could stick with this group I would be good for my goal. For the most part it was looking good until I reached mile 15. There were lots of turns on the course as we stretched out the route to make the distance and everytime I thought we were near a turn around there was another turn and a sea of runners off in the distance. Whoa. It took me back to the never ending twists and turns through the ESPN Zone during the Disney Marathon. It was a nice course to look at but the turns seemed to knock the wind out of me.
Here are my splits. You can see that I was pretty consistent miles 1 to 14. In fact I ran the first half of the marathon in 1:55:31 at an average pace of 8:49. I seemed to slow a little through miles 15 through 19 reaching the 30K mark in 2:47:55 which still had me on pace to finish sub 4:00. But then I slowed considerably from miles 20 through 22. Around mile 22.5 I got passed by the 4:00 pace group and my times dropped to my worst pace for the last 3 miles. My new goal was then to finish before the 4:05 pace group!
So my PR was not to be but still my final time was quicker than my first two marathons. I know I can and will do better in future and that I have to work on my first half pacing so that I achieve the elusive negative split. I ran the second half in 2:09:22. About 15 minutes slower. A friend of mine suggested I may have overdone it on my energy gels. I usually alternate between the full shot of caffiene and half shot of caffiene gels but for this race I took the full caffiene gels all the way. Maybe that was a reason for the elevated heart rate, maybe not. I will have to work on that for the next race.
I still had a fun time. If I can finish knowing I gave what I could and still feel like I want to do it again then that’s a win. Plus I got a great shot of the famous ‘Stone Pony’ in Asbury Park. I may not have been ‘Born in the USA’ but I was ‘Born to run’ (sorry bad Bruce reference).
26.2 miles is still an achievement and completing the distance is a proud moment for someone who still considers themselves a new runner. I never tasted such a nice salty pretzel as I did at the end of this race, although at that point I will admit it hurt to even chew. I grabbed my bag from the gear truck and took the long walk to the shuttle back to the start line. The long walk kept me moving and really helped. I drove home, hopped in the shower, uploaded my run and headed out to meet the family. I felt good. It was a great day.
This is a race I would recommend. It was great weather, great size and great organization. I would love to run this again on the original route along the Boardwalk when the Shore is fully restored. And I’m sure that will be sooner than later.
Thanks for sticking with me. I know this was a long post. 🙂