Back on Sunday May 1st my wife and I ran the 2016 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon. This was the third time running the event for me (I ran in back in 2013 and 2014) and the first time running this event for my wife. We were looking for a spring marathon and also somewhere less hilly than our recent marathons together (Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Marine Corps) so this fit the bill.
Having not run the event since 2014 I wasn’t familiar with some of the changes to the race that had taken place since. I know that the sponsor had changed since I ran last time and that there was a new look to the website but I wasn’t sure (I am still not sure) if it was the same race director. What I had liked about this race in the past was the regular communication from the race director. Starting around 8 weeks out there would be a weekly email coming every Sunday evening leading up to the race. This year I counted about 2 the whole time. Nevertheless, the biggest change and the one that would actually be a factor for this year was a change they had made the previous year. When I had run in 2013 and 2014, the half marathon started about an hour before the marathon. Starting last year the half and full started together. It would be interesting to experience the change.
As I work not too far from Oceanport, NJ I headed over to the expo on the Friday evening after work. The expo was held as in previous years at the start location for the race, Monmouth Park Racetrack. After parking and walking into the pavilion the set up was the same as in prior years. Head through to bib pickup, then t-shirt pickup and then through the official merchandise (none bought this year) and through the small vendor expo.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but I did stop by a shoe vendor as they had stacks and stacks of Brooks shoes. I wanted to try on the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 16’s to see how they fit as the sizing between the 14’s and 15’s had changed and I had subsequently had to change my regular sizing. I was able to find a pair my size so now I know for when I’m ready to buy new shoes, (which is never too far off).
Not much else for me to see at the expo although it was good to bump into my fellow Mickey Miler, Tammy, who was working the Bondi Band booth.
I usually take a room in a nearby hotel for this race but due to logistics and the imminent birth of my nephew (who came two weeks later…not so imminent it seems) we decided to drive in on the morning of the race. Our regular after school baby sitter came to our house just before 5am on Sunday as we were about 75 minutes or so away from the start.
In past years I had always arrived after the half marathon runners had left so the roads into the starting location were pretty empty. This year, however, because everyone was starting at the same time it took me almost 30 minutes to drive the last 2 miles. Crazy. One fortunate break was that as we turned off the main highway and were stuck in a major backup the local police moved a barrier right next to us and waved us into a back entrance to the park. Thank goodness for that…I needed a bathroom break pretty badly.
We headed to the pavilion which was where we encountered our first slightly unpleasant surprise. In past year I had arrived after the half marathon had started and the inside of the pavilion was only left to marathon runners. There were plenty of seats to relax in, there were no lines for the ‘indoor’ bathrooms and generally we all stayed in the pavilion until about 15 minutes before the race. Not this year. With the half marathoners and full marathoners starting at the same time it was pretty much standing room only. The lines for the men’s bathroom were long, but not as long as the line for the women’s bathroom that stretched almost the length of the pavilion. Wow. My wife decided (as she was about 30 places back from the front of the line) that we would try to make our way to bag check and she would line up to use the restrooms outside while I checked our gear bags.
As we were approaching the bag check they were giving us only a few minutes before they were closing the trucks. I met up with another Mickey Miler, Elvin, at the bag check and we went to find my wife who was still waiting in line. Usually at this stage I would be in the corral waiting to go. In prior years I was in Corral C or D and was there before Corral A was released. This year, we were still in the bathroom lines by the time they had released Corral C. I’ve never been in that situation before. There were just too many people compared to the facilities they had available.
In addition to scrambling to get into the Corral (I was in Corral E and I took everyone in with me) it had started to rain. There we were all wrapped up in our trash bags (Elvin wore a rain jacket) and we still had 26.2 miles ahead of us in this weather. We decided to all run together as long as we could. We were going to use a Run/Walk ratio of 3:00/0:30 and see how we felt.
The first few miles were through local neighborhoods around the race track and it was nice to run through the streets as people had come out to their front yards to cheer us on despite the weather conditions. It was raining lightly, not too hard but enough to get you wet. My wife, Elvin and I maintained very steady pace and were able to stay together despite a little more crowding due to running with the half marathoners. It wasn’t ‘Disney’ congested but more than I had experienced in the past for this race.
Around mile 6 I had to take a bathroom break just after we passed the water stop. I thought it would be quick as there were 4 port-a-potties. Was I wrong? Almost 5 freaking minutes waiting in the rain!!!! I didn’t want to run on as this is a smaller race and I hadn’t seen many bathroom stops within the first 6 miles. My wife was very patient…very…(more on that later).
With that over and done with we ran on. Elvin was still with us and we ran across the first of two small water way bridges and then made our way into Long Branch. Along the side of the road I remembered that there were usually signs with inspirational or funny quotes. They were there again this year but due to the rain they had either sagged or split (they were paper based) due to being so wet. It was a shame but there was nothing that can be done about that. We just got our heads down and plodded along trying to avoid any puddles in the road.
The first part of the course had taken us from Oceanport through Monmouth Beach and then into Long Branch. As we approached mile 11 the half and full marathon routes began to split into two lanes as the half marathoners would turn back up the boardwalk to the finish line in Long Branch while the full marathoners soldiered on. Just after the split we entered the town of Deal. This was the start of the long out and back part of the course. It’s essentially a straight run down to Ocean Grove from here through the towns of Deal, Allenhurst, Locharbor, Asbury Park and Ocean Grove before coming all the way back up the through the same towns to the finish in Long Branch.
Around mile 13 as we were running through Deal we saw the leaders making their way back to the finish. They looked strong despite the conditions. Some were dressed as though they had expected warmer temperatures. We were a little chilly in our multiple layers as we saw these runners in their running singlets coming the opposite way. Heck…I was wearing gloves the whole of the course.
Deal, NJ is home to some really impressive houses. There was lots of eye candy to distract you as you ran down. By this stage the runners had started spreading out and as there were less full marathoners in the event we found ourselves pretty much running silently on except for supporters around the aid stations. There were a couple of runs around inland ponds which took us off the straights and gave us something different to look at but it was mostly running along Ocean Avenue through each town.
Around mile 15 the rain started to come down heavier. It was the ‘wet enough to soak you’ type of rain. It wasn’t hard rain but it was not the lighter stuff we had run the first 15 miles in. Oh well, we were pretty committed to this thing by now so no choice but to push on.
As we approached Asbury Park we stopped to take a picture outside of the ‘Stone Pony’. Famous for its links to Bruce Springsteen in his early years and other local New Jersey bands. Asbury Park is famous for its boardwalk and in the past there had been some entertainment out on the course here. With today’s weather conditions there was none of that to be seen.
Once through Asbury Park you start to sense that the turnaround has to be somewhere near. From my recollections of this race it is one of the most elusive turnarounds. You run around a street corner and think it must be there only to see another street and then another corner and then another street. It was well tucked away. Having run this race twice before I was familiar with the scenario but I heard plenty of people around me asking where on earth the turnaround was. I had mentioned to my wife and Elvin that it does seem to be a bit of a tease but it did exist! Finally we hit this tiny little cone in the middle of the street and turned around. It was just after mile 19.
We were still using our run/walk ratio and mostly concentrating on avoiding the ever-increasing puddles as we ran. Elvin stayed with us until about mile 21 when he told us to go ahead as his legs were beginning to cramp up. We ran on the boardwalk for a short time before returning back onto the road.
There were not too many people around us at this stage but we were still moving at a nice pace. We started to see the back of the pack as they were approaching mile 14 and saw the pace wagon driving slowly behind them. We cheered them on and hoped they would make it. The rain had let up for now and we were just running to get home. My wife was feeling good. In all our marathons together (this is her 7th) she has always begun to struggle with hip and/or knee pain around mile 20. So far so good! It may have been because this course was relatively flat but either way, neither of us was unhappy or uncomfortable.
As we approached Long Branch we picked up the pace a little. We saw the boardwalk and knew that the end of the race was near (or so it seemed). At this point the rain started again steadily. Yup, the ‘getting you more wet than before’ type of rain. The last mile or so is all on the boardwalk. I was a little concerned about footing with the boards being so wet but we seemed to get along fine which was a relief.
The one thing I remember about this race is that if you think you can see the finish line then you are wrong. It is tucked away out of sight and you do not really see it until just after you hit mile 26. Once we saw this we stepped up the pace again and ran in home. Another marathon done. It was wet but no one was hurting and we were both happy and relieved in a time of 4:44. My wife even PR’d by 45 seconds…yup including the 5 minute port-a-pottie stop where she waited for me, and yes…she certainly let me know her feelings about that 😦 I personally had a PR….my wife didn’t shout at me or get mad at me for the whole 26.2 miles!!! Our previous record was 22 miles before I knew to avoid making eye contact. This was a big win 🙂
Once through the finish line we were awarded our medals and handed some water and Gatorade. It was beginning to rain harder and as we had stopped running we very quickly started to get cold and start shivering. There were no mylar blankets at the finish line for runners. Granted, in the past it was a beautiful sunny day and none were needed nor expected.
We quickly made our way to the gear trucks where we had packed our bags with dry clothes. They had changing tents alongside the trucks but we decided it would be pointless to change into dry clothes as we still had a long walk from the finish line to the buses which would shuttle us back to the start line. As we started walking to the buses I saw Elvin just crossing the finish line. As we had already passed the exit to the race area we figured he’d need his time to recover and we headed on towards the buses.
Once on the bus it was nice and warm. Steamy, given everyone’s wet conditions. At one point I turned to talk to my wife beside me and water poured off my hat onto her. It was funny from where I was sitting at least. Finally we pulled back up to Monmouth Park Racetrack. The bus had parked on the opposite side of the pavilion so that meant we had to walk a short distance (on marathon legs) back to the parking lot. It is a very steep step down from a bus after a marathon!!! Once outside we were immediately shivering. The rain hadn’t let up and we still had to walk to the car.
Finally we made it. After switching on the engine in the car and turning on the heat we changed out of our wet clothes and tried to warm up. My wife was a particular shade of blue at this point. We handed our pre-paid parking pass at the exit and headed home. We were keeping a close eye out for somewhere to stop for coffee and lo and behold we came across a Dunkin’ Donuts drive through where we got ourselves coffee and a bagel. The timing worked out as we had just left Dunkin’ and were at the point where the road splits between the direction home for us and the other back up towards NYC when Elvin pulled up in his car next to us. That was a nice surprise. We said our goodbyes and went off in our respective directions home.
Overall it was a good day. I had great fun with my wife and with Elvin. Running together made up for the conditions as it was a great distraction for us all. I was a little upset that I wasn’t able to share my 2013 and 2014 experiences with my wife due to both the weather and the change in the logistics at the start of the race. I enjoyed the course as before but after 3 out of 4 years running this event I think I may take a break and look for another venue for a spring race.
Once back home I had the best ever hot shower. Unlike our normal jam-packed weekend activities, the weather didn’t improve much and it is very rare for us to just stay home and relax. This was probably the first marathon out of the 15 I have completed where I went to lie down once I was showered and dressed. While I didn’t fall asleep I kept off my feet and just rested. That was nice. Rare, but nice.
Apologies for the late post of this race recap. Not sure if it was really as a result of the weather conditions from the race but I was laid low with a sinus infection for a few days after the race and as I recovered from that I threw my back out. I was laid flat for another few days and I was unable to do any training for 9 days. Very frustrating but now I am back on the road after the minor setback and training towards my upcoming triathlons.
Thank you for reading.