2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon – race recap

Back on September 17th, my wife and I ran this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. This was my 7th time and my wife’s 6th time running this event. We seem to be ‘repeat offenders’ when the email from R’n’R comes out the day before the race, offering discounted entry for the following year. (Spoiler alert…we passed on signing up for 2018 for now). This would be our second R’n’R run for 2017 after the D.C. Marathon back in March and therefore we were eligible for a bonus medal (the ‘Double Beat’).

The Double Beat medal

So going in, this race review will probably be similar to the ones posted about 2013 through 2016 (with the exception of the year the Pope caused the race to move to October 31st). Rather than comment about the course (which was the same as last year) I’ll highlight the key parts of the weekend and any changes from last year’s race.

Our last 6 finishes together

Since I started my new job back in January I am much closer to Philadelphia so I made a trip to the expo on Friday after work (saving us a trip to the expo on the weekend with both boys). Interestingly enough, the expo seems to be getting smaller each year which surprised me. This year it was held as per prior years at the Convention Center in Philadelphia. I arrived just after 6pm (the expo was until 7pm on the Friday evening) so I had just under an hour to get in, pick up bibs and shirts and explore the expo.

Packet pick up with pretty uneventful. Very quick and easy as was the shirt pick up. They had an area for shirt exchange where I could sample a different size (although I kept my original). From there I headed to the merchandise area (again sponsored by Brooks Running). Some cute stuff but nothing blew me away that I would need to buy this year so I avoided the (smallish) crowd and headed out into the expo hall.

Arriving at the expo

None of the weekends races had sold out

Upon entering, everything was clearly signed

Bib and t-shirt pickup was pain free

Merchandise was the typical Rock ‘n’ Roll fare. Nothing that screamed out to be purchased.

Then it was quickly through and off to the main expo

I was very surprised by how small it seemed compared to previous years. It didn’t seem that there were as many vendors as prior years and even some of the bigger vendors had smaller booths. Well, at least I got home earlier than planned.

It seemed a much smaller expo than previous years

It seemed a much smaller expo than previous years

It seemed a much smaller expo than previous years

It seemed a much smaller expo than previous years

The morning of the race we arrived really really early. For some reason we told the babysitter to be there by 5am…we arrived in Philly at 5.45am and we didn’t really need to be there until 6:30am. Oh well, at least my wife had a lovely extra few minutes sleep until it was time to go.

Not quite ready

As usual it was fairly straightforward to deal with bag check and the port-a-potties were plentiful…as were the lines waiting to get in them. We arrived in fairly good time. I did get a chance to say hello to some fellow Team Shenanigans members before heading towards the corrals.

Ready for a nice run around Philadephia

Despite being early we are still smiling

Obligatory wife jump shot

We had a full agenda ahead of us after the race. We figured that we would be able to be done early as we were in corral 7. When we were in the corral people were moving up so we did too. No one was policing the corrals so we actually started up near corral 5 (that saved us all of 4 minutes).

In the starting corral

Okay, now we’re ready

It was a warm morning and once off and running we quickly heated up. What was noticeable was a lack of water early in the course. I know that this is a big race and they probably need to spread things out once the corrals are released but this was a warm and humid day (high 60s to low 70s) but the first water stop wasn’t until nearly mile 2.

Photo op on the course

The course was the same as last year (as mentioned above) so there were no real surprises for us this time around. We settled into our pace and were doing reasonable splits for the first 7 miles. We may have gone out a little too fast in the early miles and this caught up to us as the heat and humidity started getting higher around mile 9. It was a bit of a slog going into the last few miles but we persevered through to the finish in a time of 2:05.

Another finish line

At the finish line, in addition to the cool Benjamin Franklin medals, they provided us with towels dunked into ice water. That was a great relief, as was the chocolate milk that this race always provides. 🙂

Post race goodies to refuel

Our 2017 medal

As we were in a rush to be back home for the boys we just grabbed our stuff and headed back to the car. It seems strange that we treat this as a normal run these days and can pretty much predict our finish times so we can plan our day accordingly. Checking back on our previous years running this race we have run times consistently around 2:05 with our best being 2:00 and our worst being 2:07 (which was a much warmer and humid year).

I guess it is because we have done this race so many times now this seems not to be such a huge race for us as it used to be. Drop in…run…leave. Oh well, we might have to sit out a year or two on this one. We didn’t rush to re-sign up for 2018 as we usually would for that reason. Still it was another fun day and always a treat to be able to run with my wife.

Thank you for reading.

Rev3 Williamsburg Triathlon Weekend – ‘The Revolution’ – Race recap

It’s just like falling off a bike…

It took a while to sit down and write this review, after all this race weekend was at the beginning of July and I am writing this in early September. There’s quite a lot to tell about this event both good and bad and I’ve tried a few times to sit down to recap this all. Here goes.

I completed my first half iron distance triathlon (70.3) back in July 2016 and when I was looking to do a second I took a long look around at the options, from price and timing as well as location. The factors that made me choose Williamsburg was that it was drivable, the timing meant that I could bring my family along and also that this was priced very reasonably (vs some of the ‘branded’ events). So Rev3 Williamsburg was chosen and I registered for my second half iron distance event in early September 2016.

So, you know how I like challenges which involve back to back and multiple races in the same weekend,  (think Goofy Challenge, Dopey Challenge, Rocky Challenge), back in December Rev3 announced that this weekend would offer two challenge races, the first was ‘The Double’ (Sprint Tri on Saturday and Olympic Tri on Sunday) and ‘The Revolution’ (Sprint Tri on Saturday and Half Iron distance on Sunday). I’m not one to miss a challenge opportunity for a bonus medal and so I spoke with the race team and registered for ‘The Revolution’. Got that? A sprint triathlon as a warm up to a Half Iron distance. It should be a busy weekend.

I chose the same training plan for the Half Iron race that I chose for my first 70.3 last year (10 week novice plan from Endurance Works). This meant that my training plan started on May 1st which gave me a few weeks of recovery from the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Marathon back in mid-March. This worked well in the past and all I was looking to do was to finish both races not necessarily in podium position 😉

As this was going to be a family trip (we would be away Friday through Monday) I splurged a little and booked the family into Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg. It was about 20 minutes from the race site at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park. My family would be at the park for the Sunday race (families were encouraged to run the finish line with their athlete) so the kids would be busy and entertained on Saturday, Sunday morning and however long we would stay on the Monday before heading home.

As my boys were going to join me in the race I purchased these shirts online so they would look the part on race day 🙂

As I was getting all my gear ready for race day I was paying close attention to the weather forecast and also the river conditions. The Rev3 Williamsburg Facebook group was especially helpful in this. Based upon the feedback of the people in the group it was not worth packing a wetsuit as it was not going to be a wetsuit legal race. I had been experimenting with talking salt tabs due to the heat and I had picked up a new running handheld bottle for the run portion of the race that I planned to use to hold the salt tabs and also to refill at the aid stations as needed.

Saturday’s forecast

Sunday’s forecast

In some of my other races I had taken along a bucket to both store my equipment and also to use as a seat during transition. I hadn’t needed one for the half iron last year as there were stools provided to the athletes. I made what can only be described as an innocent mistake by asking the group if stools were provided or whether there was space for buckets and boy oh boy did that raise up a Facebook storm!!!!

Race weekend finally arrived; we picked our boys up from their day camp and headed down to Virginia. We arrived at 9pm that evening just in time for the late night kids activities at Great Wolf Lodge. This gave me plenty of time to check in and bring all my gear up to the room to prep for the Sprint tri on Saturday morning. As race packet pickup was on race day we didn’t need to arrive any earlier. With everyone settled into the room and my bags packed for the next day we called it a night and I tried somehow to get enough sleep before my first race.

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It took a while but we made it safely

Made it to the Lodge

Saturday July 8th – Sprint Triathlon

Saturday morning came early and I tried to very carefully get up without waking anyone else in the room. I did my best but my wife said she heard me. Luckily the boys didn’t. Although my gear was ready to go, I still had to take my water bottles out of the refrigerator and move my bicycle out of the room like a ninja in order not to make any further disturbance. I still have no idea how I managed that.

It was still dark outside when I left the hotel, packed up my car and racked my bike. The drive to the park was down a long unlit stretch of highway. I had been followed out of the hotel parking lot by a couple of cars that also seemed to be heading to the race. I was up in the front so they were relying on me to lead the way…uh oh. On the side of the road there were plenty of deer and other wildlife. I was very much on alert not to 1) get lost with everyone seemingly following me and 2) not get hit or hit a deer running across the road. Not the most calming of drives. Finally I (we) made it to the entrance to the park and we were directed by the race staff where to park.

It was still dark when we arrived and I was very grateful that I had packed my running headlamp in my transition bag so I could see what I was doing in the unlit field. Race packet pickup and gear pickup was very simple. They had a board listing all the athletes so they could look up their race numbers if needed. I grabbed my race packet and went over to pick up my special ‘Revolution’ gear and was able to head back to the car to grab my race bag and bike. They also gave me this awesome note in my race packet 🙂

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Cookies? It’s like they really knew me.

The sun was starting to rise at this time so I was able to put my headlamp away, change out of my outer clothes (my tri-suit was underneath) and head over to the transition area. All were very clearly marked out and there were plenty of volunteers available to help out.

I found my spot to keep my bike. I was at the front with all the other ‘Revolution’ entrants. There were about 20 or so people doing the Sprint/Half Iron combination and we would have the same number both days. As we were at the front of the transition area, once I had set out my gear for the day, I was able to move my transition bag to the side to save some space. By the way…I saw people with buckets!!!! One bucket was even decorated with tinsel for the event 😉

All set for the Sprint tri (no bucket)

Ready to go

A nice clear morning

The race was due to start at 6:30. I was in the second wave so we were called out of the transition area just after 6:00am. It was a long walk to the boat ramp where the swim would start and I hadn’t thought to bring any throwaway sandals. I knew that this was going to be an issue for me and I would need extra time to get down to the water. I was fine walking along the grass but ultimately I had to traverse a gravel path bare foot….I’m a delicate soul and all of a sudden I was moving as if walking on egg shells. Not fast and not glamorous. I was walking so slowly I was blocking traffic when a minivan pulled up beside me and told me to hop in so they could drive me the last couple of hundred yards to the start line. They people who ‘adopted’ me in the minivan were camped by the edge of the river and this was a nice thing they did for me.

It was an in water start so although people were able to do a practice swim (I didn’t) you had to get out of the water to cross over the starting mat to get back into the water. After the National Anthem they started letting the waves of athletes out. I had two caps in my race packet, one for today and one for tomorrow. I was nervously checking everyone around me to make sure I had on the right one for the day.

They announced that the water temperature on the day was 83 degrees (definitely not wet suit safe for the swim). Each wave was called and they had a couple of minutes to enter the water via the ramp and then tread water until it was time to go. Once it was my turn I made my way in (towards the back of the pack) and waited for the announcement to go. Then we were off.

The swim was an out and back around the buoys in a sort of triangle shape. Some part was into the morning sunshine and you could feel the heat, some was in the shade and you could feel it cooler. The river itself had shallow pockets of river mud. In fact on the way out if you were to swim too far the right of the course you would swim through shallow grass. Indeed there seemed to be some sort of rise in the lake bed and a couple of people actually stood up around me in the early stages of the swim right in the middle of the lake. It was weird to say the least.

Once around the turn it was slightly with current and I made my way along towards the bridge in the distance. As we approached the bridge and moved towards the shore I could feel my hands brushing the bottom of the river. The next thing I know I’m practically crawling along the bottom. I looked up to see that everyone was slowly walking into the shore through the deep, sloppy mud. I stood up and joined in. The river bed was soft mud so as you took each step you sank down. This made it a little difficult and made for slow egress out of the water. It also takes a bit of extra effort at the end of the swim. Finally I made it to shore and made my way into transition. Total time for the swim 28:34 minutes.

Sprint Tri swim

With no bucket on which to sit(!) I was able to dry myself and as always struggle to get my Injinji toe socks onto my damp feet. Not my fastest transition (6:06 minutes). As I was close to the front I grabbed my bike and headed to the exit in front of me only to find out that it was the run exit not the bike exit so I quickly turned around and made a beeline for the correct exit.

The bike course was a simple out and back. There was a bridge that we had to climb immediately on leaving the park but this wasn’t too cumbersome. As the course was fairly flat I was able to get into aero position relatively quickly and powered my way down to the turnaround (by powered I mean my speed…not too fast). The ride was nice and cool as it was mostly in the shade. The road was open to traffic and so there were a few cars to contend with but not too many and never crowded. The turnaround took us off the road and onto the riding/running trail that was all paved so it was pretty smooth coming back.

We had been warned to slow down going back across the bridge as there was a 90 degree left turn back into the park at the base of the bridge and we risked overshooting it and riding into the 5K course if we went too fast. It was a nice ride on the day and I was happy to return into transition and quickly change into my running gear. My ride was 54:34 minutes at an average speed of 16.82mph. I grabbed a salt tab and my water bottle only as I didn’t think I needed a gel or anything to boost my energy levels.

Sprint Tri ride

The run was also fairly flat and out and back. We had to cross one road and there were police controlling traffic. It had started to become much warmer by this time and it was still before 9am. I held a pretty decent pace coming off the bike and my legs felt fresh. I ran the 5K in 27:55 minutes at a 9:01min/mile pace.

Sprint Tri run

The finishing chute had us run off the paved road and along the grass. This felt good underfoot and the crowds were really great. My total time was 1:59:30 for the sprint.

The race provided free finisher photos which was really nice of them.

Post-race we were awarded a medal and a bottle of water and Gatorade and I headed over to the post-race refreshment tent. This was great. They had pretzels, animal crackers, Goldfish crackers and I grabbed a back of Famous Amos cookies and chilled out for a couple of minutes before heading back to the transition area to pack up.

As I was racing the next day I didn’t need to return my timing chip. I would need to come back later in the day for the mandatory athlete meeting and to pick up the Quarq Qollector GPS tracker that I had I had rented for the next day so my family could track my position via an app on the phone. Also as I had the same race number for both races I was able to leave my bike in transition for the next day so I was able to travel back to the hotel with less logistics to work out.

I headed back to the hotel (with a short stop at Walmart to pick up a cheap pair of flip flops for the walk to the boat dock on Sunday) where I arrived just as my family had come down for the day. The boys were getting face paint in the lobby and my wife had just grabbed breakfast for everyone. I timed it well. Fresh coffee and a bagel were waiting for me as I sat down with them. They went off to the water park and I got showered and dressed ready to head back for the 1pm meeting.

I Tri on Dunkin’

All cleaned up and ready to head back to the expo/race site

Feeling refreshed I headed back to the park and took my time to take some pictures of the venue, walk through the expo tent, look at the vendors and then grab my GPS tracker for Sunday. The race meeting was held on the stage and I was early enough to grab a seat under one of the tents out of the sun that had been set up. It was really hot by this time and shade was very welcome.

Entrance to the expo

Packet pickup

Information center manned through the whole weekend

Really straightforward. Even I could figured this out.

Easier to find your number in the daytime than early before dawn. Make sure you come prepared.

Race packet pickup was very smooth

The Quarq Qollector I rented for the half. It was a bit bigger than I had anticipated and they had run out of the race belts. Fortunately it was small enough to tuck into my tri suit pocket and didn’t interfere with the bike or run.

They had lots of merchandise available

I came early enough to grab a seat under the tent for the race meeting. It was very hot out in the sun.

The race team did a great job of keeping everyone entertained. The race announcer was awesome and very funny. The race director and the USAT professional gave their brief course description, reminder of the rules and other comments before opening up for questions. It was all well run.

Pre race meeting was very informative and we were entertained while we waited

After that I headed back to the hotel to join my family and hope to grab a nice dinner and an early night. My boys were having too much fun though so I had to join in as they started their ‘MagiQuest’ throughout the hotel. They were having an awesome time but eventually (I think around 10pm) everyone was back in the room and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Sunday  July 9th – Half Triathlon – 70.3

Sunday morning started early. I’m not sure how well I slept but by this stage I was both excited and nervous to get through the day. Having learned my lessons from yesterday and not having to remove my bicycle from a room of sleeping people I was able to get out and on the road without too much disturbance. I had my goal in mind as I prepared. Beat last year’s time!!!!

The drive in was easier today having already made the journey twice the day before. When I arrived I saw that it was much more crowded than the day before.

Ready for day 2 of ‘The Revolution’

Much more crowded for the second day

All set. Ready for my second 70.3

The race director had advised that bike pumps would be available within the transition area provided by the race mechanics (Gonzo Gears) so I didn’t have to bring mine from the car. I took my bike to them, they asked what PSI I wanted and that was that. A few nervous trips to the bathrooms and it was soon time to head to the water again for the swim. This time I was prepared with my $5 flip flops from Walmart. As I arrived to the water’s edge the lady who had driven my in the minivan yesterday recognized me as she was spectating today and wished me luck. I also ran into Meghan from Team Shenanigans who was there to cheer on her husband who was also doing the half. We chatted for a while and that helped calm me down before it was time for my wave to be called.

My wave was called and I moved up a little from yesterday to make sure I wasn’t too far back when it was time to go. The swim today was a similar course (out and back in a triangle pattern) just further with a few extra buoys to swim around to reach the 1.2 mile distance. The temperature of the water today was one degree warmer at 84 degrees.

I swam steady and kept a fairly straight line. My sighting is not usually my strongest part of the open water swim. As we rounded the furthest buoy and turned for home we definitely had a slight current as I had started to drift a little. Similar to yesterday, as we approached the shore line the river got shallower and we were back in the mud. At least today I was able to anticipate this a bit more. Overall, I was very happy with my time of 41:49 minutes for the swim. I knew I had beaten my swim time from my first half last year by a good margin (54:32).

Half Iron swim

Out of the water and heading to transition

I made my way through transition and today I struggled with my Injinji compression socks. They were long…and tight. That probably wasted a little extra time than I should have needed. Maybe next year I just go with the short socks and my regular Zensah compression sleeves. My transition time was 8:28 minutes!!! Seriously??? At least I knew which way to go out of transition today so that probably saved a few minutes 🙂

The bike course started out the same as yesterday. However, this time we went past the Sprint turnaround point and continued on for what would be our 56 mile ride. Again, this was fairly flat and I was making good time and keeping my average speed/pace up high like the day before. I was touching between 16.5 to 17.0 miles per hour which is pretty solid for me and was going well and on pace to beat my time from last year (although that was much more hilly up in the Catskill Mountains).

Looking very focused on the bike

All seemed to be going well and I was in aero position for most of the straights and then…

At mile 24 I was down in aero position tucked in to the right hand side of the road (as was the rule for the race). The road was slightly cambered and I was pretty close to the edge. Too close apparently as I drifted slightly to my right and dropped off the road a couple of inches into the dirt at the side of the road. Instinct made me try to steer left back up onto the road but my wheel was too low below the black top to reach the flat paved road. With my wheel locked against the road and the speed I was going I was thrown over the top of the bike landing hard on my right shoulder.

I landed ahead of my bike and I looked back to see my bike and gear strewn all over the road. I knew instantly as I couldn’t correct that I was going to fall. It happened really quickly and I literally went down, rolled and pretty much saw stars for a few seconds. I tried to get up and out of the road but felt a searing pain on my right. I was able to pull my bike off the road and move my gear but I was clearly quite stunned at this time. Thankfully I hadn’t hit my head on the road as I came down really hard.

A couple of riders called out to me as they passed to see if I was okay…which I said “Yes” to without thinking. I could see that my chain had come of the bike and tried to get it back on the cogs. What was I going to do out here at mile 24?

Luckily, very luckily, within a couple of minutes after the fall two trucks pulled up behind me. One was being driven by EMS and the other by the bike crew and a member of the race team. The EMS asked if I was okay, I told him I fell on my shoulder and slowly lifted my arms in a rotating movement. It hurt like heck but I said I could move it. I asked him if there were any bones that looked out of place or anything poking out where it shouldn’t and he told me no and said if I felt okay he’d like to move onto another part of the course where he was needed.

The bike crew behind me meanwhile had fixed my bike and cycled through all the gears. The bike wasn’t damaged (a bit banged up on the right hood and aero bars) and was rideable. The race team member asked if I was okay and if I wanted to continue and whether I needed anything. I was still shaking at this point but I gave her my name, asked if she had any water or Gatorade (they did) and said I’d try and continue at least until the next aid station. One thing I remember from all this was that a member of the bike crew was called Micah like my eldest son. I don’t remember much else though 😦

I got back on my bike and tried to move on. I didn’t notice until after the race that the force of me coming off the bike had ripped of my bike cleats in half. Based upon my Garmin data I was off the bike for about 5 minutes. I still had another 32 miles to go on the bike. The first few meters were really painful as I had to use both my arms to steady myself on the bike. I realized that as long as I didn’t move my arm too much I could manage the pain. I knew immediately that going aero was no longer an option. I just couldn’t move my arm that way and although I could move onto the handlebar drops it was very painful. My legs worked and other than a slight graze to my knee (luckily I couldn’t see how much my shoulder was bleeding) I was able to pedal forward albeit at a much more careful and slower pace.

I made it to the next rest stop and struggled to slow down and dismount. I knew I couldn’t ride through as I would have needed both hands/arms to ride and grab refreshment and that wasn’t about to happen. I kept telling myself that my legs worked and I could make it in. The pain was bad and I was thinking of worst case scenarios about what I may have done to my shoulder but at least that was making the time go by (although not the most positive way of thinking).

At one point as we went past another plantation (this one owned by former President John Tyler) I almost went off the road again. My heart was racing. This was tougher than I had planned. It was a flat course and should have been really fast. I was really on course for a fast time before the accident. Plan B was just to finish the bike and see how I felt.

I was really grateful when I made the turn left back onto the home stretch. I knew that I was slow and probably near the back of the pack at this point. I could see the runners on the trail running the out and back. Many of them were close to finishing or were done with the first out and back. I felt having made it this far I had to continue. Again, my legs still worked and I’d figure out a way to make it.

As I come over the bridge and rounded into the park I made my way off the bike (awkwardly) and back into transition. My bike time ended up being 3:44:10 at an average pace of 14.88mph.

Half Iron ride

I had probably lost 30-40 minutes as a result of the accident. Back in the transition is when I felt bad pain. I had to lift my bike to rack it and then I had to reach down to put on my shoes. It was hot at this point. My transition time was 3:39 minutes. I picked up my water bottle and grabbed a couple of salt tablets as it was now really warm and headed out of transition. I couldn’t swing my right arm and in the absence of a sling to hold my arm I immobilized it by grabbing hard onto my shirt with my right hand to keep it from moving about too much.

As I headed out on the run I saw Meghan who was waiting at the turnaround point (the 13.1 was a double out and back…over the bridge twice!!). She asked how I was doing and honestly said I wasn’t doing great. I told her I fell but I was determined to finish, and with that I set off to run the half marathon distance.

The heat was a factor at this point and I was feeling pretty fatigued. It may have been a combination of the injury and trying very hard to focus but I was clearly off pace and struggling. All I could do was keep moving forward slowly. I was well off my regular pace (I can run a 1:50 half marathon) and although I anticipated running slower during a half iron distance I was much slower than usual. Last year I ran the half marathon during my 70.3 in 2:18 and I knew I could do better. This time however my run time was not going to be relevant. My goal was just to finish.

As I passed through the aid stations everyone was cheering and very supportive. A couple of people asked if I needed anything for my arm (remember I couldn’t see it) but I said I was fine and used the aid stations to refill my bottle with water and ice so I could carry on.

Weirdly I’m smiling…probably because I saw the photographer. I certainly didn’t feel like smiling.

The out and back is along the paved trail. It was somewhat sheltered by the trees but there were some exposed areas that you could really feel the heat coming down. I have to ask why are all my tri-suits black? I have to do something about that!!! One of the great things about a triathlon is that all the competitors seem to be very supportive of each other and people were really gracious in encouraging me along. As the USAT rules do not allow headphones to be worn, runners are not tuned out of what is around them and so it made for great camaraderie during the out and back portions.

Not smiling so much now. As you can see I was gripping my tri-suit to keep my arm immobilized as much as possible.

I finally made it to the first turnaround (it seemed to go on forever) and headed back to the second turnaround over the bridge. I was still struggling. I made it up and over the bridge and I saw my wife and the boys waiting at the turnaround for me (actually I heard them before I saw them). They were cheering loudly and all I could focus on was them. I didn’t actually see that Meghan was still there and that two other friends from Team Shenanigans were also there supporting me. Brittany and Kendrick had driven up to cheer me on. I didn’t actually realize that until a couple of days later. I told my wife I was hurt and she suggested I see a medic to which I replied I would when I was done. What more could I do? The injury had already happened but I was still running and so I just needed to keep going to finish and so up and over the bridge I went out into the distance. If they can adjust the course for 2018 to make the turnaround on the other side of the bridge that would be great.

On my way back from the first turnaround

I didn’t see this picture until a few days after the race had finished. Here I am coming to the half turnaround. My friends said that this was the first time in a race they have never seen me smiling. I was really struggling and knew I had to go back out again.

The second half was a struggle. It was very hot, it was early afternoon and I’d been out on the course for almost 6 hours at this stage. My arm still ached and I was run/walking (more walking) by now. Once I hit the final turnaround I knew I had only 3 or so to go. I started to be more optimistic. I’d made it this far when it would have been very easy (and excusable) to drop out. If anything this was going to make for a good story and perhaps my kids would remember this. As this weekend had been all about family and I had promised the boys we could cross the finish line together all I knew was that I couldn’t quit. The thought of disappointing them was too much for me and forced me to keep moving forward.

As I approached the mile 12 aid station I saw Meghan, Brittany and Kendrick waiting for me. I was so surprised. I had been in a bit of a fog for the last hour and it was great to see them. They told me they saw me struggling (again, I hadn’t noticed them at the turnaround) and they wanted to make sure I finished. They ran with me up and over the bridge. They all wore flip flops and kept up with me which pretty much shows you how slow I was at this point. As we approached the base of the bridge they let me continue on my own as they and my wife and the boys headed towards the finish line. I still had to go around the transition area first as part of the course.

It was so great to have friends supporting me as I made my way back in. Very special.

As we rounded the transition area I threw my bottle towards my gear bag (FYI, I made it) and made the final turn into the finish chute where I was joined by both the boys and my wife following behind. This is why I didn’t quit. This was what made the weekend for me.

With my family approaching the finish line

My reward for this weekend. Made everything worth it.

Crossing the finish line together – as promised. This was my motivation to get through the run.

Finally I crossed the finish line. I received my medal and an ice cold towel (how awesome was that?) and even my boys received their race medallions for crossing the finish line. I was handed a bottle of water and asked immediately for medical attention and was taken straight to the medical tent. I finished with a time of 7:26:37 with a half marathon time of 2:48:32. About 10 minutes slower than my 70.3 last year and I was much slower on both the bike and the run as a result of my fall. At this point it didn’t matter about my time, the win was that I actually picked myself up and finished.

Half Iron run – not what I had planned for sure

My family followed me into the tent and I was soon followed by Brittany, Kendrick and Meghan who had gone to grab me a cold Yuengling from the cooler. So I was able to enjoy a refreshingly cold beer as I was being attended to by the medical team. The prognosis was that I may have separated my AC joint judging by where the doctor was prodding my shoulder and how high I jumped when he touched a certain part of the shoulder. He advised I get a precautionary x-ray just to confirm there were no fractures. They washed out my wounds and patched me up while I chatted with everyone. I was pretty much on a high now that I had finished. Once I was in a sling they allowed me to leave the medical tent.

Receiving medical attention and some cold refreshment.

All of us proudly displaying our medals.

Temporarily patched up. I’m still smiling though which is a good thing.

I headed to get some food with the boys. There was a good amount of food and I opted for some vegetarian lasagna and some oatmeal raisin cookies. The boys had a lot of fun waiting around the vendor booths earlier in the day and so were really happy that I was back, (maybe so they could go back to Great Wolf Lodge for the rest of the day). We sat down to eat and to literally catch my breath. I couldn’t believe I had finished but I’m glad I really toughed it out.

The boys were great. As we were sitting they were announcing and awarding the prizes. They boys asked me if I needed to be over there to get my award. I love them 🙂

We decided that as we were staying over for the night and the boys would be entertained back at the hotel that it might be best while I had the time to head over to get that x-ray today as we were not too far from the hospital. We had planned to join Brittany and Kendrick for some post-race refreshments but I hoped they understood that I needed to get checked out. I owe them a beer or two for coming to support me. Kendrick helped me pack up my gear and also helped me put the bike back onto the car for the journey home. I definitely could not have done any of that without him. I guess that’s an extra couple of beers I owe him. It’ll be my pleasure to provide them.

We left the race site and my wife took me to the local hospital (incidentally it was where the medical team for the race were from). My wife dropped me at the ER and I said I’d let her know any updates but that I’d be fine taking an Uber back to the hotel. At least there was something for everyone to do there and it would be better than having to wait around for me. Luckily the ER wasn’t busy and I was soon taken in to the treatment rooms to be checked up. Once I was into the treatment area they announced that I was the first triathlete they had seen today. At least I came first in something!!!!

Made it to the ER

Luckily there wasn’t a long wait for treatment

The medical team (once they heard my story) were impressed that I’d got back on my bike and finished. I spent my time waiting before and after being taken for x-rays catching up and explaining to my friends and family what had actually happened. Thank you Facebook!

When the news came back that I had indeed separated the AC joint and thankfully not broken or fractured anything I was put into a sling that immobilized my arm (it wrapped around my shoulder and around my waist) and was told to follow up with my local doctor when I got home. The nurse practitioner who set me up in the sling told me that it would take time to heal and that a fracture would probably have healed quicker. Gee, thanks…

A fancy new sling. Nothing fractured thankfully.

Once all my paper work was in order (yes, the bills came soon after 😦 ) I called for an Uber and made my way back to the hotel. Luckily everyone was having fun and hadn’t really missed me, although my wife did show some concern. The boys were disappointed that I couldn’t do the water slides with them but they were happy I was okay.

I went back to my room to shower and rest. Do you know how painful and difficult it is to get out of a tri-suit with a separated AC joint, not to mention the lack of skin on my elbow and shoulder? Yes, not the most pleasant experience showering. Getting my t-shirt on and off took a few deep breaths. Finally I was all clean and took some time to rest before dinner.

Post shower. Ouch. Took a couple of days before I was brave enough to attempt to scrub the tattoo off.

A unique weekend. 3 medals and 5 x-rays.

Sprint Tri medal

Half medal (the ribbon for the Sprint and the Half was different

‘The Revolution’ – I conquered The Revolution (although it almost conquered me).

We headed over to a nearby restaurant for dinner as I had plenty of calories burned and there was no way I was going to use them all, although I did try. They boys were happy that we were able to spend the evening at the hotel to continue their MagiQuest.

I was able to get a reasonable night’s sleep that night and realized how truly lucky I was that all I had was an injured shoulder that would in time heal. There were no other riders involved, there were no other vehicles involved and I hadn’t fallen on my head. I was very lucky and relieved.

On Monday morning we let the boys finish up their MagiQuest. I accompanied them up and down through the hotel as they completed the scavenger hunt until it was done and their names were listed as having completed the quest. They were extremely happy. It was a great weekend and we definitely have lots of memories to take away from here.

We all had some good but different memories from this weekend

I was very fortunate that I hadn’t travelled alone to this race. I am not sure how I would have managed to get back from the race, go to the hospital or even drive home. My wife took the driving role as we left Williamsburg and even though we took an unexpected tour through Washington DC(?) we made it home in good time. I’d like to thank her for her infinite patience in putting up with all my training and putting up with what happened over this weekend.

In summary, accident notwithstanding, the whole race weekend was really great. I have nothing but good things to say about the Rev3 team. They put on a well-organized and well supported race and made it fun. They made it all about the athletes and their families. I would recommend that you give them a look and if you are considering a triathlon to check them out. I plan to be back in 2018 to do this properly and see what I could really do (when I’m fully upright). The race director even followed up with me by email after I got home once he had heard all about the accident. I hope to sign up again soon although my wife will not allow me to even discuss signing up for anything until I’m fully healed. I have time.

It’s like falling off a bike. Just make sure to get back on.

2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, Washington D.C. – Race recap

Back on March 11th, my wife and I were in Washington D.C. to run this year’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ D.C. Marathon. This was our first ‘RnR’ race outside of Philadelphia where we have run the Half Marathon each of the last few years. This was our chance to run multiple ‘RnR’ races in one year and earn one of the extra medals in their ‘Heavy Medals‘ series.

We had signed up for this marathon with the added incentive that Marathon Finishers were to receive a special jacket for completion of the race. We are pretty easily motivated by free swag and so that was the mantra for our all the winter training to be ready for the early (or just pre) spring race.

Our big fear training through the training was that it could be a bad winter. Actually, it was pretty mild. We did lose a couple of days of training due to snow and ice but for the majority of the workouts we were able to run outside, especially on some of the longer runs. In fact, the last long run for this marathon occurred in February when we were able to dress in t-shirts and shorts as the weather was so good.

During our last long run together I said we had been incredibly lucky with the weather which was when my wife yelled at me for jinxing us. Just because I had said this she started to say she would blame me if the weather turned bad. Oops.

As we got closer to race weekend the forecast kept getting colder and conditions worse. I felt a little unsure of my safety…I had to keep reminding my wife about the jacket…it’s all about the free jacket. In fact, the day we left for the race (Friday morning) there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground and the weather driving down to D.C. was pretty bad until we got to Maryland where it cleared up. As you can see from the screenshot below, it wasn’t going to the kind of weather for t-shirt and shorts.

 

Eek!!!

We arrived at the D.C. Armory early in the afternoon and were fortunate enough to find a parking space right outside the building. While the sun was still shining, it was far from nice weather. It was cold and windy. There was quite a lot of security to get into the building (every bag was checked and we were all scanned by a security wand). This led to waiting lines outside the building and it wasn’t exactly good weather for queuing up either. In fact, I had to run back to the car to grab some jackets as we were standing in line for a while.

Made it to the Armory – we had to go back to our car to get coats so we could wait in the line outside.

Once inside the expo we were led downstairs to bib pickup. We also had the chance to try on the Marathon Finisher jackets to make sure we had selected the right size. Bib pickup was fairly simple and t-shirt exchange was easy.

We’ve arrived

Bib pickup was on the lower level, the expo on the upper level (despite where the arrow is pointing)

Bib pickup was quick and easy

My wife has second thoughts about letting me personalize bibs in the future

My wife has second thoughts about letting me personalize bibs in the future

The infamous jacket

Once we were done with pickup we headed up to the main floor for the expo. This was typical Rock ‘n’ Roll series expo where Brooks Running had a significant presence followed by the general expo out on the rest of the floor. We didn’t pick up anything at this part of the expo but I did get to see the special edition Brooks Adrenaline Rock and Roll shoe. This happens to be the shoe I run in so I’ll keep my eye out for some discounts.

Your typical Rock ‘n’ Roll Brooks set up

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 17 – Rock ‘n’ Roll Special Edition

Other than the jacket, this was what we were running for 🙂

We then headed out to the main expo. Interestingly it was quite a small affair than what I had expected. We were quickly through the floor and didn’t really see anything unique that caught our eye.

Obligatory race bib photo

Just before the exit to the expo Rock ‘n’ Roll had some race merchandise set up. Both my wife and I bought the same cool shirt, me the long sleeve and my wife the tank t-shirt.

We bought the Abe in the sweatband t-shirt

I had signed up on the website to reserve spaces on the bus that would return us from the finish line back to the start line (this was a point to point race). I asked the information booth where to pick up the tickets. I was told all I needed to do was to show my receipt (the email) to the driver the next day. Sounds easy, so off we left for our hotel.

Outside the expo we bumped into my friend John who hosts the Runner of a Certain Age podcast (we recorded a race recap a few days later which you can listen to with this link). He was running the half marathon the next day. We probably wouldn’t see him the next day as the marathon started at 7am and the half marathon at 8:30am so we wished him luck and will probably catch up with him again at another race.

We then headed to check into our hotel and then meet up with a friend for a pre race dinner. We made a reservation at a restaurant near our hotel in Dupont Circle which was recommended by a fellow Mickey Miler teammate who works nearby. We met up with our friend Robyn and it was a nice relaxing meal. It was obviously a popular place pre-race as more runners seemed to check in for dinner (we figured that with the sneakers and their Rock ‘n’ Roll gear bags they were runners).

Walking to dinner from our hotel. Notice the cherry blossom behind us.

After dinner we stopped into Starbucks for my usual pre-marathon cookie. It’s a tradition I work hard to maintain 😉

It wouldn’t be a marathon without a pre-race cookie

As the weather was not expected to get above the mid-20s the next day I set out warmer clothes than I would normally run a race in. I used a jacket that I could zip open or closed depending on the conditions. It was more worried about waiting around at the start but I did have a plan for that.

Flat Ian – a little warmer than usual.

As we were close by to the start line we were able to walk from our hotel. We got up at a reasonable time (my wife would tell you too early) and made our way to the lobby (she refused to leave until she saw another runner pass through the lobby). My wife was wearing her New York City Marathon finisher blanket and I was wearing my father’s old dressing gown that he left on his last visit from the UK. It was nice and warm and worked perfectly (although I looked like an escaped mental patient walking the streets of D.C.).

We look silly but warm

We walked to the starting area from our hotel as the sun was rising and noted other runners doing the same. As this was the National Mall where the Smithsonian Institute, the White House and all the other Governmental offices were situated I expected quite a lot of security around the perimeter. Certainly after how much there was at the Armory the day before. Instead there was none. There were no check points, nobody checked our bags. Really unexpected.

Once we were changed out of our warm gear (I decided to pack the robe rather than throw it at the start line) we headed into our corral.

The trash bags are out. That should keep us warm in the corral.

Not a bad view to start a race. Early in the morning – note the long shadows.

Ready to get moving

The starting temperatures were in the low 20s. There were not many marathon runners and they brought the waves through very quickly. In fact, as they moved the waves forward we ended up actually on the start line rather than back of a corral so it was kind of weird to be right up front waiting for the word to go, but once we got the word we were off (and hopefully giving us a chance to warm up). We had been out of our plastic bags for a couple of minutes waiting at the start line and already I couldn’t feel the ends of my fingertips never mind my toes.

Here is the full marathon course map:

Full Marathon Course Map

The first mile of the course took us around the Mall and a few of the surrounding Federal buildings. We actually passed by the White House within the first half mile (it was to our right). Again, I was amazed by the lack of any security…I wasn’t amazed by the lack of spectators as it was very early and very cold.

Thankfully it was a beautiful sunny day. As there were fewer marathoners overall and the half marathon wouldn’t start for another 90 minutes or so we had wide open space to run. When my wife and I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015 there were 40,000 people running at the same time. This race had about 2,500 people running and this made it comfortable to run.

After rounding the Mall and the Federal buildings there we ran around the Kennedy Center and the Watergate Building Complex and onto a short out and back that took us along the back of the Lincoln Memorial and along the Potomac River. I can tell you from comparison of the both this race and the Marine Corps race that you get to see more of the District during this race. I think during the Marine Corps Marathon (technically starting and finishing in Arlington, VA) you only get 2-3 miles at the most in the District.

Between miles 5 and 6 of the course was the ‘inspiration – run to remember’ Blue Mile. It was all uphill but the side of the road showed pictures of all the fallen who have served our Country. As we neared the second half of the hill, members of the military and families of the fallen were holding American flags out for us as we passed by. It was a big hill but puts into perspective that it is just a hill and there are people who endure more on a day-to-day basis. For that reason, we could make the hill with no complaints.

We ran through some genteel neighborhoods in D.C. and the weather was sunny but still cold. The sun helped but you could definitely feel the cold when you hit shaded areas. It was nice running through the Howard University Campus around mile 8-9 and the drumline that was playing was pretty great. In one of the neighborhoods during the first half some spectators were handing out champagne and donut holes. Sweet.

As we run through the Capital Hill district just before mile 12 we got a beautiful view. It was a gorgeous looking area and the view of the Capital at the top was the only time during the race we decided we needed to stop and take a picture.

In the Capital Hill area with the Capital in the background.

We rounded the corner into another nice neighborhood and we saw the markings where the half and the full were to split. The wind was picking up now and one of the directional signs blew down right in front of us. The split for the half occurred around mile 12.5 so we didn’t really see a glimpse of the finish line (actually it approached from a different direction than the full marathon). We still hadn’t seen any half marathoners as, although they would have already started, we were running a decent enough pace that even the leaders would have been a few miles behind us. We continued at a fairly decent pace. Pretty consistent actually and at this pace we would be on to beat my wife’s recent New York City Marathon PR from last November.

We hit the Washington Nationals Baseball Park just before mile 15 and the aid station before the bridge that would take us over to Anacostia Park along the river. This was the first time we saw that there were not enough volunteers manning the water stations. Most people were running the half marathon (13,000 vs 2,500) so we anticipated less spectators along the second half of the course but it seemed that also resulted in fewer people manning the water stops on the second half of the course. Don’t get me wrong, the volunteers were enthusiastic, there just were not enough to keep up with the runners. In fact, for most of the second half of the course water was the only thing available, no Gatorade, at many of the stops. You could see that the Gatorade mix was there in the boxes but there not enough volunteers to prepare the mixture let alone hand it out. It may have been something to do with the cold weather and I cannot fault Rock ‘n’ Roll because there were enough aid stations, just not enough people to manage.

The section from mile 15 to mile 18 is an out and back. Not much to see but you are always thankful when you reach the turnaround point. These are the tough miles in the marathon especially when it is an out and back. From mile 18 to around mile 21 we ran along the Anacostia River and a loop around the park. Although there wasn’t too much to see it was peaceful and thankfully all flat. The wind had again picked up and running along the water made the temperatures feel colder. We never really got warm during the race.

Okay then, here we go. As you leave the Anacostia Park area you enter Fort Dupont Park where there is an unfortunate hill, the second such hill of the day, however it was not a pretty sight at mile 23! It is both long and steep. We were becoming a little slower paced (still on for the PR) but we had managed to be caught by the 4:15 pace group. We watched them ‘attack’ the hill. The only thing I can tell you is that less than half of the group was still together at the top of the hill. It took a lot out of everyone. Unlike the hill around mile 5-6 there was not much to inspire, this was just a gutsy get to the top effort. We had to remind ourselves again about the jacket at the finish line 😉

Here is the elevation chart for the race. You can see both hills.

A couple of hills during our run.

That last hill, positioned where it was on the course, took a toll. We slowed down quite a bit. My wife began to feel some discomfort in her knee. I could feel my calf muscles twinge from the elevation. As we made our way back to the finish we had to walk a bit. My wife told me to go ahead but I was not intending to leave her so we walked probably close to half a mile or so until we saw RFK stadium rise up in the distance. It was then a run/walk to the finish (we had run straight through until the hill and were making good time). By now we had slowed down and the PR was out the question, still I knew we would still get to the finish around four and a half hours which was just a few minutes slower than my wife’s New York City time.

The stadium was on the horizon but it was like a wind tunnel running up to the finish line. The wind had picked up again and it was just cold. Slowing down had allowed us to cool down which didn’t help either. Nevertheless we sucked it up and made a run to the finish. We rounded a small hairpin turn within the last quarter of a mile which is where the half met up with the full. The finish line was divided into two different sides and the finish chute for each race started as the two races met up. We crossed the line in 4:31:16 which considering our big slow down over the last 3 miles was not a disaster.

We stopped for a quick picture before looking for a mylar blanket to keep us warm. It was still only 26 degrees at this time of the day even before the wind chill. Brrrr….

Made it. Another marathon down.

This was my 18th full marathon and my wife’s 9th. It was, despite everything, a good day.

We made our way through the finish line area to pick up some water and other refreshments. I like Rock ‘n’ Roll races as there is always chocolate milk at this finish line. This race was no different. However, as it was so cold it was like drinking a milk shake. I got brain freeze. My wife was so cold she couldn’t drink it. Our mylar wraps were blowing around and not really keeping us warm so we hurried over to the bag check to get our warm gear out again.

Feels amazing to be warm(ish) again.

We then had to line up for our Marathon Finisher jackets. After all, this is why we did this, right? Apparently, so did everyone else!!! Long lines but they moved fairly smoothly.

Look at all these crazy marathoners looking for a free jacket.

Once we had the jackets it was a matter of finding the shuttle back to the start. I had my tickets so I headed to the information booth. The lady at the information booth said that there were no shuttles and didn’t know what I was talking about. The map did however show a VIP shuttle area so we headed over to the VIP area to ask about the shuttles to the start line. No one had any idea what we were talking about. The map did say where they were supposed to be so albeit with little help from anyone who knew anything about RFK stadium we made our way to where the shuttles were said to be parked. There was a lot of walking involved….and stairs. We were not happy (or optimistic at this point).

Yeah…just what you want to see at a marathon.

The only problem was, no shuttles. Any empty parking lot. Ugh. We made our way to where the roads were open to traffic and decided to call for an UBER (this would be my first!!!) We had no money so the taking the Metro was out. This was not smart and totally my fault. I had four fully loaded Metro cards back in the hotel but I was relying on the shuttle so I didn’t bring them along. As we approached what appeared to be every UBER users’ rendezvous point we stood and waited for ours to arrive. Luckily ours seem to arrive ahead of everyone else and so we took it back to the hotel which was better than the shuttle would have done for us anyway. The driver even cranked up the heat for us in the back. We were very grateful.

Best UBER driver ever!!!

We made it back to our hotel and grabbed some coffee to warm up. We showered and got ready to head out for a late lunch. We took time to admire that darned jacket!!!!

Was it worth it? I’m not sure. I just like running marathons I guess.

So that we didn’t stiffen up we decided to take a walk from our hotel around the local area and grab a bite to eat. We filled up on warm yummy food and indulged in an awesome peanut butter milkshake (which we did share). Notice my wife is wearing her marathon finisher jacket 🙂

She had to make sure the jacket got into the photo.

We took another UBER into the District and spent the afternoon at the National Museum of American History. Specifically the Armed Forces exhibit which we didn’t get to fully see when we came with the boys last summer. We were in the museum until it closed around 5pm and then took the rest of the day walking through the Mall and back to our hotel where we were pretty much beat for the day.

Walking around to keep ourselves moving.

Marathon legs? What marathon legs?

36.3 miles? Yes, I was pretty much toast by the end of the evening.

The next morning we had brunch plans with a friend of my wife. We did have a reservation but it was still an hour or so wait for a table. We gave the restaurant manager our cell number and he said he would call us around 15 minutes before our table would be available. We took advantage to walk around the George Washington University Campus where we were and then headed over to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a glorious sunny morning (still not warm but warmer than the day before). What a great finish to our weekend.

At the Lincoln Memorial

At the Lincoln Memorial

At the Lincoln Memorial

Despite the cold we really enjoyed the race. The course was beautiful but the hills were tough. It was definitely worth more than just the jacket.

Thank you for reading (I know this is really really late).

 

October 2016 – Month in review

October was a fun but busy month. It involved a number of days of business travel for both my wife and myself but also a marathon and continued training.

October 2016 - Nike+ Summary

October 2016 – Nike+ Summary

My total mileage for the month was 132 miles. All running, as you can also see from the Garmin summary below, there was no swimming or biking this month. There were a number of rest days this month as I tapered towards and rested after the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon that I ran in the early part of the month.

October 2016 - Garmin Connect Summary

October 2016 – Garmin Connect Summary

After the marathon I was into my back to back plan. There are six weeks between running the Mohawk Hudson race and the running the Rocky Challenge at this years Philadelphia Marathon weekend. The challenge is to run the half marathon on the Saturday and the full marathon on the Sunday. Although I have done this three times already at Disney (Goofy Challenge 2013, Dopey Challenge 2014 and Goofy Challenge 2015) this still takes a lot of effort and is not to be taken lightly.

I am using Hal Higdon’s multiple marathon plan which I have used successfully in the past. It is a 6 week program divided into 2 weeks of recovery, 2 weeks of training and 2 weeks of taper. I have been making sure that the days before the long run are at least half the miles I will be running for my long run in order to simulate race weekend fatigue on my body.

With all that mileage I am lucky that I have something to absorb the calories from another Halloween. I enjoy this holiday as I get to dress up with my kids and go trick or treating. I never had this growing up in the UK so I really go all in here in the US, decorating the house and for the last few years coordinating costumes with the boys. This year however, my eldest decided he wanted a scary costume and I was not allowed to coordinate with him. I was free to choose what I wanted.

I chose to be Captain Kirk as it was just after the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. I revealed my costume the week before Halloween to my kids, only for my wife to tell my youngest that Daddy was a ‘Wiggle’! What???? Thanks Honey 😦

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Ready to Boldly Go

This was not the look I was going for

This was not the look I was going for

Either way, I had the last laugh when it came to Halloween. I dressed up and went out with the boys. I wasn’t collecting candy (although I did hold the bag for my youngest…and saw to it that he wasn’t overstocked with Kit Kat’s) but I reached house who insisted I look at their license plate on their car and then gave me my own candy. Score!!!

Ready to beam up

Ready to beam up

Appropriately, I got candy from this house

Appropriately, I got candy from this house

I hope you had a good October. It was fun for me. I’m looking forward to November and returning to my local race, the Philadelphia Marathon and to cheering on my wife in the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon at the beginning of the month.

Thank you for reading.

 

2016 Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon – Race recap

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Here we go…

On September 18th my wife and I ran the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. This was my 6th time running this event and my wife’s 5th time. We just seem to keep going back. Actually, we received a promotional email to sign up for the 2017 BEFORE the race and guess what…we are running this event again in 2017.

Before I get into the race itself, this is one of those weekends which pretty much represents the craziness which is me, my family and marathon training. It all started very early on the Friday morning before the race weekend. As some of you may know by now I’m pretty regimented when it comes to following my training plans. The weekend of the 18th my plan called for a 20 mile run. Usually I could figure a way to switch a week but as my wife is currently training for the New York City Marathon and I was only a couple of weeks from the Mohawk Hudson Marathon I would be too close to the race to taper into the event. So, up at 2.00am on Friday morning, time to run 20 miles before heading into the office.

Your eyes do not deceive you. Wake up time says 2:01am...I must have hit snooze!!

Your eyes do not deceive you. Wake up time says 2:01am…I must have hit snooze!!

It was early, it was a beautiful clear sky and a full moon. I had Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” (read by the author) on my iPhone and the 20 miles passed by easily. I ran while laughing which helped. I got my last long run of the training plan done and I could (after the half marathon) begin my marathon taper.

Done!

Done! Umpteen laps around Playwicki Farm

Okay, so here we are. I’ve run 20 miles. Great preparation for a half marathon. But we’re not done yet. Later that day my wife and I attended a friend’s wedding where we had a great evening dancing into the night (and not resting my legs). Going well so far with my race preparation!

Normally before the race we attend the expo. This was held at the Philadelphia Convention Center as in previous years. Unfortunately we had other commitments with a family friend’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in the morning and the party that evening. We wouldn’t have had to time go to the expo and get home in time for the evening event. Luckily one of my wife’s running friends who was also running was able to pick up our race packets and my wife went out that afternoon to meet up and collect them so we had time to get ready for the party that night.

Ready to party

Ready to party

The party was a lot of fun. It had a Disney theme and we were dancing all night. This was the first time my boys had been to a party like this and they had a blast. For the adults at the party there was a signature drink. a ‘Hakuna Martini’. I have to say it was nice and sweet. It would have been rude to say no. Luckily for me I was the designated driver so I had only one early in the evening and the rest of the night was just Diet Coke and water.

Certainly so

Certainly so

It was a fun but a late night. The party ended around midnight and we left before we all turned into pumpkins. The boys were both asleep in the car before we pulled out of the parking lot. Ha ha.

So, sleep…are rare commodity this weekend. Let’s see how we do tonight.

Should I worry?

Should I worry?

I didn’t even make 3 hours. So, now I’m just a little tired (an understatement). I know I’ve done slept worse than this during the Disney Marathon weekend, but hey, that’s Disney and every second counts. Some of us may have had a couple of extra Hakuna Martinis the night before. This was going to be a fun race.

So Sunday arrived (early) and we set out to drive downtown to Philadelphia. Upon arrival into Center City I missed my turn and passed the usual parking garage I use for races. Luckily there was another lot across the street (where I used to park when I worked downtown) so the walk to the starting area was the same as in past years.

The race was back to its usual mid-September date. It had been pushed to October 31st last year due to the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia last September. The last few times we have run this race (with the exception of the October date) were warm and humid days in late summer. This year the temperatures this year were great. It was in the 60s and cool at the start. It did warm up later in the day but the start was very comfortable.

An early start. Still a little dark just after the sunrise.

An early start. Still a little dark just after the sunrise.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon is a really popular and crowded race. You get there early to avoid the crowds. Luckily we were up in an early corral (#8 of #20+) so we didn’t have too much time to sit around and wait. The race started at 7:30 and we set off at 7:39 according to my Garmin.

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Waiting in our corral to go

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Our view of the start line

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All these people were stacked behind us. The Philadelphia Art Museum and the finish line were behind us

Within the first mile of the race we ran into my wife’s childhood baby sitter. We ran alongside here past the first mile marker as they chatted…I was just along for the ride. We ran on at a comfortable medium pace for the next couple of miles. Around mile 3 my wife’s friend (who had picked up our race packets) ran past us. She was gunning for a new personal record for the half marathon (she ran a 1:53 race) and it was a quick hello and goodbye.

Like last year, the race course had been slightly altered. Miles 1-3 were slightly modified to run along Market Street but included a turn around 22nd Street (behind my old office building). The course last year took us on a short out and back around mile 3 via Spring Garden Street. This year there was another out and back but it was a little further up the course but still around mile 3. This year took us up and back past the Eastern State Penitentiary.

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This years course

Once the out and back was complete the course was the same it was typically in other years. It was up East River Drive/Kelly Drive, crossing the Schuylkill River at the Falls Bridge at mile 8 and then up West River Drive/Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

It had started to warm up but wasn’t sunny. In fact it was more humid than we expected and as a result my running gear which I have worn multiple times for multiple training runs and races actually started to bother me. Around mile 6 I had to pull over to the medical tent to get some Vaseline to help in certain places (shhh….) As I arrived at the tent I asked for what I needed and was told that the volunteers had to apply it. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that and informed them that I was a married man and my wife was only a few feet away…my wife saw what was going on and was cracking up. I was a little embarrassed. It wasn’t as bad as you might be thinking but certainly not what I was expecting. Modesty was maintained through the whole process…

I was also having a little discomfort with my shoe. Although they were not new shoes, my laces just seemed to be uncomfortable so I stopped a few times between mile 7 and 8 to adjust them. My wife hadn’t noticed I had dropped back but I soon caught up with her before the turn across the bridge. Once over the bridge there is a slight downhill before the long straight back into the finish line.

It was around mile 10 that my weekends activities started to affect me. For some reason I just started to lose a bit of my energy. I was taking my Hammer Gels at my usual intervals but my wife started to pull away from me. This was a combination of my 20 mile training run finally reaching my legs and also due to the fact that my wife’s intake of Hakuna Martinis probably started to wear off on her. Just before mile 12 she turned to me and said “I forgot you ran 20 miles on Friday, lets take it a little slower and make it to the finish together” I was relieved.

The camber of the road from mile 11 to 12 is fairly noticeable. First it tilts from left to right and then from right to left. It then starts a gradual uphill before the last quarter of a mile or so of the course which is a steep uphill to the Art Museum steps. If you are tired at this point you definitely feel the change in the road and the elevation. I’ve done this part of the course many times, the Rock n Roll races every year from 2011, my 4 Philadelphia Marathons and other races that take place along the river. Today I was just determined to get it done.

As we approached the finish line we picked up the pace (you have to make it look good in front of the crowd). Our last mile was 30 seconds fast than our previous mile despite the uphill terrain.

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As per usual we crossed the finish line hand in hand.

Our time was 2:07:24. Slower than in previous years. Given our current conditions it wasn’t terrible but we are both quicker than that having run a few races this year in the low 1:50s. Mind you, those races were not after 20 mile training runs, sleep deprivation or Hakuna Martinis. We still had fun.

As we crossed the finish line the temperatures were now into the 70s although thankfully the sun was still behind the clouds. It was warm. We received our medals and a bottle of water and made our way over to the post race refreshments. Before we left the finish line area we picked up some ice cooled towels. They were very welcome. They worked a treat at helping us cool down.

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Receiving another Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon medal

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The ice cooled towels were amazing

We grabbed some refreshments (yeah for chocolate milk) and made our way to pick up our gear bags that we had checked earlier before the race. As we were getting ready to head back to the car we received a text message from my wife’s sister who was with her daughter at soccer practice nearby. We would have to pass by to get back to our car so we stopped over to see them on our way to the parking lot.

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Always happy to see family at the finish line.

As usual for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon we had a great time. I didn’t get the chance to meet up with any of my Mickey Milers team mates as we didn’t have time to hang around (we had a baby sitter on the clock) but it was nice to bump into some of my wife’s friends along the way. We will be back in 2017.

Next year we are actually venturing further afield with our Rock ‘n’ Roll races as we are set to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Marathon in March. We probably might consider another Rock ‘n’ Roll event next year if the logistics work out for us. We shall see. They do put on a good race.

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Our reward for another half marathon completed

Thank you for reading.

2016 HITS Hudson Valley, NY Triathlon – Race recap

 

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I am thrilled to be writing this race recap.

On July 9th I completed my first half iron distance triathlon at Williams Lake, NY up in the Hudson Valley put on by the HITS Triathlon Series. This is a 70.3 mile event made up of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run.

Since I started running back in the late summer of 2010 I have achieved many things I didn’t think possible. Just getting off the couch and training for a 5K was a big accomplishment for me. Slowly I built up my running endurance and 15 months after my first run I finished my first marathon, the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Since then I have achieved some big milestones for myself. In May this year I completed my 15th marathon and I have completed a number of the runDisney Challenge races and even an ultra distance run.

However, I never even considered a triathlon. I don’t know what made me finally decide but in late 2014 I signed up for my first triathlon, the New Jersey State Triathlon for the Olympic distance in July 2015. My problem was that I hadn’t been swimming in years and I needed a lot of work. I ended up freaking out a few weeks before the race and stepping back my distance to the sprint triathlon as I was really nervous for the swim. I did conquer the swim in my first triathlon but unfortunately the race did not turn out as planned. It was cancelled due to a lightning storm mid race. I quickly rebounded by signing up for another sprint distance a couple of weeks later and finally completed a triathlon. I followed up that after some encouragement (peer pressure) by a number of work colleagues to sign up for another local sprint triathlon which I successfully completed. Okay, my triathlons were over. Done. Complete…Or so I thought.

Competing in the Medford Lakes Colony Sprint Triathlon last August.

Competing in the Medford Lakes Colony Sprint Triathlon last August.

Some of my friends were talking about doing longer distance triathlons and a few were actively talking about half iron and full iron distance races. Around the same time they announced a new 70.3 distance race down in Atlantic City, NJ and I was considering that, however, it was a little costly and the timing didn’t work out. I also lacked the ability to swim far enough at the time (or so I thought) and I only owned a hybrid bike which I knew wouldn’t get me through a longer distance race. Speaking to my friend Bob, he mentioned that he had signed up for a smaller sized 70.3 race up in the Hudson Valley. It was also held on a Saturday so it wouldn’t take up a full weekend away and it was a good value (about the same price of a runDisney half marathon). I looked into it and thought maybe…I just had to convince my Wife. Challenge accepted!

Somewhere somehow my Wife was informed (probably by my Sister-in-law) that triathlons involved swimming in shark infested waters. I had to convince her that there were no sharks. All my previous sprint tri’s were in ponds or man-made lakes but she was still convinced there would be sharks. I explained that (at the time I signed up) the swim was held in a bend in the Hudson River and that there were no news reports of sharks in Upstate New York (bears maybe but not sharks). She then asked if I had enough life insurance and whether it was fully paid up. Seeing as my Father-in-law is our insurance agent I said we were covered and paid up. Finally she said I could do it as she knows there was no talking me out of it. So, in early November last year I signed up for my first 70.3 race, the HITS Kingston, NY Triathlon.

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Now that I was signed up I found a half iron distance training plan that seemed to fit into my schedule from Endurance Works, I joined LA Fitness so I could go swimming regularly (the plan called for at least 3 swims per week, I subscribed to a swim training plan (Tri Swim Coach) and purchased a road bike (with all my saved up gift cards and a some birthday money) from my local bike store (Guy’s Bicycles). The training plan fit in perfectly between the New Jersey Marathon and the actual race. I steadily built up my swim distance and endurance in the pool and got used to sitting on that bike saddle for a few hours. By the time the race approached I felt that I was ready, nervous…but ready.

One final thing I needed to take care of was a wetsuit. I hadn’t used a wetsuit for any of the sprint distance tri’s I had done last year but based upon the distance it was recommended that I take advantage of the extra buoyancy a suit would provide me and so not wanting to jump into a big expense straight away I decided to rent a wetsuit. I ended up renting from a company based in Florida called Tri Wetsuit Rentals. The owner, Mike, was very helpful in answering my questions about sizing and suggested a couple of suits and even said that in the (unlikely) event that I lose some weight before, all I had to do was call before the suit was shipped in late June and let him know.

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I had my first minor freak out when the wetsuit shipped but got lost by the US Postal service for about a week. I could see from the tracking information that it was close but it had gone via multiple post offices including my local post office more than once before it was finally delivered exactly one week before I was due to leave for the race. Mike was very helpful throughout and we had a ‘Plan B’ to send a replacement but thankfully it wasn’t required. Unfortunately I missed my last opportunity to try out the suit in an open water swim with the Bucks County Tri Club as the suit arrived too late. I wouldn’t get a chance to try the suit in the water before race day. I did watch a few YouTube videos in advance of receiving the wetsuit (some more helpful than others) on how to get into and out of a wetsuit, none of which helped prepare me for the full body workout that was putting one on without any help!!! It was a struggle the first time but after a couple of attempts I found a method that worked best for me.

For someone who has been overweight most of their life, having Orca emblazzoned across your chest isn't exactly flattering.

For someone who has been overweight most of their life, having Orca emblazoned across your chest isn’t exactly flattering.

When my Wife saw this she had a field day with orca related jokes…

Thanks honey for all your support…

Race Weekend:

Race weekend finally arrived. I had been in touch with my friend Bob over the weeks leading up to the race and we had planned to meet at the staging area (Williams Lake) and get a quick open water swim and then grab lunch before the mandatory athletes’ meeting that afternoon.

Having taken a vacation day from work I packed up my car and headed (via a quick stop at my chiropractor for a last-minute alignment check) on my way to Kingston, NY.

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On my way. 70.3 or bust!

Thankfully it was a smooth and easy ride up. About 30 minutes out from my destination I pulled over at services to grab a drink and a snack before the last leg of the journey and happened to bump into Bob who was also on his way up to meet me. I followed him the rest of the way to the race area and we quickly set about getting ready for a swim. Bob gave me a couple of tips on putting on the wet suit and we headed down to the water. It was a hot and sunny day and the water temperature was really nice. It was time for my first wet suit swim…I let Bob go first.

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Arriving at the race site. This confirmed we were in the right place.


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The finish line just a day away.


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Williams Lake. The buoys were being set up as we arrived.


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Bob went first. We planned to swim out and back to the first buoy.


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Not nervous at all…


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Okay…ready…set…

I ventured out. Bob advised me to go a little slower than I would in the pool to keep my heart rate down as you can quickly overheat in a wetsuit. Once I started swimming it did feel a little weird and there were a couple of anxious moments early on but I followed his advice and I set out to the buoy, circled around it and came back. One thing that was very evident from my swim is that my sighting in the water needs a heck of a lot of improvement…that would be evident the following day as well. As you can see from the GPS map below, this was supposed to be a simple out and back, i.e. pretty much a straight line. Not quite.

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Not the best sense of direction


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I did it. A little out of breath but I got it done.

Even though it was a short swim I felt comfortable in the wetsuit, the water temperature was warm but not too warm and the spring fed lake was clear (you could see your hands in front of your face!).

After we both completed the swim we stayed to talk to a few of the people setting up and looked around the staging area. This was a small race to be sure. There were 5 events going on the next day – full distance, half distance, Olympic distance, sprint distance and an open distance.

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Hanging the suit up to dry


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The packet pickup tent


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Swim course map – Two loops around the lake


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Bike route around the Ashokan Reservoir


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The updated run course


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A small merchandise tent who made custom shirts on request (more on that later)

When I had signed up for the race originally it was a two-day event. The swim was supposed to be in a bend in the Hudson River in Kingston, NY with the full and half distance being held on the Saturday and all other races being held on Sunday. Back in February it was announced that the location was moving to Williams Lake in Rosendale and that it would be a one day event with the races staged at 4 different times during the day (the full and half would start together).

After the swim we went to pick up our race packets. I have to say that the staff were all very friendly. The staff took time to ask if we were okay and were happy to chat and answer questions.

Bob and I headed into Rosendale and had lunch at a small cafe with lots of vegetarian options (perfect for me) and chatted over lunch. Bob showed me how to use my Garmin 910 in multisport mode which I hadn’t really tried before. We then headed back a few minutes before the Race Director started the athletes meeting.

Tom Struzzieri, the founder and CEO of HITS, was there to talk us through each leg of the event, the how to’s of the transition area and the weather outlook for the next day. He shared the plans for the aid stations and explained what would be provided even down to how many scoops of Heed would be in the pre-made water bottles on the bike rides (so that we had an idea how much nutrition to carry and could take in on the route).

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The race director giving the pre-race athletes meeting

The weather overnight was forecast with a storm and lots of rain. As the race wasn’t too big most people decided not to check in their bikes the night before so we could keep all our equipment dry and bring it the next day.

After the meeting Bob and I took a walk through the transition areas and walked the start of the run course. As the course had changed from the original location I hadn’t seen the new map. The course was described as an initial run out, a loop through a cave (a bat cave…) and then a double out and back along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail across the Rosendale Trestle Bridge.

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Everyone was provided with their own individual transition box. It was spacious compared to other events I have taken part in and the stool they provided was a nice touch.


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The exit from the swim to transition


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The exit from transition to the bike course.


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And back to transition. You can see from the debris on the side of the transition that this whole area is currently under development. This should make the site much more attractive and with added features in the coming years.


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The view back into the transition at the start of the run

I hadn’t realized before now but as soon as we started walking the course we saw it was a proper trail, i.e. not paved…mud, rocks, sticks and roots…and a bat cave.

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Yes…that’s a trail.


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I will point out that this is ‘before’ the heavy rain that fell overnight.


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Yup, that’s a cave.


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They said there were bats in side.


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I just looked straight ahead to the exit and didn’t look deep into the cave. No need to cause a kerfuffle with the locals…


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I’m ready for the next day. I may have to change my outfit though.

Bob and I decided around 4pm to head back to our respective lodgings (I was about 15 minutes away in a hotel in Kingston and he was staying with family about 30 minutes south) and so we wished each other a relaxing evening and said we would see each other bright and early the next day.

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By the way, you may notice from the above picture that I am wearing a ‘Team Up! Autism Speaks’ shirt. Since 2013 I have run a number of events for this charity and this was the first year I had missed running the Walt Disney World Marathon (or Challenge) with them. Over the last three years I have raised close to $13,000 for the cause. As this was to be a special event for me I decided to dedicate my race to continue to raise funds for them and I signed up through their Team Up! Your Way with the goal of raising $1,000. I’m pleased to say that in addition to completing my event (spoiler alert) I was able to meet my goal. As of the date of posting this recap I have raised a total of $1,092.

I headed to my hotel in Kingston and moved all my gear (not packing light) into my room on the second floor.

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My two-wheeled roommate for the night.

I quickly looked through my race packet to make sure I had everything and decided to find somewhere local for an early dinner. As I was traveling on my own I asked the front desk at the hotel for places to eat and was recommended the Olympia Diner across the street. Well, I love a good diner so I was happy to head over and see what they had. Although the diner was just across the street there was a huge downpour and I ended up driving over. Glad I didn’t leave my bike outdoors overnight.

After a meal of gazpacho and spaghetti marinara, I followed my usual pre-race routine…a cookie (unfortunately not oatmeal raisin)…and headed back to the hotel and started getting ready for the next morning with a goal of getting some sleep.

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My pre-race ritual. Stick with what works, right?

I unpacked all my gear for transition and laid it all out for one final check. As you will notice from the pictures below I used flash cards in my shoes to remind me of the steps I would need to remember in transition if I was not thinking too clearly in real-time the next day.

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I think that’s everything.


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Cut me some slack…I’m 44 with two kids. Sometimes I cannot even remember their names.


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At least I didn’t have to tell myself which wrist to put it on.

With all my gear repacked I took a hot shower and put myself to bed around 8pm hoping to get as much sleep as I could.

Race Day:

My Fitbit shows that I got just under 7 hours of sleep, waking up just before my 4AM alarm (one of three that I had set just in case). I made myself a cup of coffee and tried to remain as relaxed as possible. I grabbed my pre-race Powerbar for breakfast and checked my emails, other messages and the weather before getting all my gear ready. As expected, my Wife sent me a message wishing me all the best in her own way.

Thanks again honey…

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My training plan sent me this message to my inbox.

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I headed out around 5:15AM to the race site. There had been plenty of rain overnight and you could the result of the storm as there was quite a bit of debris on the road. I was a little nervous about riding in the rain on my road bike tires. I already had concerns about the elevation of the course and making the cut off time (I hadn’t trained too much on hills). I had never ridden on wet roads before.

When I got to the race site the course had been impacted by the rain too. Although the temperature had cooled considerably the parts of the parking areas were under water. I arrived as cars and trucks were being towed out after getting stuck in the mud. I moved my car further away on some higher ground and started to unpack.

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Cars being towed out.


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The aftermath. I hadn’t considered what it would do to the running trail yet.


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I’m here, the bike was pumped up and so was I.

On Thursday night before I left I decided at the last-minute to grab a few kitchen trash bags to pack up any wet and dirty gear after the race. I’m glad I did as there was more rain scheduled for later in the day. I’m so glad I had them with me as when I got to transition it was very wet underfoot (and squishy) and so I used one of the bags as a waterproof barrier between the ground and my transition set up. With the extra bags I wrapped up my bike and running gear to protect them from the rain that was predicted. That was a good move.

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My home base for the next few hours.

I ate my Honey Stinger waffle for a last-minute fuel top up and after a couple of bathroom breaks I got my swim gear ready and my wetsuit on and made my way through the transition to the edge of the lake.

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Everyone getting ready in transition.


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Ready to suit up. See you in a few hours.

As we got to the beach for the final race announcements before the start the race director asked that due to the road conditions that we are extra vigilant on the bikes and announced that they had people out on the course doing clean up where ever needed so that conditions would be as best as they could get them for us for the bike.

The race was scheduled to start at 7AM. The full and half distance athletes were due to go off at the same time. The full distance athletes would swim four times around the buoys and the half distance athletes twice. My plan was to stay steady and smooth and try to keep my heart rate down. As the race started I stayed at the back of the pack and waited until almost everyone was in the water. I didn’t plan on getting into a mess right out of the gate.

The temperature was great, a couple of degrees cooler than yesterday, and my plan was to keep a steady rhythm. My sighting wasn’t perfect…I did veer of course a couple of times but it got better as I started to get into a groove. I actually found myself passing a few people. I could feel the difference that a wetsuit provides. It was a definite help. My confidence was building as I rounded the first loop and I was able to maintain the same rhythm on my second loop.  I still had a couple of sighting issues but if you look at my map below I didn’t do too bad. Ultimately my distance swam was 1.4 miles not 1.2. Not sure if it was my bad sighting or the GPS trying to grab a signal which led to the difference but I was pretty happy.

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The official results had me at 54:32 for the swim. I was pleased with that. Anything under an hour for that distance was a win for me. I actually got out the water and wasn’t too out of breath. As I got out the water the race had ‘strippers’, volunteers to help you get out the wetsuit. On a side note I mentioned that in the car the next day when I was talking to my wife. She was quite taken aback…however, two little voices from the back of the car then asked “Daddy, what’s a stripper?” Oops. I explained in triathlon terms. Move along. Nothing to see here.

As I got out the water there was a little light rain. I’m glad I had my gear wrapped up. I was even more glad for the stool. I was a more tired from the swim than I thought I would be. I dried off my legs and my feet, covered them in talc and popped on my Injinji socks (not the best at helping me rush through transition). 8:02 in transition. Not good but I had a 56 mile ride ahead of me and I wanted to make sure I was ready (my longest ride previous to this was 52 miles on a bike trainer). I quickly ate an energy gel and grabbed my bike and headed out.

Once out of transition and on the bike I started slowly. I started out on the small chain ring so that I wasn’t beating up my legs early into the ride. I didn’t get out of the small chain ring for the first 8 miles.

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The bike route


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Bike elevation chart

The first big hill (big for me) was around mile 6. Thankfully I was able to get up the hill and knew that somewhere on the back of the course I would probably make up some time coming down the same hill. My cadence and speed were not very fast for the first hour. It was really a matter of me getting up the hills for the ride around the reservoir. My goal was to maintain an average speed over 14mph so that I would make the four hour cut off. After the first hour it wasn’t looking good…13mph. I settled into a rhythm on the bike and as the course flattened out in areas I was able to make up some time. There was light rain at the time and I had to stop a couple of times to wipe clear my glasses as they were getting wetter and wetter.

Around mile 20 the heavens opened. This was rain. The real stuff. Not the wet misty type that had been going on from the start. It was a slog for the next 20 or so miles as the rain continued. For someone who was nervous about riding in the rain and worried about the bike cut off this was not a good combination.

What I can commend the race organizers for is that despite the conditions out there, each turn on the course was clearly marked out or was manned by police or volunteers who stood out in the rain the whole time. For a race with such a small field it must have seemed a very arduous task and I fully appreciate all the volunteers that day.

There were two aid stations, one of which we passed twice, for a total of three stops. The first was around mile 12 just after we had climbed a big hill. I made a quick porta potty stop there (obviously I had been hydrating to this point) and grabbed some more fluids. The aid stations provided Hammer gels, Heed and water. The second stop was around mile 30 I think. When I got there the rain was heavy. The table was set up for a bottle exchange. I stopped and poured a bottle of Heed mix in with my existing bottle of Heed and moved on as there was no point in hanging around too long with the rain.

One thing that I will take away from the ride is that I am weakest on the bike. I have definitely become more comfortable in the seat but I did most of my riding either on the bike trainer or outside in an enclosed park loop with little elevation. It showed. I need to do more hill riding and get my cadence up. It’s all too easy to ride for three hours watching movies but I really need to know how to maintain a high cadence with my legs and how and when to push. I also need to learn how to properly fuel while riding. I kept to my plan on taking in an energy gel every 45 minutes but I had to pull over each time for fear of falling off the bike. I was able to maintain my drinking every 15-20 minutes just slowing down while I used a bottle.

The route along the reservoir itself was beautiful…well at least what I could make out through the rain and clouds was beautiful. There seemed to be a lot of ‘S bend’ curves as the road travelled around the reservoir and by this point we were sharing the road with cars. We had travelled down a major road (Route 213) earlier, however, there was a wide shoulder and although cars and trucks were zipping by, there was plenty of space for riding.

I played leapfrog along the bike course with a couple of other riders almost the whole way. I didn’t catch up with many people nor was I passed too often other than by participants in the full distance race on their much more expensive and faster tri bikes.

Finally, with about 15 miles to go the rain ceased and the skies cleared a little or maybe just the clouds got thinner. Either way the last 15 miles were more comfortable weather wise. My socks inside my shoes were soaked through by the rain and so I had to endure the sound of squelching for the last hour but I figured it was a small price to pay. My average speed was now over 14.5mph so I knew I would make it under the time limit and I still had a couple of large downhill rides.

The roads were still damp on the reverse trip down to the transition area but I flew down them (white knuckled). At one point I hit over 36mph. I’m not one for riding roller coasters…and this to me felt almost as freaky. I guess that’s another thing I have to get used to in training.

I finally made it back into transition with a time of 3:48:19 (official split was 3:48:58). Not great by any means but a) not last, and b) under the cut off. I now have a baseline for a 1.2 mile open water swim and a 56 mile bike ride (although my actual GPS distance was just over 55 miles).

On returning to transition after the rain I was glad to have kept my gear wrapped up in those trash liners and was extremely pleased that I had packed a second pair of socks. My feet were soaked through and I pretty much had to repeat almost the same transition that I had after the swim (minus the wetsuit). Dry off, talc on feet and the struggle back into the Injinji socks!!! Time in second transition was 6:01. Slow but typically it would just be changing shoes and swapping my helmet for a visor. I took the opportunity to take another  energy gel before heading out on the run.

I’ve done many brick work outs in training (bike to run transition) but never after a 56 mile ride nor anything longer than a 30 minute run. This was going to be interesting.

As I headed out to start the run the ground was more soaked than before. As I ran up the hill to the first aid station I was told that the ‘bat cave’ was wet and to be careful. That was an understatement. I hadn’t even reached the cave yet and I was already having to be careful with my footing. The trail was soggy and puddle filled. In fact there were a couple of places early on where I had to walk for fear of slipping in the mud. I didn’t expect to run my normal pace for the half marathon (my PR is 1:51) but I also didn’t expect my first mile split to be 11.36min/mile.

When I had walked the course the previous day I wasn’t wearing sunglasses so when I got to the cave I could kind of see my way through with the little daylight that was streaming through the entrance and exit. I was also walking. Today I was running and wearing sunglasses. BIG difference. Once I hit the cave I could barely see. I decided to take the higher ground on the left of the cave on the assumption that it might be drier as the water would flow down to the lower side. What I didn’t know about or see was that there were rocks on that side. I tripped…twice. While I didn’t wipe out I was a little shaken and pretty much ended up walking through the cave rather than run (hence the slow 1st mile).

Once out the cave I was back in the daylight and it was then just the double out and back to run. The ground was still soaked, soft, slippy and puddled in many places. My nice clean shoes didn’t stay that way for very long. I stepped in a few places where I went down into muddy water to the tops of my shoes. I had been glad I had some dry socks on to start with but they were soon beginning to get damp from the ground below.

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The run was a double out and back.

I passed the first aid station again (I would see it two more times) and the folks manning the table were very cheery and supportive. Each aid station stocked water, Heed, flat Coke, chips, orange slices, candy and cookies. At first I drank only water and Heed at each station (there were another two out on the course) but as it was getting hotter and I was beginning to feel more tired so I started to dunk a cup of cold water over my head at each station too.

I passed Bob on my way out the first time. He had a much stronger ride than me and was at least 30 minutes ahead of me. Just before the third aid station we ran across the Rosendale Trestle Bridge. If you are scared of heights you may want to rethink this race. The bridge was wide, sturdy and safe but quite a way up.

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Rosendale Trestle Bridge (picture from the HITS Facebook page)


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An aerial shot of the bridge on a much sunnier day

It was a spectacular setting and the benefit of running mostly in the shade kept temperatures down. It wasn’t the sunniest of afternoons as there was still a lot of cloud cover but it did feel cooler in the shade.

The turnaround was about a mile past the bridge and at that point I was taking my time negotiating points on the trail that were like mud rivers. Nevertheless it was a keep moving forward mentality. By this stage I had been on the go for over 5 hours and counting.

On my way back to the first aid station (and turnaround for the second leg) I took another energy gel to give myself a boost. I needed something at that point. At the aid station one of the volunteers suggested I take in some flat Coke. I had heard that ultra runners used this as a quick sugar energy boost and as I had just taken a gel I decided to pass this time around but as I progressed on my second out and back I decided to try something new (yeah…during a race…smart!). Luckily I had no bad reaction to ingesting the flat Coke. I haven’t had any soda since quitting last August so this was a bit weird. I had sworn off soda and now I couldn’t get enough… I was still pouring water over my head at each aid station but I was now substituting the Coke for the Heed just to keep me going.

It was at this point that I started playing the math game. I had no goal time other than to finish somewhere between 7-7.5 hours and I knew that my bike leg would eat up a great deal of that time. I was now looking at my Garmin every few minutes to see how much distance and time was left. I had seen Bob on the second out and back as I was going out and he was coming back. I figured he would be done before I reached the turnaround for the second time.

As I rounded the turnaround for the last time I began to realize that I had just under 5 miles to go. I could do this. I was going to do this. Having once run 39.3 miles in 7 hours I knew I had the endurance, but that was straight running and now I was beginning to feel a soreness in my left quad and hamstring from the bike. Everything else felt good other than tired and achy shoulders. I just put one foot in front of the other, walked around the muddy parts and powered on until I saw the first aid station for the final time.

Once I hit the aid station it was just a small up and down hill to the finish line.  This was not a fast half marathon for me by any means but I was going to be under 2:20 and that meant I would be under 7:20 total time. I just had to make it another half mile to the finish.

Rounding the corner to the finish I could see Bob standing by the finish line and he had his camera out taking photos of me coming in. I ran up and gave him a fist bump and turned towards the finish line where to my surprise my Wife’s Aunt had driven down with her family from Albany (about an hour north) to meet me at the finish line. What a wonderful gesture. Totally unexpected. I got so excited I jumped high in the air as I crossed the finish line. Having family and friends meet me at the finish really lifted my spirits and took away any tiredness I was feeling.

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Bob took this photo of me running into the finish


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Woohoo….70.3 DONE!!! (Thanks for the photo Francine)


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Hey, I know you!


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Let me stop my Garmin so I can give you a High Five

I arrived during the awards ceremony so, as had been my luck all through the event, I missed having a photo taken by the official photographer. Luckily, between Bob and his wife Francine and my family I was able to get some photos at the finish line. A volunteer handed me my medal and a bottle of water and I stopped to catch my breath and take some finish line photos with everyone.

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Nice to have a family meet me at the finish (Thank you Nadine, Steve and Benjamin)


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Bob and I. He looks a little more rested than me.


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Bob making sure I saved my multisport event file.


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YES!!!

My official finish time was 7 hours 15 minutes. Not great…but not last. I did my first half iron distance triathlon and finished smiling. That’s enough for me. Will I do another 70.3? Probably, but I’m going to enjoy this one for a long time.

I said goodbye to Bob who had been waiting to see me finish and went over to transition to pack up my gear. My family wanted to take me to lunch (a late lunch) before I had to drive home. There wasn’t much food left by the time I had finished. I was told they were going to order more food (pizza) within the hour for the final finishers and for the full distance finishers. I decided that I would be better off having a full meal to refuel.

So much for my fancy shoes...

So much for my fancy shoes…


...and fancy socks. Just a little muddy

…and fancy socks. Just a little muddy

In transition I used the changing tents to put on some dry clothes. Those trash bags came in handy as I threw all my wet gear and towels into them to carry to the car. Before I left transition I sat down and took it all in. I had just finished my first 70.3. It was a different feeling than finishing my first marathon. That was a runners high which lasted days. This was more a mix of joy and relief. I tried to explain to someone a couple of days later that sometimes when I run I can zone out and just get into a rhythm until I am near the finish line. With the triathlon it’s a matter of focus, concentration and technique. You cannot really zone out doing a triathlon. You’ll drown or crash!!! I’m pleased to say I did neither.

I quickly called my parents in the UK to let them know I was done. I’m 44 and I still call my mother to let her know I’m okay 🙂

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Once I was dressed, the car packed and the bike racked we headed to Kingston where we had a late lunch/early dinner at an Irish pub. Those were the best fish and chips I’d had all day! I drank lots of water to rehydrate and a few cups of coffee to keep me awake before I said goodbye to the family and headed for my three-hour drive home…with a HUGE smile on my face.

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The guy on the left in 2010 has just finished a half iron distance traithlon in 2016

I really enjoyed the event. HITS put on a professional, supportive and friendly event. For anyone dipping their toes into longer distance triathlons I would recommend one of their events. Their communication was responsive in the weeks leading up to the event, the staff were friendly the whole weekend and it was just a relaxed informal atmosphere the whole weekend. They took care of the athletes and it was good value for money compared to some of the other big race organizations out there. Check out their events list.

Oh, by the time I got to the finish line the merchandise tent was being taken down. I wasn’t able to get a finisher shirt that I had spoken to the supplier about the day before. I was waiting until after so not to jinx myself.  The owner gave me his card and told me to call him the following week and he would customize any shirts that I wanted and ship them to me. Pricing was very reasonable so I followed up and ordered a customized long sleeve and short sleeve ‘70.3 Finisher’ shirt. Nice.

That night I had a pretty good long deep sleep.

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Something like this. Even my kids let me sleep in.

In my inbox the next day was this message from my training plan. I didn’t need telling twice 🙂

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Thank you for sticking with me for this (longer than normal) race recap. At least this took you less than 7 hours to read.

2016 New Jersey Marathon – race recap

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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.

The expo was held at Monmouth Park Racetrack

The expo was held at Monmouth Park Racetrack

 

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The expo was held at Monmouth Park Racetrack

 

Ready for bib pick up

Ready for bib pick up

 

Bib pick up for the half and full marathon

Bib pick up for the half and full marathon

 

Bibs in hand and ready to go

Bibs in hand and ready to go

 

Men's and women's cut t-shirts were provided

Men’s and women’s cut t-shirts were provided

 

I prepaid for parking at the start line so I was set for race day

I prepaid for parking at the start line so I was set for race day

 

There was an area of official race gear although I left empty handed

There was an area of official race gear although I left empty handed

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).

I'm sure they will have one pair my size

I’m sure they will have one pair my size

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.

A jockey selfie for good luck

A jockey selfie for good luck

 

My gear all set up the night before

My gear all set up the night before

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.

A jockey fist bump for good luck!!!

A jockey fist bump for good luck!!!

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.

Meeting up with Elvin outside of bag check

Meeting up with Elvin outside of bag check

 

Finally made it into our corral

Finally made it into our corral

 

Ready for the word to go

Ready for the word to go

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.

The course map that was displayed at the expo

The course map that was displayed at the expo

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.

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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.

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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.

On the bus heading back to the starting line

On the bus heading back to the starting line

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.

The marathon finisher medal

The marathon finisher medal

 

I like the way they list all the towns we ran through on the back of the medal

I like the way they list all the towns we ran through on the back of the medal

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.