This post is a few days later than anticipated but I just completed marathon number 8, the 2014 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon. This brought a little redemption from when I ran this race last year 🙂
I decided to run this race again this year for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to see the course over it’s mostly original restored course a year after Hurricane Sandy and second, to earn the PR I had set myself as a goal last year before the wheels fell off. So having re-registered in December I set about training for this event straight after completing the inaugural 2014 Walt Disney World ‘Dopey Challenge’. Actually I was already a couple of weeks into the training program when I got back from Florida and so with 16 weeks to go I set about training for New Jersey.
In case you hadn’t noticed, this was a pretty harsh winter and I did most of my training (including long runs) on the treadmill. Thankfully I was able to run outdoors by the time the 20 milers rolled around. Coming into this event I had run three good races all below my marathon goal pace (9:00/per mile) and was feeling confident although a little apprehensive based upon last year.
The race director does a great job of keeping everyone informed of events and starting out 10 weeks before the day there were weekly updates on the New Jersey Marathon blog which were very helpful as the day approached. In addition, the organizers were very active on Facebook updating everyone on the activities going on and introducing the marathon pace teams to everyone. Communication was top class.
I headed to the expo on the Friday evening before the race as my office is very close by and I didn’t have time to come back the following day (I live about 60 miles from the expo/start line area). The race expo and the race start and staging area is at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, NJ. The expo is held inside the pavillion.
Packet pickup was very simple. I was picking up bibs and shirts also for two friends running the Long Branch Half Marathon (which started and finished along the full marathon course). The volunteers were very helpful and there were tables for bib pickup for each race and t-shirt pickup for each race. Shirts were offered in male and female sizes which I see more of these days rather than the unisex shirts that other races offer.
There was also a small section of race specific merchandise. I didn’t buy any of the official merchandise this year but there was a broad range of wear and accessories and all the designs were nice too.
The expo was small. There were a few vendors but they had a full speaker series scheduled during the expo on both Friday and Saturday. You don’t get that at many races. Also there was a chance to meet up with various members of the New Jersey Marathon pace teams. Each pace group had two runners assigned and they were there to answer questions. On my way out the door I passed the small ‘Skechers‘ table. They were beaming from ear to ear in the glow of Meb Keflezighi’s Boston Marathon win. I am sure they will be back next year with a larger table 🙂
On Saturday I had planned a full family day so they got a chance to watch me carb load on pancakes although to be fair I bought lunch for them too!!! After a couple of stops and a birthday party I finally said my goodbyes (leaving them at a local carnival) and hopped in my car for the drive to my hotel near the start line. I set up all my gear for the next day and ‘attempted’ to get an early night….yeah, like you can sleep the night before a marathon.
There was a fairly significant thunderstorm that evening so I’m glad I made it to my hotel just before the weather turned sour. It definitely cooled temperatures down. When I left the hotel the following morning my car had a layer of frost on the windshield. Great….I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Luckily the weather forecast for the day looked good (if a bit breezy).
I set out fairly early for the race as I recalled from last year that the entrance to Monmouth Park is via local access roads. With the Half Marathon setting off at 6:45am (the Full Marathon set off at 8am) I knew that some of the local roads would be shut down for a while so I wanted to get there and parked before the start of the Half. Plenty of other people had the same idea but the traffic wasn’t too bad and I got there around 6.15am. The parking was well organized and they had folks working the parking lots to make sure it was all filled in an orderly manner. My Disney experience showed here as I took a picture of my parking lot location…more of that later.
The nice thing about the location is that runners get access to the pavillion early prior to the race. That means you have indoor bathrooms, somewhere to keep warm and a place to sit before having to head out to bag check. I made myself comfortable and relaxed.
I didn’t get a chance to catch up with my friends Beth and her brother Larry prior to the Half but I had planned on meeting a couple of other folks prior to the race. While sitting around in the pavillion I also bumped into a former colleague of mine (Marc) and met up with John Thompson from the ‘The Runner of a Certain Age‘ blog and podcast. I had planned to meet up with my wife’s former colleague from her time in London, Chris, but he wasn’t hanging out in the paviilion. I later found out he was staying nearby with family and didn’t plan on arriving too early as he didn’t need to.
Around 7:30 we bid each other good luck and headed towards the bag check. Being a point to point race we had to load our gear bags into a waiting truck if we wanted anything like a jacket or other items post race. I packed up my bag, put on my throw away shirt and headed for the corrals.
Just after entering the corral I bumped into Chris so I got the photo for my wife which I had been instructed to before the weekend and got ready for the start. I have said this before but I find it relaxing and takes away any nerves chatting with someone in the corral before the start of the race.
As we were starting at a race track the start to the race was quite unique…a bugle call. This was followed by a short burst of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ (hey, this was the New Jersey Marathon after all) and off we went.
My goal for this year was the same as last year…you know, the one I blew last year 😦 I had been antsy ever since last year that I wanted to break 3:55 in a marathon and was training hard for this. Still it did give me a little nervousness going in knowing that I was trying to accomplish something I had not managed the year before. I did however feel more relaxed this year. I look back at how good and relaxed I felt running the Marathon on the last day of the Dopey Challenge this past January and how my recent 3 races had gone and felt I could do this.
The course at the start has quite a few turns as you go through the local towns then there is a long stretch out to Asbury Park where it gets all twisty again (seriously twisty) then the run back up the long straight and takes you to finish up on the boardwalk in Long Branch (see the map below).
Last year I know I went out too fast. I ran almost a PR on the first half of the course and then my heart rate elevated and I couldn’t bring it down. By mile 15 last year I started losing a minute per mile and finished the second half of the race 20 minutes slower than the first half. Not great and was very disappointing. This year I had vowed to be different.
Well…I ran a very aggressive first 10K at 8:34/mile pace without really planning on running that fast and then forced myself to back off a little. Still, I made the half way point at almost my half marathon PR 1:53 at 8:39 pace. As we approached the half way point we started running alongside some of the half marathoners and we also passed the marathon relay point. The split for the half marathon and the marathon was around mile 11. This then took the full marathoners down throught the long straight towards Asbury Park. I was constantly checking my heart rate the whole time during my walk breaks (I was using a 4:00/0:45 interval ratio). I was managing to keep my heart rate stable and was feeling good.
The weather was beautiful and sunny on the day and the crowd support around the towns was good. Not so much along the out and back portion as it was run through a very wealthy neighborhood and not many folks came out to cheer but those that did were appreciated. Going down towards the turnaround I felt good and was enjoying the course and the scenery. This was the part of the course that was changed from the previous year and I found it more enjoyable to run (less interrupting turns and a little wider). Once we hit Asbury Park there were lots of corners to turn before we hit the turnaround point around mile 18.5. Once we rounded that it was back up from where we had come.
You didn’t really notice the wind when we run downwind which we had down through mile 18.5. Once you hit the turnaround you hit the wind. The last 8 miles were effectively run heading into what felt at the time like a wind tunnel. Whew!!! This made the run back up towards Longport just that bit harder. On the return leg in Asbury Park we were able to run a little on the newly reconstructed boardwalk. This was a part of the course that was closed to us last year. Nice to see that the rebuilding of the Shore is ongoing and glad we got to run through part of the restoration.
I started to slow a little as the combination of running into the wind and getting into the last few miles of the marathon began to take its toll. After mile 22 I just had to buckle down and stick to my run/walk intervals. I figured if I could focus on just completing the run section without stopping I would make it to the end and maybe…just maybe I might meet my goal time. Plus there was the view of the beach to my right as I was running. What could be too bad.
Having inadvertantly hit my lap button while checking my heart rate early in the race I hadn’t noticed that my mile splits were slightly off the mileage posts on the course (I figured that out by mile 22). But I still had decent splits considering the wind resistance. Here are my splits.
As I rounded the final corner for the last 2 miles on the boardwalk in Long Branch I looked at my Garmin and new I was sub 4 hours but wasn’t sure if I would be sub 3:55. So now it was time to focus. All the weeks of training had to pay off now. I buckled down and focused on the finish line….which was hidden around a bend and took forever to appear. Nevertheless, I skipped that final walk interval and picked up my pace and headed for the finish line.
The clock shows sub 4 but as I started in Corral C that morning the truth was on my Garmin.
Yup. I did it. I broke 3:55. My actual official time was 3:54:30.
Then I got to receive an awesome medal. Spinners are always cool but this medal in addition to being a spinner also had the towns we ran through shown on the back. Pretty cool commemorative medal. I let my star shine today just like the medal said.
At the finish line we received a bag from Panera Bread. I was quite excited as when we ran the San Francisco Half Marathon last June we received post run treats from Panera and they were yummy. This was a little disappointing. I know this is a much smaller race than San Francisco but in the bag was a breadstick (yeah…a breadstick) a banana and three pieces of salt water taffy. I have to admit I bought my own post race snacks. I have started doing that based upon my refuel needs. I bring along an Accel Recover bar and a Powerade. Just to have properly formulated fluids, carbs and protein.
Once I picked up my gear bag it was time to take the long walk back to the race buses which would take runners back to the parking at Monmouth Park. Just like last year, althought the walk was slow it was the best thing I needed at the time to keep me from stiffening up prior to my long car ride home. As I was taking the walk back I passed by the finish line festival. There was plenty for the kids to do and also some merchandise for sale.
I chatted with a couple of folks on the bus journey back to the start line and everyone seemed tired but in good spirits and happy with the day. I remember last year it felt the bus ride took forever but with a full complement of passengers and someone to talk to it passed relatively quickly.
Now, remember above I mentioned the parking? Well, I was parked at row 87. I have learned (unfortunately through experience at Disney races) to take a picture of where I parked the car so I can find it again. The bus dropped us off at row 1. That’s not too close to row 87. Sheesh…that was the toughest part of the day. Not too many folks walking with me by then so it was a loooooong sloooow walk back to the car. I did a good amount of stretching before I got in for the hour plus long journey home and actually felt pretty comfortable that I did.
I made one stop before I reached home to get my special post race treat. I hadn’t yet been to our local Rita’s this year so guess where I headed 🙂
A couple of days after the race (hence the delay in posting) I had to have some medical tests done which I had put off because of the marathon. As a consequence I was not allowed to take any anti-inflammatory meds for the next few days so it was time for a nice soak in an ice bath (brrrrrrr….) to help soothe out the tired muscles. Luckily no one was home so they couldn’t hear me talk like a sailor when I got in. However, it worked wonders and if you can ever do it post long run I recommend it. Just keep the kids out of earshot.
I had been in touch with John Thompson prior to the race and we had met up on the morning of the race. Subsequently he invited me onto the race recap episode of his podcast and we discussed our experiences together. I tend to talk alot (and write as much) so the episode was split into two parts. Here are parts one and two. Worth a listen. Also, here is the link to his blog and Facebook page. Thank you for the invite John.
So, I PR’d. I am very happy with my time and it felt great but looking back I’m not on the long lasting high I thought I would be. I was much more on a high finishing Goofy and Dopey and even when I completed the Disney Marathon in 2013 and Philadelphia Marathon in 2013 with my wife. PR’s are great but I think I get more out of the ‘fun’ of racing and the achievements than just times alone. Yes, I trainined hard and achieved my goal but in perspective I look back more fondly on the ‘experience’ than the time. I didn’t think that would always be the case. I’m kind of glad it is.
Anyway, would I recommend this race? Yes. Would I go and do it again? Maybe but only if I was running with my wife or a buddy. There are plenty of other races on my wish list and I have had two great experiences running here. I think it is one to consider at this time of the year and the race director and his team do a fantastic job of running this event. It’s a nice day at the beach.
Thank you for reading 🙂