A few months ago, Hollie talked me into coming down to New Jersey to visit and run this race. Actually “talked me into” makes it sound like a lot of effort on her behalf- I’m pretty sure all it took was one Facebook post. But I digress.
Originally I intended to shoot for about a 1:40 at this race, but after a handful of decent workouts in the past few weeks, I started to wonder if I was in slightly better shape. Due to that, and to the fact that my fall racing plans impact my plan of making Buffalo my goal race (more on that later), I went into this race thinking that I would race it all out and let the chips fall where they may.
I was trying to be enthusiastic, but due to poor logistics at the expo and realizing that the half started way earlier than I thought it did, I was sort of stumbling around Hollie’s house like a zombie. I finally pulled myself together, procured a cup of coffee, and we all hit the road. On the way there, I distinctly remember telling Laura that my main mission would be to find a porta-potty (foreshadowing! wee, fun!). I also felt myself starting to get hungry, and ate half of a Picky Bar I found in my car (more foreshadowing! such fun!).
We got somewhat close to the race start at Monmouth Park and then boom! Huge line of cars. The volunteers at the expo had warned about this, and I honestly thought we left early enough to avoid the traffic but apparently we underestimated just how bad the congestion would be. By the time we were able to park and I pinned my bib on, it was 6:30am – leaving only 15 minutes until the start of the race.
Let me spare you the agonizing details and just say that I had a choice to make: stay in line, use the bathroom, and fight through the hordes of walkers or get my butt to my corral and find out how long I could run before an emergency situation popped up. I chose the corral.
As soon as the gun went off for the wheelchair start, I realized I didn’t have my Gu. Typically this wouldn’t have been a deal breaker, but I woke up so full from the night before that I didn’t eat a real breakfast. As I mentioned above, I did have half a Picky but I didn’t trust that could fuel me through a PR half marathon attempt.
I stood there waiting for my corral to be released and realized that having to poop and facing the almost certain bonk that was waiting at mile 10ish was probably not going to make for the best race ever. I decided to run by feel and not force the pace.
I started just behind the 1:40 pace group and tried to hang with them for the first two miles. I felt like I was working too hard to keep that pace. I told myself, it’s just not your day. Hang tough for as long as you can, and readjust your goal to 1:41-1:42.
The only thing I remember from this section of the race is the mental struggle to stay positive. I kept my head down and did my own thing, not looking at my Garmin, and just tried to enjoy myself. I got ahead of the 1:40 group at some point here, and thought about how funny it would be when they swallowed me back up later in the race.
At this point, I caught up to a handful of girls and one guy who was cracking the cheesiest jokes as loud as he could. I stayed with him for a mile or two and honestly – he was the biggest difference in my mental game. I was laughing out loud and joking back with him. It was genuinely fun, and for once, my race photos actually reflect that I might actually like this silly running thing.
I eventually broke away from the funny guy and realized that I wasn’t feeling nearly as bad as I thought I would. My lead-legs were gone, and my stomach – thought a bit uncomfortable – was not entirely revolting. I was still worried about my lack of fuel, and was disappointed to have not seen gels being handed out on the course. I told myself to keep ignoring the Garmin and keep the pace steady.
I think it was around mile 11 where I saw the best cheerleaders! I was so totally in a zone at this point that when spectators started popping up with more frequency on the course, it didn’t really phase me. All of a sudden though, I thought I heard a familiar voice – and sure enough, Laura and Danielle! I was so happy to see them; I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to see anyone out on the course because the rushed start led to somewhat uncertain logistics.
Seeing the girls put a spring in my step, all the way until the final turn onto the boardwalk.
At this point, it felt like you should be almost done, but my watch only read 11.8 miles. The wind – although not terrible at around 12MPH – was now a direct headwind. For some reason, I was still afraid I was going to bonk and told myself to just stay in the comfortable pace zone. I think I was mostly just traumatized from previous terrible boardwalk finishes at races in Virginia Beach.
When I passed the mile 12 marker, I finally had the guts to look at my watch. That was the first point I realized that I was close to a PR. I was having a hard time figuring out how that was possible, but I knew with only a little over a mile left, it was time to push.
When I finally saw the finish line, I knew it was going to be close, and I just tried to sprint as hard as I could. Unfortunately, I came up a little short.
My “aw crap” moment only lasted for about a second. Even though I was 20 seconds shy of a PR, I honestly never expected to have this kind of race on that day. I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off even if everything went smoothly pre-race, and obviously, not everything did. To have run by feel for the majority of the race, while having fun, and turn in my second fastest half ever? I’ll call that a success any day of the week.