Get ready for the full recap of the Long Branch Half Marathon from this past Sunday! In case you don’t want to read my full report, the punch line is that I ran a personal best of 1:56:10 (official time is 1 second faster than what I thought originally); 8:52 min/mile pace. Not only was my time over 5 minutes faster than my original record from last March in the NYC Half Marathon, it was also sub-2 hours which is what I had been aiming for over a year! This time in Sunday’s race placed me 68/408 in my age group (top 83%), 435/2,470 for all females (top 82%), and 1,115/4,058 overall (top 73%).
Now on to the full recap…
Race week: There were definitely a number of things that if I had the chance at do over, I would not have done or wish didn’t happen. First, the one I could not completely control was the issue with my eyes. Second was the amount of time I spent at work and not in my final taper week training. While this may not have affected my race performance, I will never know and it made me very uneasy all week. Finally, I received a couple pairs of shoes from my mom that she wasn’t wearing anymore because of discomfort and of course brilliant me decided it would be a smart idea to wear them to work on Thursday and Friday leading up the weekend. By Friday night, the muscles on the side of my calves felt sore.
Expo/hotel/dinner: Josh and I drove down to Monmouth Park after my friend’s baby shower on Saturday. I made it with 30 minutes to spare, 5:30 for a 6:00 closing time. Even though we arrived later than last year to the expo (when I ran the full marathon), I did notice that parking seemed to be easier and that the crowds were very thin. I quickly ran inside picked up my bib, t-shirt, and we were even able to buy the pre-pay parking pass for race morning for $5. We tried buying it online on Friday night but it was no longer available, so we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to at the expo. The plan for race day was to run the race, and then go back to the hotel to shower and come back to the finish to watch my cousin, Margaret finish the full. However, after asking a number of people at the expo, I was getting mixed feedback so we decided it would be best to check out of the hotel before the start of the race and just change in the car afterwards. Right before leaving the expo, I saw a pacer holding the 1:55 flag so I went up to speak with her a little bit about her (Cristella) race strategy. I have never raced with a pace group, I’ve only followed them in the shadows but figured it was worth learning more about her plan. Cristella mentioned that she was planning on running the first 3 miles conservatively at 9 min/mile pace and then speed it up. She also said that she was planning on running through the water stops but obviously we shouldn’t. I really liked her and her game plan, so I was planning on meeting up with the group in the back of corral B on race morning. The only disappointment at the expo this year was that it looked like the shoe donation booth was no longer there when we arrived. They must have closed up early but the NJ Marathon expo is the only place that I’ve found to take running shoe donations. It’s a shame that I came back from the weekend with my old sneakers.
We checked into the hotel, Courtyard Lincroft Red Bank immediately after the expo, which was one of the recommended hotels. It is about 6 miles from the start but a 15 minute drive on local roads. Last year when I ran the full, I stayed with my parents, which is about 30-45 minutes away, but the start time was later, 8:00AM versus a 6:45AM start for the half so we figured that this year it would make sense to stay closer to the start. The hotel was fine, no frills really but we weren’t looking for anything special. We searched for local places for a quick bite. My criteria were pasta and pizza but nothing fancy since I was in sweatshirt and sneakers. Thank you to Yelp and OpenTable; I don’t know what people did before apps and smart phones! We stumbled across Gianni’s Pizzeria only because all of the other places had no reservations available or were too fancy. Gianni’s was the only place that had availability on OpenTable but also good reviews. Ironically, Gianni’s was an upscale pizzeria (in a good way) where you ordered from the counter and had exactly what I needed for my pre-race dinner – pizza and bowl of pasta with chicken that Josh and I split. We were in and out there quickly and made it back to the hotel room for me to prep for the morning, foam roll, and watch some TV before bed.
Race morning/race/post-race: My friend, Heather was also staying at the same hotel, so we made plans to meet up in the lobby and head over to the start together. Thank goodness for her because the conversation really helped calm my nerves. I barely ate before heading out of the hotel but between that and the car ride over to the start, I managed to eat half a banana and a quarter of a bagel. We left the hotel by 5:45 and were parked by 6:05. The traffic and parking were much more organized than last year. I wonder if that is were the parking costs are going. We sat in the car for another 10 minutes or so to stay warm before heading over to the corrals and bag check. Race morning was in the mid-40s with a slight breeze. It was colder than I was expecting so last minute I decided to run with my trusty Lululemon long sleeve shirt under my Alzheimer’s singlet, Athleta shorts, my pink Zensah compression sleeves, Feetures padded wool socks, and Saucony Rides. I left my jackets with my bag check for after the race.
With a couple minutes until 6:45, I made it to Corral B and was in the back of that wave. I eventually spotted the signs for the 1:55 pace group. They were a couple hundred meters in front of me. I knew that I wanted to keep them in my sights but had no other goals for the race than to run comfortably. I had a little catching up to do keep the 1:55 flag in sight and that was likely the start of running this race against every rule in the book. When I looked back on my splits, my fastest mile was 8:23 and it was the very first mile. Every mile from there until mile 10 was around 8:30-8:45. At some points during the race, I would catch up the pace group and then I would fall back again. It made trying to stop at the water stations that much tougher. I started eating the Jelly Belly Sports Beans around mile 3 but only one at a time. At the every other water station starting around mile 4, I tried to take a sip of something but never really more than that until after mile 9.
Up until mile 9, I was running a comfortably uncomfortable race. I was struggling to keep up with the pace group, started getting a side stitch, and was counting down the miles. By the time I saw Josh around 9.5 miles, I was beat and still had over a 5K left to go. I had a rough idea that even if I ran 10 minute miles from then until the finish, there would still be a really good chance I could PR and that was what held it together for me. I could not rid myself of the cramping and the last 3 miles of the race felt like the longest 3 miles ever (maybe except for during the NYC Marathon). They felt like I was going at snail’s pace but turned out to be around 9:00-9:15 even with some actual stops for water.
I had originally asked Josh to be closer to the finish line so he could take a picture of the clock when I was crossing it, however, when I saw him about 400 meters from the finish, I could not be happier. Even though he blended in with the crowd in his black jacket and blue Stevens hat, I spotted him much earlier on. As soon as I passed him, I knew I had to sprint, whatever that means when you’re already tired, into the finish line.
I thought that I started the race a little over 2 minutes in but it turns out I started sooner than that. The clock on the finish line showed 1:57:XX and my watch showed 1:56:12. I was excited to receive my medal but all I could think about was water (I was clearly dehydrated). I saw the two 1:55 pacers and thanked Cristella for pushing me and helping me achieve my PR.
After the race, I met up with Josh and Heather when she finished. We hung out for a little bit until her parents arrived. She did amazing for the lack of training and pain she was still experiencing in her leg. Her plan was to run/walk the race but still finished in amazing time. Josh and I eventually met up with my cousin-in-law, Drew who was bearing bagels for us (the one I had was much better than the one from the morning). We went back to the start for me to quickly change in the car (I hope no one was peeking!) and took the shuttle back to the finish to catch Margaret. While we were waiting, we saw the awards for the top 3 male and female marathon finishers (seems like I will need to run with pigtails or French braids if I want to win!). It was pretty neat spectating the end of the marathon and watching Margaret finish her 10thmarathon!
Lessons Learned: I definitely ran this race all wrong. I was supposed to start conservatively and likely trying to stay as close to the 1:55 pace group was my down fall but also my savior. I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard if it had not been for the pace group. I didn’t hydrate well on the course; I somehow always have this problem. I eventually got pretty hot in my long sleeves and probably could have gotten away with just my singlet but I am a wimp for the cold. It’s hard to say if my eyes and sore calves affected my performance but they definitely didn’t help. The parts of the course that were directly in the sun made it tough to really see and my glasses kept fogging up from the sweat.
Overall, I am pleased with how I ran as well as my training. I could have run a more consistent race but that’s okay because now I know I can run a sub-2 hour marathon and that the training worked. I also know that I can train hard for a race by myself. I am always worried that I wouldn’t push myself if I wasn’t training with a team but now I know I can. And finally, I know that I can now relax (and reverse taper) for the next 2.5 weeks until the Brooklyn Half, not worry about keeping up with my speed work, and just enjoy the crazy travels we’ll be on until then (more to come on this).
If you read all the way here, I applaud you for reading my long-winded race recap. It likely took me longer to write this than to run the race.
What is your next race?
What do you do to rest yet still run between half marathons or marathons that are only a couple weeks apart?