I ran a half marathon this morning, my first since my PR race back in May. Unlike any of my previous efforts at this distance, this wasn’t a planned race. Rather it was a spur of the moment decision on my part to enter this race when I heard about it a week ago. The truth is that I had originally planned to run the 18 Mile Marathon Tune-Up Race today in Central Park as part of marathon training but given the opportunity to travel out-of-town to race a shorter and more familiar distance on a pancake flat course, especially on my gimpy knees and ankles, the offer was really too good to pass up.
So that’s how it came to be that I ended up in Jersey City this morning, after a fistful night of sleep (not sure why) and without much preparation in terms of nutrition/hydration (my fault entirely) at 8:30AM prepared to run a half marathon with a couple of usual Flyer suspects (BS and BH). Given the warm temps (70s at start) and high humidity (we’re in the midst of a tropical storm weekend in the tri-state area) with the possibility of rain in the forecast, I really wasn’t sure what to expect in this race. I was willing to not set the bar too high for this one as it has been almost five months since I last ran a half-marathon and it was too much to ask for my rash of injuries to completely hold off for an hour and a half. Still, I was willing to just let my body dictate the pace and just be satisfied with whatever time I happen to end up with (which hopefully will be less than 1:30!)
The race began somewhat auspiciously as there was no chip mat and no banner or flag delineating the actual start line. We were told to stand and wait in front of the Marriott Hotel and the next thing we know, the starting horn sounded, and we were off! I basically just followed the crowd as it exited the town square and onto the roads. Luckily for me, I was somewhat close to the front and thus was able to establish a good pace right off the bat. Actually, my body must have forgotten how to pace a half-marathon as I found myself running faster than my 10K pace for the first two miles (, respectively). I gradually decreased my speed until I found a comfortably hard pace that I felt I could carry for the middle miles of this race. The plan worked well as I was able to carry a pace for the next four miles and pace for the three miles after that. Talk about consistent pacing. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed with myself for maintaining such a steady pace for much of this race. In fact, I was doing so well that I was on a sub-PR pace for this race up until through mile 10.
For those, like me, who thought this would be an easy PR course, let me assure you it was anything but. For starters there was the dreary weather which left hazardous puddles all over the course. Then there was the wide assortment of terrain we had to confront every few miles: from cobblestone to unpaved roads, from grassy fields to asphalt. Finally, there was the myriad of turns that we had to contend with throughout the course. At times, I felt as if were little mice being led through a maze of city streets as drawn out by the race directors.
Fortunately for me, starting from somewhere around the third mile, when I was still figuring out what my race speed should
Aside from this unexpected treasure, the first 9 miles of the race was rather mundane. There was no crowd support (not that I was expecting any on a dreary Sunday morning), there was not much city scenery to be seen as the whole morning was foggy and dreary, and the course were at parts unpaved and treacherous, so you had to really pay close attention to the road in front of you. But despite all that, I was pretty excited through the first 2/3 of the race to be running comfortably, without pain, and with an outside chance at a PR.
At mile 10, my hopes for a great race were suddenly dashed as I felt the first drops of rain roll down my face. Pretty soon after, the road began to swell with water, my shoes/socks became wet, and I found myself slowing down and flapping around as if I was dressed in a wet suit preparing for a dive. A couple of runners, including my lady “rabbit” friend, retook their positions in front of me as I struggled to keep up. After passing mile 10 at a disappointing , I managed to hold off the demons temporary as we passed single-file through a ferry terminal and a marina. My “rabbit” had opened a bit of a gap on me and I was doing all I can just to hold on to my pace for the final stretch. Mile 11 was passed in as we made the turn at the end of the marina to head back to the town center.
What I found after making that turn could only be described as cruel and unusual punishment. Ordinarily, the mild ascension up a half-mile long and gradual hill would hardly be worth mentioning, but given that a steady rain was falling and I could feel my toes starting to blister from the wet shoes and socks and the fact that the road was so unpaved and uneven it felt as I was running on metal spikes, the mismatch of circumstances became more than overwhelming for me. At that point in the race, I was too physically drained to put forth a resistance as I watched some more runners past me by. With each step, the uneven footing on the wet and soggy ground was causing my ankle to recoil with pain. It took forever () for me to make it through this mile and over through the transition back onto paved asphalt. I literally had nothing left as I raced through the last 1.1 on fumes to finish with a final gun time of .
After the race, I kept my promise, found my “rabbit”, and congratulated her on a fantastic race. She accepted my thanks sheepishly and remarked that my persistence in keeping a strong pace behind her propelled her to run her best race ever. Nice. I felt so good afterwards that I high-fived and congratulated some of the guys who finished in the same pack as I did. Overall, although I faltered in the last 3 miles and didn’t get the PR that I was hoping for, I had a positive experience at this race and learned a great deal about race pacing.