Monday, May 13, 2013

Long Branch Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 9th Edition 
1 mile skied, 34 miles biked and 115.5 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Long Branch Half Marathon
Place: Long Branch, NJ
Miles from home: 2918 miles
Weather: 50s; Intermittent rain and wind

Marathons have recently received more coverage than usual in the national media. Sometimes it is because of something nice and fun that happens within the race itself.  Other times the attention garnered is because a participant is famous or has done something remarkable. Locally, marathons receive more attention for more homegrown reasons: the community is celebrating the anniversary of something the marathon recognizes or something akin to that. However, with probably close to 600 marathons in North America alone, marathoners have to realize that their finish isn’t exactly the “wow!” it once was.

But some events are so bad that they capture the nation.  Just last month it was the bombings in Boston. Last fall it was the storm named Sandy hitting NYC. A lesser-known side effect of Sandy was the devastation it left on the New Jersey shoreline. That destruction left much of the course for the New Jersey Marathon and Long Branch Half Marathon either underwater, washed away or ripped up.  Even though the storm hit in October and this race would take place in May, there were many questions about how the race would respond. Let me tell you right now it responded splendidly.

The expo for the race was held at the Monmouth Race Park- an interesting but fun venue for a runner’s expo.  This venue would also serve as the starting point for all the races making for a very different starting gun, but I will get to that in a minute.

The race was having its first ever speaker’s exposition and I was very happy to be part of that.  Working with my watch partner, Timex, I spent the two days of the expo either speaking to people or listening to their own inspiring stories.  Weight loss, overcoming the loss of loved ones, simply desiring to better their lives – I can attest that these stories never get old. I defy anyone to attend an expo and not come out feeling better about humanity.

Demonstrating the new Timex Run Trainer 2.0 (which I will be reviewing soon) I was also asked the usual questions about how to eat, train, sleep, floss, juggle, balance the budget and crochet.  Let’s just say runners are thorough. Some had seen my previous posting about how I had contracted MRSA in my foot and made me feel loved to inquire about it.  The answer was the same: I was out of the bear’s den but not out of the woods just yet. As far as I was concerned, I still had the foot attached to my body, so I was one up on
others who were not so lucky with such a bad infection.

After two long but exciting days of expoing, I threw down $20 on Frac Daddy to win the Kentucky Derby.  I mean, we were at a horse park-what else could I do? (I didn't win a dime but I heard Tom Brady won like $25,000.  It's good because that poor fella needs something to go right for him in his life.) Then I trudged off to the hotel. Weary from a red-eye flight, participating in the National Championship Duathlon race a week prior and, well, life. But the next day we would Run to Restore the Shore and I wanted to give my all.

Race Morning:

My hotel was placed in a nice position from the starting line, just .7 of a mile away.  This allowed me to simply walk to the race start in the morning avoiding any potential traffic or parking snarls. As I saw streams of cars in slow motion heading in my direction from the minute I woke up and looked out my window, I knew this had been the right decision. Granted, if I did not want to wait a few hours for the shuttles back to the start, I would have to run the 2.5 miles from the finish line back to my hotel, but I was OK with that. Let's call it a forced cool down.

I spent the last few minutes before race time simply staying warm within the Monmouth Park facility which was open to runners. There was a heavier than normal police presence given the events at Boston. But other than being aware that they were there, the men in blue made none feel uneasy and helped us all feel much more safe, even if in reality the safety may have just been imagined. (I say this only to point out the nearly impossible task of trying to patrol a 26.2 mile course, not to downplay the efforts of the police or the marathon organizers. In fact, the sooner we go back to normal, the better.)

After a rousing National Anthem, and a show of solidarity with Boston by signing "Sweet Caroline", the runners began to get ready for the task ahead of them. Nearly perfect weather awaited us with temps in the 50s, mostly cloudy weather and low humidity.  This is the kind of weather I wish I was ready to race in. Fortunately, while knowing I wasn’t ready to push it, I was still on the start line. Called to the start by a bugler (it is a race park!) each wave of runners was sent off thirty seconds apart by Reveille. That’s a pretty neat touch.

First 3 miles: 6:27, 6:40, 6:44

When people say a course is flat, I guess that all depends on one’s perspective. To me, the races here are not flat. They are not hilly either but I guess I am just exact. Having run a marathon on a track, I know flat. The first few miles of this race had just enough undulation to remind you that you aren’t on said track. When I hit the first mile, my ideas of hoping to potentially go around 1:25 for this race were out the door.  This mile took more out of me than a 6:27 should have.  I know there were still 12.1 miles to contend with and I rarely warm up until the fifth mile but it was time to re-evaluate my goals. I figured, let’s slow it down about ten seconds per mile and see what that gets us in the energy department.

After making a loop and returning just a block away from where we started, runners would then go through one of the many neighboring towns. Called the Long Branch Half Marathon, the towns of Oceanport and Monmouth Beach were also represented, even if just for a few hundred yards here and there.  Suffice it to say was a race of many towns and great sights. Although I have always said, if a marathon or a half ran right in front of my house, I would be out there in force cheering on runners and don't understand those who don't.

To the 10k: 6:48, 6:45, 6:51

The course contained its fair share of right angle turns and while they never particularly bother me, I seem to do much better on the longer straights. What was nice about this particular section of turns was being able to see my good friend G.P Pearlberg who had a few of his athletes running. As I passed G.P he threw out some tough language and ribbing which made me laugh but apparently offended the early Sunday morning sensibilities of some in the crowd. Given his British accent I am sure he was able to coo them back into thinking he was a nice guy in no time.

For me, I felt my time creeping up with each mile and I didn’t feel like there was much I could do about it.  I had very little pep in my step. I was thankful for the cooler temperature and the cloudy weather. While there were windy portions to contend with, I was happy the cross breeze was so refreshing. Even in the 50s, I am a sweat machine. I just wanted to hold on as long as I could.

I also noticed not after too long I was now in a no man’s land of runners. Most of those in the first corral had either sped ahead or had fallen back. I was running solo – which I actually prefer.  Whether I don't like someone drafting off of me, don't wannt to draft off of others, or simply like to be in my own world, I am not sure.  But there is something about running solo that has always spoke to me.

Onward to Mile 10: 6:58, 6:48, 6:46, 6:56

I don’t know if it was my first mile approaching 7 minutes that spurred me on or the fact that I finally had a long straightaway to run but after a 6:58 I was able to finally bring the next two miles back down into the 6:40s. I didn’t even feel particularly spry in doing so but was pleasantly surprised when I hit the mile markers.  I did know that in spite of feeling a little slower, I was picking up the pace as I was reeling in runners in front of me.  Of course, there is always the chance I was maintaining speed and they were just slowing but it felt like a little of both. And that felt good.

If memory serves me right, some of the sections in these miles were new for runners, per the changes post-Sandy. At no point were there a large amount of spectators on the course but I can say that there were a few virtually every mile. Also, someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to put out tons of inspiration and/or funny signs on the course.  As you can imagine, I have seen or heard most of these before. However, many on this course were either quotations I had not heard in quite some time or never at all.  Some were rather funny. All were appreciated.

Some turns around the 10th mile slowed me a bit as I readied myself for the last 5k. If you read my post about Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, you can imagine I simply told myself that I just had a hair over two LPs to go.

To the Finish: 6:43, 7:13, 6:59, :41

I was feeling good and thought that potentially if I could bust out some fantastic last miles I might get a 1:27.  Given how good I was feeling all of a sudden, I thought it was possible. I used the 10th mile as warm-up and when it was a 6:43, I felt fantastic. I began to pick up the pace when one female runner began running next to me and together we started knocking off runner after runner. It was to my large surprise when in spite of this surge, I not only did not run somewhere in the 6:30 range like it felt but was way over 7 minutes. Hmm, I thought.  Mile markers are not certified so perhaps this was just a little askew and when I hit the 13th mile the discrepancy would be made up for in spades. 

By now we were running right along the beach, with the boardwalk under our feet.  The occasional breeze that had hit runners here and there was in full force here, just yards away from the ocean. I could feel the wind trying to slow me down but I continued to push. One good thing about being a 180lb runner is wind doesn’t move you as easily as it does some of the thinner runners. I felt in spite of this added difficulty, I would show both the course and the weather who was the real boss (It is not Springsteen.)

But as we ran along, I could see the time passing far too quickly and the finish line approaching far too slowly. The flags of shops and homes were billowing in the wind. The beach was eerily silent, as it was far too early in the season for beachgoers to be sunbathing. I was now running all by myself again with no more runners in sight to pass and seemingly no significant time goal to try to get under. I figured there was nothing to do but continue to give it everything I had and push forward.

Striving to the end, I was a little disappointed to see the clock switch over to 1:29. Then again, I don’t think I have seen a clock and not be a little disappointed with what it tells me.  As I talk about in my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss, the clock is always ticking upward and always faster than we want it.  I crossed under the finish banner in a time of 1:29:21 good enough for just out of the top 50.

I stayed around for a bit to cheer on a few friends –some old and some new.  Not long after I was asked to join a local running club on a small cool down run. As it was heading back toward my hotel, I happily obliged. We chatted for a bit and shared the warm camaraderie that only people who have laid themselves bare on a race course can share. Even though we had all run wildly different times we understood each other’s experiences.

I took from this weekend that even though the majority of my infection seems to be gone, the resulting loss of fitness is still not where I would want it to be.  So I have to revise some of my goals and make a few more races into training runs. While that is not ideal, I keep looking at the bright side of things. I still do get to run.


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