It was my third half marathon at Long Branch. I've chosen this race thrice because it is a well-organized, mid-size race, a flat, fast course and is within 50 miles of where I live.
wandered about for a while (a pretty small expo for a race this size), hoping to run into Abby and Joy. I did see Abby, just as I was about to leave. It was so nice to meet her. We spoke briefly and she invited me to line up with her and her friends at the 3:40 pace group. I was a bit hesitant but agreed...I thought I might be more comfortable in 3:50, but I was not running the marathon, so even if I could not hold the pace, I could always slow down.
Back home, I had a hodge-podge dinner of leftovers (I have got to stock the refrigerator, food disappears so fast!) and went to bed at 8 (I don't think I've ever slept this early before), determined not to repeat last year's mistake of not getting enough sleep before the race.
Race day started at 3:30 am. I had a banana, and as DH drove, sipped cardamom tea and munched on a slice of multigrain bread smeared with hazelnut spread (I absolutely love this spread!). We planned to get to the Monmouth Park Racetrack by 5:15, which we did. When we arrived, it was raining slightly. There was plenty of parking, but we were told (after 45 minutes of waiting) that the shuttles (that were supposed to start by 5 am) had been delayed. The first shuttles did not start arriving till 6:30, so there were hundreds of us waiting in line, getting wet and mildly annoyed (running marathons must build a degree of tolerance into us, because an hour of waiting in the rain could make the average human very cranky). Standing in line and watching daylight slowly creep in, I made the firm decision that the next time I returned to this race, it would be to run the marathon, not the half-marathon.
Once we boarded the shuttles and got going, we realized our drivers had no clue where they were going. Our driver spoke on her walkie-talkie with the other equally clueless drivers, then looked helplessly at us for directions. We pooled all resources, and managed to direct the drivers somewhere near the starting point, with no further drama. Hmm...strike well-organized off my list!
There was a half hour delay at the start, so after lining up, runners kept leaving the start to use the porta potties (lots of those, by the way). I didn't feel like squeezing myself through the crowd to get to the 3:40 pace group, so I stayed where I was, by the 4:00 pace group. Announcements were made (all of which were lost in the wind), the national anthem was sung, and we took off (or the people ahead of me took off; I didn't really start running until two minutes later). There were 9000 people running the marathon, half-marathon and marathon relay.
I quickly lost sight of all the pacers, so I ran my own race. I completed the first mile in 8:15 but was not too concerned. I was sure this pace could not be sustained, but I could slow down any time. I did something unusual throughout this race: At every aid station, a spurt of energy would go through me, I would lengthen my stride and pick up the pace a little; then after a few 100 yards, I would slow down and maintain the pace. The awesome crowd who had shown up to volunteer and spectate had the same effect on me. Who does not love cheering crowds? Mile 1: 8:15
Mile 2: 7:45
Mile 3: 8:00
The slight drizzle seemed to be helping my pace, by cooling me down. It was not the perfect weather for spectating, however; and sadly, the marathoners were caught in the downpour later on.
Mile 4: 7:58
Mile 5: 8:05
After 5 miles, watching the first relay transition, I accepted and settled into breathing harder and striding longer; and what seemed like an unsustainable pace at the start, became easier. I was still sure I would need to slow down within the next couple of miles, as I wanted to avoid the medical tent at all costs.
Mile 6: 8:07
Mile 7: 8:02
Though the chip was firmly tied to my shoelaces, I kept feeling that it was not secure. I even slowed down twice to look down and make sure it had not fallen off.
Mile 8: 7:52 - a surge of energy, thanks to a packet of chocolate GU
I don't have any race rituals, but I do have one superstition: I don't celebrate victory till I complete a race, because I believe that somehow, something will go horribly wrong. I'm sure you know what I mean. But, by the 8-mile mark, I broke tradition and allowed myself to believe that a PR was in sight. I mean, I could slow down to 9 minute miles and still beat last year's time. And the energy from the GU was amazing. For more than a mile, I was doing intervals followed by a slightly slower pace.
Mile 9: 8:01
Mile 10: 7:58
I was practically singing. I knew I had more fuel in the tank and I might even be able to manage a sprint at the finish. The amazing thing was, my hips and knees, which usually hurt by this point in a race, were fully cooperating. It must be all the spinning and BodyWorks classes at the gym.
With only 3 miles to go, I stepped up the pace just a tad, and settled into reflection mode. I am usually too busy wrapping up the race at Mile 13.
First races are always special. But as you learn from previous successes and mistakes and emerge stronger, you cherish later experiences that arise out of the learning even more.
I was doing well, despite not training specifically for this race. My goal race this year, if I can keep myself injury-free, will be a marathon in fall. With absolutely no speed work in my training, a PR was only a slim possibility. What I did better this time around has been the focus on cross-training and strength training, consistent and increasing mileage (including long runs), running with the group most Saturdays (that always pushed me to run faster; thank you RVRR!), 6-8 hours of sleep every day for atleast a week before the race and serious carb-loading. Finally, losing my job added fuel to the fire.
Mile 11: 7:58
Mile 12: 7:57
Someone called out that we were on a 3:30 marathon pace (obviously, that was meant for the marathon runners, but it felt so good to hear that!). Having run this course twice before, I knew the boardwalk would soon be in sight. The boardwalk brings out the best in me; it's the home stretch.
I did not notice the pace for Mile 13, but the last 0.1 nubbin was an all-out sprint.
Mile 13 + 0.1: 8:19
I crossed the finish in 1:45:47. A 7+ minute PR.
And I got to keep the chip.
Gun Time: 1:45:49 (463/4634 overall); Pace: 8:04:3
Chip Time: 1:44:41 (446/4634 overall); Pace: 7:59