In the immortal words of Jerry Garcia: what a long, strange trip it’s been! If you’ve missed my long-winded race reports, you’re in luck! I’M BACK.
If you’ve been following along over the last few months, you know I’ve been training for the New Jersey Marathon. You know that I was pretty much crushing it in training…and you also know that my back went out on me completely at the beginning of April. I’ve been very quiet on the blog and on social media, but not because I’m trying to be vague or even because I’ve been too busy to post. I simply did not know what to say. I spent almost 2.5 weeks unable to run at all, but then started to notice improvement. I managed a pain-free 10 miler the weekend before the marathon, but if I’m being honest, I felt horribly out of shape. The few runs I did squeak in before the marathon were a struggle, and I felt like even if my back did hold up, I’d probably be miserable during the race. The thing about back problems is that you can be completely fine one day and then unable to move the next – and vice versa. I hesitated to say whether I was having a good day or a bad day because I knew the next day could be different, and it often was. In short, that left me with absolutely no idea what I would be doing on race day.
Race morning dawned a bit rainy as we made our way to the starting line at Monmouth Park. We sat in the car for a bit until the rain stopped and then made our way to the porta potty lines. I didn’t have time to use the bathroom before the start, and that ended up being a major problem. My stomach is always very…overactive when I run, so I take Immodium before any long run, and I thought it would be fine, but it was not. We’ll get to that. Anyway, Bobbi and I had discussed our pacing strategy the night before and we wanted to be in the 10:15-10:30 range for each mile, including water stops. While I did most of my long runs in the 9:45-10:00 range, I had to be realistic about the fact that I had not been able to train consistently for most of April and I would quickly flame out if we tried anything like that. We were in corral 5 and I was shocked by the number of people that surrounded us at the start and most of the race! There are about 6,000 people between the marathon, half marathon, and relay.
I was very interested to see how I would feel in the opening miles. I had run a terrible 5 miles early in the week, but luckily, I felt fresh and excited. I kept my eye out for bathrooms, and although there were plenty (at every water stop, so about every mile or so), they all had lines. The early part of the course winds through some cute middle class neighborhoods that had spectators out cheering – including my friend Peggy! I had no idea she would be out there, so that was a really fun surprise. My friends Carol and Tracey were also behind me on the course and said hi! We also encountered a guy who was breathing/grunting like he was about to collapse…starting at mile 1. Loud breathers always make me really anxious for some reason. Bobbi and I kept trying to get away from him (he was fine, just loud breather – we’re not heartless), and this game kept us very busy. Before I knew it, it was time to bust out my Honey Stinger chews at mile 6. I still hadn’t found a bathroom yet.
Eventually, the bathroom situation became unavoidable and I knew I had to stop at the next one regardless of the line. Fortunately, I lucked out and found some porta potties that were somewhat hidden behind the course medics, and I hopped right in! Never have I been so glad to see an ambulance. The course started heading south around mile 7, which essentially starts the lonnnnng out and back portion of the race. Interesting fact: I absolutely despise out-and-backs. While they can be fun briefly to let you see and cheer for people, I find them super challenging, especially in the later miles of a race when you’re starting to hurt. The turnaround would not be until mile 18.5 (eek!) and I was very nervous about that, but I tried not to get too far ahead of myself. First, I needed to make a decision about which race I’d even be running!
The half marathon split off from the marathon at mile 11, and I knew I had a big decision to make. I was feeling really good, but was I feeling good enough to run another 15.2 miles? I honestly did not know the answer to that question. I hadn’t run more than 14 miles in 6 weeks, since my 20 miler! I wish I could say I felt really confident in my choice, but I didn’t. I was hoping for the best. However, I just knew that I had more in me that day than the half marathon.
So we kept going, gaping at all of the gigantic homes along the beach. Where do those people work, honestly? Are they all producers on Jersey Shore or Real Housewives of New Jersey? Surely they do not commute into NYC. Are they second homes? Who cleans them? I have so many questions.
I made another bathroom stop somewhere around 16, waiting only very briefly. We were at a great spot on the course with lots of faster runners coming by in the opposite direction. I really wanted to spot my friend (and sorority sister – we’re from the same chapter!) Susan, who was gunning for a 3:30. I managed to see her right as I was coming out of the bathroom, which worked out perfectly! The course took us through Asbury Park and along the boardwalk for brief stretches. I wasn’t totally sure how running on the boardwalk would be, but I think the race does this portion of the course really well. You’re never on it for long enough to get uncomfortable with the texture/footing, but you get enough of it to feel like you get the experience of running on the boardwalk. Plus, it’s pretty sweet to see the ocean right next to you!
I still can’t believe I’m saying this, but it felt like we got to the turn around in record time. Seriously, the “out” section of the course flew by, which never happens for me. As we passed mile 19, I realized that I was feeling just as good, if not better, than I had during my 20 miler. This whole time, I had no idea what pace we were actually running because I had forgotten to put on my Garmin that morning! I trusted Bobbi to keep track of it, and she just told me we were doing great. We continued chatting and hopped back onto the boardwalk for a bit. There was an occasional headwind that gave me a very very very small glimpse of what people experienced in Boston a few weeks ago. If you completed that race, you’re a rockstar, because wind sucks!
Anyway, shortly after mile 21, I started to kind of panic. Since my stomach surgery many years ago, I have a really hard time burping (and am physically incapable of throwing up), and it made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. This happens sometimes, but between that, my stomach cramping again, and just the mental knowledge of 5 more miles/50 more minutes, I suddenly felt really overwhelmed. I took a slightly longer walk break at the next water stop, took some deep breaths, and told Bobbi I needed to collect myself but that I would be fine. “Ok,” she said. “But we’re NOT letting the 4:35 pace group pass us.”
Each mile, I struggled with thinking “Only 4 more miles to go!” and then immediately thinking “OMG THAT IS 40 MORE MINUTES!” Even 10 more minutes of running sounds like too many when you’re tired! But really, I wasn’t that tired. Objectively, I knew I could keep up my pace, and I knew I could keep pushing, so I did. It never really occurred to me to stop or even to slow down, but that doesn’t mean I was entirely happy. Is anyone really entirely happy at mile 23 of a marathon? No. I made one more emergency bathroom stop. At mile 24, we hit the water station and Bobbi said “Last water station! We’re at 24, I doubt there will be anymore.” My eyes shot her daggers but my mouth said something that sounded like “Ok,” even though I knew damn well that I would in fact be stopping if there did turn out to be another water station. There was! Hooray! I won. Honestly, I think we walked through it for 10 seconds max, but it helped me mentally reset. I said “I can keep doing what we’re doing, but I can’t go any faster.” So, that’s exactly what we did until about 25.5, keeping the 4:35 pace group behind us the whole time. Then, it was go time! We picked up the pace and passed a lot of people who were walking, and even a bunch on the long stretch of boardwalk down to the finish. I gave it my best and we “sprinted” in!
That’s a 4:20 post-back surgery PR. It’s my 4th fastest marathon ever (although still 21 minutes off my “real” PR). The best part of this race isn’t my time, though. It may not have been the absolute best I ever felt during a marathon, but it was very close to the top of the list. Of course the last few miles were tough, but it’s a marathon! They’re supposed to be! My back never hurt, even for a second, and I never even felt all that tired. I think we paced the race perfectly. Without the 3 bathroom stops, we would have been under 4:30. That’s insane! I also got to meet Ali at the finish line, and she was exactly as wonderful as I expected her to be. Go listen to her podcasts – they’re the best (and not just because she interviewed me last fall).
If you had asked me a week before the race if this outcome was possible, I would have laughed in your face. It makes me wonder what I could have done if I had been able to finish my training. I’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter. All I know is that I majorly lucked out with a back that somehow cooperated, an unbelievably perfect day weather-wise, a fantastic course, and the best friend and running partner a girl could ask for.
LEAVE A COMMENT: Now taking suggestions for a Spring 2019 marathon! (Sorry, T-Rex Mom)