Well, I was hoping to write and post this a few hours after last Sunday’s (April 28) New Jersey Marathon, but I caught my 4-year-old son’s cold about three-quarters of the way through the race and I just didn’t feel up to it until today.
First things first…I finished the race in 5:00:26. That’s much better than my 2017 NJ Marathon finish of 5:14:25 (which was my first-ever marathon) and a little better than my 5:01:29 finish in the 2018 Philadelphia Marathon last November. But it was still a tick over nine minutes more than my personal-best marathon time of 4:51:22 set at the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon.
I really didn’t have a goal for this year’s New Jersey Marathon. I suffered a non-running-related herniated disk in mid-August 2018 that I worsened during Labor Day weekend to the point where it was nearly impossible to sleep, let alone stand up or walk. So that limited me to just one 16-mile long run prior to the Philadelphia Marathon last November, which was frustrating.
Then, as I was preparing for my long runs to train for the New Jersey Marathon, I started feeling a pain in my right hip during a five-mile run in early March. That wound up being diagnosed as trochanteric bursitis, which sidelined me for close to a month. Once again, I was limited to just one 16-mile long run before the New Jersey Marathon — and that came with less than a week to go before the race, which should be “taper time.”
With these injuries during back-to-back marathon training cycles, it’s probably an accomplishment that I made it to the starting line, let alone the finish, in both of these races. Still, coming so close to finishing in under 5 hours at Philly and in last Sunday’s race — and failing to do so — is just as frustrating as the injuries.
Sunday’s experience was made even more frustrating by two critical mistakes I made in the final 2.2 miles. But, first, a few positives…
Last Sunday marked the first time in four tries that I have ever run through the first 21 miles of a marathon. Granted, miles 17-21 were at an extremely slow pace…but it was running. I didn’t actually start walking until I hit the mile-21 marker. Even then, I only walked about three-quarters of a mile before I went back into a slow jog through mile 24.
Also, part of my strategy was to at least cover the first 16 miles in three hours. I wound up running a little over 17 miles in that time, something I had not done in over a year. That gave me two hours to cover the final 9.2 miles if I wanted to finish in under five hours.
Of course, this is where things went a bit south. Once I got through the first three hours of running, I decided I felt good enough to run through mile 21. I decided right there that I would walk a bit when I reached that point. My left calf and hamstring felt a little tight and my right hip (the one I hurt during training) was a little uncomfortable. I figured I would give my legs and hip a rest for a mile and start running slowly again.
But I started feeling better at about 21 3/4 miles so I started running slowly again a little ahead of plan. I continued at this pace for the next two miles. As I approached mile 24, I went back and forth in my head if I should pick up the pace at that point for the final 2.2 miles or hold off until mile 25. I decided to go for it at mile 24 and soon realized that was a big mistake. A half-mile later, I pulled back and started walking again. I thought that burst at 24 would still keep me on pace to finish in under 5 hours, but when I hit mile 25 the race app gave me an estimated finish time of a few seconds over 5 hours.
I picked up the pace again and was feeling strong. I was about a half-mile from the finish line and thought I had done enough to get in under 5:00:00. But about 3/10th of a mile from the finish, there is a turn onto a narrow pathway to get back onto the Long Branch, N.J., boardwalk for the home stretch. And, of course, as I get there going as hard as I could at that point, some bigger dude is right in the middle of the path going at a much slower pace. Maybe I was too polite, but I decided to wait it out and stayed behind him until we hit the boards. But I have to tell you, that 30-foot stretch felt like it took forever to clear. I was finally able to pass him on the boardwalk, but I couldn’t get back into the same gear I had been in until I got into the chute before the finish line.
My initial finish time was 5:00:08 before being revised up to 5:00:26, so the estimated finish time the app had been telling me was apparently misleading me all along. Still, that way-too-early push at mile 24 and my decision not to pass a slower runner in the final 3/10th of a mile probably cost me a sub-5:00:00 finish. And, really, if I had been able to get in a couple more long training runs, I likely would have set a PR.
After the race, I decided I’m probably going to pass on any marathons over the next year or two. I have some fitness goals I would like to reach first. Maybe at that point, I’ll revisit 26.2-mile races.
Next up is Sunday’s Broad Street Run in Philadelphia. Yep…for the second time in three years, I’m running a 10-mile race the week after a marathon. Two years ago, I PR’d at Broad Street with a 1:27:03 finish the week after running my first-ever marathon. Hopefully, I can do it again.
However, it appears I’ll be running in rain with temps in the 50s for a second straight Sunday. Actually, it only rained lightly at times during last Sunday’s New Jersey Marathon. Current guidance has light-to-moderate rain — with some isolated heavier rain at times — falling throughout the entire Broad Street Run. So, yeah…fun times!
A few random thoughts on the 2019 New Jersey Marathon:
- When I ran this race in 2017, I was shocked at the traffic at 6 a.m. on Route 36 between Eatontown and Oceanport (the race starts at Monmouth Park there) as runners made their way to the parking lot — and that was even with police directing cars to make a direct left turn on Route 36 toward the start area instead of having them use the jughandle. I spent about an hour in that traffic jam two years ago and wound up peeing against a tree because there was no time to wait for a porta-john. This year, I went the back way to the parking lot and reduced my traffic time to 15 minutes…leaving me plenty of time to use the proper facilities and get to my start corral stress-free.
- About two miles into the race, I hear Donna Lewis’ 1996 hit “I Love You Always Forever” emanating from another runner next to me. I never start conversations with runners during races. Actually, I generally never start conversations, period. But, to me, this was the most random thing ever so I turned to her and said, “I have to say, I totally did not expect to hear Donna Lewis this morning.” She said that she came across the song while putting her race playlist together and decided to add it. I then shocked her when I let her know that I actually saw Donna Lewis live when she played the first Riverfest at then-Mercer County Waterfront Park in Trenton, N.J., back in 1996 or ’97.
- Many signs that spectators hold up for runners have a variation of “Touch Here for Power” messages with some kind of target on it. Well, at least one guy on the course was holding a blow-up Donald Trump doll with a sign saying “Punch Trump.” Well, I hit the shit out of that thing and you know what? It actually did pump me up for a good half-mile.
- So the narrow walkway that cost me a few seconds with 3/10th of a mile to go? Well, I really don’t understand why the course is set up like that. If you look at the picture below, there is a much wider path (green line) just a few feet beyond the narrow path (red line) that also bypasses restrooms on the boardwalk, which also makes the course a bit narrow in that spot. Why not just send the runners along the green line into the final stretch along the boardwalk? It might mean moving the finish line a few feet, but it wouldn’t be a major shift. So weird.