1:31:13. 2:23 PR. New York City Marathon Qualifier.
In my usual fashion, I signed up for this race 1 day in advance. That tends to be when I do best. I’ve been doing the training since mid-January, and had logged 700 year to date miles leading up to NJ, so it wasn’t that crazy of a spur of the moment decision.
Despite the lack of taper (53 miles the week before ), I was feeling good enough, the weather was perfect, my friends were there and even though it runs a smidge long, it’s a GREAT course. And, unlike bigger races, you get to self-seed which meant I could line up with the pacer I needed versus dodging people.
Before races I’m usually anti-social. Joe and I usually get our own hotel and do our own pre-race dinner. For New Jersey we stayed in a beach house with 15 people, went to the expo with a packed car, did our shake out run with half a dozen people and loaded up a couple of cars to go eat dinner. Way outside my pre-race norm.
Why didn’t I do this every time? Before some races, it’s nice to have my own headspace but it’s also really nice to have friends there.
Saturday morning we slept in hung out a bit before doing our shakeout then headed to the expo. It was a smaller expo which was good since I usually walk around them and I was needing to save my feet and legs any extra expenditures. They had an area with free printed photos of you with your bib and race magnets. A+ on this one, New Jersey. The expo was on the beach and it was tempting to go walk around but we had a lot to get done before dinner and I needed to save my feet.
I dropped Joe off to finish his run then headed to the grocery store. This time around I tried a different diet strategy, lots of nuts, olives, beets and hummus leading up to the race. I read a Runner’s World article about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet on performance. I love these foods so it was a nice excuse to eat them!
Pre-race, I never, never, never share my goals. Usually Joe might know (not always – last marathon he didn’t even know I was training for one), but otherwise I keep them to myself. I even shut down my Strava or at least hide my workouts in the few weeks before a race. I have a lot of doubts about what I’ll be able to do and I’m one of the least confident people out there. But no one, literally no one, cares if I fail at my goal and no one is going to laugh at me for trying – we’ve all failed before.
Before dinner I went outside to enjoy the nice ocean air and had a really good conversation with one of my friends who asked what my goals were, I decided I didn’t care and I would just be honest, “I want to qualify for New York”. I said it several times. Something about saying it out loud was a relief. I knew I could it, I had practiced that pace, over and over and over. I memorized it and learned to feel comfortable with it.
Finding a spot for dinner was tough. Most places didn’t take reservations and we had a group of 10. Thankfully after a few phone calls we found a great place and I had my usually pre-race pasta.
After dinner I hung out downstairs for a bit. Massaging my achy calves and getting in a few last minute carbs, aka more beets.
Around 10 I laid out my flat runner and went to bed. Knowing I wouldn’t sleep much, I spent some time scrolling through Instagram looking at puppies, something mindless and happy to help me sleep.
I got around 4 hours of sleep before the race and woke up at 5 AM, ready to go. Joe, who should win a Nobel Peace Prize for this, also woke up at 5 AM and went downstairs to make me coffee.
Most of the house was awake at this time and downstairs eating breakfast, stretching and having coffee. I went with my usual clif bar and coffee breakfast and packed a bagel to munch on for the ride there.
We got to the race a little late and I ended up having to cut a guy off in the port-a-potty line (sorry – but I can’t pee in a bush as easily!) then dashed to my corral with a couple of minutes to spare. I lined up with the 3:05 marathon pacer to ensure I wouldn’t go out too fast as the next one down was the 1:30 half and 3:00 marathon. I saw a couple of my friends, we took a pre-race selfie then I pushed them ahead of me and I plugged in.
Since NJ is a mostly flat course (a few little bunny hills in the beginning, if you could even call it that) and I’m a very consistent metronome I decided even splits with surges where I felt good was the way to go. I started a bit ahead of the 3:05 group and got caught up a little bit with the faster people but quickly realized this and was able to back off. I felt great up until mile 5 when I had a strong urge to back off the pace, this was due to my stomach (AGAIN). At mile 6 I was not feeling hot and started scanning for a port-a-potty. I spotted one at the just right time and darted off to it. Absolute perfect timing. I was in and out in 38 seconds. A second best for me.
By this point the 3:05 group had passed me but was in sight and I knew I would see Joe soon which was enough excitement to push me a little faster. I spent this mile and the next slowly reeling them in. Shortly after my stop I saw Joe, then my friends about a quarter of a mile later.
I was starting to gain on the pace group but felt like I was struggling. I’m new to racing so that struggle feeling is uncomfortable and I end up backing off quickly unless I’m sufficiently distracted. Something I’m learning to do less of.
Once we were up the last hill I caught to them. I stayed with the pack for a bit not wanting to waste energy passing them just yet.
I took my first bit of “fuel” here. I opted to use honey stinger chews so I could just have one little piece at a time and not a whole gel full of sugar. These also taste fantastic so I “rewarded” myself every so often with one for keeping up the pace. I ended up eating about 5 total of these the whole race, not quite a serving and I was a bit hungry toward the end of the race.
Around mile 8 I broke off from the group. I was still feeling pretty decent here and knowing I only had about 35 minutes to go and that I’d be seeing Joe again very soon made this part go by quickly. Since I had broken off from the group I started looking for people to catch up to and run with for a bit. I still ended up running mostly alone but this helped mentally.
Just before mile 10 I missed Joe, but thanks to affinity for neon race attire, he spotted me easily and was able to snap some great shots. I saw my friends again which made me happy. Once I hit 10, I looked at my watch and allowed myself to start somewhat doing race math. But concentrating on my form and pace plus doing math was too much so I decided to just run instead.
The turn around was near, we went from a downtown area to a residential one and I saw the signs for the half split off and relay. There was a massive group cheering near the relay swap and this was quite a boost! As we turned off from the marathoners the group really thinned out. This was around mile 11. It was just me and a couple other around me. I focused on catching people and running hard. Mile 12 was a lot of headwind but thankfully it was short lived and at the end of the race were I was more focused. These mile were undoubtedly the strongest part of the race for me.
Once I hit mile 12, I knew I was in the home stretch – I had told myself earlier I could slow down at mile 11 (where I started to feel tired and hungry) and still hit my goal but adrenaline took over. I chased down everyone I could and didn’t even think about looking at my watch. I don’t remember what music was playing or even what I was thinking. When we hit the last stretch of the race, it was time to fly – I let myself push it as hard as I could. I did this a little early but seeing Joe again gave me that last little boost to fly to the finish and in the process complete the Strava last mile challenge.
The second I crossed the finish line and scooped up some pretzels (I was super hungry), I texted Joe and my mom then found a cozy little spot on the grass. About a minute later I received a text from Nike about their new racing shoes – it’s like they knew – perfect timing but I was unable to scoop up a pair (also $275 for racing shoes is insane). Once I met up with Joe I took my shoes off and we walked back to the car where I changed then then went back out to the finish area to cheer for our friends doing the marathon.
I’m still over the moon excited to see my hard work pay off. I spend an average of 8-11 hours in the gym or running each week and its not easy to always find or carve out the time. At the beginning of the year, I said my goal was to work hard for the love of the grind. That still holds true.
If you’re still with me, here’s a more technical break down of the race starting with splits:
What went right:
- Mental attitude – I felt calm, prepared and no pressure going into this race. I was excited and just overall felt good. Being with a great group prior to the race was key.
- Preparation – I had done a lot of races recently leading up to this one. Running hard in that type of environment prepared me well. Specifically the Cherry Blossom race where I ran the exact same pace for 10 miles and felt like I could have kept going. It was a perfect “training” run
- Pre-race fueling – I never felt full or bloated and I felt really well hydrated. I drank nuun all day long a couple of days before. The morning of I had a clif bar when I woke up and ate about half a plain bagel in the care ride there
- Pre-race recovery and stretching – we all spent a TON of time hanging out downstairs, during which I spent of a lot of time massaging and stretching problem areas. This made me feel so much fresher.
- Factors outside of my control – the weather cooperated, the race was cool enough to not overheat but I did lose a lot of fluids
What could have been better:
- GI pain – I’m altering my diet a bit more now and trying Imodium for races in hopes that it will keep certain things at bay. 38 seconds is a LOT of time in a race.
- Race fueling – I didn’t have the packet of gummies ready to go and fumbled with it a good amount. This cost me about 10-15 seconds and a bit of frustration. I also likely needed a gel because I was actually hungry during the race.
- Timing – We should have left earlier, I just assumed there would be more port-a-potties since I heard that there were a ton last year. I was a bit nervous in the line and had to be a jerk so I could pee pre-race. Next time I’ll bring a heat sheet so I can squat in a corner.
- Pace – I could have pushed harder in the beginning. I didn’t know this at the time but seeing how the end of the race played out – I had a little more to give.
- Taper – No fault of my own here, I didn’t taper at all for this because I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to race, but I think it would have been beneficial.