This recap starts the Wednesday before race day, when my poor husband came down with a killer stomach bug. 24 hours later he was still sick and I was running out of germ-free places to sleep, so I made myself a nest on the floor in the back bedroom and got a miserable few hours of sleep on Thursday night, which left me groggy with a pounding headache on Friday. So I took a half day and sought refuge and a nap at my mom’s house.
Later that afternoon I went home for a few hours to take care of hubby and cleaned the house from top to bottom, did 4 loads of laundry and bedding, finalized my race day gear and ate my usual night-before sushi, before packing up a bag and – at the urging of my still-sick hubby – going back to my parents’ house to get the rest I needed to be in top running form on Saturday morning.
Flat Jess was ready!
But the damage must have already been done, because after 8 hours sandwiched between my parents’ over-affectionate cat and some lopsided pillows, I woke up Saturday with an upset stomach and lead-filled legs, feeling no better than the day before. Nevertheless, I drove back home for my pre-race breakfast/coffee/clothing routine and found the weather to be nearly perfect, bordering on hot: full sun, with a high of almost 80!
I wasn’t convinced, and still created an attractive garbage bag ensemble to wear at the start if it was chilly by the water:
Spoiler Alert: it was NOT necessary.
Because Mike was still so sick, this was also going to be my first solo half, which was kind of weird. I wasn’t worried though – I’d made the trip by myself countless times before so it felt just like any other training run. So after singing along to some music on the ride down (a fun benefit of driving alone), I arrived a little later than anticipated and made a beeline to meet up with some fellow Skirt Sports Ambassadors – what up, Kim & Darlene!
Shortly after that, I needed a bathroom, stat. I chalked it up to pre-race nerves, but in hindsight I realize that nearly missing the starting gun because I was in the bathroom for so long probably should have been my first sign that something was up. I just barely made it to my spot before the national anthem finished and the gun went off, and as soon as I crossed the starting line I could tell I was off my game.
Almost immediately my right calf/ankle started to burn and cramp slightly like it did last fall, and my legs were super heavy. I focused on keeping my form in check and told myself to just enjoy the scenery and ride it out. We coasted down Cookman Ave. past the hipster brunch joints and people hanging out of their windows cheering us on and at Mile 1, we turned back to head down Ocean Ave for Mile 2, then rallied on through Mile 3 to cross the lake and make our way into Deal. The pain in my right calf was getting angrier, the sun was getting much warmer than anticipated, and worst of all: my stomach started to gurgle again. Urgently.
So I sucked it up (literally, sorry), and powered through the next few miles, watching the speedier folks pass us going back towards Asbury. I was grateful that I had decided to carry a little water bottle (after last year’s water fiasco, I learned my damn lesson) and sipped every mile or so. At Mile 4.5 I took some gummy bears because I was feeling depleted already, probably from the stomach issues I’d experienced that morning. I just felt… hollow. My form was a mess, too: my shoulders were hunched, my back was sore, and trying to hold myself upright took more effort than I had energy. On top of all that, my entire body was rigid from – for lack of a better term – holding my stomach together. It was bad.
After a nice long walk through the water stop/turnaround in Deal at mile 6ish, I was feeling mildly better so I spent the next mile slowly picking off people that I’d been clustered with at the back of the pack. But even with this little burst of energy, I only managed to bring my average mile time down to around 12:50 by mile 7. I was aiming for that average pace the whole time and knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain it feeling like I did. That was when I realized that a PR might not be in the cards.
Back onto the boards we went, where I chatted with a fellow runner – after a well-meaning race volunteer cheered us on with “They saved the best for last, you guys!”, we laughed because she probably didn’t mean that to be as negative as it came out! Then I got another little burst of energy as I ran through the crowds and passed the finish line – I forgot that my name was on my bib, and hearing people yell “Go Jessica!” was really encouraging, even if they were total strangers!
Now get ready for storytime, because something especially entertaining happened at this point in the race:
In college, I had this one professor that all the girls liked. A wavy-haired, poetry-spouting, regulation hottie. Let’s call him Professor Smith. He and I had a great student/professor relationship, and I credit him with my love of creative writing – he was truly a great mentor. We went our separate ways when I graduated in 2005 and that was that.
Jump Cut to Mile 8.5 of this God-forsaken race, where I’m sweating and cramping, in desperate need of a bathroom, when who do I see on the sidelines cheering and clapping with a big smile on his face? None other than Mr. Wavy-Haired-Poetry-Spouting Professor Smith himself, looking absolutely no different from the last day I laid eyes on him at graduation 10 years ago. I thought I was hallucinating. Before I could even stop them, the words came tumbling out of my mouth, loud and clear as a bell: “PROFESSOR SMITH?!” I think I even did one of those big-eyed cartoon double-takes.
To his credit, this guy took one look at me, broke into a huge smile, and started running alongside me. “Hey there!” he shouted as we ran. I didn’t even know how to process what was happening. I blurted out, “There is absolutely no way you remember me, I was 100 lbs heavier, you taught me in 2001!” I held my hand out to kind of wave him off, thinking “Why did I say your name? I am at my absolute worst right now, just nod and wave and let me die in peace!” – but instead of taking the wave as a goodbye, he grabbed my hand as he ran and said “I remember your face but I can’t think of your name!”
I’m sure this is his standard response – I was one student among hundreds, if not thousands. Because when I said my name, he broke into a grin, “YES! Bey Hall, right?!” And that’s when I died a little inside: Not Bey. Our classes were in Wilson. But when you’re dying of dysentery at mile 9 and your hot ex-college professor is holding your hand and running with you, you just go with it. “YES!” I shouted, finishing the sentence in my head with “anything that will get you to stop running with me right now!”
Satisfied, he nodded and I peeled away from him, waving him off with a thumbs up as he shouted, “I knew it! You’ve got this, have a great run!” Finally I was free to process what had just happened. I went about another quarter of a mile before laughing in absolute disbelief that something so utterly random could happen, and took it as a sign – even if it wasn’t going to be my best race, it’d be a memorable one!
That brings us back to the boards in Bradley Beach at mile 9-ish. While I was feeling extremely ill, these boards had one benefit: this was my turf, yo! I had logged countless miles on these boards in the past month and knew where to expect every turn, every change in the boards, and most importantly… every bathroom! I gratefully cruised into the first one I found at mile 9.5, and had slight relief. But as it tends to be when you’re sick, the relief was short-lived, and less than a half mile later I was cramping and stopped again at Mile 10.
This is where the wheels really fell off the wagon. Once I stepped out of potty break #2, I took a Gu and made the turnaround at mile 10-ish for the final 2.5 back to the finish, where I passed a particularly gnarly sewer. The smell caused my already queasy stomach to turn, and I lost all of the gummy bears, water, and Gu I had in my system in a bush near the sidewalk. Yuck.
It was a badge of honor, I thought, to get sick during a race – I thought it was something that only super hardcore folks experienced. But I guess when you’ve got a touch of the stomach flu, anything goes. Either way, after I rinsed my mouth out, mile 11 was pretty solid until another wave of nausea hit me around 12. I didn’t get full-on sick though, so I trudged through the final mile, ran through the shade of the casino building and into the finisher’s chute. The people that stuck around were super supportive and gave me the final boost I needed, clapping and yelling my name as I ran it in. My cousin Heather had even volunteered and snapped some pics of me as I neared the finish – I may have flipped her the bird in a few of them, but she did manage to get this one:
This is one relieved runner.
I glanced up at the time and saw 2:58 and change – good. As long as I was under 3 I’d call it a win, even though the race was anything but successful. I was just grateful for it to be over! Once I crossed the finish line a volunteer handed me my medal and I wandered over to the first bench I found, where I melted into the wood. Heather found me there a few minutes later, and we took a selfie (of course):
…and a ladybug came to chill with us on the bench for a while, too:
(just like last year, when a ladybug landed on me after the race!)
She kept me company when I picked up my shirt at the Expo in Convention Hall, sat with me a little longer while I waited to see if I’d need the bathroom again before my drive home, and soon we called it a day.
All in all, it wasn’t the race I was hoping for – I’m bummed that I didn’t get the PR I was planning on, especially with the solid training runs I had these past few weeks – but sometimes life happens. You get sick. You don’t rest or fuel properly. You make mistakes. But it’s OK. That’s why running is so great: there’s always a next time, right?
I remember in that last mile being SO GLAD the race was almost over and that I had no more races planned at all. I told myself I’d be happy never to pin on another bib again. But do you want to know what I did all on my lunch break today? Browsed the local running club calendars for my next race 🙂