NJ Half Marathon Recap: A 15 Minute PR!

Spoiler Alert: I ran the NJ Half Marathon on Sunday, and I PR’d by 15 minutes!!It was honestly the best half I’ve ever run, even in pouring rain and chilly temperatures. Let’s jump right in!

The weekend of the race was crazy busy: my dad’s birthday Friday, my friend Tina’s bridal shower Saturday, and race day Sunday. To keep myself sane, I took off on Friday and headed down to the expo to get my bib (and Tina’s bib too, she was racing despite having her shower the day before!).


I’m used to expos being insanity, but at 2PM on a Friday, it was perfect. The process was a little disjointed: walk to a table for your bib, then another table for shirts, and another table for pre-paid parking tickets. But because it was so empty I can’t really complain, I didn’t wait more than 5 minutes at each area, and was able to relax, meet the pace team, and talk shop with other runners with no pressure.


The following day I went to Tina’s shower, came home, cooked myself my new pre-race go-to dinner of grilled chicken and pasta in light tomato sauce. After laying out my outfit & relaxing with some coloring and a Melissa McCarthy movie, I headed to bed at 9PM.


My eyes opened up at 3:27 entirely on their own before my 3:30 alarm, and I was ready to go. One cup of coffee, one banana, and two pieces of bread with a bit of peanut butter later, we headed out at 4:45. The race morning weather reports didn’t look promising: much like the Atlantic City April Fool’s 11K, the forecast called for rain, the only question being how much. After picking up Tina and heading to the start at Monmouth Racetrack, I was grateful we had a warm building to hang out in (even if they closed all bathrooms but one, leaving a HUGE line). There we met up with Meredith who had decided to race as well, and the runner girls hung out while the guys hung back and caught up on their own 🙂


We waited on line for the bathroom to kill time, but by the time we got to the door a half hour later we had to go again! This worked out great though – we got out at 7:20, leaving us just enough time to head out into the cold mist and into the corrals where I almost let my nerves get the best of me. I had talked up this race to anyone who would listen to me, and I set a big goal for myself by publicly aiming for a new PR. The cold and the rain made me start to doubt myself, even with all the extra training I’d done.


You are looking into the eyes of a woman who wants to run.” Run back to the car where it’s warm and dry and she doesn’t have to run 13 miles.

It’s funny how karma works though, because right before getting behind the gate and being left along with my frayed nerves, my local running friend Tracy spotted me and gave me the best good luck hug ever! She was such a trooper coming out in the pouring rain to cheer us on – it meant a lot to see her, especially just when I was getting so nervous!

Back in Corral J (as usual, near the end), I spotted pacers for a 12:45 half marathon and a 12:24 full marathon. Initially I’d planned on going with the 12:45 pacer for the first 10 miles and saving myself for a final 5K kick, but having never run with a pacer before I was afraid that if I lost them at a water stop or fuel break, I’d never catch back up. So I decided at the last minute instead to run by feel at around 12:00-12:30 just like I’d done in training, and if I had to pick up the 12:45 pacer towards the end, they’d be there.

After a quick selfie, a good luck hug and kiss from Mike, and 17 minutes of waiting while the faster corrals took off, Corral J hit the start and we were off! The mist turned into a light rain as we rounded the parking lot and went up a slight hill to enter the little towns we’d be running most of the course through.


Miles 1-4ish felt good – a little warm, a little fast at 11:24-11:45, but good. At mile 3 I actually told myself, “Too fast!” after checking my watch. I’d done one 10 miler at 11:39 per mile ONCE, but could I pull it off again on race day? I got my answer at mile 5 when I felt my watch beep and thought it was only mile 4.

For the majority of the race I took in the crowds of runners around me and got all the high fives I could from the spectators. Seriously – every other house had some kind of race action going on. My friend Dan (above)  was cheering on his girlfriend Michelle and gave me the strongest high five EVER at around mile 5.5! Other folks brought out their lawn furniture and umbrellas to sit and cheer, while others set up tables filled with water bottles or orange slices.

Even though they had official aid stations every 1.5 miles or so (which I grabbed water from without stopping every time), my rain-proof layer had me overheating and I felt paste-mouth creeping up after my mile 5 gel. As if on cue, we passed a house who had left a case of 36 water bottles on their front lawn. The best! I grabbed a bottle and it became my good luck charm until mile 12.


I’m glad I got a picture with my lucky bottle 🙂

At the halfway point, I still felt good but had a brief flash of anxiety: “I have to repeat what I’ve already done? There’s no way I’m going to feel this good much longer. Impossible.” And again – as if on cue – we passed a stretch of spectators who’d set up posters with inspirational quotes. One from the Matrix was just what I needed to see at that stretch:

“What are you waiting for? You’re faster than this. Don’t think you are, know you are.” – Morpheus

As I passed that sign I read it out loud to myself. I repeated it twice: You’re faster than this, Jess. Don’t think it. KNOW IT. And just like that, my legs felt fresher and I attacked the second half of the race with renewed energy… just as the skies opened up and it began to POUR!

Seriously, those last 7 miles were in basically a downpour. But we motored on! I grabbed an orange slice at one house, thanking the woman and her daughter who were standing in the pouring rain cutting oranges and cheering us on. At what I thought was mile 8 I told myself “5 more miles, not bad!” – then I brushed the rain off my watch and realized it said Mile 9, and I laughed again: I seriously didn’t notice another mile go by!

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No one deserves to be this happy at mile 12 of a half marathon in the rain.

I took my second gel, and for the next 3 miles we wound through downtown Long Branch past some shops and headed for the boardwalk. At this point I was deliriously happy. No, really: at mile 11 Shake, Senora came on my iPod and I started singing and run-dancing, getting some WEIRD looks from the folks I passed. #sorrynotsorry I’m feeling better than you, sir!

By the time we got to the boardwalk at mile 12 I was practically bursting – my watch’s average pace of 11:45 meant I was well on my way to beat 2:50. With about a half mile to go, Formation came on my iPod and I floored it. I felt like I’d just started Mile 1, weaving around people left and right, the finish line in sight.


PRs aren’t pretty.

I passed my squad all standing at the sideline in the pouring rain, screaming my name, and waved with a deranged smile as I glanced at my watch just before the finish: I was going to cross at 2:35!


And that’s exactly what I did, throwing my arms up in the air and completely breaking down in tears. Final Time: 2:35:13, avg. pace of 11:51/mile.

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The best part: I ran the second half FASTER than the first!


According to my Garmin the course was long, so my watch time is much better too. But either way, I ran a 15 minute PR in the pouring rain, and I felt like a million bucks.


I met up with everyone past the finish line, crying my eyes out, and had the best hugs and celebration I can ever remember having!

After some thought, I think this race felt so easy for a handful of reasons:

  1. It was a new (to me) course so I was seeing everything for the first time, which took my mind off the fact that I was running 13 miles in the pouring rain.
  2. It was a bigger race AND I was running 1:00+ faster per mile so I was surrounded by more people, making me feel less isolated than I usually do at the back of the pack.
  3. I created an entirely new running playlist with music I hadn’t run with before.
  4. Lastly – and most importantly – I put in a LOT of hard work! I didn’t take any time off after my last half and kept up my endurance with shorter distance races throughout the winter (the Joe K 10K in January, the Gridiron 4 Miler in February). Because I was already running 6+ miles when my “official” training started, I was able to work up to double digit runs faster and run more of them too. 5 long runs of 2+ hours (instead of the usual 2) massively improved my confidence in being able to cover the distance without bonking.

I won’t lie: four days later I’m still flying high on this one. And it didn’t stop on race day: I came in to work Monday to find a tiny little PR cake that my friend had customized with my shiny new finish time in icing!


It’s safe to say this is my new favorite race, and barring any conflicts I will definitely be running this one again next year (hopefully in better conditions)! To everyone who cheered me on virtually here or even out on the course, THANK YOU! Your support has been a huge motivation for me, and I can’t thank you all enough. Even though most of us have never met in real life, knowing that you’re out there rooting for me fuels me to push harder in my training and leave it all on the pavement, and this race was no exception. Cheers to an amazing race – and all the great things I have yet to accomplish thanks to running!

Happy ACL-aversary!

This week marks 3 years since I broke up with my old busted left knee ACL (thanks to the work of my amazingly talented, trust-him-with-my-life doctor, Todd Ryan) and started a new, healthier relationship with a piece of my own patellar tendon in its place.


This was 3 weeks post-op. You don’t want to see it right after.

That’s right – 1/29 marks three years since I went under the knife to reconstruct my torn left ACL with my own tendon graft after twisting wrong out of a water stop during the Atlantic City Half Marathon in 2012.

That first year was tough, and I still don’t have perfect knees (what runner does?), but I’m grateful every day for that surgery and what it taught me.

I get asked a lot about the surgery and recovery, so in honor of my ACL-aversary, here’s a look back at my surgery journey through blog posts:

This doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a start. And as always, hit the comments with any questions or stories of your own – I love it all!

What’s On Your Calendar?

2016 is fast approaching, and with it comes a new chance to fill up the weekends with races and long training runs – one of my favorite parts of the new year! I’ve already started building my race calendar, and while I’m still waiting to hear about a few races (helllloooo, NYC Half Marathon lottery??), I’ve managed to come up with quite a list so far:

  1. NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K  – I’ve unofficially (er, “officially”, now that I’ve said it here??) decided to enter the 2017 NYC Marathon via NYRR’s 9+1 Program by running 9 races and volunteering at one throughout 2016. The Joe K 10K is my first of 9 and while I’ve done Central Park a few times, I’ve never been in what’s probably going to be about 15 degree weather!
  2. NYRR Gridiron 4Miler – This is another “hey why not?” race that I’m adding to my calendar for something different to do in the throes of a tri-state winter, and to add to my 9+1 for the year.
  3. Atlantic City April Fools 11K – After getting serious runner envy when I see everyone running these races every year, I finally decided to sign up for my first 11K ever. Auto PR anyone? And because I’m not doing the AC Half this year,
  4. NJ Half Marathon – This is going to be my major goal race of the spring. Instead of running the Asbury Park Half like I’ve done for 2 years now, I’m finally doing this one instead. Just like the AC Races, I always get runner envy seeing people at this race and it usually falls the day or week after Asbury, making it impossible for me to participate. But this year I switched things up and it’s going to happen!
  5. NYC Triathlon – Holy crap, THE New York City Triathlon, enough said.

There are also some tentative races I’ve got in the pipeline, depending on budget, lotteries, and/or if I’m able to coerce others into joining my hair-brained schemes:

  1. The NYC Half Marathon – This is dependent on the lottery drawing next week. While I’d love to run this one again, I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t get it. It’s a lot for me to race two halves in one season, and it’ll clear up a lot of training time in February and March for me to run other smaller races for fun instead.
  2. The Asbury Park 5K OR Marathon Relay – Because I’m not doing the half here this year, I can’t NOT run in Asbury. It’s my favorite place to run in the world. I’ll definitely do the 5k, but if I can convince a few other people, I’d love to do the marathon relay! Any takers? 😉
  3. The Runners World Half Marathon – This would be my ultimate goal race for the fall of 2016, but I’m not pulling the trigger yet, ONLY because I’m not sure if I want to go for the full monty and register for the whole weekend’s worth of races and do the 5k, 10k, hotel and everything, or if I’m just going to head into town for the race on the day. Budgets and timing will help me decide later on – either way, excited for this one!
  4. NYRR Central Park Spring Classic 10K – This all depends on if I get into the NYC Half, which is scheduled for the weekend before. Not sure if I’d be ready to race a 10K a week after a half, but stranger things have happened.

What does your 2016 Racing Calendar look like? Do you have any plans yet or are you waiting like me?

Five Things That Happen During Every Race

If you’ve ever run a race, chances are you’ve experienced some of the standard race-day highs and lows that most runners can relate to: the bliss of a clean port-a-potty, the agony of missing a PR, that tingly-all-over feeling upon seeing the finish line…

But what about the things that no one really talks about? Those things that happen during a race more often than we care to admit? I’ve run my fair share of 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, and everything in between, and there are some things that have happened so consistently that I’m sharing them now: the five things that happen during every race.

1. The Faster Person


Listen: we’re all running our own race. I get that. The only person you’re competing against is yourself and all that jazz. But it’s only natural to feel that surge of anger and adrenaline when someone who’s been pacing you for the last 5 miles suddenly sprints past you triumphantly in the final mile.

faster 2

It’s even more infuriating and ego-crushing when that person is wearing a giant banana costume. Or is dribbling basketballs. Or wearing a Tom Brady mask and juggling deflated footballs. Not that I know from experience.

2. The Bathroom Fake-Out

We’ve all been there. I don’t care how well-trained your colon might be. Even the most seasoned runner knows that bubbling, burning feeling that can only mean one thing:


(and if you say you don’t, you’re lying.)

It always seems to hit at like mile 3 of a half marathon that you aim to PR in. But the worst part is when you sprint to the nearest port-a-potty for emergency relief…

bathroom 2

Only to have nothing happen. Nothing!! I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened to me. The intense pressure just seems to build and build with every step, but once I’m finally in a safe place, the urge just disappears as quickly as it hit. I think Kramer called that “missing the window“?


3. Running Regret

This tends to happen later in a race. The endorphins of a strong start have worn off, you’re long past the last aid station and you’ve still got the final few miles staring you in the face and a blister the size of Texas growing on your big toe. That’s when you say to yourself: “Never again.”

regret 2

Even in a good race, this fleeting moment of regret is enough to make me seriously reconsider my own sanity. I paid to do this? To wake up at 4AM on my day off, drive an hour, stand in the cold with a bunch of people I know are faster than me, then run for 3 hours? That’s it. I’m retiring from racing and booking myself a rubber room to roll around in for the rest of my life.


Bonus Points for knowing what movie this is from.

Until I cross that finish line and the taste of victory is so, so sweet, then I’m all like, “When’s the next one??”

4. Mental Math

math 2

You know exactly what I mean. “OK, so if I keep this 10:55 pace for the next 3 miles I’ll be at an 11:15/mile pace, but can I crank it up for the final 3 mile stretch? 3 miles is from my house to the park and back, that’s not so bad. But really I have 6 miles so it’s double that. That sucks. OK, 6 miles, that’s one loop around town, maybe that’s not so bad.”

Similarly, there’s the phenomenon (please tell me I’m not alone) where the mid-race mania causes all math knowledge to fly out of your brain. Like when my friend once met me at mile 6 of a half marathon and asked me how I was doing as she ran alongside me. “Not bad,” I shouted, “Only 4 more miles, I’m feeling good!”

math 1

She just patted me on the back and sent me on my way with, “It’s more like 7, but you’ve got this!”

I cried for the whole next mile.

5. The Single-Serve Friend

This could just be a back-of-the-packer experience, but I’m putting it on this list. In every race, I tend to make at least one single-serving friend. The “Hi new Bestie, I love your running skirt! OMG how did we never know each other before this moment? OK I’m heading off now so take care, bye-bye forever” friend.

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These are the folks that you meet in the starting corral, or out at mile 5, or in the final mile when you’re both hurting and walking and experiencing the regret I just talked about up there.

Case in point: in my last half marathon, I made a single serving friend with an elderly gentleman who had been pacing me from pretty much mile 6. Instead of feeling anger when he would shoot out ahead of me, I’d use it as fuel and pick up my pace slightly to catch him. Finally, after 6 miles of that as I passed him in the final turn, he caught up to me and thanked me for pushing him the whole race. I had no idea – I thought he’d been doing the same for me! I thanked HIM and we laughed and ran for a quarter mile together, and then I continued on my way. Sure, they’re “friends” in the most basic sense of the word, but Single Serving Friends are sometimes just what you need out there!

What do you think? What things do YOU experience in every race that I left off here? Share in the comments!

Atlantic City Half Marathon 2015 Race Recap

If you’re not down for a long-winded race recap, here’s the short version: it wasn’t the race I wanted, but it was still a good time!

We arrived in Atlantic City the Saturday before the race and checked into Bally’s, where the expo was held and the race started/ended. I’m lucky enough to get a room at that hotel each year because my mother also happens to be the penny slot queen and scores free rooms (thanks, Mom)! So once we dropped off our luggage we made our way to the expo where I picked up my bib and won a $2 Dunkin Donuts gift card. Woot!


My feet and calves were still aching from my last few runs around town, so after grabbing a big-ass salad for lunch and rolling my muscles out in the hotel room, we headed to the pool and hot tub where we relaxed for a few hours.


After my standard pre-race baked chicken parm dinner we headed back to the room for an early bedtime but I ended up getting quite possibly the WORST night’s sleep ever. My nerves were inexplicably all over the place so I wasn’t able to fall asleep until 11, and even then it wasn’t a very deep sleep. And at 1AM the folks in the next room decided to come back from the casino YELLING. I could hear every. single. word. Like they were in our bed! I don’t know why I didn’t get up and pound on their door – I was half asleep and didn’t want to wake up fully, I guess? While I eventually drifted back to sleep, their spotty conversations worked their way into my weird-ass dreams. I finally woke up a half hour before my 6AM alarm, bleary eyed and exhausted – NOT the best way to start my race day!


But the show must go on! So I dressed and choked down breakfast, had a half cup of coffee, and we headed down to the boardwalk. Our room was in the perfect spot – I was able to see the start from our window and ease my nerves about the over or under-dressing. The temperature dropped sharply the day before the race, bringing frost warnings and a whole other level of stress to this destination race: fluctuating temps meant I had to pack everything to make sure I got my race day outfit right!


We hung out in the start area and soaked in the atmosphere – it’s always fun to run on the boardwalk, especially in AC. I warmed up relatively quickly so I handed my pre-race jacket to hubby, got my good luck kiss, and entered the chute (where I ran into my Insta-friend who also happens to live in the same town as me, Casey! Girlfriend was running her first FULL marathon that day and she ROCKED it) – and in a few minutes we were off!

The first 1-5 miles were fantastic. What running should always be! Easy leg turnover, awesome crowd around me, cool weather, everything was perfect. I cruised along at a comfortable pace (albeit about :30-1:00 faster per mile than I hoped to finish at), but I felt so damn GOOD that I couldn’t help but go a little faster. Besides, I thought – once I start hurting around mile 11, these faster miles will give me some insurance to stay on target for a 2:49 PR.


Oh how wrong I was. But more on that later.

The coolest thing about this race is actually something I didn’t know until later. Around mile 2-3, I happened upon a gentleman who looked awfully familiar. Like, I had to do a triple take as he kept perfect pace with me, running ahead for a minute or so, then walking and allowing me to catch up with him. Run, walk, run, walk, repeat.

At this point you probably already know who he is, but I’m going to be 100% honest: I had no idea. I mean, I thought he looked like him. But what the hell would he be doing at the back of the pack of the Atlantic City Marathon? Well, it turns out he was doing what he does best back there: Being Jeff Galloway.

Yes, Jeff Galloway paced me for like 4 miles of the Atlantic City Half Marathon and I had no idea. Not until someone posted on IG that they had spotted him running at like mile 10 did I realize – holy crap, that WAS HIM! I caught up to him as we exited the tunnel and kept up with him all the way out to the marina until mile 5 when I stopped for a gel, swapped out my ear warmers for my headband and pinned my gloves to my race belt. Silly Jess.


Silly, oblivious girl.

After my first gel at mile 5 (around 1:02ish), I felt great! We took off back into the sun for miles 6-8 and that’s where the wind joined the party. This happened last year too – I specifically remember Alain’s choice words at this point – and it sucked the life out of me. I walked to fight through, appreciated the awesome support at the water station at the King Neptune statue, and told myself to hold it together until the boardwalk. Everything will be easier on the boards!


Silly, oblivious, pain-stricken girl.

Yeah, no. It’s like a switch was flipped. As mile 8 passed at 14:25 due to my walk breaks (UGH) my body felt like it was made of glass. Everything hurt. I must have gone out too fast, even though I’d felt so great! I passed the mile 9 sign and watched my average pace slowly creep up. 13:15, 13:30…. my confidence from miles 1-5 was a distant memory.

As I met Mike at around mile 10 for my bottle of Cocogo, I came to a full stop and told him my PR was shot. It wasn’t a soul-crusher, but MEH. He encouraged me to just have a good time and take it slow where I needed. After a minute or so of stretching and chatting I took off again and felt moderately better. While it was kind of crushing to know I wouldn’t PR, that meant that I could just go for it and enjoy the run. So I did.

The Gorillaz came on my ipod and I fell into a good cadence to the beat of Clint Eastwood, plodding along the boards like the Clydesdale I am. But at Mile 11.5 I noticed that my average time had gone from “shot to hell” to “hmm”. If I pushed super hard, maybe… JUST MAYBE… could I finish under the 12:57 I’d need to PR? I didn’t think twice, just scrolled to my power song playlist, cranked up the volume, and sprinted.

Yes, sprinted. At mile 11.5 of a half marathon.


Silly, stupid girl.

I cranked along at around 9:30 for most of that first mile and grimaced like a fool the whole time. People on the boardwalk cheered as I blew by them, the finish line in my sights. At 12.5ish, I thought I might puke. But my average mile time was going down! So I kept pushing, even harder. That last quarter mile was uuuhhhg-ly. Finally I entered the chute and smiled as the folks on the sidelines yelled and rang their cowbells. Screw it, I thought – PR or no PR, I ran a great race!


Thumbs up to Mike at the finish!

Final time: 2:54:09


After crossing the finish and grabbing my medal, I won’t lie – I almost dropped. My legs were shaking like leaves from the effort of that last 1.5 mile, so I made a beeline for the medical tent where I spotted a few folding chairs. After plopping into one and coughing for a good 10 minutes while trying to catch my breath (and texting Mike that I was OK), I finally got my legs back under me and headed for the exit to meet him at the entrance to the finisher’s party.


Overall it was a good race, not great. Honestly, I may skip it next year in favor of another more exciting race. After 3 years of running this one, the crowds have gotten smaller, the course support’s dwindled (seriously, I got more applause from the police stopping traffic). It might be time for me to move on to greener pastures. Racing season in the northeast is FULL of great opportunities and I feel like by aiming for this one I might be missing out. Hell, the Runners World Festival is around the same time and it’s practically in my backyard! I’d love to go and experience all the awesome stuff they have around those races. And who knows: maybe a change of scenery is what I need to break that PR?

All I know is I can’t wait to run my next race!

Race Recap: Asbury Park Half Marathon

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.

IMG_4541Flat 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!

IMG_4549I wasn’t convinced, and still created an attractive garbage bag ensemble to wear at the start if it was chilly by the water:

IMG_4667Spoiler 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!

IMG_4578Shortly 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:

IMG_4590This 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):

IMG_4559…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 🙂