One More Tri 2016 Recap

I’ll admit: I had no intentions of participating in the One More Tri triathlon this year. After a pretty miserable experience last year (almost entirely of my OWN doing, mind you), I wrote off the sport of triathlon as a fun distraction from my usual running and that was that. But when Jeanene Leppert, the Special Events Director of Special Olympics New Jersey, reached out to tell me about the positive changes they’d made to the race and invited me to this year’s event, how could I say no?

IMG_7676.JPG

There’s Jeanene: one of the sweetest, most hard working women I know!

To keep things low-key, I registered for the Super Sprint distance; knowing I’d be smack in the middle of half marathon training, I didn’t want to push too hard and this .1 mile swim, 6 mile bike, and 1.5 mile run was just the right effort. It worked out even better because I ran a solid 11+ miles the day before, my longest run since May, and I was tired!

On Sunday morning I packed up the bike and headed down to Asbury with Mike, arriving with plenty of time to check in, get my packet (and a BIG hug from Jeanene!), set up in transition, and go wait in the car while the temps rose from a chilly 49 degrees!!

Once the sun came up it got warmer, and we made our way to the boardwalk for race announcements, the national anthem and the reciting of the Special Olympics motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” And that’s when I was reminded why I was SO happy to do this event again: being able to compete alongside Special Olympics athletes is a true honor. No matter how rough the water is, how strong the winds are, and how hard it is to keep running on tired legs, the fact that I get to take on all these challenges with these inspirational folks by my side is one that I will never not be moved by.

img_7691

As we marched to the beach for our swim start, we were informed that the swim portion had been shortened for everyone due to the rocky surf. Seeing the crazy waves the day before during my long run I figured as much, and we all clustered on the sand to keep warm after shedding our layers. It wasn’t long before our wave – the last wave, of course! – was next, and I laughed with some of my fellow Super Sprinters as we calmed each other’s nerves and passed the time. One woman had us roaring about how we should just “go to Waffle House – we’ve got the shirts already!”

After just a few more minutes, our gun went off and we ran into the water (which was almost 20 degrees warmer than the air!) and quickly discovered that the “swim” turned out to be a “fight for 35M through the waves and walk to the lifeguard who keeps getting knocked over”.

It was BRUTAL! I’ve never felt the surge pull me back so strongly – once one wave crashed over us, the current pulled my legs from under me and I had to fight to stay upright. After a few minutes of walking through the waves – and laughing and screaming – we made it to about 5 feet from the lifeguard. While the goal was to go around him, it was like running into a brick wall when each new wave pounded us! I laughed the whole time, and finally when a wave pushed me out, I grabbed onto the lifeguard’s shoulder to keep from getting swept out, rounded him and promptly got swept right up onto the shoulders of the guy in front of me, who got pushed into the girl in front of him, and so on! After apologizing and laughing, (“Thanks for the ride!”), the water calmed down enough for us to make a break for the shore again, and I ran. It was TOUGH. My legs burned from running against the strong current & jumping over waves, but I finally made it out.

The run back from the water to T1 was long – I’d estimate about a quarter of a mile or so, mostly on sand – but when the course is lined with volunteers and spectators cheering you on it’s hard NOT to feel awesome. Once I got into transition I rinsed my feet off, tossed my sneakers on & ran out with my bike. The volunteers were super organized, pointing me in the right direction with clear instructions and lots of encouragement, and I jumped on the bike in no time, speeding off for one loop of 6 miles.

There was a headwind for the first 3 miles out, but the course was clearly marked and filled with volunteers pointing us in the right direction (and police blocking traffic for us, thanks guys!). As I turned back at mile 3 and took a gel, I couldn’t help but smile and notice the absence of blue bibs around me. There weren’t that many folks in the Super Sprint wave at the swim, I wonder if I could Age Group place?? That was enough to make me pick up my pace and push for a bike finish of 26:10.

img_7665

After Mike snapped me bringing my bike in, I tossed my helmet off and headed onto the boardwalk for the 1.5 mile run, going slowly. My legs were now pretty shredded from the ocean, sand, and bike, but as I made it to the boards I fell into a rhythm and kept pace at a surprisingly fast 10:30. I’m just always faster when I bike!

It was on the boardwalk that I realized just how good my chances were to place – I saw only a few other blue bibs around me, and none were in my age group. The volunteers on the run course were phenomenal – SO many more this year than last year, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Once I got to the turnaround ahead of the full distance folks and headed back for the finish, I picked up the pace and couldn’t stop smiling over what a completely different, positive experience I had this year compared to last year!. When I spotted the folks at the finish line I broke into a sprint and crossed in 15:23 (a 10:15/mile pace!) and a total time of 51:41.

And of course I burst into happy tears when the little 5 or 6 year old Special Olympics rep placed my medal around my neck and gave me a high five, because that’s what I do.

After finding Mike and celebrating with him on a great finish, we wandered to the food tent where they had a CRAZY spread of amazing food – sandwiches, muffins, kale salads, Girl Scout cookies, donuts, recovery shakes, iced tea… you name it, you got it!

img_7657

::Liz Lemon voice:: I want to go to there…

After eating and sitting for a bit, we hung around for the awards and cheered on as the winners were announced in all divisions. It was so fun seeing everyone get recognition for their hard work. But the biggest shock of all came when they announced the Top Three Super Sprint Female Winners – and I placed THIRD OVERALL!

img_7699

Seriously, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Standing nearby helping organize medals and presenters, Jeanene screamed and grabbed me for a huge hug when she heard my name, and I went up to the podium for my first ever Overall medal!

img_7705

I was so stoked – sure, it’s really a numbers game when the field of participants is that small, but I still came in 11th overall in the Super Sprint, and 2nd in my AG too! I’ll take it!

Needless to say, this race is now a Must-Do for me every year. The Super Sprint distance the perfect way to challenge myself while not interfering with my half marathon training, and I can definitely see myself doing this one again next year – maybe I’ll see you too? 😉

Jersey Girl Triathlon 2016 Recap

Since it’s been almost two damn months I figured I might as well get you a recap of the Jersey Girl Triathlon! When I did this event last year as my first ever triathlon, it was a great experience. The training and group meetings ahead of time were extremely helpful, the folks who manage the whole thing were great, and it was a perfect first time event. This time around, things were slightly different but in a variety of ways. Let’s jump right in.

IMG_5097.JPG

I signed up for this race with my running buddy and coworker Alex, who had just started dipping her toes into the triathlon world earlier in the summer and loved it. So we woke up bright and early and met as the sun was coming up over the Atlantic on a sticky, humid morning.

IMG_5109.JPG

When we got to transition we had a good laugh: I warned her as I set up my area that I’d brought my good luck towel, a Star Wars printed number featuring my Space Boyfriend, Kylo Ren. “I swear, I’m not a 9 year old boy,” I said as I laid it out. She simply smiled as she unfurled her towel and said, “That’s nothing.”

IMG_5105.JPG

So apparently we are BOTH children at heart, and that’s why we get along so well.

IMG_5107.JPG

Also I had a small BB8 towel to wash my feet off after the swim. #sorrynotsorry

IMG_5113.JPG

After milling around and getting marked up, we headed down to the beach with Mike and got into our wave start area. I learned from last year not to assign myself in the LAST wave, as that would set me up for a lot of disappointment later on in the race. Being last in meant being last out and as a solid back of the packer when it comes to triathlons, I need all the help I can get. So we signed up for Buddy Heat 1 and both got into 11 (out of 14 or 15 I think).

IMG_5123.JPG

We watched as the earlier age group waves started and got out of the water and noticed that the water was QUITE choppy. I hadn’t done an open water swim since last summer (bad triathlete) and while I wasn’t nervous per se, those waves definitely gave me pause. After about a half hour we got ready to hit the water, and the same woman from last year was at the start, giving us all a pep talk and boosting our confidence. “You guys are going to rock this so hard! You’ve already done all the hard work, this is just the icing on the cake, and then you earn your ice cream or your beer or your pizza, or ALL THREE!” She was the best – I remember her calming my nerves last year!

IMG_5124.JPG

Finally the gun went off and into the water we went – and it was much warmer than I thought it’d be! But it was also MUCH CHOPPIER than I expected too, which made for very tough swimming right from the start. It also made my motion sickness act up pretty much 2 minutes into the swim, which lingered with me for the rest of the swim and most of the bike. Every time I ducked down to swim and glanced ahead underwater, the rocking of the water combined with the totally blank view ahead of me didn’t mesh and my stomach would lurch. At about the halfway point in the swim I gave myself a short break and floated for a bit, then accidentally swallowed some water too. A big gulp of saltwater + an upset tummy = no bueno, let me tell you. Finally I turned the last corner and headed back to shore, where Mike snapped me getting out of the water before I ran up the beach to T1.

IMG_5122.JPG

As I made my way to my bike I decided I wasn’t going for time, I just wanted to not throw up or fall off the bike from being so dizzy. I drank some Cocogo and a full bottle of water to rinse out the salty grossness in my mouth while I washed my feet off and got into my sneakers, then hopped onto the bike and out I went.

Miles 1-3 clicked by super easy – it was my first time racing on my new bike and I couldn’t believe how much faster I was going! Every mile that beeped by on my watch made me laugh out loud with joy. After a gel at mile 4, my stomach started to settle so I cranked up my pace a bit and pushed through the turnaround, so excited to finally be saying “On your left!” and passing folks! Compared to last year’s bike portion where I had to literally STOP on the course to ask a volunteer if I had to turn, I was surrounded by other bikers and knew where to go the whole time.

Before I knew it we were at the bike finish and I was running my trusty steed back into transition, dropping off my helmet and tossing on a headband/sweatband (that I later discovered made me look like Axl Rose, which was fantastic), spinning my race belt around for my number to face forward, and taking off on the run.

Or should I say, the walk. It was HOT. Too hot. 90+ and full sun hot. Within a few feet my legs felt heavy and my hips just didn’t want to move; I must have pushed a little harder than I thought on the bike. Combined with the weather, I knew I was going to be in for a long 3 miles. So I just shlepped along and told myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Quite literally, that’s how I managed to finish: by moving forward and not stopping. I walked a lot, drank even more, and finally took off in the last mile, but I did it.

IMG_5135.JPG

Note the Axl Rose headband. Welcome to the jungle, baby.

I was even more psyched to realize as I neared the finish: they changed the race course this year so we didn’t have to pass the finish and loop back around! It’s the ultimate cruelty when you’re dying of heat stroke and have to run another 1/2 mile past the finish, turn, then go back. They must have gotten the memo, because once my watch said 2.8 and I could see the finish I knew I didn’t have much farther to go and I gunned it through the finish line for a sweet finish.

IMG_5116.JPG

Oh that stupid headband.

I met up with Mike and Alex, who had finished ahead of me, and we walked over to the nearby snack shop and had the most delicious smoothies I think I’ve ever had (or maybe that was the exhaustion and starvation talking), then we headed back to check our times – where we discovered that all chips above 700 DID NOT REGISTER. Meaning MY CHIP. I didn’t have a time. Any times.

I was livid, but I lucked out and ran into the race director, who told me about the old chips that he had used were apparently deactivated or somesuch. He reassured me that they’d come up with a way to track our times and that they had backups that would take a few days, but still. It turns out that their “backup” was us looking at the timestamps on our race pics and entering them for the race officials in a Google Doc the following week for them to calculate how long we spent in each portion (transitions not included) then come up with our official time. It wasn’t a perfect solution – my leg times also include my transition times so I don’t accurately know how much better I did in each portion of the race compared to last year – but at least I had an official FINAL time of 1:47:39 (and that time was better than last year by more than a full minute).

IMG_5136.JPG

Overall it was another great race and a fun way to challenge myself and keep my training interesting over the summer. I’d definitely recommend this event to anyone who’s looking for a first time triathlon with no pressure – heck, you might even see me out on the course next year again!

A Redemption Run & A New PR

After Saturday’s race going about as badly as a race can possibly go, I’m ashamed to say the rest of the day took a nosedive too, mostly because I stupidly spent the next 11 hours reading & watching the news about the developing story, overthinking everything instead of going about my business and getting out of my own head. By the time the news reports about the explosion in Manhattan broke, I was a basket case.

But I woke up Sunday ready to run and met up with my awesome coworkers in support of the Hannah Duffy Foundation. My co-worker and his wife lost their 14-year old daughter, Hannah Duffy, to brain cancer in 2013, and each year the Hustle 4 Hannah is held to raise funds for local scholarships, to give back to the community, and to support cancer research.

IMG_7315.JPG

Team Gort ready to hustle for Hannah! L-R: NYC Tri teammate Chris, Nico (co-worker visiting from Uruguay), me, Sathya, John (Hannah’s dad), Alex (who was at Seaside with me on Saturday), and Joe

By the time we lined up to start at 9AM it was already warm and humid, but the 6 of us were having a good time chatting and laughing. Alex and I had planned to run together on Saturday so she could pace me to a 5K PR, and at the start she asked me if I still wanted to go for the PR. I all but laughed in her face (sorry, Alex). There was NO way I was in the right mental space to gun for a PR…

img_7378

… she said a half hour before sprinting to a new PR.

ANYWAY… We took off at 9AM from the high school and wound our way through the neighborhood streets, almost immediately up the first hill at a pace of around 11:20. Alex and I stuck together and passed one or two of our teammates while a few took off ahead over the gently rolling hills through the first mile, at around 10:5x.

We were getting increasingly faster as we warmed up, and a little while later I glanced at my watch and called out our pace of 10:2x. When I asked Alex if we were going too fast, she responded, “Nope, you’re pacing me here.” That’s when I felt the pressure – she was supposed to be my pacer the day before, but now she wanted me to pace her?

I had a pace of 10:19 in my head as my PR, so when I saw we were at an average pace of 10:3x  and felt really good, I thought “wouldn’t it be funny if…?” We went down the next hill and Alex remarked that I was flying down it. Downhills are just easier for me, I said – and she admitted the uphills were easier for her. That’s when we figured out our plan of attack: I’d push our pace on the downs and she’d drag my ass kicking and screaming up the uphills. Unsurprisingly, it worked.

The sun was getting hotter and the humidity was scorching, but when mile 2 clicked by and our pace hovered around 10:20, I realized this PR was entirely possible. We didn’t talk for much of the last mile – there was a lot of cursing when I realized we were going WAYY too fast a few times (8:57? WHAT?), and even more cursing when I spotted the school ahead, meaning we were near the finish.

As we entered the parking lot at about mile 2.6 at a 9:5x per mile pace, I suggested we sprint when we got to the track for the final stretch. That’s when I spotted these guys:

img_7346

Yeah, those are horses, chilling behind a school. I had a bit of this going on:

17e371e5a286c93151c71b8176fa7586

But when Alex told me to go ahead and sprint as we neared the entrance to the track, I said goodbye to the horsies and went for it. Coming around the final corner I dropped the hammer and spotted Mike in the bleachers, gave him a wave, found Chris cheering me in on the sidelines and gave him a high five as I passed, and crossed that finish line at 33:02.

img_7344

I was shredded – when I realized I’d gone down to a 10:01/mile pace and nailed a new PR, I felt like crying but had no liquid left after sweating buckets for 3 miles. So instead I grabbed a bottle of water, Chris found me, Alex finished a few seconds later, Joe found us and we all had to sit down on the football field for a break.

img_7394

and some Snapchatting, because yeah.

That’s also when I realized that the 10:19 I had in my head as my 5K PR was really my best 5M PR – my 5K was a 10:28 pace, meaning I’d blown BOTH records out of the water. Soon after, Mike came out to give me a big ol’ sweaty hug, we cheered Nico and Sathya on as they finished, and we snapped some more pictures.

14355599_10100721630553669_8287192037347043341_n

img_7391

img_7322

After we toasted each other with pretzels and apples and hung out for the kid’s races and a beautiful butterfly release in memory of Hannah. By that point I was an emotional wreck, but I had to get home and add on 7 miles to my day for my first long run in two weeks.

img_7389

I wasn’t in those 7 miles mentally until the final 2. I couldn’t focus on anything. My pace, my form, my breathing: while it wasn’t difficult, none of it felt right. My legs were tired from pushing in the 5k but it wasn’t impossible to keep going, just… boring. I even took a few walk breaks and told myself my pace was shot, psyching myself out. But when I added up my times I was shocked to see I still averaged at 11:28/mile.

It was the perfect way to end a crazy weekend. By bedtime Sunday night (at 8:45pm, I’m not ashamed to admit) I was exhausted, proud, and drained – and most importantly, my running mojo was restored. The past few weeks have been rough and training had to take a backseat, but now I’m back on my game and ready to rock the fall of 2016.

NYRR & FRNY Pride Run Race Recap

On Saturday, June 25th, I ran the NYRR/FRNY Pride Run 5M and had – quite honestly – one of the best race experiences I’ve had in recent memory.

IMG_1719

This race was dear to my heart to begin with; I’ve been an ally in the LGBTQ community for as long as I’ve known what those letters stand for and take every opportunity I can to show my pride. The past few years I wasn’t able to race due to vacations or other plans, so this year, I registered as soon as it opened up.

Then just a few weeks before race day, the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando rocked the community. But on race day, we came together to lift each other up and race as one, holding those 49 beautiful people and their families and loved ones in our hearts at every step.

IMG_1790

IMG_1745

It was a perfectly sunny day, and as we got to the race site and milled around with the crowd, I hydrated and snapped pics on the way to the corral. I was SO HAPPY to run into my favorite running buddy Mr. Lu and finally snap a photo with him! This guy has run every NYRR race I’ve done, and our paces are roughly the same. He’s gotten me through quite a few difficult miles with his perfectly steady gait and the jingly bells he holds in his hands when he runs. Anyone else every run into him too?

IMG_1749

Once I got to the corral I hung out and caught up on social media then took my place and got ready to run. The crowds were thick, but everyone – and I mean everyone – was kind and happy and supportive. As I’m usually alone in the corral, I tend to put my headphones on and smile at runners around me, but don’t get a lot of smiles back. This time, everyone smiled and wished each other a great race, gave a thumbs up, something.

IMG_1774

Peter Ciaccia opened up the race with a speech that I managed to partially get on video and I’m so grateful I did:

I can’t lie – I shed some tears at those remarks, and still do watching them now. He’s right: the madness has to stop. I don’t care what your political leanings are and I’m not here to get into a debate – this is my blog, not the comments section of a Facebook post – but at the very least, we can all agree that what really matters is humanity and love and respect. And if you don’t agree, then you can take your opinions elsewhere and kindly unfollow me, thank you very much.

IMG_1793a.jpg

After Peter’s remarks the horn went off and we were off for the 5 mile loop around the park, where I was quickly overwhelmed by the love and support coming from all angles. It was heartwarming. People on the sidelines screamed for every single person, offering high fives, wearing tutus and glitter and wigs, giving out gummy bears – and that was just in the first quarter mile!

Once we cleared the crowds, I choked up as I spotted the signs people were racing with – some had written the names of the victims of the Orlando shooting on their bibs, others held posters or made special shirts. I got especially emotional when I came up on one man wearing a laminated collage of the faces of all of the victims on his back. I cried as I passed him, giving him a thumbs up and a nod that he returned.

Beyond the scenery and the crowds and the amazing environment, the run itself was uneventful – I wasn’t gunning for a PR after taking some training time off in the weeks leading up to the race, so I ran my own race and took my time in the growing heat and full sun. I told myself as long as I stayed under 11:45/mile I’d be happy.

IMG_1795

In the final mile I saw that I had kept my promise to myself and was nearing an 11:3x/mile finish, so I gunned it and crossed the line officially at 57:37 (or an 11:32/mile pace).

IMG_1759

Garmin time is always better 😉

I was even MORE excited at the finish to find that not only did I finish fast enough to get a race shirt IN MY SIZE (they’re usually all gone by the time I finish), but they were handing out RAINBOW BAGELS!

IMG_1772

How can you not smile at rainbow bagels??

Because it was a hot day and we had plans that afternoon, we weren’t able to wander around the city like we’d wanted, but it was just as well because I was hot and sticky and needed to shower. And while the event was bittersweet and emotional and turned me into a big ol’ blubbery mess more than a few times, I had to smile when I hopped onto the subway and saw what the NYRR posted at the end of the race:

IMG_1794

A post-race proposal!

Love IS the only thing that matters, plain and simple.

NYC Triathlon Recap

Oh my goodness what a long strange month it’s been! Sorry for the lack of updates – its basically been non stop running, training, and racing every day for the last 4 weeks, but let’s take a look back and recap the fun, starting with July 24th, when two friends and I took on the NYC Triathlon in a relay team! Let’s see if I can cram two jam-packed days into one post. Ready? GO!

Announcements had been made earlier in the week that the run course was shortened from 10K to 8K due to the heat, and I could see why when we arrived in the city Saturday morning: it was like a blast furnace outside. After we got to the hotel and checked in, we found Alex & Chris and headed up to the expo for our pre-event briefing and packet pickup. The crowds were stifling – but if you cram 4,000+ people into any place you’re going to run into bottlenecks, I suppose. The layout forced us into very narrow walkways and I got stuck behind a thick crowd of people a few times. Plus the briefing and packet pickup was upstairs and expo/tshirt/swag bag pickup was downstairs. It all made for an uncomfortable expo experience, I won’t sugar coat it.

To get it over asap, we sat thru the briefing, got our hands stamped so we could get our packets (at the Pro & Relay check-in table, thanks for lumping us all in together!), asked a few questions of the helpful volunteers there, then walked downstairs to fight thru the expo crowd for our shirts and swag bags, then hoofed it across town to drop off Chris’ bike and check out the transition area.

IMG_3604

That turned out to be super helpful – just seeing the transition area and the in and out spots helped put our minds at ease. Plus we got a sneak peek at the sarcastic tags they used to mark off our areas:

After Chris left his baby on the rack, we ended the day with a quick Uber (my first Uber ride!! I felt so millennial! ) to meet back up with Mike at the Cock & Bull for dinner and drinks.

IMG_3631.JPG

4 people, 9 beverages. We take our pre-race hydration very seriously.

After parting ways (Chris and Alex stayed at a hotel much closer to the start), Mike and I sat outside for a bit to enjoy the sunset and people watch, then headed back to the hotel to relax and prep for the the next morning.

I have to take a moment to shout out the true MVP of the weekend (aside from my husband of course): that little backpack up there. It not only held everything I needed for a night in the city, but it also held Mike’s overnight stuff, ALL my race gear AND my expo swag bag so Mike only had to carry one bag while I raced. Brilliant, right? Round of applause for the little backpack that could.

OK, so after managing to get about 3.5 net hours of sleep, I woke up before the alarm at 3:45AM.

This was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole weekend. I miscalculated how long it would take me to get ready and the leisurely pre-race time I usually have ended up as a frantic 3-minute last check to pack up all my hotel stuff (because Mike was checking out while I ran) and throw my race gear and breakfast into my clear transition bag (and prayed Chris would have room in his bag to carry the stuff I couldn’t run with). After a quick picture to show off my race tats, I sprinted out of the room and made it onto the shuttle bus only to hit every red light.

IMG_3664

I arrived at Red Transition at 4:55 when the transition areas closed at 5:15AM – and I still had to go a half mile to Yellow Transition to meet Chris and Alex before Alex left for the mile long walk to the swim start! My heart was pounding by the time I jogged into our area and found them, and we snapped one quick pic before our swimming phenom took off for her start a mile up the Hudson.

Thankfully, it all turned out to be smooth sailing from there on out. As the sun came up, Chris and I BS’d for an hour before the Elite and Pro people started coming in from the swim to the bike. We all cheered and stood in amazement – these folks were incredible!

Shortly after, we started checking the event tracking site to see when Alex jumped into the water – once we refreshed the page and saw she’d been swimming for 3 minutes, Chris gave his now famous announcement: “Shit just got real, son!” and took off for his bike. To keep the already crowded bike rack area clear, I had to wait outside. But I got to hang out with Alex’s towel and be her personal sherpa which was fun.

IMG_3688

Chris climbed into his bike shoes, got his helmet on and gave the paparazzi a smile just as Alex made her way in WAY sooner than anticipated (20:03 for a 1.5KM swim, 1:12/100 yds!) and our first transition was underway!

They traded the timing chip, Chris took off on his bike, and Alex met me with a big hug – she crushed it! She was covered in Hudson grit (some people came out entirely covered in gray and black, it was quite gross), but she was psyched and happy with her time. After toweling off and talking for a few minutes, she wished me luck then headed back to their hotel to shower, check out, and meet us at the finish.

At that point it was just me – but it was one of my favorite parts  of the day. As an only child, I really value alone time. And even though I wasn’t really alone but surrounded by 150 other relay triathletes, the hour or so that I got before running was pure bliss.

IMG_3726

While I couldn’t race WITH my headphones, bringing them with me to transition for the wait turned out to be a great decision. Having my music helped me get in the zone and calm my nerves while waiting. I leafed through my magazine, ate my fuel (a Starbucks bagel and PB with a tiny bit of banana), hydrated, used the porta potty, and then returned to the steps for pre-race stretching. It also helped that this was my view for the whole hour:

IMG_3734

When my timer went off 75 minutes after Chris took off, I started to pack my things away and made one last bathroom stop. He had estimated his time to be around 1:45-2:00, but after seeing some other relay folks start to roll up, I didn’t want to chance not being ready for him in case he was early. It turns out I made the right decision there too: he crushed his time and came in at 1:38: 07 for an average of 15.2mph the whole 40KM!

13782077_10100686288135159_7050586550071724889_n

Chris, Crushing It (TM)

After he rolled in and racked his bike, he passed the chip along to me and I took off up the hill to 72nd street. After spending the whole morning in the shade by the water with a nice breeze, I was shocked to feel how hot it had gotten. Landing on the cookie sheet heat of 72nd street’s asphalt was a gut punch, but I felt good. Really good, actually, thanks to the unbelievable crowds of people lining the course. There were folks the entire mile from the transition to the entrance to Central Park with signs and cowbells, all cheering and clapping – one guy even yelled out my name after I passed and he saw it on the back of my singlet!

13775843_10100683661818319_1610241662930528155_n

This was my face the whole race, for real!

As I got to the entrance of the park, I spotted Alex yelling my  name, which gave me a nice boost. I cheered right back and gave her a fist pump then glanced at my watch as we entered the park. I was shocked to see I’d already run a mile – in 10:20! It felt like nothing!

13781824_10100684342359509_8603928187145042478_n

At the first water station I slowed to a walk and grabbed two cups – one to drink and one to dump over my head – and continued on my way. It was really cool being surrounded by FULL triathletes as I ran. Being passed by speedy people definitely had something to do with my great pace I’m sure. Mile 2 clicked by at 10:55 with the water stop, and I laughed, amazed at my speed.

Finally, around mile 3.5 I started to flag – there was now no relief from the sun and the hills were brutal. At the next to last water stop, volunteers were handing out baggies of ice and I grabbed one – what a brilliant idea! I alternated between running with the baggie at my neck and throat and wrists, and grabbed a few cubes out to chew on every few minutes too.

A little after mile 4, I was walking up a hill when a guy passed me: “Come on Jess, it’ll be over faster if you run,” he said as he whizzed by. Knowing my teammates and friends and family would be there at the finish, I glanced at my watch – just over 3/4 of a mile left. As good a time as any to drop the hammer, I figured. The crowds grew thicker and I could hear the roar at the finish line, so I downed the last cup of water I’d been carrying and took off.

13620264_10100684579409459_1218746301500072454_n

Note the serious face and airborne running form.

I pushed through the pain and focused on the people screaming on the sidelines.. My watched ticked to mile 5 and I groaned – the course was long, 8K was under 5! As we rounded the last few tight corners to get to the finish I went into a full out sprint and glanced at the crowds scanning for my people. Unfortunately, I was so overheated and focused on finishing that I didn’t see anyone. BUT that final extended kick managed to get me over the finish line at a freakin fantastic time: 56:29 for 5.22 miles (!) for an average of 10:50 per mile!!!

13781949_10100683909731499_1582875706112956834_n

I was so pumped – but also dehydrated and overheated. So I pounded some water, accepted an ice cold wet towel from a volunteer, grabbed the three medals our team earned, turned in my timing chip and headed for the Family Reunion area where I met up with Mike and my friend Lizzie (who had just finished TEN miles that morning for her training run!!)

Alex and Chris showed up shortly after with a crew of their friends, and we all hung out to bask in our post-race glow before heading out to celebratory brunch.

IMG_3781

Also, I will never forgive you for not putting the shirt on for the picture, Chris. Never. 

Capture1.JPG

2,000 words later, I’ll sum it up: this was a great event and we were super happy with our performances. Being fresh for each leg of the event makes a huge difference that I’m grateful for this time around: shortly after we finished they shortened the run to 1.2 miles and had people go right to the finish upon entering the park!

The logistics of it are huge and while the expo/packet pickup situation was a real stress-inducer, it was surprisingly well managed and all the volunteers were super helpful. I’d give it a solid A and would gladly do again as part of a relay team, possibly even on my own!

Jersey Capital Corporate Fun Run 5K Race Recap

At the end of May, one of my coworkers passed along an email about a Corporate Fun Run in Mercer County Park with the following subject line: “Would you be interested if we can get a team for this?” A 5K with my coworkers at the beautiful park near our office? Of COURSE I was interested!

So over the next few weeks we recruited a total of 11 people, ordered tech tees with our company logo (and persuaded our boss to sponsor our registration fees, thanks Josh!), and with that, Team IG was ready to run.

IMG_1281

On race day, the weather was typical for mid-June: overcast with some sun, muggy, and kinda gross. We all showed up at the park with time to spare, and after I picked up our bibs as Team Captain and handed them off to everyone, we goofed around and got psyched up while we waited to start.

The whole thing was a fundraiser for Tackle Kids Cancer, a really great organization here in NJ at the Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center that’s committed to advancing research and providing children access to the highest level of care, and we were psyched to be able to raise more than $400 for them!

As we toed the start, we realized the race was smaller than we thought – there were only 65 runners total! Plus, a handful of my coworkers were running this as their FIRST 5K (what’s up, Rani & Sathya! So proud of you!!). My friend and running buddy Alex said she wanted to keep pace with me – she’s usually faster than me but had been sick that week and just wanted to have a good time, so we stuck together most of the way.

At the horn we took off over the mat, we got caught up in the excitement of watching our SUPER speedy coworkers take off at the front of the pack (and screamed our heads off at them across the pond when we saw them take the lead ahead of us)! Soon we fell into a good rhythm and chatted, even snapping Alex’s first ever GoPro Runfie!

DCIM108GOPROG3811195.

We soon realized that this was no ordinary 5K. Even though the course was billed as an out and back, we didn’t see anyone coming back until just before the turnaround at mile 1.8. And yes, for those of you playing along at home, the turnaround for a 3.1 mile, out-and-back course should NOT be at mile 1.8! But we screamed our heads off when we DID see people coming in the other direction – because they were ALL of our coworkers! One after another, we screamed and high-fived the speedy folks that took the lead, then stopped at the water station turnaround for water and a walk break.

Up til then I’d kept our pace at a semi-uncomfortable 11:45-11:50 – with the humidity, we had tossed the idea of PR’ing out the window. The humidity was a beast – even though we were running in shady forest, it was hard to breathe. Just before the “2 Mile” marker on the ground at mile 2.5 (LIES!), Alex told me to go ahead without her so I took off.

I started picking people off one by one. One woman kept pace with me that whole final mile, stopping to walk after she passed me, then running again when I passed her. When I knew the finish wasn’t too far away, I chose her as my “no way” target: NO WAY I was letting her pass and finish before me. So I took off over a little bridge and around the park – it was so awesome to see all my coworkers who finished before me crowd together at the finish line and cheer me over the line at just over 40 minutes!

Not long after, Alex finished, and we hung out to cheer on the rest of our teammates as they finished too (while enjoying some post-race beer).

It was a great vibe where everyone cheered each other on, and even the race director stuck around at the finish to apologize to everyone for the course being so long. I was stoked to hear all about how everyone else did, especially when I discovered that one of our guys WON THE RACE!

CFR_Jersey_16-06-16_0086

Photo by Brian Zuleta

Seriously, he WON the thing in just over 25 minutes (or according to him, 4 “Hotel California”s) and snagged the First Place Male Overall award! But that’s not all – we all finished we hung out to wait for the awards, and we were blown away when we realized just how well we did:

1st Place Overall Male

CFR_Jersey_16-06-16_0070

Photo by Brian Zuleta

3rd Place Largest Team AND 2nd Place Team Spirit Award (for live-posting on Twitter and Instagram before and during the race!)

CFR_Jersey_16-06-16_0061

Photo by Brian Zuleta

Third Place Male Team!

IMG_1341

And…. FIRST PLACE FEMALE TEAM!

CFR_Jersey_16-06-16_0072

Photo by Brian Zuleta

You guys, I finally won an award! I was on the team with the top 3 females, and I was NUMBER 3 IN THAT TEAM! I’m not kidding: I cried a little bit. I had to suck it up so I didn’t cry in front of my coworkers, but seriously, look at that crazy face up there. Those are some full-on Crazy Eyes, and I wasn’t about to let that award go.

IMG_1346.JPG

5 years of running and I finally got an award!

As it turns out, I actually finished as the 9th Female Overall (which is ludicrous!) but proves that this race was purely a numbers game: the fact that there were many more speedy guys ahead of me – and a lack of female runners out for blood – meant the odds were stacked pretty high in my favor. But I’m not complaining, I’m too busy finding the perfect spot for my very first running award!

Fun tidbit: after we’d gotten our awards and were hanging out eating and celebrating at the post-race party, my NO WAY target (who was an extremely fit, serious-looking chick!) came up to me and congratulated me: “Nice work, thanks for helping me push the pace, I was trying to get ahead of you there. You still beat me though.” I was dumbstruck. Normally I’m the one saying “you beat me”. I thanked HER and she moved on, but I had to laugh: I finally nailed a No Way Target and she knew it.

Overall this was a great race, as far as evening races in 90% humidity on a long course go. The fact that we did it as a group made it even more fun though, and I would happily do it all again. Once word got around our office after we returned victorious, the murmurs about running it again next year have already started. And with any luck, I’ll be there to defend my title!

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!).

IMG_6616

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.

IMG_6620

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.

IMG_6683

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 🙂

IMG_6690

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.

IMG_6748

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.

IMG_6703

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.

477299_229015828_XLarge

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!

477299_229256358_XLarge (1)

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.

477299_229410068_XLarge

PRs aren’t pretty.

I passed Mere, Damian, and Mike 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!

477299_229557876_XLarge

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.

477299_229695819_XLarge (2).jpg

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

IMG_6706.PNG

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.

IMG_6699

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! Meredith was especially excited; as a fellow runner, she knew just what it meant to crush my time by 15 minutes and jumped in the air squealing with me over it!

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!

IMG_6746

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!

Race Recap: Toys for Tots 5K

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to Prancer (left), and Dasher (right).

IMG_1294.JPG

Yes, that’s me and my sis-in-law Meredith, dressed as elves/reindeer. And YES, we get extra points for style in case you were wondering.

Since Mer and I had such a great time dressing up as turkeys for a Thanksgiving 5K in November, we decided to kick things up a notch and go all out for a Christmas race too! So we hit the dollar stores for some fun gear and headed to the Freehold Area Running Club’s annual Toys for Tots 5K.

The night before the race, I was up WAY past my bedtime babysitting (we’re talking 1:30AM), so I was… let’s say “less than jingle-y”. I was exhausted and knew I wasn’t going to set any records. Thankfully speedy sis-in-law didn’t have a problem with us taking it easy either, so we aimed for fun and had a blast!

IMG_1204

Between our mismatched Naughty & Nice socks, Santa/Elf shorts, funny shirts, jingly ponytail ties, and the best glasses EVER, we were quite a sight!

We got there early, donated our toys (love doing races that have tangible benefits for the community!), and hung out in the parking lot with our hubbies.

DCIM120GOPRO

The weather had been unseasonably warm around this race, so we kind of knew it wouldn’t feel like a true Santa Dash – and once the sun came up we realized just how far from winter it would feel like. By the time we left the park, it had gone up to 73 degrees, and the humidity felt like it was 90% the whole time! Seriously rough weather to run in.

It was a small race, the results say only 192 runners in all. So once we had stretched out and noticed the abundance of… let’s call them SERIOUS Runners (with a capital SR)… we headed for the starting area and focused on letting the rest of the folks run their race and having fun at the back of the pack.

IMG_1221

The course ran through Michael Tighe Park in Freehold, a pretty park that I’d never been to before this race. When it comes to 5K’s, I usually don’t go nuts researching the course, but I kind of wish I realized it was a loop course going into it. On loop courses, a part of my soul dies. Do any of you feel the same way? There’s something about having to loop around the same terrain more than once – especially passing the finish line! – that just crushes my will to keep going, even in a 5K.

We were instantly drenched with sweat because of the heat and humidity (in DECEMBER, who says global warming isn’t a real threat?), but  we held on through the first mile, chatting and passing the time. The fun thing about running easy is being able to actually have a conversation with someone – it’s like hanging out and getting a workout in at the same time! Plus, everyone we passed loved our gear, shouting out encouragement and laughing and jingling their bells at us. There were a few other people in full-out gear like us, and we all had a good time when we’d pass each other, ho-ho-ho-ing and ringing our bells. The glasses were the biggest hit by far!

DCIM120GOPRO

Once we got to 1.5 and passed the finish line, the second half was a real struggle for me. The combo of the weather and the lack of sleep the night before really took a toll and I just wanted it to be over. But another nice thing about running with someone is that you can’t really stop. It’s embarrassing! So I pushed through the discomfort and we kept going, taking a walk break or two to finish strong.

IMG_1222

With the finish line in sight we gunned it around the people in white and blue you see up there – they were being cheered on by their friends at the sidelines: “Don’t let the elves beat you!” they yelled at them!! Well that just made us want to go even faster… and so we did, blowing right past them and finishing strong in 35:38, which is NOT bad for me!

IMG_1301

Overall this was a great race – even though it was small and I would have been lonely at the back of the pack if I’d run it alone, it was so much more fun with company and costumes! I’d definitely run it again next year just to burn off some extra Christmas cookies 😉

And as a bonus, our fun gear even got us the front page of the FARC website!

IMG_1303I think next year we may need to up our costume game to see if we’ll get on their front page again! 🙂

 

Trenton 10K Race Recap

This past weekend I ran my second 10K race and spoiler alert: I set a new PR!

IMG_4239

I signed up on a whim for this race because it was just too cool to pass up. So when Saturday rolled around we headed in to Trenton and had some minor issues getting to the start. See, Trenton isn’t the easiest city to navigate. And while the participant guide did everything it could to identify parking lots, there’s no exact address given for the lots, and there are also a handful of other nearby lots that look the same at 6:15AM when no one else is around! So we ended up parking in the wrong lot. A few volunteers or flags or signs would have gone a LONG way. Thankfully we spotted some runners in the lot across the street as we left, and moved to that lot (the correct lot!) with no problem.

The other issue involved the shuttles: the participant guide noted two spots to pick up the shuttle, but no one seemed to know where that second spot was, so we all ended up walking the mile and change through quiet neighborhoods to the start line. Not the worst way to warm up, but still minorly stressful.

IMG_4232

Cousin Cheesin’

Once we got to the start area, everything was perfect: the port-a-potties were plentiful and clean, the crowds were electric – it was awesome! And the fact that we started right outside Trenton Thunder stadium was just too cool. I met up with my friend Alex and cousin Heather, and we hung out for a bit chatting and warming up near the start. It was overcast and around 60, which was perfect!

IMG_4183

Hey, Alex!

Once we lined up with the almost 4,000 other runners for the 10K and Half start at the same time, it only took about 10 minutes of milling around before the gun went off. We took off right onto the highway and up an inclined ramp past the Delaware River, then back down the ramp on the other side of the highway and past the stadium once more. That was cool – Mike even got to hang out on the median with a bunch of other spectators and caught me going by near mile 1!

IMG_4236

I can’t say it enough: this race was fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I smiled so much! I’ve only ever felt energy in a race like that in some of the larger NYRR races I’ve done. I also give the race directors major kudos for how well signed and organized the actual race is. Even though there were many people running three distances at relatively the same time – 5K, 10K, and Half with three different courses, no less! – I never once felt confused or crowded.

IMG_4186
We ran through Trenton for about 2 miles or so, then jumped onto the Trenton Makes the World Takes bridge – what an experience! All the recaps on this race mention how strange the bridge feels to run over, and they aren’t kidding: the grating on the ground is like 3 inches apart, it feels so weird! I clung to my phone for dear life because the grates looked just wide enough for an iPhone to slip out of a sweaty runner’s hands and fall to its doom in the Delaware. Thank goodness it didn’t happen to me, but I can only imagine the horror!

IMG_4197

IMG_4204

Once we crossed into PA, the support on the sidelines was unbelievable. I truly felt like I was in a parade, even at the back of the pack. Folks lined the streets – one guy even had a cooler and was handing out bottled water to us! – and I was so energized, giving high fives to the folks who had brought their dogs and kids and whole families out to cheer us on from their folding chairs.

I especially liked that the half marathon course coincided with ours: our mile 4 was about mile 7 for the half-ers, and so the speedier folks passed by us at a steady stream, providing some nice motivation.

IMG_4212

At about mile 4, we crossed a second bridge back into NJ for the final few miles. I was feeling great at this point – my legs were strong, the hills were rolling along, and the crowds kept me energized like never before. Plus the scenery was breathtaking.

IMG_4213

Along the final 2 miles, I started to flag: those hills were harder than I expected! While I was maintaining a good 12:20-ish pace even with photo stops and water breaks, I didn’t expect to PR but kept pushing anyway.

And I’m glad I did: the final stretch of the race is by far the best ending of a race I’ve run so far. Once you get back to the stadium, you run single file through a short tunnel surrounded by cheering folks into the Trenton Thunder stadium, around the outfield, and through the cute to finish at home plate! I had goosebumps and had to keep from crying the whole time. The feeling is really indescribable. The wall of spectators truly took my breath away, and I told myself to keep running because I had so many eyes on me now!

So I pushed to a final pace of 12:17/mile and crossed the finish line with a huge smile at 1:16:22 – a PR of more than 2 full minutes!!

a3IMG_4237

Once I crossed, I was handed my medal and made my way back up into the stands to meet Mike and Heather (Alex spotted me at the finish because she finished before me), and we hung out enjoying the post-race pretzels and other goodies.

IMG_4223

IMG_4221

I was super psyched – I didn’t expect to PR at all, with a week or two of light running/training at best, I just wanted to finish happy. And I completely surprised myself! All in all, it was a top notch race that I cannot wait to run again next year.

IMG_4220

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!

IMG_3027

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.

IMG_3035

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!

IMG_3055

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!

IMG_3057

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.

images

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.

race_1594_photo_27309858

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!

race_1594_photo_27309743(1)

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.

images

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!

IMG_3071

Thumbs up to Mike at the finish!

Final time: 2:54:09

IMG_3073

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.

IMG_3063

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!