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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Thumbs up to Mike at the finish!

Final time: 2:54:09

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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.

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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!

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NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile Race Recap

I’m 100% aware that this recap is like a month late, but better late than never, right? Right. So when the folks at NYRR contacted me about running the Fifth Avenue Mile, I was super stoked, especially since I’d be running the Media Mile. Where the race is mainly run in age group waves, they also set up special waves for groups like FDNY runners and kids. I didn’t know what “media” meant; because they invited me via Instagram I assumed it would be a handful of other social media peeps like me. But I was only half right…

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My start time wasn’t until 11:45, which gave us plenty of time to get into Manhattan, take a few subways to Fifth Avenue, pick up my packet, and hang out by a pretty fountain, cheering for the earlier age groups and warming up.

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Once 11:15 rolled around, Mike headed down Fifth to meet me at the finish, and just as he left the announcer started talking up the participants of the Media Mile. This made me stop in my tracks. Remember when I said I was only half right? Yeah. It turns out that while I recognized a few awesome IG people (OMG it was like celebrity spotting), “media” actually meant media people, like on-air talent for local news stations, producers and journalists and stuff. Which meant I spent most of my time in the corral pretending like hanging out with celebs was no big deal, while inside my head I was squealing like a tween. I was about to get smoked by the woman from CBS 2 News!!

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OK, maybe I didn’t hide it so well. OK, maybe I photobombed her. Sorry, Kristine Johnson.

There turned out to be only like 50 of us in this wave. And usually the smaller the race, the farther towards the end I finish. It’s just science. I started to get nervous that I could potentially be the last person to cross the finish line in a very obvious way.

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I also had my photo snapped awkwardly by a NYRR photog.

Funny side note: because there were some local celebs in the corral, there was also a lot of media packed into the corral with us. Exhibit A:

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This guy followed this poor girl around for a good 5 minutes.

One nice thing about the corral being so small was getting to actually talk to people. The fella you see below is Arun. This rockstar is currently training for the Marine Corps Marathon, and he’s the kindest fellow runner you’re going to meet. We chatted about our shared fear of being last, and promised that we’d stick together if it came down to it. It was reassuring knowing that I wouldn’t be last alone.

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Suddenly it was time to run, and everyone around me turned into elites. No kidding: they all crouched down, fingers on their Garmins, ready to burst with energy. But instead of panicking, I ducked down with them and pretended like I knew what I was doing (this turned out to be the theme of the day), and at the sound of the gun we were off!

The actual running happened so fast that I can only recall the thoughts I had at the distance markers. At .25 I thought, “Already?” At .5, I thought, “No way.” At .75, I spotted a course volunteer wearing the same pants and we screamed for each other (Go, Skirt Sports sister!). That’s when Arun, who had been steadily pacing behind my left shoulder the whole way, asked, “I’m not slowing you down, am I?”

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I glanced down at my watch to see just how fast I was going and almost shat myself when I saw 6:xx. All I could do was laugh and reply, “No way, not slow at all!” and keep going. Through the last quarter mile downhill towards the crowd at the finish line, I could hear them shouting. Once I got close enough to read the clock and saw 8:xx, I legitimately shouted out loud, “WHAAAAT?!” The girl ahead of me turned around to see what the big deal was. I was astounded – I’ve never seen an 8 minute mile in my life!

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So I took off even faster, gunning for under 9 minutes – and I did it. In 8:51.

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All I could do was laugh and gasp for air. 8:51! Never in my life. There had to be a mistake. It felt great. But even a new PR wasn’t as exciting as what I saw next: MEB.

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It was like seeing a unicorn.

There he was, off to the right of the finish line. No big crowd, just Meb, chilling with a few peeps who popped around the corner to snap a pic with him. So I went for it, too!

Arun had crossed right behind me and as I congratulated him, I asked if he wanted a pic. I figured acting like I knew what I was doing was the best way to go (again, the day’s theme…) and before I knew it, I was stepping up to Meb, introducing myself, and shaking his hand. I wish I remembered what I’d said. Probably something like “It’s such an honor, may I have a photo?”. But he agreed and thanked me and posed graciously, congratulated me on a great race, and I was off. I snapped Arun’s pic for him, and we dissolved back into the crowd.

I was floating. I swear I’d dreamed what just happened. A PR and Meb, within seconds of each other. Mike found me and congratulated me on all the excitement, and just as we were ready to leave, a volunteer told me that my media bib meant that I got to hang out in the Media Tent with all the reporters and legit running celebs. Free danish and OJ and fruit trays while Meb and the media folks do interviews? Don’t mind if I do!

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For real though, my adventure in the VIP Tent was more OMFG than NBD. Continuing with the day’s trend, I squealed inside my head the entire time but acted cool and calm on the outside, like hanging out and accepting the fruit plate tongs from Meb himself is something I do at every race (when in reality we both reached for grapes at the same time and I died four times).

IMG_1830I have to laugh when I think back on this day – it was one of those perfect days where everything falls into alignment and goes smoothly, and reminds you of how lucky you can be sometimes. It was an honor to run an unbelievable great race, make new friends, and meet some truly amazing runners. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Walk For Wishes 5K + a Long Run

In addition to the Pope being in the NYC area this past weekend, I decided to head up that way as well, for the Make A Wish Foundation’s Walk for Wishes 5K!

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I first ran this race last year and really enjoyed it – although I was sick with a little head cold, the scenery and the cause made it a really enjoyable event, and I looked forward to seeing my friend Nichole who manages the whole event, too!

We headed up to the park and were immediately impressed with the gigantic planes and fully-armored helicopters hovering around the perimeter of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty – have you ever seen an Osprey in action? That thing made the ground shake with every pass, I felt like I was in the Hunger Games!

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Anyway, it was a little chilly when we arrived at the park so I finally got to wear my brand spankin new One More Tri race jacket! It warmed up enough at the start to just race in my tank and shorts, but I had fun repping my awesome new accomplishment 🙂

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We hung out while the rest of the runners arrived at the park, along with big groups of folks preparing to do the walk portion of the event. That’s my favorite part: seeing all of the families and groups of friends in matching t-shirts walking their dogs, pushing strollers & wheelchairs, all banding together to raise money and honor the Wish Kids… it’s a really inspirational thing!

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After about a half hour, I made my way to the start where there were only about 100 or so other people, a good 1/4 of whom were a busload of teenaged girls who looked to be a track team or dance squad or something. They arrived late and all ran for the start giggling and pushing each other, and all of us older runners parted to make room for them – “Faster runners in the front!” we kept shouting, laughing. They all shook their heads, suddenly shy, but we kept egging them on to cut us slower folks in line so they didn’t have to trample us after we started. Once we did start, we made the right choice – they were FAST!

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Once the gun went off we headed out of the park and around the little lake, onto the waterfront walkway path that would take us alllll the way down past the Statue of Liberty and back. I made my way slowly and steadily through the first quarter mile going by feel with the crowd. When I finally checked my Garmin at the half mile I turned out to be running at a 10:30 pace – sweet!

I can’t lie: no matter how many times I see these faster times on my watch, I keep thinking I’m going to snap out of it one day and go back to thirteen and fourteen minute miles. Is that weird? I’m working hard, training right, and I know that the progress I’m seeing is deserved, but I’m just so not used to seeing 10’s that I feel like it’s a fluke! Anyone else experience this??

Anyway, I made it through the first mile at just over 10:35ish, and started seeing the super speedy people heading back to the finish. I decided to have fun and clapped and cheered for every person as they passed – why not, right? Not too long after that, I neared the 1.6 mile turnaround and grabbed a bottle of water at the table – even with the nice waterfront breeze, that sun was pretty freakin’ warm!

I walked 2-3 times to sip my water through mile 2.5, and saw a good number of people still making their way to the turnaround. But once I hit 2.5, I looked at my watch and realized that I had slowed my pace to around 10:50 with my walk breaks – that was still one of my best 5k times ever!

Since I only had a little more than a half mile to go, I figured why not drop the hammer a little early to see just how good I could do? So I chucked my half empty water bottle to free my hands and took off. Just as I came down the hill to the finish, Nichole jumped out and started screaming for me, which gave me the perfect boost I needed to sprint right through the finish line and nail my 2nd best time ever – 34:21!!

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I was shredded! My lungs burned, my quads were fried, even my abs were tender. Mike came and found me, and I told him about my new almost PR and he was so thrilled – I’ve been trying to get close to those old pre-surgery PR’s for months now, and I’m finally almost there!

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Once I recovered with some Cocogo, we hung out for a little while longer at the pre-walk party, cheered on the 5K winners, I picked up my participant ribbon (I still LOVE that I get a ribbon instead of a medal, it’s so unique and fun!), and we headed home – because I had made the ridiculous decision to go home and tack 7 more miles on to my morning so that I could finish my long run a day early! The thought of having to go to bed early and wake up early AGAIN the next day for my long run made me so annoyed – so why not just do it all today? Who cared that I just pushed my body to the limit? I’d be fine!!

Oh how silly we runners can be.

Once we got home I changed into a dry sports bra and new t-shirt, packed up my Nathan and headed out to my favorite 7 mile loop, took off from where I parked, and promptly convinced myself I had a stress fracture in the first quarter mile.

See, because they’re thinner than my every day running socks, I have a tendency to lace my shoes too tight when I’m wearing compression socks, which then causes a sharp pain in the top of my foot – only my right foot, too! And this was my first time racing in my trusty Pro Compressions, so of course I had laced up tightly. Add an hour of driving and cooling off to the mix, you get a swollen post-race foot in a too-tight sneaker. This is not the first time this has happened to me!!

I sat down on the curb as soon as I felt that pain, took off my shoe, unlaced it entirely and re-laced it loosely, massaged the hell out of my foot, and wouldn’t you know it when I started back up again the pain was gone! It still feels as good as new now, a few days later. Lesson learned: DON’T tie your laces too tight.

Miles 1-5 went by relatively easily, but once I hit mile 5.5 (or rather, 8.6ish) I hit the wall. My hips locked up, my feet were screaming, everything was swollen (you should have seen the line my socks left around my calves!!) – I wanted to be DONE. I briefly got disheartened, but reminded myself that I’d raced the hell out of a 5K earlier in the day so I essentially did double the work already. Besides, my average pace was still on fire, even despite a lot more walk breaks than I’d care to admit to.

I shuffled along on that last mile, walked where I needed to, and thought about the finish line of my next race: the Atlantic City Half Marathon. I envisioned it there at the end of the boardwalk, pictured myself heading towards it strong and full of power – definitely not broken and hurting like I was at that moment! It was all I needed to get to the “finish” of my long run, and with a new unofficial 10 mile PR to boot!

IMG_2243Yes, that’s more than a minute UNDER all my previous 10 milers.

Once I was done, I was more than drained – I felt hollow. I dragged my salty carcass back to my car, drove home, laid down in the shower while Mike ordered sushi, came out and devoured my lunch, then slept for 2 hours. I was BEAT. But – Sunday morning I got to sleep in for the first time in like 2 months! Totally worth it. 😉

One More Tri – Triathlon Recap

It’s been a little more than a week since I crossed the finish line of the One More Tri in Asbury Park, and if I’m being honest, I’m still a little emotional about it. Let’s recap:

The morning of the race I woke up completely nerve-free: my race bag was packed, bike tires were full of air, my legs felt strong even after racing the Seaside Semper Five 5K the day before.

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We arrived at the iconic Carousel building just as the sun was trying to come up, and I picked up my race packet, got marked up with my number, slipped into the transition area, and prepped.

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After I felt confident everything was ready around 7am, I kicked my flip flops off and we walked up to the boardwalk at around 7:15, where pre-race announcements were being made. By then the day had broken: cloudy, cool, and dry – perfect race conditions!

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Once we got up there though, I looked out at the water and received quite a shock: the buoys were MUCH farther apart than I expected. There was NO way I’d be able to swim that! I started to panic. The Jersey Girl Tri swim was 300 yards, and this was only supposed to be .25 mile, or about 440 yards. This looked WAY more than 140 yards longer. Something was up.

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At the water’s edge, I had a full on panic attack and started crying. And no amount of positive self-talk helped. Even Mike couldn’t calm me down. My confidence was shattered, and unfortunately I would not get it back up to 100% for the rest of the race.

Things happened quickly from there – the first wave of 30 or so Special Olympics athletes started first, men second, and women third. We had an “in-water start”, which is something I’d never heard of: you swim out to the start and tread water before the gun goes off. They say it’s to conserve energy but I still spent energy and added another 50 yards of effort getting OUT to the buoy, but now I know!

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It was happening whether I was ready or not, so I sucked it up, got my good luck kiss, and walked into the water.

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After swimming out with the rest of the women to the first buoy (which felt like FOREVER away!), we waited for a few minutes for the guys to get a good headstart, then the gun sounded and we were off! Within the first 30 seconds, I knew I was in trouble. Everyone around me took off like dolphins, and I was left at the back of the pack giving it my all for 1/4 of their speed. There were a few folks back there with me, but not many.

After a solid 5-7 minute effort to get to the first buoy, I gave myself permission to roll over and recover with the backstroke for a while. I focused on my breath and the clouds over my head, kicking with all my might for a solid few minutes and when I got tired, rolled over excitedly to see how far I’d gone – and found that while I only got about 20 yards towards the next buoy, I had backstroked myself 30 yards out to sea. After dropping the biggest F-bomb of my life, I dove under the water and power-swam back towards the crowd, then kept going to the second buoy to reach the halfway point, exhausted.

At this point I genuinely considered waving down a swim angel and asking for mercy. I thought about all the things in my life I set out to do and failed, and how miserable that list made me feel. I thought about how I started running (and competing in triathlons) to prove to myself that even if I can’t learn how to knit or learn sign language, I can accomplish some things. Like completing triathlons. And when I pictured the DQ next to my name in the race results, I got so mad. If I quit, all those negative thoughts I think about myself in my worst moments would be true. And I wasn’t about to let that happen.

To stop the negative thoughts, I found a mantra: Just keep swimming. Repeated it in my head over and over to the rhythm of my strokes, alternating between freestyle and backstroke 3 or 4 more times. After what felt like an eternity I finally saw the last buoy at the turn back to the shore.

I was joined by a Special Olympics athlete and his swim angel fighting their way back to the shore too – I shouted out some encouragement to him and he shouted something back (I was too far away to hear), and before I knew it I saw the swimmers in front of me standing up and walking. A few kicks later my toes found the sand and I was running through the surf. Finally I made my way safely onto the sand where Mike was cheering me on. He walked with me and asked how I felt as I moved on shaky legs. All I remember was saying “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” before giving him a half smile and taking off for the next leg of my journey.

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The crowd support was incredible – I could hear the people on the boardwalk cheering on the swimmers that made it out ahead of me, and felt a little burst of energy. On the boardwalk I grabbed a cup of water and pumped my arms over my head to everyone’s cheers, and slowly walk/ran my way over the painful little rocks on the concrete to the transition where I threw on my shoes and helmet and wasted no time getting out of there.

Total Swim: 22:45

Transition 1: 3:09

The bike course was two loops around a 5.88 mile course, and I cruised out smiling, cheering along with the crowds at the transition area and waving at Mike as I passed. I was ready to do this!

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But about a hundred yards later, I felt like I was pedaling through sand. The headwind was STRONG, my legs were shredded from the swim and my bike gears were jacked up. Every time I tried to go lower, the pedals caught and it felt like the chain was slipping off the gears.

Right about now, all those folks who wagged their fingers at me for riding a mountain bike are probably saying “I told you so”. And to them I say “Go sit on it and spin”. I know it’s not ideal, but I had to work with what I had. This bike got me through Jersey Girl perfectly and I had no reason to believe I’d have any issues. Until I did. Again: now I know.

But I toughed it out, and after 3 miles of fighting, finally got into a comfortable gear for the rest of the first loop. At mile 1 of the second loop (Mile 7-ish overall), we went back into the headwind and I spotted a woman ahead of me on an old school cruiser with a basket. I passed her for a mile or two, but when I tired out she soon passed me once again, followed by another speedy lady who came up from behind me, laughing in relief: “I thought I was the last one back here, thank goodness for you!” And then she passed me.

That was seriously not the thing to say to me in that moment. I kept waiting for someone else, but once we turned around and I got a good look at the rest of the course, I realized the truth: I was the last person on the bike.

And that’s when I cried. I cried like a big dumb baby as I pedaled my big dumb mountain bike for the last 3 miles and wished that I’d never started this whole big dumb thing. I tried as hard as I could to try to gain on Bike Basket, but she was just too fast. At the bike finish I hopped off, walked my bike in and Mike found me, smiling and asking me how I was feeling. All I could do was choke out the words, “I’m last,” before sobbing. In front of everyone. I was SO MAD at myself. But I just kept going, racked my bike, waved back to Mike, and took off on the run.

Total Bike: 1:05:44/11mph

Transition 2: 1:35

“The run is your sport. You are a runner.” I kept telling myself this as I put one foot in front of the other, my eyes on Bike Basket’s hot pink tank top about 250 feet ahead of me. It wasn’t even a desire to finish anymore – it was pure anger. Anger at myself for being so slow, for being 10 lbs overweight, for signing up for things that I had no business trying to compete in, for thinking I could do this in the first place. It got ugly out there.

But then something strange happened – I started gaining on her. Before I knew it, I was only 100 feet behind her, then 50 feet. I took inventory of my body, looked at my pace of 11:15 and thought… you can do better than this. So I did. Once we rounded the lake, I caught up to her and heard “Fight Song” coming from the speakers of her phone. I’m probably the only person on the planet who doesn’t like that song – and after hearing it on repeat the whole run as she paced me, I now really HATE that song! – so it propelled me to go even faster. Once we hit mile 2, I hit the gas and passed her.

For good.

We moved back onto the boardwalk for a bit, then around Boardwalk Hall where I slowed to a walk for 30 seconds or so. That’s where I found and passed another competitor, who I applauded and chatted with, but once I heard Bike Basket/Fight Song creeping up behind me I took off running again and told myself that was it. If she passed me again I would undoubtedly suffer a complete nervous breakdown on this course, so it was all or nothing. At the turnaround I saw just close she was to catching me, so I pushed. Off the boardwalk, around the hall, and back onto the boards for the final stretch, no looking back.

Honestly, I wish I could find her now and thank her for her inspiration. I’m sure she was fighting her own fight out there as well, and we were neck and neck for so long that I almost considered introducing myself. But out there on that cloudy, windy course, the sight of her ahead of me – then RIGHT behind me! – was better motivation than any power song or positive mantra ever could be. Thank you, Bike Basket!!

Once I was in sight of the finish line, the crowds started cheering as soon as they saw me, and I gunned it and crossed the finish line with my hands raised above my head and my face screwed up from fighting happy tears.

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Total Run: 32:56 – 10:59/mile

TOTAL TIME: 2:07:01

Once I crossed the finish, I was greeted by two of the sweetest little angels from the Special Olympics – a little blonde boy and an even littler ponytailed girl who were handing out medals. When I saw his face looking up at me as he held my medal out to me, THAT’S when I started crying. The whole thing – all of the negative self talk, the anger, the frustration, the anxiety – it all meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was these kids, and the Special Olympics of New Jersey and all the inspirational, amazing, determined folks that are affiliated with them.

Mike found me a few moments later and I completely broke down sobbing in his arms. I had done it! It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and it was over. He helped me pull myself together, got me some food at the awesome (still fully stocked even though I was third to last!) food tent, and we got my stuff out of transition and back to the car.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotionally and physically drained in my life, until we got home and were hit with terrible news: our Sammy had a real family who really missed him, and we had to give him back.

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To say that I was gutted is an understatement. There was a moment there after I saw the Missing Poster where I thought I’d be sick from crying so hard. It felt like a bad dream. Mike was shattered. After we called his family and let him know that he was OK, we made sure to enjoy every moment of the time we had left with him. I know it’s for the best that he’s back with his family, but that little guy brought such joy to our lives right when we needed him, and we’re thankful for every moment we had.

It was an extremely emotional day for sure, and one that still leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. But it’s a part of my history now. I learned a lot about myself out there. I like to say that every run – good or bad – changes me for the better. If that’s true, then this swim-bike-run made me three times better – tougher, stronger, and wiser. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

EDIT: I just received an email from race officials admitting that, after many people contacted them about the swim distance, they discovered they were WRONG! The .25 mile swim was actually… get ready… .45 miles. That’s almost double! No wonder it looked so crazy long: they made a mistake while measuring on race morning. Vindication! But it’s still pretty cool – I now know that I can swim almost a half a damn mile, then bike 12 miles and run 3. That’s pretty damn badass, if you ask me!

Seaside Semper Five 2015 – Race Recap (and a Discount Code!)

Last year I ran the Seaside Semper Five 5k for the first time and fell in love with the race – I mean what’s not to love about a fast, flat 5k that runs along the boardwalk for 1.5 miles and ON the boardwalk for 1.6? My 2014 time was one of the year’s best, so I was excited to see what 2015 would bring.

The morning of the race we headed down to the shore. And man, it was FOGGY!

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In addition to the fog, I was surprised at just how HOT it was already. The week prior to the race saw morning temps in the gorgeous 60-65 range, but mother nature still had some summer up her sleeve and it was already 75-ish degrees!

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After finishing half a bottle of Cocogo to top off my fuel levels (since it had been more than 2 hours since breakfast), I made my way over to the start area and began to loosen up. I sang along to my music, dancing to Uptown Funk, wiggling and jiggling and getting excited. I was feeling good!! PS, yeah I know I’m that girl when I sing and dance to myself at a race. #sorrynotsorry

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It was especially nice to be surrounded by some really inspirational folks at this race. It’s a fundraising event for the MARSOC Foundation, which supports active duty and medically retired MARSOC personnel and their families, as well as the families of Marines and Sailors who have lost their lives in service. The Marines and veterans running the race are some of the most dedicated folks I’ve ever met, and it was an honor to run with them.

The gun went off a little after 9 and we took off through the haze and heat. It was crowded but not too bad – I didn’t find myself getting passed by EVERYONE like I sometimes do in these smaller races. In fact it was the opposite – the first mile clicked by almost too easily at 10:30 – who was I?? I didn’t feel like I was pushing at all, so I kept on, but that heat though – UGH! By the water station/turn onto the boardwalk at mile 1.5, I was desperate for water. The poor kids at the table didn’t know what to do with the runners clamoring for the little cups of water they were pouring from bottles, so they handed out the full bottles instead. Smart kids! So I grabbed a bottle and continued onto the boardwalk for the next mile or so, sipping every 2-3 minutes with walk/run intervals to keep from overheating.

Around mile 2.5 I came up behind a gentleman with a faux-hawk who took a look at me over his shoulder, made a face that said “Oh hell no,” and took off. Thanks for the motivation, dude! My average pace had gone from 10:30 to 11:25, but I was determined to beat this guy and bring my average down again for the finish. I turned on my latest power song (Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes”), cranked up the pace, and passed him at about mile 2.8, and just kept on going. This was my first time “chicking” someone – it felt good!

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Nearing the finish line I saw 35:xx on the clock and kicked it into high gear, crossing officially at 35:26 (although my Garmin said 34:40, so neener neener)!

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Considering I ran it in 2014 in 36:50, I’ll take either result! Mike found me and we walked back inside the Sawmill where I chilled out, stopped dripping sweat, and finished my Cocogo.

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Within a few minutes I was feeling great again, so we headed down the boardwalk in search of some good old shore food.

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The haze still stuck around, turning the boardwalk into a pretty cool scene!

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This is what I mean by good old shore food: pizza bigger than my HEAD!

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Also ice cream. I did not eat any, but I had to recreate last year’s gigantic ice cream cone pic!

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We also met up with my cousin who had also run the race – Hi, Heather!

Once the haze was gone and the sun came out, I started to poop out. I had a triathlon the next day and forgot my sunscreen (BAD runner!) so I didn’t want to overtax my legs or my skin too bad. We called it a day and headed home to relax, and another successful Seaside Semper Five was in the books!

Honestly, my success at this race had a lot to do with my fueling. Usually I eat a lite pre-race breakfast when I wake up and end up racing at least 2 hours later, which doesn’t leave enough fuel in the tank. This time I planned ahead with my Cocogo and sipped continuously on half a bottle for about an hour before the start once we arrived, and I was thrilled with my performance. My energy levels stayed consistently high throughout the race (no mile 2 slump) and my stomach stayed cramp-free!

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I’ve tried a lot of different fueling options in the past, but for my day to day runs and shorter races, Cocogo is the answer for me! If you want to try some out for yourself, I’m super excited to announce that I’m a new Cocogo Ambassador, and I’ve got a great discount for you! Use code JESSRUNSHAPPY and get 20% off your order through the end of October – after that, the code will get you 10%, but why wait? Pick up a box and try it out for yourself today! Let me know what you think – I love the raspberry/passion fruit, but grape is slowly becoming my go-to. What about you? 🙂

Jersey Girl Triathlon Race Recap

It’s been 2 days but I’m still riding high on the post-race victory wave! Now that things have settled down (and I’ve caught up on my sleep, hello 9PM bedtime two nights in a row!), I can finally give you guys a good race recap. So here we go!

Before a big race, I always say I’m going to get a good night’s sleep and end up hitting the pillow close to 3 hours late after rushing around packing my race bag, figuring out my outfit, and obsessively checking/re-checking everything. This time, I was determined to NOT let that happen, so I spent all day Saturday taming my nerves by creating order around the house (while also packing my things and taking my bike out for a test spin around the neighborhood). I did laundry, dusted, cleaned the kitchen, and it felt awesome. As a former OCD sufferer, I find happiness in order, so I dealt with my pre-race jitters in a constructive way, and as a result, woke up at 3:30 Sunday morning with a smile and a sense of calm!

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The gorgeous sunrise didn’t hurt either.

We arrived at Pier Village at about 5:30AM and found a parking spot easy peasy lemon squeezy. This also made my anxiety-prone mind happy! After a simple walk along the boards, I was marked with my bib number, entered the transition area, and staked out my little spot.

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Transition slowly started to fill with people, and after only about 5 minutes of putzing around and setting up my space, my cousin arrived and parked next to me – hooray for someone to race with!

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There was some more milling around as we used the bathroom one last time, hung out with my husband on the boardwalk, then shed our flip flops before transition closed at 6:30. The first wave of swimmers was due to go out at 6:50, so we hung around and watched them, and made our way down the beach once they set off.

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After hanging out for a while and running into our new friend Amanda before she set out in her wave, Mike came down on the sand with us and kept us company while we nervously waited for our wave – the LAST wave – to go out at 7:29.

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Once we were herded into our pen, an amazing volunteer stood at the front and gave us probably the sweetest pep talk I’ve ever heard. “Here we go, Wave 14! You guys are last but that just means you trained the hardest!” Accompanied by our coach (who was wearing his trademarked tiny gold speedo, as you’ll see in the photo below), we were assured repeatedly that the swim would be awesome.

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I didn’t doubt it! The swells were nowhere near as large as they’d been in the past 2 swims I did with the group, and the course seemed MUCH shorter. They even spotted some dolphins out there! Finally, the countdown was up and we were released into the water.

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The water was so warm!! I was thrilled and couldn’t help running right into the waves, laughing. I could hear Heather right next to me chatting with our coach, and I knew she was going to do great. I put my head down and paddled through the breakers, and within a minute or two I was already at the first buoy! The energetic volunteers in kayaks and on surfboards kept yelling out encouragement (“The hard part is over, guys!”) and once I rounded the first corner I settled into a rhythm. Stroke, stroke, stroke, look up, breathe, repeat.

After a few minutes I took a moment to soak everything in – it was really happening! I was competing in my first triathlon. The sun sparkled over the horizon in a cloudless sky, the women around me were all cheering each other on, the water danced calmly all around us. It was a moment I’ll never forget – it’s amazing where your life takes you sometimes, isn’t it?

Once I made it to the second buoy to turn back to the water, I kicked and paddled for a bit and let the ocean do some of the work to get me back to shore. I touched my toes to the sand and saw about a dozen people in the shallows helping swimmers out of the water. Just as I was about waist deep, I made eye contact with one of these volunteers – just in time to see his eyes go wide and hear him say, “Duck.” Without a second thought, I ducked straight down and felt a big wave crash right over my head. I was safe! When I popped back up I saw him making his way behind me for another swimmer and yelled out to him, “Thank you!!”

Well, I spoke too soon. I made it 2 steps before the water surged backwards around my shins and glued me in place for the next wave to smash right into my back, knocking me chest-first into the sand. I put my arms out so I didn’t tumble around, but I felt the sand rush into my top and bra, and down my shorts. Thankfully, two volunteers rushed for me as I got to my feet a second time, each one taking an arm and asking me if I was OK – these volunteers were ON POINT! I said I was fine and shook some sand out of my top when I spotted Mike on the water line. I called his name and smiled: how fun to see him right there!

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I honestly don’t remember what I said to him, but he kept me company as I got my feet under me, and then I was off, running up the beach to T1.

Swim Time: 9:04 (.17 miles)

The volunteers at the stairs, standing with hoses, and offering water before transition were all so kind. I can’t overstate this part: the volunteers throughout the entire event were AMAZING. I’ve done a lot of races, but the people that worked this one were the best I’ve ever seen. Every one had a smile and a kind word, and not one of them was being paid. Seriously fantastic!

Once I got into transition I sat down at my towel and washed my feet off, got my socks & sneakers on, and realized that Heather was nowhere to be found. I got my helmet on, drank some Nuun, and putzed around for another minute or two when she came running in and we were able to go out on the bike together – and Mike was even able to get a pic of me as I was running out!

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T1 Time: 7:47

We hopped on our bikes and made our way onto the course, and despite the sand wedged into my bra, top, and shorts, I powered through and fell right into a groove. The first flat mile clicked by under 5 minutes, and I was happy. Heather and I chatted a bit for miles 2-4, and once I took a nice long drink from my bike bottle I took off ahead and went for it. The course was almost entirely empty at this point – damn Wave 14 being the last – and I made a mental note to register for an earlier wave in my next tri.

Even though it was empty at the back of the pack, I just kept pedaling and smiling and singing along to myself – I’m sure I looked quite mad, but I was having a freakin’ blast! The course was nearly completely flat, all through Long Branch, Deal, and into Asbury. I laughed to myself when I biked over the same streets I ran just a few months ago during the Asbury Park Half Marathon, and turned around at mile 6-ish to head back the way we came. There were a few other people now along the course – some were just recreational bikers and others were a part of the race – so I got the satisfaction of picking a few off as I passed. I was certainly not breaking any speed records, but I wanted to avoid that strange cramping I experienced on my last brick workout.

Once I got to mile 9-ish though, I panicked briefly & slowed: the signs and road cones were all gone. Did I make a wrong turn? If all else fails, I thought, I can just bike to where we came out of. Finally, at mile 10.75, I approached a corner and saw a few people standing between cones that continued past the street. I slowed and asked them “Do I go straight or turn?” Evidently I was dealing with the only two volunteers who kind of stunk at their job. They didn’t hear me at first, so I had to full-on stop and ask again, “Do I go straight?!” Finally, one of them says, “Sure, if you want?” Incredulous, I spat out “I’M IN THE RACE!” to which he replied, “OH, then go right!” I laughed and shook my head as I turned and started up again, a little annoyed at having to stop like that.

But once I came around the corner and into the finish area, the other volunteers were on point again. As I dismounted, one genuinely asked me how I was feeling, and walked with me until I answered, “Great!” and ran my bike back into transition for T2 and the run.

Bike Time: 55:18 (11 miles)

This transition was even simpler – I just had to drop my bike & helmet off and put my hat on, but I stayed a moment to slug back another 1/3 of my bottle of Nuun. Then I was off – Mike even got me there too!!

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T2 Time: 2:08

Within a few strides out of the gate, I could tell this was going to be difficult. In the first quarter mile, I passed two women who were walking and really struggling, so I slowed to walk and offered encouragement to each of them: “We’ve got this, one foot in front of the other!” Honestly, it was half for them and half for me at this point. I had been feeling good, but the full sun right on the boardwalk was harsh. But I told myself it was only 3 miles and the quicker I moved the sooner it’d be over. So I ran.

I looked at my watch at .60 and let out a few curses that I kind of regret now, seeing as how there were children in the area. But it was getting really raw out there. At the turnaround near mile 1, I had somehow convinced myself that the race was only 2 miles. The finish line was right near transition, and all we had to do was run back to there, right? I know, I was delusional, but it got me through that middle stretch, OK?

I turned to cheers and high fives from the volunteers there and plowed through without even looking at my watch. At around 1.3, Heather passed me going in the opposite direction – all she could manage was “Where’s the turnaround?” I pointed behind me and said, “Not far!” But once I got near the finish line at mile 2 and saw that the finishers were coming in from the other direction, I realized I still had another mile to go. And that’s when I felt like crying.

It might have been the emotions of the day catching up with me, but I just wanted it to be over. Especially after seeing the finish line area filled with people already wearing their medals and celebrating, knowing that I had nearly another mile to go was a real gut punch. Instead of letting it get to me though, I put my head down and told myself – out loud – to suck it up and just finish the f*cking race. Once I made it to the final turnaround at mile 2.6, I made a mental promise to start running once I hit the boards and not stop until I had that medal around my neck.

That’s where I passed Heather again, and we gave each other some last minute encouragement. When my feet hit the boards I just kept trudging. I didn’t necessarily hurt, I just wanted it to be done with. I glanced at my watch and saw an average time of 11:45 and thought: Hell no, I’m not going out like that! So I pulled a little extra out of the tank and picked up the pace for the last quarter mile. Once I was in sight of the clock and saw 2:27, I wanted to beat 2:30 (never mind the fact that the time wasn’t adjusted for wave starts).

So I pushed and smiled and heard the shouts of everyone at the finish line cheering me on as I crossed the mat with the announcer’s voice booming out my name: I was a triathlete!!

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Run Time: 34:45 (3 miles, 11:35/mile pace!!)

At the finish line I thought I’d cry or collapse or something – but I was honestly so amazed that all I could do was laugh and smile and shout out “YEAH!” as the volunteer handed me my medal. Mike was right there to give me a big hug and lots of congrats as another volunteer removed my ankle timing chip – and that was that!

TOTAL TIME: 1:49:00

Mike went to feed the meter while I waited to cheer Heather in – she finished not long after – and we had done it!

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Even though I felt like crying there during the run, I knew from the moment I crossed that mat that I was going to do this again.  The people in charge of this event deserve their own medals for organizing such a seamless experience, from the outstanding volunteer support to well-thought-out transition areas – it was all perfect. The experience was so overwhelmingly positive and rewarding that I’m already planning my next triathlon in September!

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Race Recap: Woodbridge Pizza Run 4-Miler

In 2011 I ran the Woodbridge Run for Pizza with my friend Carolyn and a huge group of people and had a relatively good time. The company was great, but I learned that it’s just one of those races that truly takes everything I’ve got. The combination of the hilly terrain, the weather, and the fact that it started at 7PM made for 4 miles aboard the struggle bus. And while I finished in 45:05 at a respectable 11:16 pace, I vividly recall my mantra for the entire last mile: never again, never again.

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The 2011 finish line showdown between me & Carolyn (and Derian in the stroller!)

But, like the stubborn polack I am, “never again” turned into “meh, sure” and I found myself at the starting line last night once again!

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I met up with Carolyn about a half hour before the start and we milled around stretching and chatting with our families. The forecast called for thunderstorms but the sky was already clearing, so we slowly made our way to the starting line, talking mostly about how G-D DAMN HOT it was. Seriously, it was like 90 degrees at 7PM, and the humidity had to be around 90%. It was like walking through hot soup!

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We also limbered up with some synchronized acrobatics

After a few words from the mayor, we set off on our journey and chatted a bit along the way. Carolyn set the pace at around 10:15/mile, which worried me a bit. I felt OK, but didn’t think I could maintain that pace the whole time, especially with the humidity.

But we kept going through the first 2 miles, walking at each mile marker for water stops – but I wasn’t going to be able to keep up the pace, I could tell. It turns out that even though she wasn’t running a lot lately, the crazy HIIT booty camp classes that Carolyn has been taking have turned her into a superwoman, because even though she mentioned eating 2 ice cream sandwiches before lunchtime, she made 10:30 miles look EFFORTLESS! I was sucking wind and felt my form breaking down bad, but she just clicked on through with a smile. I think I need to check out these classes!

At the 2nd water stop I felt the nasty acid reflux burn kick its way into my mouth and burped a few times. No matter how much water I drank, it kept burning and I had to walk through it. I felt bad – I didn’t want to hold Carolyn back so I told her to go ahead. She hung around for a few more meters, but all that water kicked back on me and I burped up a big ‘ol hunk of my pre-race PB&J (yuck). That’s when I told her to go: she wasn’t going to want to see the end of this.

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On the bridge right before mile 3.

So once she took off at mile 2.6ish, I did a few run/walk intervals but started burping again every time I’d start running. At the last interval at the start of mile 3, it was finally too much and I ended up losing the rest of my PB&J (sorry, gross!). It didn’t feel bad though – if anything, the lack of food now made it easier to run! That must officially make me a runner , huh? 😉

I stuck with intervals for the next 3/4 mile, maintaining an 11:40-ish pace. I was still really excited by this – considering my last run of more than 3 miles was a 12:30 pace (in nicer weather!), this performance was much better than I anticipated! It was kind of a bummer to see my friend go on ahead though, especially after all that talk of no running and ice cream sandwiches. But comparison is the thief of joy, isn’t it?

Once I hit mile 3.8, I sucked it up and powered through, rounding the corner and finishing strong (and with a smile!) in 46:46 (Garmin time of 46:49) and an avg. pace of 11:33!

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After I crossed the finish line and reunited with everyone, we cooled off in the open fire hydrant at the finish then headed over to the post-race party for pizza and live music.

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SWEET RELIEF

The pizza was meh considering I’d just yakked on the course, so I had one piece to call it a Pizza Run, got a few mosquito bites, and we called it a night! Another successful, fun Pizza Run in the books.

Will I do this one again next year? Maybe. The smaller field of runners means there aren’t that many slower folks like me at the back of the pack – and I wasn’t even going as slow as I was earlier this year! I finished 165/208, which certainly isn’t last, but I was alone for most of that last mile. It was lonely, and frankly kind of discouraging back there. But again – comparison is the thief of joy! And looking at it in terms of my OWN performance and how much better I’ve gotten over the past 3-5 months, this race was a huge win for me, hands down.

Ah, who am I kidding? I’ll probably give it a shot next year just to see if I can beat my time 😉

Race Recap: Oakley Mini 10K

It’s official: the 10K is my new favorite distance! The Oakley Mini 10K was probably one of the strongest races I’ve ever run, and my running/training confidence is through the roof right now. Let’s see how it went down:

IMG_6276On Saturday morning I met my cousin at the train station for the 5:37am train but my usual pre-race jitters were nowhere to be found: this was “just” a 10K (I’m super comfortable with that distance) and we had already tested out our travel plans a few days before so we knew exactly where to go to get to the starting line on time. It was pure fun!

IMG_6277We got off the subway at Columbus Circle and practically walked right into our corral, so to kill the next hour before the start we wandered around and took pictures pretty much everywhere we could. When the volunteers warned us about the impending start time, I kissed Mike goodbye and we smushed into our corral with the rest of the “brown bibs” (copyright 2015, Jess Runs Happy).

IMG_6287By 8am, the temps were already in the high 70’s and the humidity was around 60%. I was comfortable in the shade, but when the sun poked through the trees, it was hot. But once the horn went off, everything fell into place and I took off on my very first timed 10K!

As we fought our way up the street, I got caught up in the excitement and went out too fast at around 10:40/mile. Once I noticed and slowed down, the first mile clocked by easily in 11:15. I was feeling great: my Bioskin patella strap gave my knee the support it needed and the shade of the trees and tall buildings kept me nice and comfortable. I lost my cousin at the first water stop – I was carrying a full disposable water bottle with me and hadn’t even touched it – so I kept on running for the second mile and into the park, where the fun really started.

The spectators and volunteers lining the course made a huge difference – it’s hard not to feel energized when there’s a bunch of shirtless November Project dudes in tutus hanging off the streetlight poles banging cowbells for you! As the miles ticked by through 4.5, I was pleased with my effort. I took walk breaks halfway up each hill to keep from burning out – I knew these would affect my time but I was more interested in having fun at this race than setting an unbelievable PR, especially with the heat and hills.

IMG_6293Mile 5 selfie!

This is where I passed one or two women laid out on the grass with medics elevating their feet and icing them down – the heat was really no joke! But when I glanced down to see that I’d been running for just over an hour, I was shocked at how good I still felt. To stay on track I took some gummy bears on a walk break, filled up my water bottle at the mile 5 water stop, and decided to push for the final 1.2 miles to see what I was capable of.

I knew I wasn’t going to PR – my best 10K time on a treadmill is around 1:12, and I was already at around 1:07 with an average pace hovering around 12:45 with the walk breaks. But I told myself to make the effort to finish with an average pace under 12:30, and it turned out to be a real challenge! Once I spotted the 800 meters sign, I resisted the urge to take off so that I could finish strong: I bolted at the 800 meters sign in the NYC Half, only to fizzle briefly at 400 meters, so I learned my lesson.

Soon the 400 meters sign was in sight and that’s when I gunned it past about a dozen or so women, smiling the whole way. The crowds lining the course were unbelievably happy and loud, so I gave it everything I had for a super strong finish – and crossed the line with an average pace of 12:29!

IMG_6309I smiled the whole way through the finisher’s chute, got my medal and my flower, downed a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water, then snapped a victory selfie to remember that moment.

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Once I found Mike and my cousin about 10 minutes later, we traded stories (Mike missed my finish because one runner got sick and collapsed as soon as she crossed the finish line about 15 seconds ahead of me!) and posed for some finisher pics.

IMG_6328Then we made our way to the after party, where there were lines pretty much everywhere.

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Soon after that we tired of the crowds and made our way back through the park to Columbus Circle once more, where we snapped a few more pics and made our way home!

IMG_6323My #1 everything 🙂

Like I said before, this race has officially kicked off my love affair with the 10K distance, and I’m already searching for more to do in the next few months! It’s just long enough to be challenging but not so intense that the training cuts into my life and drains me. Plus you get medals at a lot of them, what’s not to love about that?!

IMG_6326Overall this race gets a solid A and I can’t wait for next year!

Race Recap: Run the Vineyards 5K

I love running. And I love wine. So an event that combines these two things? Yeah, that’s pretty much a guaranteed must do. So when I spotted the Run the Vineyards 5K Series, I laced up my sneakers and dusted off my wine-drinking shorts (full disclosure: every pair of shorts can be wine-drinking shorts when you’re me).

IMG_5568The races take place at vineyards in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and this one was at the Hopewell Valley Vineyards in Pennington, NJ. I’ll admit: I was so excited for a wine-related race that I blindly signed up for this one after a quick glance at where it fell on the map. I saw Princeton and Trenton around the area and thought “Meh, can’t be that far!” Well, I was kinda wrong. It was more than an hour away! But it didn’t matter – on the morning of the race, traffic was light and we arrived 15 minutes earlier than planned.

IMG_5577 We were so early in fact that we got to chill on a nice shady little bench after using the vineyard’s gorgeous restrooms (instead of the quickly-getting-more-crowded port-a-johns)!

IMG_5648IMG_5576Overall it was super easy to find the place, and the parking lot was set up just steps away from the starting line in a big open lot, which was great. We popped the trunk of our SUV, had a seat, and relaxed while the crowd got thicker and the sun got warmer. After about a half hour or so I met up with a few co-worker friends, pinned on my number, and we made our way to the starting area.

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It looked like it was going to be a small race – the results say there were less than 350 runners!

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Once the gun went off we cleared out of there and took off up a slight gravel hill onto the main road outside the vineyard. It was a gorgeous place: hills and mountains, lots of trees lining perfectly paved roads, big farm houses dotting the landscape – if they were to ever hold a longer race in that area I’d jump right on it!

IMG_5583We started off down the main road under nice bright sunshine and a cloudless sky, and I was feeling good – no tightness anywhere, knees were fresh, life was good! As we made the first and second turn through the first mile I realized that we were going almost explicitly downhill. Not by a huge amount, but still enough to know that I didn’t look forward to going back up them at the end of the race!

IMG_5585By mile 1.2, the speedier folks at the front of the pack had already turned and were making their way past us, and I realized the turnaround was only a quarter mile away. That was it?! It felt like nothing! For the past 6 months my shortest training runs were 4 miles, so I guess now 3.1 miles is like a warm up. Good to know.

I was feeling the heat by the turnaround though, so I grabbed a big cup of water (thank god for that!), sipped and walked, tossed the cup in the trash, and took off again up the rolling hills I’d just run down.

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The hills weren’t as hard as I thought they’d be though – or maybe it’s all the hill training I’ve been doing lately? – but either way, I alternated between walking and running when the sun was too hot. By this point it was already in the 80’s and the shade was far behind in the first half of mile 2, and I was pretty happy with my 11:45-ish pace. I wasn’t looking to break any records, I just wanted to have a good time at a no-pressure race again!

So by mile 2.5 I saw the entrance to the vineyard again and started to crank it a little harder. My music was bumping, my legs were still feeling strong, and I actually picked a few people off here and there! It was fun. We turned the corner and ran back down the hill we scaled at the start, past the finish line, around the vineyard building, and back up through the vineyard for the final .25 mile or so.

IMG_5600That’s when I hit a wall – literally, the ladies in front of me stopped to walk. I don’t know if you can see it up there, but there’s wire holding up the vines on either side of us – so I couldn’t pass them without being a huge jerk and literally nudging them away! I walked for a little bit behind them but soon heard the footsteps of other runners surging behind me, and that’s when I finally said screw it and dropped the hammer to pass them.

It was fun pushing that hard; I felt my ankles rolling on the uneven dirt, and spotted the clock at the finish line: 36:54. Under 37 would be awesome! I gave it all I had, but evidently that bottleneck in the vineyard was too much – I crossed in 37:02.

IMG_5624That’s one ticked off runner.

My Garmin said otherwise, though, and the race results are actually better than my Garmin: 36:39. Not my best, not my worst, and an overall fun race!

IMG_5602Afterwards we went back to the car where I changed into flip flops (ah the benefits of having the car right there!), then we all met up for some post-race chatting, delicious wine in our commemorative race glasses, and live music in the courtyard. We even went inside to explore the winery where I hit the mother lode:

IMG_5640Pop the trunk, I’ve got my wine.

We even found a place where the walls were made of wine…

IMG_5607… and a whole slew of little wine bottles that look like they ran marathons of their own! Look at all their medals!

IMG_5614After that we took a stroll back up the hill to the entrance where a giant cow statue was calling my name..

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Well, not literally, but how could I pass up a photo op with a giant copper cow?

And with that, we called it a day! I would definitely consider doing this again next year. It was very well organized, on a beautiful course, and the post-race festivities were awesome.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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(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 🙂

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