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!).

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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!

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Come Walk (and Run!) for Wishes with Me!

Last year, I ran the Make A Wish Foundation’s 5K Walk for Wishes and had a great time (despite a little head cold). This year I’m all set to return to Liberty State Park on Saturday, September 26th where I’ll run the race again in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation!

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The race really is a dream for runners of all abilities: the completely flat, super fast course runs entirely along the path at Liberty State Park, with views of the NYC skyline and the Status of Liberty pretty much the entire way. It’s a joint event with the Walk for Wishes kicking off after the race, which is super-inspiring, because once you’re done sweating it out, you get to see all the amazing wish kids and their families supporting each other as they set off on their walk along the waterfront.

So if you’re not doing anything on the 26th, why not come out and race with me? I’m always looking for someone to chat with at the back of the pack – and I may even tack on my long run after the race is over, so I could use some company 😉

Don’t miss out: Register here!

Giveaway: Win an Entry into the Skirt Sports 13er

In honor of the Real Women Move campaign, I’m doing my part to share the positivity by hosting a Rafflecopter giveaway! Capture That’s right: now’s your chance to win a Basic entry into the Skirt Sports 13er/10k/5k Local OR Virtual Race, coming up on June 14th! The beauty with all Skirt Sports races is that no matter whether you run the race in person OR select the virtual option, you not only receive a race packet including a Finisher’s Skirt (or bra or top depending on the race), race bib #, and sponsor swag, but you’ll ALSO win a gift certificate to spend right away on the Skirt Sports website, in the boutique or at an expo attended by Skirt! For this giveaway, here’s what you’ll win:

  • $50 gift certificate
  • Race #
  • Finisher’s Skirt (Don’t Sweat It Collection pull over skirt)
  • Sponsor swag

You can use this for the local race on June 14th or run it virtually on the same day. Not ready for 13.1? No worries! You can run the 13er, 10k, or even the 5k! So what are you waiting for? Enter now! The winner will be announced on May 13th – and I look forward to running with you in spirit in June! Enter Now!

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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United NYC Half Marathon Expo & NYRR Instameet

I know I kind of did this backwards, but I had such a great time at the United NYC Half Marathon Expo and Instameet that I just had to backtrack and tell you about it today!

I had planned on going in to the expo to get my bib and do some shopping on the Saturday before the race, but when I got the invite to a special “Instagram-friends of NYRR” type party at the Expo that Thursday, I changed my plans! After a quick train ride into the city, I simply walked across the street from Penn Station and voila: I was at the expo!

IMG_3293After breezing through packet pickup and grabbing my number, it was on to the fun part: shopping!

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The inside was poorly lit, but aside from that, it was one of the best-run, easiest to navigate, and useful expos I’ve ever been to! I stocked up on my favorite Gu flavors (and saved myself a trip to Road Runner in an already crazy week!), picked up a super cute Sweaty Band with the race’s colors and name on it, and some other fun goodies like race-branded ear warmers, a hat, and a mug too!

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Coffee just tastes better in a United NYC Half mug

So after a bit of shopping, it was time to join my fellow Instagram people at the Tata Consultancy Services Lounge for the first half of our Instameet, which included the cutest little cupcakes:

IMG_3301…AKA my dinner…

And an awesome photo op with some Instagram “celebrities” that I’ve been following and chatting with for months now, and finally got to meet in person!

IMG_3334The best part about this photo was trying to decide if we should make the letters with our bodies or just use signs.

After mingling for a bit, some of the partiers decided to call it a night, but the rest of us hoofed it a few blocks away for drinks and food at Tir Na Nog on 39th, courtesy of the awesome folks at NYRR. It was exactly what we all needed: with race day just a few days away, we weren’t so much people as we were just bundles of nerves held together by KT Tape and Asics.

IMG_3328And Heineken and Cabernet.

I don’t think I can ever thank the folks at NYRR enough for inviting me to this party and bringing us all together. You know how those last few pre-race weeks go: our loved ones and coworkers can only take so much of our insanity during taper time, so being able to talk about running and mingle with a bunch of like-minded people who are also going through the same race prep as you was a huge relief.

It was also a great place to make some new friends, too! That Heineken up there belongs to one of those new friends: Bolivar. He introduced me to something called “Little Friday” (aka, Thursday), a tradition that I am only too happy to incorporate into my future stress-relief plans!

At the end of the night we toasted one last time to a good race on Sunday, I finished my second glass of Cabernet, and sauntered the 4 or 5 blocks back to the train station just in time for the 9:38 train back home! I smiled pretty much the entire ride back, and spent most of the trip connecting to all of my new Instagram friends and trading likes and comments and well wishes.

IMG_3348It was just what I needed to relax before a race as big as the NYC Half – and I have the great people at NYRR to thank for it!

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Rest & Recover? lol jk

Here I am, 3 days post-race, and I already miss training. Not being able to run after a race like that kills me! Especially since I had such a great experience; PR’ing with my new ACL has me convinced that I can – and should! – take on another race soon, to maintain my fitness and improve my time.

But alas, I’m forced to “take it easy”, at least for this week. OK, my knees can use the rest. Truth be told, they’re both still a little tender. This new ligament was just put through the wringer, and my good knee has taken on a lot in the last year, so they’ve earned a few rest days.

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But I want to GO! I went from talking about nothing but training to talking about wanting to get back into training. I think my coworkers may tie me to my chair and roll me into an empty office soon. How about you, does the post-race rest period drive you as insane as it’s driving me?

Also, can we talk for a moment about the whole post-race appetite thing? During training, I was like a vacuum. I required constant feedings, like a 165 lb. newborn kitten.

Image…and then eat some more!

But after my half on Saturday, my appetite has all but disappeared. I fantasized about pancakes for pretty much all of miles 11 & 12, but once I finished, the thought of food just turned me off. We only stopped at Baja Fresh after the race because I knew that poor Mike had to eat *something*. Sure the guacamole was good, and my shrimp taco was delicious, but I could only manage a few bites of each before calling it a day. That night I had a chicken salad and treated myself to some hash browns, but again could only take about half of each. I couldn’t even finish my celebratory brownie that night.

Guys, do you understand what I just said? Let me repeat myself: I couldn’t even finish a brownie. What the what??

3 days later, I’m still not as ravenous as I expected – which is certainly a good thing, especially if I have to take a few more days off running. But this goes against everything I am and desire in life. Have any of you ever experienced an appetite decrease after a race? Am I entirely alone here?

Race Recap: Asbury Park Half Marathon

This weekend I ran my first half marathon since tearing my ACL in mile 12 of my last one back in October 2012. And it couldn’t have been a better day if I had scripted it!!

My day started out with a bit of anxiety: after 18 months of no running/racing in major races, I had some serious stress dreams about getting to the start. So when 5:30 rolled around I woke up ready but not necessarily rested. I did my usual pre-run routine (coffee, peanut butter bread, half banana, bathroom), and once I slapped some eyebrows on (gotta look good for the race photographer!), I taped up my knees and got dressed, sticking with the tank and shorts & throwing my running rain jacket on at the last minute.

After a quick 25-30 minute drive, we got to the boardwalk and easily found parking – a huge bonus in my book! I was so nervous & couldn’t stop talking in circles – poor Mike kept talking me down, and finally he gave me a look that said he was considering using the KT tape from my knees to cover my mouth, and I kept my insecurities to myself. Bless his heart.

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Fig. 1: a terrified runner

We milled around at the start, waiting in the semi-ridiculous port-a-potty line and acclimating to the cold wet weather, when the sun broke through the clouds, causing a huge burst of applause from the crowd. That’s when I called an audible, took the jacket off, and lined up for the start.

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Fig. 2: terrified runner, faking optimism

The gun went off and after the usual jostling at the start, we were on our way! As I crossed the timing pad, “Born to Run” blared from a nearby radio station tent and I couldn’t help but smile. Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen, the Jersey Shore, the gritty boardwalk, the finish at the Stone Pony: this race was made for me! I own this! It’s funny how one song can turn your mood around entirely 🙂

So, with my confidence soaring, I settled into a nice easy, conservative 11:30-12:00 min/mile pace and smiled the whole first 2 miles, listening to other runners near me at the back of the pack chatting happily and joking about how they only had “5 more hours to go!” These were my people!

We passed hungover hipsters watching us from the doorways of diners, couples walking their dogs, people getting coffee – it was a gorgeous spring Saturday morning and I felt like I could go forever. We did a nice slow loop around the lake and back along the boardwalk where we got a nice boost from the crowd that still lingered there – and I even got to snag an extra good luck kiss from Mike!

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Fig. 3: Happy runner 🙂

Miles 3-5.5 went one way out and miles 5.5-7 passed us in the other direction. It was motivating to pass the faster runners and snag some high-fives to power through. I stopped at the water station at 5.5 for a stretch and some water, then took some almonds and peanut butter M&M’s for energy (gels cramp my stomach) a bit later at 1:07. But I realized too late – I had no water! I mis-timed my stop and found myself jogging with a dry mouth full of paste (that tasted like smoked almonds and chocolate, ugh). I asked a nearby course volunteer where the next water station was and while she didn’t know, she magically reached into her pocket and pulled out a tiny bottle of water for me! I heard angels and saw the skies open up above her, and thanked her about 20 times as I jogged away, recharged.

The last 3rd of the race was along the boardwalk the entire way, and as we ran back past the start/finish area I found Mike one last time and smiled, for the camera, but I knew the rest of this race was going to be tough.

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powering through

I felt a little bit of fatigue, and looked forward to my planned walk breaks at Mile 10. Just after I passed Mike though, a tiny figure in a neon pink sweatshirt came out of the crowd right before the Casino pier and ran straight for me, screaming, “Jess! Yeah Jess GO!” – it was my friend Tina! I had totally forgotten that she was coming! I was grateful for the chance to stop and hug her, but she (being a seasoned runner with 7 [SEVEN!!] marathons under her belt) knew that if I stopped I wouldn’t start again. So she kept pace with me for about 50 yards, “You’re doing great! How are you feeling? How’s your knee? Can I get you anything at the finish?” I kept running. All I could get out was fragments: “I’m great! 5 and a half to go, knee is awesome, thanks but I’m good!” She trailed off just as I went through the abandoned pier, “Alright, we’ll be there at the finish, you’ve got this!!” I gave her a thumbs up and once I was inside the pier, I found myself sobbing.

I was so overwhelmed with the whole experience – I was running with my new ACL, on track to beat my old time, and here was this friend I completely didn’t expect and needed just at the right moment. I mean come on, no one understands a runner better than another runner. I heard my goofy sobs echoing around the empty pier – then realized that she was probably still only a few yards behind me, dummy, pull yourself together and run your ass off!

So run I did, and started to melt down around 10.5. The boardwalk was an unforgiving surface to run on, and my thin compression socks offered little in the way of cushioning. At every step I could feel every bump and nail in the boards under my feet. My good knee throbbed with every step, but as long as I alternated between jogging and walking, I was good.

I kept an eye on my watch, with my time to beat at 2:56; That was when I crossed the finish line after tearing my ACL in the AC Half. Even if I made it in at 2:55 I would call it a win. So when I passed mile 12 and saw 2:40 on the clock, I panicked. If I walked it at 15 mins/mile, I wouldn’t make it. I’d have to push. So I did.

And just as I came over the last bridge at mile 12.85, there was another friend – Bill. I pointed at him as I jogged towards him, as he stood there smiling at me, waiting to run me in. I had nothing left to give at this point; even speaking was impossible. I felt so bad – I couldn’t answer any of his questions, or even explain to him that I was so close to my time goal because I couldn’t breathe enough to say it!

And honestly, I hadn’t even said my goal out loud, ever. Saying it felt too real. If I came in after 2:56 I couldn’t bear the thought of having to hear everyone tell me, “Well you still did great!”.

So I speed walked, I jogged, and there was Tina and her boyfriend Joe, again at mile 13. This time she snapped a pic of me:

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I was laughing, yes – but I think hallucinating too.

I just had to make it up to the boardwalk and sprint the last .1 to finish. I said screw it and just RAN – I’m not even sure of that final pace – but when I could make out the numbers on the finish clock and saw 2:53, I burst into tears. I simply couldn’t hold the emotion in any longer, and crossed that finish line at 2:53:44, sobbing and wheezing.

When I cleared the finishers chute, I found Mike and could only make out the words “I beat my time!” before dissolving into full-on sobs. I hadn’t even told him about my goal, and I didn’t even have the oxygen to do so now! But he knew.

Tina and Bill joined us, for hugs and photos and chatting – it was amazing.

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Triumphant Runner 🙂

I felt like I was vibrating. I still do! It was an amazing experience and I enjoyed every moment of it. I left it all on the course and wouldn’t have done it any other way. This race was more than just a race, it proved to me that I could see something through to the end successfully. I guess when it comes to half marathons, my third time was really the charm 😉

The only negative things I can say had to do with the finish and expo/t-shirt pickup situation. When we all parted ways, I realized that I needed water, and maybe a banana or something. I was shaking and my legs were near giving out. But all they had available on the boardwalk near the finish were plastic cups of water – if I wanted anything else I had to walk about a half mile back into town off the boardwalk to the “expo” in a school gymnasium (where they were also giving out race t-shirts). Now, I’d just run 13.27 miles. That unpaved field I had to cross to get to the expo may as well have been made of lava and filled with crocodiles. I still remember standing at the corner, looking at the expo sign in the distance and asking Mike for a piggy-back ride because I couldn’t fathom walking that far!

But even with that, I’d give the Asbury Park Runapalooza about a B+. The expo was cute, the tech shirts are fun orange long sleeve shirts, and I even got a free leg massage after the race! This is definitely a race I can see myself returning to year after year!

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How about you? Did you race this weekend? I want to hear all about it!

I did it!

I promise a full race recap later, but I just couldn’t let another hour go by without sharing the great news:

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I finished my first post-ACL surgery Half Marathon this weekend, AND I came away with a shiny new PR!!

I was able to shave a little over 3 minutes off my time, but more importantly, I crossed the finish line with both legs fully intact (and full-on ugly-cry face).

More to come later!

 

 

 

Run For Change

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Are you going to be in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area on Mother’s Day? Then come out to a great new 10K race that’s being held at Washington Crossing, PA on May 11th, 2014. A friend and co-worker of mine helped organize this with her sorority, and it promises to be a fantastic event for a worthy cause.

In conjunction with runBucks and Girls for a Change, Inc., the Xi Xi Chapter of Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. is elated to present you with “Run for Change” – a 10k Mother’s Day Run in Washington Crossing, PA to benefit Girls for a Change, Inc.

For more information or to register/donate, check it out online or on Facebook – and tell them you heard about them from Jess Runs Happy!

Training Post-ACL Reconstruction

I used to run through my aches and pains and told myself it made me a tougher runner. It turns out I was injuring myself even more. With each mile I logged, the tiny tears in my left ACL grew and grew, leaving me vulnerable to the nearly-full tear I experienced at Mile 12 of the Atlantic City Half Marathon in October 2012.

The resulting surgery and therapy -and the 9 months off from running while it healed- gave me the chance to work with orthopedists and physical therapists to learn all about my body and how to take care of it. They introduced me to an arsenal of tools to help keep my knee, and the rest of my joints, healthy and happy through the miles:

tools of the trade

disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or expert, but these are all magic.

TENS Unit: This was a gift from the running gods, let me tell you. When I started physical therapy after my surgery, my therapist put the pads on my thigh to stimulate the muscles and basically bring them to life again. I was given my own machine for use at home (thank you, health insurance!!), and was shown how to use it for pain management too. It was magic – there were still the usual post-surgery pains, but I could move around the house a lot easier while the pads were on and “buzzing”. Eventually the TENS became a part of my every day routine – 20 minutes on the bad knee at the end of the day to relax and revive the muscles, with ice & a quick massage. Now, 13 months after the surgery, I still use these puppies on my bad knee after a tough run or long day on my feet – hell, I even use it on my good knee too, to ease the usual overuse pains it’s developed with the extra pressure it had to take on while the bad knee healed. It’s like a little package of magic, and I don’t know what I’d do without it!

Ice: Even on the coldest days, I’ll ice up after a run if I’ve felt any little pinches or pops during my run. It’s a simple way to calm down any inflammation I may have, whether it’s because of a hilly run or a humid day (thanks to the surgery, I’m one of those people whose knees swell in even a tiny bit of humidity).

Glucosamine Chondroitin: AKA Osteo-Bi-Flex or any of the popular Glucosamine tablets you can find in the pharmacy. These are expensive, but I take them every day because I can feel an obvious difference if I don’t! My orthopedist didn’t want to do surgery immediately. Instead, he gave me these pills for 6 weeks, had me do daily strengthening exercises, and let the swelling go down. In my case, surgery turned out to still be necessary, but I’m convinced that these pills (along with the strengthening exercises that I still do to this day) helped me get stronger and made it possible for me to bounce back from surgery as quickly as I did.

Now, here’s the key: these are just tools. They only work if I put in the hard work and *train* with them! Strength training has been a HUGE part of the recovery process for me, as we determined it was the lack of training that got me here in the first place! I neglected to build up my leg muscles and only focused on mileage while I trained for my race, and that (combined with my family history of weak knees) spelled disaster for me at Mile 12.

Now that I know how to take care of and listen to my body, training post-ACL reconstruction is a lot of work, but it’s not impossible. If you’ve had an injury, how do you cope with it in your training? Have you ever used a TENS unit? What are your thoughts on glucosamine? Tell me all about it in the comments!