RACE RECAP: Long Branch Half Marathon

Yesterday I ran half marathon number 3, and I have to say…it was not easy.DSCF3344

As you may remember, I ran my second half marathon just two weeks ago, and crossed the finish line in a very unexpected 2:03. I was absolutely elated with my time (2:05 was my “best-case scenario” time goal). It was a beautiful day at the Jersey Shore, I was feeling strong, and in what seemed like moments after the start of the race, I was placing a medal around my neck.

So I sort of expected a similar experience this weekend when I ran the Long Branch Half Marathon for the first time. Once again, it was a BEAUTIFUL day at the Jersey Shore. But this time, I struggled. A lot.

Let me rewind a bit. On Saturday, I headed down to Monmouth Park Racetrack for the expo, where I picked up my bib and did a little a lot of shopping. I was trying to spot Kim from Barking Mad About Running, who also ran the half and was volunteering at the expo, but didn’t get to see her, unfortunately. I was disappointed that arriving at 10:30am on Saturday meant that the majority of the women’s shirts that I wanted were sold out in my size (interestingly enough, my spectators later informed me that they were all re-stocked for sale on the day of the race…not cool!). But I did manage to get some official merch, along with some super cute tees and a 13.1 magnet from Bay Six, a new fuel belt from Hippie Runner, and, of course, I spent lots and lots of time at BondiBand shamelessly digging through piles of headbands and carrying on about how much I LOVE them — prompting the woman at the table to ask when I was going to come work for them. (The answer: ANYTIME! CALL ME!) ;-D

2013-05-04 12.20.40The race was slated to begin at 6:45am SHARP for half marathon runners on Sunday, followed by the full New Jersey Marathon at 8am. After making the drive to Monmouth Park on Saturday for the expo in a solid 45 minutes, I went ahead and allotted an additional FULL HOUR to our morning commute  for the traffic that I knew was going to back up along the several lights leading into the racetrack.

So my sister, BF, and I piled into the car at the ungodly hour of 4:55am to make our way to the park…and I am sorry to report that I would have missed the start of the race completely had we left just five minutes later.

We arrived before 5:45am, but the traffic to get into the park was absolutely insane, and it took a solid 45 minutes just to make our way into the parking area. I proceeded to make a mad dash for the port-a-potties (because I know myself enough to know that I will NOT stop during a race), and stood in a line that appeared to be about a mile long. The race day security was no joke, either; I completely understand the heightened security, but I know there was some frustration about not being able to carry even a small purse.

Meanwhile, it was now approaching 6:45am, and the announcer was calling the start of the race. I figured I had a few extra minutes since I was in Corral C, so I didn’t worry too much — I had no idea then that the corrals were being released within seconds of each other. It was finally my turn at the port-a-potty, so I did my thing and then ran like hell to the starting line…only to discover that the corrals were now gated, and my corral was next to start. Another frustrated Corral C runner broke through the barricade, so a bunch of us followed, and it was IMMEDIATELY time to start running.

I’ve cut it close before, but I NEVER want another race day experience to begin this way…stressed and aggravated is no way to begin a 13.1 mile journey!

Of course, I had my sights set on beating my previous half marathon time of 2:03. I knew that only two weeks had passed since my last race, but I knew I had it in me to push just a little bit harder. My foot issues (which I have conclusively diagnosed as tendonitis) have been subsiding in the last week or so, thank goodness, but I tied my shoelaces loosely so as to not cause any flare-ups during the race. Little did I know that something so seemingly insignificant — SHOELACES, for crying out loud — would be among my downfalls in this race.

photo 3In miles 1-3, I was feeling good. I spent some energy weaving around other runners, but there was definitely room to run (not the case at Runapalooza, unfortunately), and I found my stride right around an 8:45 pace for those first miles. But then came mile 4, and I started to feel a little…off. Though I wasn’t experiencing any of the pain that I’ve been dealing with in my foot, I could feel some discomfort in my left shoe, so I allowed myself to pause for the briefest of moments to tug at my socks and adjust my sneaker.

If it was just my stupid foot that was the problem, I could have dealt with it. But overall, I just wasn’t feeling that great. By mile 5, I knew that this was just not going to be my race. My legs felt heavy, I felt tired…and the miles ahead of me seemed endless.

The course took us through a variety of back roads and neighborhoods in the towns of Long Branch, Oceanport, and Monmouth Beach. Though I know Hurricane Sandy ravaged the race’s previous course along the boardwalk — and that race organizers overcame enormous obstacles in re-routing the course and being able to hold this race at all — the scenery just wasn’t that exciting (also, there were several giant hills that I wasn’t expecting!). If it weren’t for the AWESOME spectators, I don’t know what I would have done — I kept pausing my iPod completely to feed off their enthusiasm (I still don’t know how I rudely ignored the cheers from blogger pal (Writing While Running) and fellow Jersey girl Amy…sorry again that I missed you!)

When I reached the halfway point where the half marathon relay runners were switching off, I spotted Emily, who blogs at Keep Running Keep Writing and whom I know from our former shared post at New Jersey Monthly magazine. I was really struggling at that point, but I was so happy to see her and all of the relay runners and spectators at the 6.5 mile mark — some of whom gave me shout outs for my Team Sparkle skirts! — and they infused me with the energy I needed to take on the second half of the race. I waDSCF3338s shocked to see that my sluggish 9:30 pace was now back to around 9:00 for the next mile or so.

The energy was short-lived, however. Now not only was I tired, but I was POSITIVE that I had an enormous blister forming on my left foot…I refuse to allow myself to walk during races, but I begrudgingly let myself stop for moment to re-tie my shoelaces. It helped a little bit, but unfortunately it was too late.

I spent the final miles of the race playing every mind game I could think of to ignore my aching, blistering feet. The cherry on top of it all was that my usual stomach cramping was back in full force by mile 10 — now I know it’s not just a coincidence, and I’m determined to figure out what is causing it.

Meanwhile, I kept telling myself to just keep doing the best I could, not every race can be a PR, enjoy the moment, look how far you’ve come, blah blah blah, but there’s part of me that still couldn’t help but be disappointed in myself. Old habits die hard, and I am the textbook definition of a perfectionist…and once I knew this race wasn’t going to result in a new PR, I felt defeated and discouraged. I could not wait for that finish line.

In the last two miles, we did have the opportunity to run along the beach — I had already seen the Sandy devastation during Runapalooza, and did my best to ignore the sight of the torn up boardwalk — and there’s something about being near the ocean (or any body of water, really) that really does soothe me. So while I was dead tired and ready to rip my sneakers off and throw them far, far away, I sucked it up anDSCF3380d forced myself to enjoy this moment and be proud of myself…and thankful that even though it wasn’t my best performance, I was still so very fortunate to be doing something that I love.

And then the finish line was finally up ahead, I was handed my medal, and all of the pain and frustration of the previous 2 hours, 7 minutes, and 9 seconds (my official chip time) just faded away.

Oh, and when I reunited with my sister and boyfriend, I finally did rip off my sneakers…and proceeded to find the most disgusting blood blister (never had one before, but a Google search definitively confirmed my diagnosis) you could ever imagine on my left big toe. It is GROSS.

Overall, the race was well organized and I, of course, had an amazing time…but basically this is all a long-winded way of saying that you learn a whole lot from a race when you fall short of your expectations!

1.) First and foremost, when race organizers say get there early, THEY. MEAN. IT.

2.) Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to register for three half marathons over the course of six weeks. D’oh.

DSCF33873.) I need to work on my pacing. In my last half, I went all out in the beginning and then crashed and burned a bit at the end. This time, I tried to be more conservative in the beginning, and then various factors prevented me from picking up the pace in the final miles…so I just got slower, and slower, and slower.

4.) It’s time to figure out what the hell is causing me stomach issues every. single. time. I race! I’m currently using Clif Shot Bloks as my fuel, as many of the gels I’ve tried cause nausea. The blocks don’t seem to bother me during long runs, but I’ve recently been experimenting with Honey Stingers gels (delicious, BTW…I LOVE honey), so I’ll have to see if I need to make a switch.

5.) More hill training and speedwork. NO EXCUSES!

6.) Rest means REST. In the week prior to my last half, I did very little running (or anything, really) because I was trying to rest my foot — and I ended up feeling fantastic during the race. Last week, since my foot was feeling better, I was desperate to “make up for lost time” and I’m sure I ended up over-training — which would explain my sluggish performance yesterday. I need to get better about tapering and not pushing myself too hard in the days before a race.

7.) Most importantly: I cannot — and will not — PR at every race. So I need to stop being ridiculous and realize that I’m not a robot and that sometimes, I just have to accept that I’m doing my best and be happy with it.

How do you deal with race day disappointment?

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23 thoughts on “RACE RECAP: Long Branch Half Marathon

  1. Great job for finishing despite everything that was working against you!! And in the grand scheme of things, you weren’t too far behind your PR considering all you dealt with – nicely done!!

    Are your cramps similar to period (sorry for TMI!!) cramps? I struggle with this when either I start out too hard/fast, or I don’t get enough salt. Even though they were gross in my opinion (and come to think of it, I need to find a better option for my upcoming halfs), the margarita-flavored shot bloks deliver extra sodium along with energy. Not sure if this is your issue, but, it’s at least something that you can try and rule out at the very least. 🙂

    How are you liking the KT tape (I think I see some on in the pictures)?

    Congrats again and I hope everything *clicks* for your next race!!

  2. Hi, Katy! Thanks so much — I know you’re right, it just sucks to be so sure of your ability to do something…and then pretty much fall flat on your face, haha. It just proves I can definitely do better!

    Not TMI at all, I am appreciative of any and all suggestions to solve this issue! Yes, to be honest, sometimes the cramps do feel remarkably similar! I know I have a tendency to get swept up in the excitement and go out too fast in the beginning of races, so that could be part of it…but I never even considered the sodium aspect! Since the pains/cramps are pretty much hitting me like clockwork right around miles 9-10, I’ll look into that, and will give the margarita bloks a try. Like you said, worst thing that happens is I rule it out as the cause of this oh-so-annoying problem!

    KT Tape, as far as I’m concerned, is magic tape. Haha. I was skeptical at first, but with all the work I was doing to ease whatever the hell was going my foot (the icing, the massaging, the stretching, the elevating)…I’m convinced that using the tape just to keep those muscles/tendons stable when I am running or on my feet for long periods of time has done wonders! Would highly recommend! 🙂

  3. Awesome race! No worries about not PR-ing just 2 weeks after you did PR. Just be glad you can pull off these great races in a row.

    And, to be fair, I am sure my cheering was a little tentative like “Go Jennifer?” instead of “GO JENNIFER!” because I wasn’t fully sure it was you and it would have been embarrassing to cheer the wrong person’s name. Plus, you were on the other side of the street from me.

    For the stomach issues, do you ever take Pepto or any kind of stomach medicine (even ginger helps!) before the race? I always do as preventative medicine and it generally helps. Salt helps, too. Do you tend to pee a who lot following rehydrating from a race? That is one way you might know that your sodium intake could be increased.

    • Thanks for putting it in perspective! I know you’re right, I should be thrilled given these races were practically back-to-back. I need to stop being a whiny baby!

      Haha, I know what you mean! It’s hard to be 100% sure until you actually meet someone in person (although, I’m almost always one of the few crazies running in an obnoxious sparkly skirt, so odds were in your favor that it was me, haha). No worries, I’ll catch ya at the next race. 😉

      I haven’t tried taking anything for my stomach prior to a race, but ginger usually works for me under normal circumstances, so I’ll try it before my next long run. It depends on the race — sometimes I’m in the bathroom constantly afterwards from all the water, Gatorade, etc., and sometimes I feel all bloated and gross for a day or two (like yesterday…and today). But that’s two votes for salt now, so that’s something else I’ll try! Thanks so much for the tips (and support)! 😀

  4. You did great – the tough runs are the ones that teach us so much about determination and perseverance. They are the reason the “easy” runs seem easy. You may not have PR’d this time but you added to the tools that will help you PR next time!

    PS: Love your grey “I ❤ 13.1" shirt! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Kristina! You are SO right. You can’t help but learn from those tough runs/races…it makes you appreciate the sweet success of a PR even more. ;-D

      Thank you! It’s from Raw Threads (www.rawthreads.com) — totally obsessed with their stuff! 🙂

  5. So sorry we missed each other at the expo! They had me in a corner doing bib number lookups. NOT glamorous, but for a good cause! I started the race 16 minutes late! Traffic was horrid, way worse than last year! They changed the course, much hillier this year! You looked adorable and you smoked my time, congrats!

    • Aw, thanks so much! No worries, will try to catch you at the next race! 🙂

      I saw that in your recap — crazy! Getting to the starting line was a nightmare, I hated beginning the race in such a frazzled/stressed out/agitated state of mind. Glad you mentioned the hills…I was starting to think that maybe I was imagining them since nobody else’s recap seems to mention the difficulty of the course, but I really wasn’t loving those damn hills!

  6. What a fantastic, heartfelt recap. I was with you mile after mile.
    Nurse that blood blister! Good grief! That had to be painful.
    To be honest, I have run two half-marathons and one full. The second half I didn’t beat my first and I was very disappointed (I missed it by a little over 2 minutes). During my full I was disappointed that I didn’t run under 2X my half-marathon pace. I think part of becoming a runner is understanding the sport, learning about your body, and having some perspective. It’s nice to have this place to share with others who are learning the same things!

    • Aw, thanks, Stephanie! I always try to post about the good AND the bad that comes with running! You are so right…you pretty much have to learn all about the sport if you’re going to run at the half marathon level, but I had no idea how much running would teach me about ME, you know?

      Yes, the blister is SO gross, and running on it was SO painful — I can’t catch a break, haha. But with all the issues I’ve had with my foot in the last several weeks, it could have been so much worse, so I’m grateful!

      I know what you mean, you can’t help but feel disappointed when you fall short of your goal…even though running a half marathon — or especially a full! — it such an incredible accomplishment, no matter what our finish time. But it just gives us the tools and the motivation we need to crush that goal next time! Thanks so much for the support, and the much-needed perspective! 😀

  7. Sherri

    Congrats on the run.Sorry to red about your stomach and blister.I have stomach trouble and I have found that I am better off not taking anything while on the run.

    • Thanks so much! I might have to try that, too — I have nothing but stomach issues when I’m running, and I’m doing everything I can to solve the mystery! Thanks again.

  8. Sherri

    I actually take about 2 swigs of pepto bismol before I race.On regular runs my stomach doesn’t act up as much,but the increased speed during a race jars my stomach.

    • Worth a shot! Same thing with me…I just have to be very careful with what I eat before a training run, but during races, NEVER FAILS, I am pretty much always guaranteed stomach pains, cramping, etc. I’m willing to try anything!

  9. Jennifer! I am nominating you for the Versatile Blogger Award. To accept this award, come check out the rules at http://wp.me/p3buyd-jc !

  10. Hi. Well done on finishing the race. I ran the marathon and was freaking out about the traffic and I got there at 6!!!! Loose shoes are the worst. I used to get discomfort when my feet would swell a little during long runs and my shoes would be too tight. I switched at first to Speedlaces and now I use Lock Laces on all my shoes. Give them a try. They are not too expensive and they allow your shoes to stay firmly tied but have the ability to give enough without being loose. I have used Clif Shot bloks mostly during marathons and half marathons. They work well and made me feel less nauseous than the Gu gels. For this race I ran with Clif gels. They seem a little thinner in consistency than Gu so went down well. Hope you find something that works for you. Make sure you take gels with water only. Adding a sports drink on top of the sugar from gels may cause trouble. You can switch up drinks during the race but take the gels with water. Good luck.

    • Thanks so much, and congrats again on the marathon!

      Thanks SO much for the tips, appreciate it! I’ve had more than one person recommend Lock Laces, so I think it’s time to give them a try!

      I’m definitely a Clif Shot Blok addict; I’ve tried one or two of the Clif gels, and both times, nausea. I only take them with water…let’s just say I learned that rule the hard way! ;-D

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  12. I had really wanted to run this week then right as I was about to register my best friend mentioned her baby shower was going to be on that day! Oh well!

    Sorry to hear you had a bit of a rough race, but not every run is a good run unfortunately (I actually tripped and fell flat on my face on my run yesterday! True story.) It’s hard to realize not ever race is going to be a PR, but there are so many factors to consider (the course, the weather, how crowded the race is, etc.) and you can only control so many of them!

    I use the Honey Stinger chews and I love them!

  13. Aw, sorry you couldn’t make it! Thanks for the words of wisdom, I know you’re right (and, if it makes you feel any better, I have TOTALLY fallen while running…many, many times, haha). I’m learning very quickly just how many factors can affect my performance in a race; now all I need to do is learn how to listen to reason and quit beating myself up! Appreciate the support! I’ve been wanting to try the Honey Stinger chews…will give ’em a shot! ;-D

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