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
The 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.
In 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 was 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 and 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.
3.) 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?