Some races are great, some are just good, and some are bad. Then, there are the ones that are just straight up terrible, even comically bad. That was my day at the New Jersey Marathon yesterday. I’m not even going to beat around the bush here, this was the worst race I’ve ever run, performance wise. Some days are just off days and some races are just off races. It happens. I can accept that.
The marathon is a beast of a race and it’s nothing to take lightly, you have to respect it. It can humble you in so many ways and simply kick your ass. As a distance runner, you have to accept this and you have to be able to live with that. And after yesterday, I have to live with that.
Surprisingly, I had no trouble getting to bed at 8:15pm on Saturday to give myself a solid 8.5 hours of sleep before waking up at 4:45 am for the race. When I woke up, I felt good and prepared.
Pre-race was like most races, I peed a couple times and drank some water. Did a little bit of a warmup and mostly just tried to stay warm. I was relatively calm. For as nervous as I’ve been the last few days about this, my nerves were under control yesterday morning. The highlight pre-race was meeting Adam, the Boring Runner.
After we snapped the above photo together, we walked over the corrals and wished each other luck. A few minutes later, the race was underway.
I started out with the 3:30 pace group, just like I said I was going to. Unfortunately, the pacers were running slightly fast, closer to 7:55 rather than the 8:00 we were supposed to. According to my phone, which I do take with a grain of salt, a lot of miles seemed to even be around 7:50. Definitely too fast for where I am right now. I stayed with the group and used them to draft when there was a headwind, but it was mostly fine early on. Problem was, by mile six, I already knew I wasn’t going to have a good day. My legs didn’t feel like they had it, my lungs couldn’t keep up, I was feeling nauseous, and I was also fighting some dehydration. I didn’t feel like I was particularly working too hard, but my legs were already starting to feel it a little. Not good at all. I knew the day wasn’t going to be easy, nor did I want it to be, and I’d have to give everything, but this was just too early to start feeling the pace.
By mile eight, I knew the deal for the day. There was no convincing myself that I was going to be able to keep this up all race, but I stuck with the group and stuck to my race day plan for a while still. I knew my wife was going to be cheering at mile 11 so I just focused on getting to her. One step at a time, right? She was right where she said she’d be and, as I went by, I gave her a big thumbs down. Sometimes, when runners do this, it’s not really an indication of how things are really going, but she seemed to be able to tell this was a serious.
Somewhere not too long after that, I can’t remember exactly, maybe around mile 12, I kissed my 3:30 A goal goodbye and dropped back from the pace group a tad. I slowed down heavily through a water stop and didn’t pick it back up to get to them. For a while, I ran not too far back from them, but I was feeling awful. My wonderful wife actually took the time to come down the course and see me at mile 16 with the help of Running Bun Ashley driving her. I wasn’t expecting her again until mile 24, but there she was. She knew I needed the support. She hopped out on the course and ran with me a bit while giving me a little pep talk. Still, this race continued to head south for me quickly. I didn’t have a plan or strategy for this kind of a race. Not long after seeing my wife, I started having to walk. At this point, I knew any sort of a BQ was out the door. To make matters worse, I couldn’t really control my pace the way I wanted either. My legs were stuck in a certain rhythm for an 8 minute/mile and I couldn’t get them to run another pace no matter how hard I tried. So I’d run a bit at this pace and then walk and then run again. Over and over. It was awful.
Throughout the rest of the race, things continued about the same with the walking bits getting longer and the running bits getting shorter. I got a lot of support from other runners though, mostly other female runners. A few really pushed me to run with them. It was much appreciated and I had the chance to thank one of them after the race. I was really grateful for that. This is one of my favorite things about running, the community is so so so supportive and awesome. It was also really nice to get lots of “looking good, girl,” “you got this, girl,” and other bits of motivation addressing me as “girl” from both spectators and other runners. To be honest, this was probably the only real positive of the race today. Nice and affirming of how others see me, especially when I’m running and don’t look much like a woman.
Somewhere around mile 17 or 18, the 3:35 pace group passed me and, after that, I lost all real will to try anymore. My BQ was gone, not that I didn’t already know that, and it just didn’t matter to me anymore. Maybe I could just save my legs at this point? I kept fighting through the course, running and walking, but I watched goal after goal pass me by. I had blown through my A, B, and C goals and kept making new ones as each one faded away. I think I ended up finishing with something like my K goal.
Miles 17 to 24 had a lot of walking. Eventually the 3:45 group passed me and…that was tough. I ran a 3:44 in my last race so knowing I was still miles from the finish and already on pace for a personal worst marathon time (if we’re only counting marathons I’ve raced and not the “fun” ones I’ve done in Disney during the Goofy Challenge). And sure, I’ve only run one marathon since transition and the ones before that don’t really count anymore, but you get the point I’m making here. This was the going to be the worst time I’ve ever raced a marathon in. The only bit of determination I could put together at this point was to not let the 3:50 group pass me. Though, I was still fearing a finish over four hours might be possible.
I saw my wife again not long before mile 22, another surprise. I was walking at the time and she again came with me to talk to me and see how I was doing. She asked if I wanted to stop. It was more of a “where are you at with this? Do you want to save your legs for another day?” type of thing than encouragement to quit. I told her there was “no fucking way” I was quitting. I was going to cross that finish line no matter how I felt. Shortly after that, a little past the 22nd mile marker, I started running again and saw my parents. I was really glad to be running when I saw them and not walking. I fought through a bit more before walking again.
Somewhere earlier in the 24th mile, I made the promise to myself that I was going to run the rest of the race with no more walking. I picked myself up and pushed my way along. I passed runner after runner, but I hated how I felt. Just before mile 25, the course curved onto the boardwalk and I started giving what I had left. Then I heard my wife again yell out my name and she came bounding up alongside me to run with me. She gave me some encouragement before sending me on my way and I pushed with all I had. I passed as many runners as I could, but I was really hurting. This final stretch of the race felt FOREVER long. I didn’t know exactly where the finish was, but it was a lot further than I thought it was. This last bit was painful and a never-ending hell, but I held on and got across the finish. I took a few steps past the finish line, moved off to the side, and immediately bent over for a few seconds to cry. Then I stood up and accepted my defeat.
Just to show how much of a mess this race was, here are my splits (FYI, my phone measured 26.58 miles, so there’s a little extra in there somewhere). Warning, these are really a mess!!
Mile 1: 8:00 (a little fast to start, but exactly my target pace)
Mile 2: 7:45 (uh oh)
Mile 3: 7:56 (okay, not bad)
Mile 4: 7:49 (wait a second here)
Mile 5: 7:51
Mile 6: 7:46 (yeah, and I’m surprised this race didn’t go well?!)
Mile 7: 7:49
Mile 8: 7:50 (come on here!!)
Mile 9: 7:56
Mile 10: 7:52
Mile 11: 7:53
Mile 12: 7:49 (STILL going too fast)
Mile 13: 7:56
Mile 14: 7:58 (well, this looks better)
Mile 15: 8:30 (and it begins)
Mile 16: 8:59 (uh, yeah, wasn’t supposed to slow down this much)
Mile 17: 8:24
Mile 18: 8:52
Mile 19: 9:56
Mile 20: 10:14
Mile 21: 10:19
Mile 22: 11:19 (really?! really.)
Mile 23: 9:02
Mile 24: 11:06
Mile 25: 8:43 (oh hey, running. I remember that)
Mile 26: 8:13 (close to a BQ pace…if I did this every mile)
Mile 26.2: 7:56 pace
Finish time: 3:48:25
This race sucked. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I got my ass kicked. Not much else could have gone wrong for me to still been able to finish. I knew all I needed to at least BQ was to not have a terrible race. Unfortunately, I had didn’t just have a terrible race, I had the worst race I’ve ever run. I’m not going to make excuses for it, it simply wasn’t my day. This race was not at all an indication of my training and the effort I put in. This is not the level of marathoner that I am. I mean, I’ve already proved that before. On a faster course and with much better training, I ran a few minutes slower than I did in Richmond five months ago. That should not be.
While, I do chalk this up mostly to just being a bad day, there are a few things I can point at as contributors. My legs were not as rested as I would have liked after last weekend and cheering the day before at my wife’s half marathon, but they also weren’t super tired either. The wind that I was so worried about was pretty much a non-issue for me. Early in the race, it was light and I had no trouble drafting other runners in the pace group. By the time I left the group and was running mostly alone for the rest of the race, the wind just wasn’t that bad. It was mostly a crosswind, with only a couple spots where there were heavy head-on winds. The temperature was probably the biggest problem on the day, to be honest. It wasn’t as warm as it could have been, but the course has pretty much zero shade so you’re out there in the beating sun the whole time. And following up this brutal winter, it was a little too much. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, there simply wasn’t enough time to adjust to the warm weather before taper. The winter was almost never-ending; when it finally did end, there were only a couple weeks left in training before taper. Not enough time to adjust. I should have taken the fact that both my 21-milers were rough and required stopping a bunch as a bigger indication that the temperature might be a problem. Lastly, I can also look at the fact that I don’t think I ran enough miles at marathon goal pace or faster. I certainly ran enough miles overall, but I think having more of them be faster would have gone a long way.
Combining all of this explains still only a small part of my day though. At the least, I should have been able to come away with a small PR. I have to just accept it wasn’t a good day. And you know, I can accept this. I can accept that just had a bad day and a bad race. This race did defeat me, but I am not defeated as a runner and I will not be defeated. I will recover and then work even harder to ensure that next time I do hit my goal. I won’t feel sorry for myself. My wife was surprised by how well I took it, but when a race goes this bad, you just have to laugh, right? There are some things to learn here and some adjustments I can make. I don’t run marathons because they are easy, I run them specifically because they are hard.
Right now, I’m a bit sore, but easily the least sore I’ve ever been after a marathon. I feel more like I had a really hard long run than having raced a marathon. Yesterday, I was still able to walk and go up and down stairs just fine. The walk back to the car was over a mile and that wasn’t even an issue. After we got home, I went for an almost two mile walk just to keep lose. No problem. In fact, the most pain I felt was actually the chafing in my armpits. Today, I feel the soreness more, but I can move fine. That’s a pretty clear indication of how off everything was and just how much I walked. I’m hoping to recover quickly and do some more work so I can make another attempt soon. I’m not giving up on Boston 2015 just yet. And I think I deserve a race worthy of the effort and training that I put in.
I don’t know exactly what my plan going forward is, but I’m going to take a complete week of from running and gauge how I feel, but I’m looking at another attempt before Boston registration opens. Possibly Eugene in three months?
I’ve been quoting Shalane a lot with this, but I really feel like it’s apt for all of life. “I don’t wish it were easier, I just wish I were better.”
And some thoughts on the New Jersey Marathon itself
This is basically my home marathon so I was really excited to run it. I’ve cheered at the race before, so I kind of knew what the deal was. The course wasn’t quite as flat as I expected, but it was mostly fine. There weren’t really hills so much it it just being typical Jersey and not being exactly flat either.
I like the size of the race, it’s not too big at all, but that did mean I spent a lot of time running mostly alone. This also meant getting my checked bag at the end of the race was quick and easy. The biggest complaint I have is that the crowd support is really light through large sections of the course. The last mile or so is pretty good, but the middle of the race was a bit quiet.
But the finish with the ocean to your right is really great and the medal is a rather awesome spinner medal!