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2017 Rutgers Unite Half Marathon – 1:44:06

Rutgers Unite Half Marathon post race

This thing was actually really hard to hold up

Three weeks, three half marathons.

This week was the CGI Racing Rutgers Unite Half Marathon. Unite has a special place in my heart. Not only does it run through my old alma mater and where I used to live for over a decade—and partially through a park I often did training runs in before moving to Jersey City—but its inaugural year was also my very first half marathon, back in 2010. Plus, as I mentioned two weeks ago, CGI puts on great races that are well-organized and bridge the gap between rinky-dinky local race and crowded big city race.

Back when I was putting together my spring racing and marathon training plans, this was supposed to be a goal race. I wanted to snag a PR here. However, after running nearly race effort two weeks ago and full race effort with a new PR last week, plans changed. My legs spent last week being mad at me so I “downgraded” this race to a fun training run instead.

I originally didn’t have any extra miles on the schedule for before this race, but after downgrading it, I decided I should work it into what a logical long run would have been for this week, 17 miles.

I woke up nice and early at 5am to get dressed and get my stuff together to drive down to New Brunswick. The drive was nice and quick and I showed up much earlier than planned. I took the extra time to in the warm car and relax for a bit. Eventually, it was time to get on out there. The race is a point-to-point race so I parked at the finish and planned to run four miles beforehand. I threw my running backpack on and set out to run to the start. Because of how the course winds and loops, parking by the finish still only gave me about two miles so I did a little loop in Johnson Park to rack up another two miles in the middle. I’ve done many miles in Johnson Park in my Central Jersey days, so this was a nice little throwback. Anyway, weather was fantastic for running. Low 40s, sunny, zero wind.

I ended up getting to the start nearly twenty minutes earlier than I originally planned, but I just took my time checking my bag and hitting a porta potty. Then I stood around in the sun looking for all the people I knew running. I saw exactly none of them.

When it was time to get into the corral, I lined up with 8:00 mile pacer. The plan was to stick with this group and keep myself in control. The last two weeks made it clear I’m incapable of doing that on my own right now. This would put me at a hair under a 1:45 finish.

The first few miles of the race were pretty uneventful. I stayed glued to the pace group and chatted it up with my fellow runners. We chatted some about Rutgers itself and some trivia and then about upcoming races and PRs and such. The course through Livingston Campus was a little different than the last time I had ran this race, but it wasn’t bad at all. I lived on Livingston for two years and spent nearly nine years of my life at the radio station there so it’s always nice to get extra time to check out how much it’s changed since I graduated. Anyway, these miles ticked off pretty quickly.

After heading back to Busch Campus, where the race had started, I was feeling a little tired. We had been running slightly under our target 8:00 pace, but still well under race effort for me. Mostly, my legs were still tired from the last few weeks of training. After crossing mile 7, I pulled just a little ahead of the pacer. Not much, I could still hear him talking and coaching, but enough that I couldn’t see him anymore. I kept trying to pull back enough to fall back in with the group, but struggled to not keep pulling slightly ahead. My body seemed to find a rhythm it liked and I was okay with letting it do it’s thing at this point.

Looping back around through Busch Campus breezed by and mile 9 showed up before I knew it. From there, the rest of the race was about 90% the same route I did my warmup miles on, just in the opposite direction. We made our way into Johnson Park for an out-and-back and then across the Landing Lane bridge over the Raritan River and into New Brunswick. Coming over the bridge, I reminisced about the hundreds of miles worth of long runs I did on the Delaware-Raritan Canal Tow Path, which I would often pick up at this exact point. Such blissful miles, those were!

I was happy to find that the steep hill in Buccleuch Park was no longer part of the course. This hill used to always hit me right in the legs. It’s not long, but it’s pretty steep and comes at you in the last mile or so of the race. I didn’t miss it! Our route in the park was little more than in and out before making our way down College Ave—the center of College Ave Campus—to the finish line.

I was still slightly ahead of the pacer who had continued running slightly fast all race. I crossed at 1:44:06 and he was only a few seconds behind me. So that was about a 7:56 pace which I think is reasonable for an 8:00 pacer, to be honest. Either way, I was pretty happy with myself for sticking to my plan for the day and taking it on the easier side of things and not going too fast. My legs really didn’t need another hard effort long run.

Overall, I really love this race. Now that I no longer live in the New Brunswick area, it was really nice to come back for a race through areas I spent so much time in. And I also just love what CGI does. They’re races are pretty fantastic.

With this race down, I’m halfway through my half marathons for the season. I’ve got this weekend off and then runDisney Star Wars Dark Side and the NYRR Shape Women’s Half Marathon on back to back weekends after that. Until then, training continues!

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RU Unite “Half Marathon” (9.55 miles due to flooding) – 1:11:53 (pre-HRT)

Unite 2011 medalYesterday, I set out for what was to be my third half marathon over the course of 364 days. I wish I could say I actually ran 13.1 miles though. Unfortunately, due to some pretty torrential downpours on Saturday, one of the parks the race runs through was flooded. Thanks to this flooding, the course had to be adjusted to just 9.55 miles.

While I only had a month to train for this race after two months off from tendinitis that I’m still not fully recovered from, I really wanted to run the full half marathon. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my body given the circumstances, but I was hoping to at least repeat my 1:47:11 from the same race last year. The RU Unite Half Marathon last year was my first half marathon ever and even though I said I didn’t think I’d do it again after that, I’m now addicted. Three months ago, I ran my second half marathon, the Disney Half Marathon, and pulled off an incredible time of 1:33:05 that I’m still extremely proud of…especially considering that I ran in pain. I knew I wouldn’t be able to touch that time yesterday, but I did feel good enough to at least know my time from last year was doable again.

Like everyone else that ran yesterday, I prepared for and woke up for a 13.1 mile race. I think just about everyone was disappointed when they heard the announcement that a large portion of the course was flooded and the race would have to be scaled back. We paid for 13.1 miles. We trained for 13.1 miles. Some of us ate (or were planning to eat) for 13.1 miles. A lot of things were done expecting 13.1 miles. Obviously, no one can control the weather, but it is no secret Johnson Park in Piscataway floods often. It really doesn’t take much, a little drizzle can make that park flood. My unscientific estimate based solely on anecdotal evidence would be that Johnson Park floods at least 3-5 times each year. It’s just something that’s expected by anyone who lives around here. It is a wonderful park and I really enjoy running through it, but if you’re going to plan a race that runs through it, you have to have a plan B. You just have to. You’d be silly not to. Unfortunately, CGI Racing did not have a plan B for yesterday. Again, I know they can’t control the weather, but this was something that should have been planned for. I know putting together an event this size and getting road closures and such is not easy, but when you’re putting that much work into something, you need to plan for things like this.

What made the length of the race even worse was that at the start, runners were told over and over that the course was shortened to 10 miles. 10 miles, not 9.55 miles. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s enough to make a difference. I think most people felt lied to about this. I know I did and I know my fiancée and our co-worker also did.

Not cool.

Alright, enough complaining, right?

The weather was sunny for most of the race and the temperature was nice, if not a little on the warm side, but the wind was strong. The wind was so strong that it was a definite factor for everyone. Parts of the course were with the wind at our backs, but it felt like the majority of the time was spent with a strong crosswind that noticeably moved runners around. At two different points, gusts were so strong it they blew my left leg sideways into the back of my right leg mid-stride as I was pulling it forward, almost causing me to face plant. It also seemed that every uphill portion was straight into the wind.

With a significantly shorter course, I adjusted my expectations and my plan. I ran faster than I would have for a full 13.1 miles, but still, I didn’t feel as strong as I would have liked. In fact, I felt downright weak early on. It took me a while to get my stride on and settle into the run, but it never really felt quite right. I averaged a 7:32 mile which is pretty respectable, but that’s still 10 seconds slower than the 13-mile training runs I was doing four months ago and almost 30 seconds slower than my pace for the half marathon three months ago. But with an injury, you’ve got to be happy with anything and I am…ish.

I finished up with a semi-sprint and crossed the finish line at 1:11:53 (chip time) to place at 290 out of 2881 participants. My knees felt like they were going to give out during that last little push. It was awful. I ran 12 miles last weekend and felt stronger at the end of that than I did yesterday. What gives? At mile 8, I had a nice little second wind boost, but that didn’t last long, only about a mile. I came home and felt dead, the rest of my day was shot. Even taking into account how much harder we all had to work because of the wind, I shouldn’t have been beaten up like that for a sub-10 mile run. I really shouldn’t have. I hadn’t felt like that since the half marathon last year. I could make excuses for it like my injury and the wind and whatever else, but I was just off and that’s that.

Despite not feeling strong at the end, I still wanted a 13.1-mile race. I wanted to get a third half marathon under my belt. I really did.

So the fiancée and I have decided that we’re going to sign up for another half marathon next month that we were on the fence about. I want it, but I do want to be careful about my ankle. It’s still healing and, while it does feel better than it did a month ago, it has a little ways to go still.

More importantly, we signed up for the Philly Marathon in November. It’ll be our first and we’re super excited, yet insanely nervous about it. A year ago, after my first half, I said I would never run a marathon, but here I am, already signed up for one.

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My first half marathon – 1:47:11 (pre-HRT)

I did it! After months of training, today was the big day. I spent the last week doing a taper and rested up yesterday, doing little more than a nice walk through my town to stretch out my legs. My fiancée and I set out our clothes and devised our game plan for the morning so all we had to do was wake up, get dressed, and head on over to the race.

It was pretty cold this morning, in the 40s, and the weather forecast wasn’t predicting it to get all that much warmer during the hours of the race. This threw me off a bit, I generally prefer to run in shorts and a t-shirt, but it was seeming like that was going to be a bit under-dressed for the start of the race. I made a last minute decision to throw on some spandex under my shorts. I also grabbed a long sleeve t-shirt to throw on over top. Unfortunately, I don’t have many long sleeve t-shirts so it was hard to find one I was okay with potentially ditching on the side of the road. After that, I ate a small breakfast, half a peanut butter sandwich and a bowl of fruit. It was only two hours until race time so I didn’t want to eat too much, but I knew I needed enough to sustain me throughout the race.

When we left the house to head over to the race, it was definitely cold out. Not the kind of cold that’s unbearable on a normal day this time of year, but the kind of cold I hate to run in. We got over to where the race started about an hour beforehand and tried to walk around as much as possible and hydrate ourselves as best we could without the potential of having to pee mid-race. Through all of this walking around, I started to get more and more nervous about the weather. It was beautifully sunny, but I was worried my hands were going to freeze while running since I didn’t have any gloves. Since there wasn’t much I could do about it at this point, I was going to have to run with what I had so I went to the bathroom one last time and my fiancée and I wished each other luck. Then we headed on over to our respective starting groups, which we later found out were too slow for us.

While standing behind the pacer, waiting for the race to start, I started to warm up a ton, probably a combination of the sun coming up more and standing around very close to a large group of people. I started to get more comfortable with the temperature as I warmed up my legs by jumping up and down in place a bit. I realized that I had been worrying too much about the coldness and that the long sleeve shirt was a huge mistake. I didn’t want to have to ditch it, so I decided to tie it around my waist like a total goober. I thought I had my mind all set and was ready to go, but then at this very moment, my mouth went completely dry. I had complete and utter cotton-mouth and there was nothing I could do about it at this point. I was stuck and it never got better. I ran the entire race like this.

Finally, it was time for the race to start and much to my surprise, it started quickly. It did not take long at all to actually get up to the starting line, less than 50 seconds, much less than many of the 5ks I’ve done. Unfortunately, there were a ton of people though and, just like any other race I’ve run, I had to carefully make my way up through the pack and find an open spot at a comfortable speed. I almost immediately regretted wearing the spandex under my shorts, I couldn’t believe how quickly that happened, it was less than a half of a mile. But unlike the shirt, I was stuck with it.

Through the first couple of miles I was feeling very good, I felt comfortable with the pace I had chosen and felt like I could keep it for a long time. Unfortunately, this pace was much faster than the group I started with so I had to do a lot of weaving to get up to where I needed to be. I was surprised to see that within the first 2-3 miles there were already a bunch of people running off the side to go to the bathroom. How did these people have to pee so quickly? Poor planning.

Up through the first five miles, I was feeling amazingly great. I got settled into the run–this generally seems to take me at least three miles for most of my longer runs–and I was keeping a pace much, much faster than I had trained with. I managed my pace based on my breathing and as long as I was able to breathe comfortably, I kept upping it until just under the point where my breathing would have started to get heavy. This was a tactic I’d never used before today, but it worked great.

My goal for the day was to finish in under two hours, which up until race day seemed like it would be a challenge for me. I really didn’t know what to expect from my body. I think I was more worried about sustaining this pace for two hours rather than worrying about the overall distance. So here I was at the fifth mile keeping an amazing pace, completely blowing away what I was even hoping to do, and feeling very great with it.

Some may call this cheating, but I like to run with my iPhone, both for music and for the IMapMyFitness app which uses the GPS to track your time, speed, and course. It’s a great app and I’ve been using it for almost as long as I’ve been running. It’s really nice to receive the audio updates of what your time, distance, and pace are, but if you’re not careful, it can kind of kill your run too. You have to be careful not to focus on that and think too much about it. This is something I often do when running, but it also helps me to be able to push myself a little more than I otherwise would. But for today, I would say it ended up helping me quite a bit. I found I was barely paying attention to my music, which is rare for when I run. Today, I was much more focused on the running.

Anyway, back to mile five, IMapMyFitness was telling me my pace was way ahead of where I wanted to be, but again, I felt good about it, so I decided to change my goal. I bumped up my time quite a bit and set aim to keep this pace throughout the race. I knew later in the race, it would be difficult, but it felt doable to me. The only problem was less than a mile after deciding this is when my knee started to hurt. The left one, the one that’s always been a problem for me. It was tolerable, but I didn’t know how much worse it would get. I ran through it and said to myself “screw it, this is the day you’ve been training for, you’re not going to do any new damage to your knee today, deal with it.” So deal with it, I did. Luckily, the pain was short-lived and ol’ Lefty fell in line within less than a mile.

So I was back to feeling good again as the course continued onto the first part where it switched back on itself. This was particularly annoying because there was a complete 180° turn and not a lot of room to do it. I tried to take the turn as wide as possible, but it was still tough. Running back up along the stretch I just came from, I kept an eye out for the fiancée and when I finally saw her, I got a huge bump of optimism as I could see that she was clearly killing it. She was just slightly behind the nine minute mile pacer that I was originally lined up behind and I could see it on her face that she was feeling good too. This powered me through quite a bit up to mile eight, but this is when I really started to feel fatigued. It came on quickly too, but I was feeling it now. I knew I could keep it going for a while still, but I was starting to worry about the entirety of the last five miles.

As I approached mile nine, things started to feel even worse. I was starting to struggle to keep my speed now and then, mid-update, my IMapMyFitness crashed and took out my music too. I actually thought my battery had died since the GPS is a huge drain, but it felt a little quick for that. I had run with it much longer than this a few times and it still didn’t come close to dying. I didn’t worry about it though, I didn’t need to know my pace anymore, at this point, I had to just continue to give it all I had. I was feeling it though and, for the first time all race, as I came up to the aid station, I decided to grab a Gatorade instead of water. It didn’t really do too much to help me and my body was really telling me it wanted to stop, but I resisted the urge to slow down and knew the rest of the race was going to be tough.

The course doubled back on itself again with another 180° turn which was just as annoying as the first, but this time, I knew the section I had to run back up was much longer than last time. I started to slow down just a bit, I was struggling even more now than I was before, but I was still powering through as best I could. I saw the fiancée coming up again so I ran closer to the middle and put my hand up for a high-five. She was looking good, not much pain in her face. We high-fived and kept going. I was hoping that would give me a bit of a mental boost, but it didn’t. I was tired as hell and, as I ran by the ten mile marker, I thought to myself “seriously, I have to do a whole 5k still?” That realization didn’t help at all, but I tried my best to stay positive and remind myself I didn’t have much left. At this point, I was giving it almost everything I had to keep on pace with the other runners around me. A couple started to pass me, but I wanted to keep going as fast as I could without completely killing the energy I had left to make it to the finish line.

I made it up to the eleventh mile marker and started to push as much as I could, but this was really getting to be a serious struggle. I mean, it had been a struggle for a while, but my legs were not only fatiguing heavily, but they were starting to hurt too. From my thighs to my calves to my feet, it all hurt and my knees weren’t happy either. At the next aid station, I actually had to slow down to a walk for about ten seconds to drink a cup of water. I knew I needed to get the water in me instead of all over my face this time. I didn’t want to slow down, but it had to be done. My body was saying “Yeah! Yeah! Stop!” There was no way I was giving in though, I was too close. I tried to pick it up a little here, but my body wasn’t cooperating, every time I pushed faster, my body pushed back and said to me “hey, if you’re going to do that, I’m going to make sure you puke all over the place, don’t be ass. Got it?” I listened to it here, but I made a deal with myself that I was going to push as hard as I could once I hit the final stretch.

Then, my music came back on out of nowhere. I don’t know what happened, but IMapMyFitness finished the audio update it had started three miles earlier and my music started playing again. It was weird and almost threw me off a bit, but it was kind of nice to hear what the current time was at this point.

When the final stretch came, there was about half a mile left. I told myself it was time to give it every last bit of energy I had and tried to do just that. I started to push hard, but my body wasn’t having it. I had to slow it back down or I was definitely going to throw up. This was quite upsetting, but I really didn’t want to throw up, so I kept it at just under the breaking point for as long as I could. As I approached the finish, I saw the fiancée’s parents cheering and as much as I wanted this to help, it didn’t do much. I was running a little faster now, but not a whole lot.

The course took a final turn for the last tenth of a mile. Why the course was designed to have a turn like that at the end, I have no idea, but it was there. I came down the final bit and started giving it more. If I puked across the finish line, I didn’t care anymore. I saw the clock and knew I had done better than what I had set my goal to at mile five, but I still wanted to shave off every last second I could. A couple hundred feet from the finish line, I saw a girl out of the corner of my eye coming up about to pass me. I don’t know why I cared, but with only a couple hundred feet left, I wasn’t letting anyone pass me just before I finished. I broke out into a full on sprint. I don’t know where that energy came from, but it lasted just long enough to get me across the finish line.

My final time was great. So much better than I was originally hoping for. My official chip time was 1:47:11. At 8:11/mile, that’s a full minute per mile faster than I needed for my original goal. Overall, I finished #440 out of 2433 total runners. I couldn’t be any happier with my time, I blew away my goal and I know that there wasn’t anything I could have done today to shave even a couple of seconds off. My fiancée finished at 2:02:15 which also put her a full minute per mile ahead of where she wanted to be. But unlike me, she didn’t struggle as much at the end. Even as I watched (and videoed from my iPhone) her come down the last few hundred feet and across the finish line, she looked composed and like she could have just kept on going. I was impressed.

Afterward, I was definitely in pain. My legs were sore all over, my knees and feet hurt, it wasn’t a great feeling. We walked around a lot for a while before heading home to help keep from tightening up, but it was difficult. After a shower, I started to feel much better and was gaining some energy back, but then we went to Red Robin and devoured a ton of food. When we got home, I died on the bed for a couple of hours and when I woke up, my knees were sore as hell. Some of my leg muscles are sore too, but not like they were before. It’s mostly my knees. I’m seriously walking like an old man right now.

All in all, I think the training that we did helped a lot…at least for the first nine miles. Though, it didn’t do anything at all to prepare me for those last four miles. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that almost all of my training was at a pace around ten minutes per mile instead of what I ended up running today. My goal through that was to teach myself to be able to keep a slower pace for a longer period of time, which is something I tend to struggle with. My body feels more comfortable at a bit of a faster pace, but it’s not a sustainable pace for thirteen miles.

So would I do it again? Probably, but it’s going to be hard, I had a great time and anything less than that will feel like a failure. I’d have to step up the training and build more stamina in my legs. They have a lot of strength thanks to all the mountain biking (this helps a lot when running uphill), but I need to train them to sustain this kind of speed better.

One thing that I’ve definitely learned through all of this is that a full marathon is probably a bit out of my grasp. I would love to be able to do it, but with the way my knees feel right now, I can’t imagine it to be a good idea. Plus, finding the time to do the training for this was tough enough, but to have to train for a full marathon would probably make for a bigger lifestyle change than I’m willing to make.