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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!

0

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.

2

Rutgers Homecoming Run for RAH 5K – 20:29 (pre-HRT)

This morning, I ran the Rutgers Alumni Run for Rutgers Against Hunger as part of the homecoming festivities. This was a small race, only 253 runners total. The course was pretty nice, very flat, but it wasn’t well marked at all. There were some small, easy to miss signs and a person or two standing at corners where you needed to turn, but they weren’t wearing anything to make them stand out from students on campus. The roads also weren’t entirely blocked off so you couldn’t go by that either. Because of the small size of the race, it was easy to end up all by yourself for a little while so if you weren’t paying attention and looking down the road at where other runners were turning, it was easy to miss a turn. Luckily, I did not.

Since the race was so small, I made sure to start right in the very front so I wouldn’t have to run around anyone. This was also helpful since there was no sensor at the start of the race leaving you with just the gun time at the end which doesn’t take into count how long it takes you to actually cross the starting line. The first mile of the race was straight into a long gust of wind, but I powered though it as best I could at a solid pace. The wind must have been around 20mph at the time and it was taking my breath away a little. Breathing was definitely a little difficult through this and starting out that way didn’t give me much of a chance to ever catch my breath again. I just powered through as much as I could though.

The second mile was my slowest of the three. I’m not sure why, actually. I was trying to pick it up a little, but I just couldn’t breathe deeply. I think I may need to do more intense cardio training to get my breathing up to par. Once I hit a pace faster than about 7:20/mile, I start losing the ability to breathe deeply with my diaphragm and I end up with nothing but short little breaths that just don’t get the job done.

Once I hit the third mile, I started to push a little more, but as I got down to the last half mile, I started feeling the throw up feeling coming out to play. I kept steady and fought it back, but couldn’t break out into the end-of-race sprint that I generally try to do. I wasn’t able to start sprinting until the last 50-100ft. Then I crossed the finish line…and threw up. This seems to be my new thing lately. Maybe it’s the peanut butter sandwiches I’ve been eating an hour before the race?

At any rate, this was by far my best race ever. My time was 20:29 which completely smashes my previous 5k personal record of 23:07. I’m utterly ecstatic about it, actually. My goal was 21 minutes and I beat that by a good chunk of time. Very happy about this! That time put me at 11th overall. The winner was 16:51 which is a time I don’t kid myself into ever thinking I’ll be able hit, but being able to finish in the top 5% is absolutely amazing.

In addition to that, this was a fun race because of the amount of people I knew running it. I knew six or seven other runners so it was great to be able to stand on the side near the finish and cheer for everyone as they finished.

I’ve got another 5k coming up on Saturday for the Sean Hanna Foundation. It’s their third annual race and I’ve been a part since the beginning so I don’t plan to ever miss one. I’m excited to see what this race has in store for me. I don’t know that I’ll be able to beat today’s time, but even if I can come close, I’ll be happy.