As I explained in my last post Half Marathon Training Goals and Woes, I planned to train for a sub-2:00 finish in the Newport Liberty Half Marathon, but two injuries and a newfound inability to run derailed my training. I semi-trained, and I wouldn’t recommend you do the same. I took full weeks off from running, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to go to this race. I didn’t think my bunion would ever heal and when it did heal, my back pain started.
But I wanted to run this half marathon SO badly. It starts in front of my office, on the street I walk down every day and right past where I live, goes through the place I came in second place (in my age group) in a 5K, Liberty State Park and runs on both my Jersey City running trails – in the park and along the waterfront.
After working here for 14 months and living here for five, Jersey City is very much my home and this race needed to be in my life.
I didn’t feel stress in the days leading up to the race. If I trained properly and really thought I could reach my goal, I might have. I didn’t do any of the fancy things I’ve done in the days leading up to a half in the past, like forcing myself to add salt to my oatmeal. I didn’t take a yoga class the day before. In fact, I did no workouts or anything at all because the more I rested, the better my back felt. I knew that the only way to ensure I get through this race with minimal pain would be to do as much nothing as possible before. Of course, I could have stretched a little, but that’s just my laziness. I attempted foam rolling at home, but decided that since my foam roller is nowhere near as good as the ones at Refine, it wasn’t worth the effort (read: excuse for laziness). I did get a massage, though. And I think it helped.
I woke up in the middle of the night before the race from a nightmare. In it, I wore the wrong running skirt and I was really, deeply sad about that. Also, I forgot my ShotBloks and I was frantically asking everyone around me if they had “fuel I could borrow.” I was embarrassed that I kept saying the word “fuel” too, on top of everything. I got out of bed and put my ShotBloks on top of the rest of my stuff to ensure my dream would not come true.
When I woke up for real, I took a hot shower to warm up my muscles, especially my back. I got dressed in a tank top and running skirt (the RIGHT one, phew) and I once again forgot my compression sleeves (I somehow forgot them for every single long run over the last two months). I only brought few items with me, and only things that fit in the pocket of my running skirt: three ShotBloks, lip balm and my work ID. I packed a bag of my stuff for Andy to bring to me after the race, where he would be by the finish line with his parents who were visiting that weekend and happened to be staying at a hotel that overlooks the start and finish of the race.
And I left. I got outside and started jogging the half mile to the race start. It was COLD. I realized I forgot to pack a hoodie in the bag Andy was bringing for me, but with no phone I had no way to contact him about this. I decided I would do my best to remember to tell him when I passed him spectating at the 2nd mile, which was one block away from our apartment.
I arrived at the race and picked up my bib and long-sleeve t-shirt. I scanned the area – insanely long portapotty lines, insanely long bag check line. Also, freezing. I had pee and put this long sleeve t-shirt somewhere and warm up. Luckily, I had a stroke of brilliance in bringing my work ID. I headed up to my office for my own private pre-race VIP treatment.
There, I basked in the warmth, I emailed Andy about my hoodie, I tweeted and I used my own, private bathroom. I also had a cup of water. It was glorious. I need to run every race in front of my office. Or at the very least, I need to run this race again next year.
I headed back out to the corrals and went with the 9:00 sign. I figured I could try to start there and see how things went. I scanned the people around me for red hair and after a few minutes, I found who I was looking for! Rebecca along with Theodora! They were both running 20 miles, and planned to do this race around 9:30-10:00. I told them earlier in the week that if I felt my usualy crappy running self, they’d be way too fast for me and if I felt good and wanted to PR, they’d be too slow, so chances are I wouldn’t be sticking with them. But I wanted to chat with friends and possibly start the race alongside them and that is exactly what happened!
With no announcements or anything, the race started and we were off. The three of us chatted and running felt easy. So easy, I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I know it’s only the first mile out of 13, but I can’t remember the last time I had an easy mile. It barely felt like I was moving, but every time I looked at my watch I saw we were around 9:00. I couldn’t believe how great I felt! And I warmed up quickly, especially during times the sun was beating down. The race was off to a very good start.
After the first mile they decided to scale back on their pace, and I felt like I could possibly maintain mine so I said goodbye and ran off. I saw my sweet Andy during the 2nd mile by our apartment, and I knew I looked strong because I was feeling so great. I asked him if he got my email and he confirmed he did. I ran off.
I didn’t bring any music with me. After this year’s Women’s Mini 10K, I’ve been kind of anti-music while running and strongly anti-music while racing. My music annoyed and distracted me during that race, and since then I haven’t needed it like I used to — or like I used to think I did.
We ran through the streets and up the streets. We passed a clock for the return route, and I looked back at it to say it was the mile 11 marker. “I’ll be happy when I see this again,” I thought. We ran further up and up streets before entering Liberty State Park in a faraway place I’ve never been.I heard the person in front of me exclaim before I saw it myself. The very first thing we saw upon entering the park was the Statue of Liberty, up close and personal, on the most gorgeous fall day. It was absolutely breathtaking.
[That was not our view. I don't think this was taken at the race. But I still bought it. One of us is born every minute.]
Around this time, I told myself that I am not here for a sub-2:00 race. I did not train for sub-2:00 and my running hasn’t been strong lately. While I was on track to beat my 2:06 PR, I was not aiming for sub-2 this time. Maybe in Richmond in November, if my training goes well. But right now I can’t expect myself to achieve a goal I have no right to expect or even want.
As I gave myself that down-to-earth-not-quite-pep talk, we ran all along the trails that go throughout the park. We went onto the waterfront pathway (also known as the place I came in 2nd place and yes I will keep mentioning this) and while it was stunning, it was very windy. When I look at my splits (which we shall analyze layer) it’s obvious which miles were less windy because I remember being able to “break free” and actually cover some distance during those.
We took a left off the waterfront to go back onto the paths, but directly in front of us on the waterfront were two lanes of runners doing a turnaround. What an interesting course! I looked off to my left and saw swarms of runners looping in and out of the pathways, running in three different directions on the waterfront – and it was AWESOME. Everyone was dressed brightly and seeing so many brightly colored people looping in and out and on each other was amazing! I’ve never seen a race course like this one and I loved it.
Other than the crazy winds, the race still felt pretty easy. It didn’t feel effortless like the first mile or two, but I wasn’t pushing too hard to maintain my pace, either. I tried not to look at my watch too much, to just run with what felt right. I looked at my watch a lot, of course, but I definitely had enough zoned-out moments so the time was not my focus.
I eavesdropped on a couple of guys in front of me talking, which was entertaining, and thought I should try and stay with them for awhile but they got far ahead of me pretty quickly. I saw one guy running in nothing but a speedo. I stopped at every single water station, and took Gatorade at the only station I saw that offered. I kept telling myself that once I get to mile 6 it won’t seem so bad. Once I get to mile 7 I’ll be more than halfway done.
I saw Theodora and Rebecca across a pathway and yelled out to them: “REBECCA! THEODORA!” They saw me and waved back and that gave me a boost, but then I worried I messed it up for mysel by yelling out and maybe I would feel some chest pain and I sabotaged myself and why do I f*ck everything up and I hate myself but luckily, that was not the case.
There was so much looping and finally I got back to the waterfront, to that out and back I saw other runners at earlier. I felt annoyed at the winds for sabotaging me. If I got close to my goal but didn’t make it, it was the winds’ fault. IRRATIONAL RAGE!
While the race was still not too bad, I started thinking: I don’t think I want to do any halfs next year. This is a long distance (still so much to go!), this is a lot of work, I am very uncomfortable. I should focus on 10ks and getting faster at those. Maybe longer distances are just not for me. Sure, it feels amazing when I finish, The longer the race, the more glory at the finish. The more accomplished I feel. But is it worth THIS?
And “this” wasn’t even bad at all then!
On another out-and-back, this one along the water and right next to each other, I saw my friends again. “Looking great, Dori!” they said. That was nice. I WAS looking great, although I was starting to not feel so great.
As the 9th mile started we got back along the Liberty Park waterfront, right by where that 5K race I keep bragging about started and ended, I forced myself to eat a ShotBlok. I didn’t want it. I wasn’t hungry. The Black Cherry flavor I grabbed in the darkness of the middle of the night after my nightmare was not appealing to me. I don’t even know why I had that flavor. But I didn’t want crash with a few miles left and I worried that I might if I didn’t eat this. I didn’t feel tired, but I didn’t want to have regrets. I ate half of the ShotBlok and after a couple of minutes I hate the other half. I couldn’t stomach any more than just the one.
Then I was thirsty and there were no water stations nearby. This is the time where things got hard. There were a couple of women near me most of the time. One was the white-shirted woman who appears in the photos with me above and the other had an orange and white patterned shirt and had her own cheering squad. Even when I stopped for water I managed to get back behind these women somehow. I liked their pace. I told myself I just had to stick with them for the rest of the race and I’d be good.
We ran over the eastern edge of the park, closest to Manhattan, and then back up by the marina. We passed Liberty House, a very pretty place I considered for my wedding until I found out the price. I was on familiar running territory but I was struggling. Finally, at the 10th mile, there was my much needed water station. I was so happy to see it!
I lost those women here, but that’s OK. I had water. I was beginning to think that ShotBlok was a huge mistake.
I don’t know why I thought that, but I just felt off after taking it. I might have felt worse if I hadn’t though, so who knows.
Starting at mile 10, the race became really tough. First, one of the numbers on the digital clock was screwed up and I couldn’t tell if it was a 2 or 6. That meant I didn’t know if a sub-2 was possible. And yes, I was still secretly hoping for this, even though I had that talk with myself earlier.
Also, I was ready to stop running. I didn’t want to keep up a good pace, I just wanted to finish. My knee started aching. My hip ached a little. This one spot on the top of my right foot that was hurting on and off throughout the race was back on again. I thought my shoe was ties too tight but I have no idea.
We exited the park, something I’d been looking forward to because it would mean we were near the end. I also like that we left the park using the exit and entrance I always use, because now every time I run there I’ll think about running there during the race.
And I saw the women again! Even though I stopped for water and lost them, I caught back up! I liked that. We ran past that 11 mile marker I saw earlier. I thought about seeing it earlier and thinking I’d be happy to see it again, but I wasn’t happy. I was rolling my eyes at myself for thinking I could possibly feel happy at mile 11. I forgot to take note of the time on the clock, so I still didn’t know where I stood. I didn’t want to look at the time on my own watch because it would mean pressing a button to change screens. Too much to deal with.
We ran back down the Jersey City streets of my ‘hood and approached the final water station. There was about 1.5 miles to go and the volunteers were all cheering “You only have one more mile left!! LAST MILE WOOOOOO!!!!” and that made me mad. We were NOT in the last mile. We had more than that. Stop f*cking with my head you bitches! OK, I know they were just nice volunteers and meant well, but if you’ve ever raced you know how I felt then.
After that, we finally approached the waterfront. The place the majority of my runs take place. A place I am extremely familiar with.
This meant we were getting close to the finish, but still had a little ways to go. That “little ways” seemed overwhelming. I just wanted to be DONE.
The mile 12 mark. 1:50:xx. This is the moment I realized I really could sub-2 this thing. I just had to maintain a 9:00 mile, I told myself. Coincidentally (?) at the same exact time I was overtaken by a sudden wave of nausea. I started to blame the ShotBlok (I TOLD you I made a huge mistake) although I also recognized it could have just been 12+ miles at a pace I never sustained for so long before. Or maybe it was the fact that with the goal so close, I started pushing harder already without even realizing it. Either way, this part of the race was BRUTAL.
We were on the waterfront. We were overlooking the New York City skyline. It was an absolutely perfect, gorgeous day. It was the most ideal running weather you could imagine. I was ALMOST DONE. I was PRing no matter what. But none of that mattered. All that mattered was stopping running. I just needed to get a little further and finish this thing. I still saw those women although they seemed to be getting away. I sped up on the boardwalk section and began passing people. I wanted to quit. I didn’t care anymore that I was so close. This running needed to stop!
We left the waterfront and ran back onto Washington Blvd. How come I never noticed how far it is from this street to that one? That’s what I thought when I saw the distance to the end of the race. I walk that exact spot every single day and it never seemed so far before! Of course, it isn’t far, but I felt so crappy so it seemed that way.
And then my angel appeared in the form of a random man.
“You’re on track to break 2 hours!”
RANDOM MAN I LOVE YOU. That was just what I needed to hear. I couldn’t slow down. I couldn’t speed up either, because I would have died, but I definitely could NOT slow down after hearing external confirmation that I would reach the goal that I pretended not to have the entire time.
One other person called out the same thing and as I made that last turn to the finish I gave it as much as I could. The clock read 2:00:22 but I knew I started a little after the clock so I didn’t let that get to me. I just ran.
And once my feet crossed both D-Tag finish line things, I stopped my watch. And I smiled.
Official time: 1:59:49
Official pace: 9:08
And just like that, all the pain and misery of the last mile disappeared. I finished the Newport Liberty Half Marathon; I got a new PR; I broke 2 hours. I achieved all my goals despite a challenging, difficult, painful training process. And I felt GREAT!
The final .1 doesn’t come up with the Nike+ watch unless you’re in lap mode, which I wasn’t, but when I finished the race I think I was around 7:45. I’m really into that last mile being 8:54 despite the nausea and pain and everything. Running is just so mental.
Of course, it is also physical and I realized something after this half marathon; I run better when I’m rested. I didn’t run from the end of November last year through March, and when I started up in March I was naturally a much faster runner. Instead of 10:00 miles on a 4 mile run, I was running 8:40 miles.
The more I added in running and training, the slower I got and the harder running became. I didn’t run for a full week leading up to this race. Not a single mile, and I believe that rest is what helped me run a strong race. Some people train hard and train often and improve that way; I think I get better with rest.
For my upcoming Richmond Half Marathon, I plan to run only two days a week instead of the three I usually do when training. One shorter run focused on speed and one longer run focused on distance. I’ll see how this goes for me, but I really feel like this is right. I feel like I finally understand how my body needs to run and train.
Here is a little chart of the course and my pace/elevation:
I am so happy with everything about this race. I absolutely loved the course, it was beautiful and never boring. It was flat. I got some random newfound speed when I resumed running in March that disappeared this summer while I trained. I thought whatever I had was gone, but I guess I still have it in me. But really, it’s racing that I love. My training runs were partially so tough for the sole reason that they weren’t races. As I explained in yesterday’s post, I am addicted to racing. I always feel better on race days; I am always a stronger runner on race days. Running is so mental, it is so psychological, and while everyone find motivation in different ways, for me it is through racing.
Also, I lied to myself on the course (and not just about tossing away my time goal): OF COURSE I will do another half or two next year.
And one of them will be the Newport Liberty Half Marathon.