I hadn’t planned on running a marathon this year, or ever again really. However, there I was on Sunday, April 28, 2019 toeing the line of my second 26.2 mile quest. A friend had asked me for a marathon training plan and suggested we train for it together. So naturally I sign up. One of my other triathletes decided to join us as well. Over the winter I loathed the decision, but honestly as the date drew closer my excitement began to build. I love the long distance stuff. As I was explaining to my wife on the car ride back Sunday night, marathons and full Ironmans, for the vast majority of racers, are mostly a “who has the biggest ‘you know what’ contest.”
We settled on New Jersey for a variety of reasons. Cost, proximity (less than three hour drive) and convenience (my parents live nearby) were the biggest factors. Running in my home state, I’m not going to lie, was pretty cool.
We drove down to Jersey on Saturday. It’s a trip we’ve done countless times. We arrived at my parents’ house just before noon. A short while later, my running mate Todd arrived with his family then the two of us were off to Asbury Park for packet pick up. I hate to admit this, but despite growing up in New Jersey this was my first trip to Asbury Park. It didn’t appear I’d been missing anything.
The Asbury Park Convention Hall was host to the race expo. If you’re picturing an old building with zero charm, poor lighting, cracked concrete floors, and too many things happening at one time you’re spot on! The marathon expo was tucked away in the arena portion of the venue. Check-in was fine. Not a long wait. The woman checking IDs for the post-race beer ticket must have been a cop at some point. She seemed to get far too much pleasure in saying, “lemme see some ID” in a thick Jersey accent.
The expo was a few vendors, with no real flow to it. We grabbed our race shirts, snapped a picture, and got the hell out of there.
I woke up around 4:00 am. I need the extra time in the morning to eat, digest, and let my stomach wake up so I can avoid any misfortunes out on the course. That all worked according to plan. I enjoyed a Cup o’ Noodles, coffee, and some sports drink prior to the race start.
Traffic getting into the parking lot at Monmouth Park was atrocious. It’s all single lane roads getting in there off the highway, so I’m not sure anything else could have been done, but traffic flow was horrible. We were out of the car with about 45 minutes to go until the start.
We loaded into the corrals, listened to the National Anthem, then got ready to race!
Running the marathon
In any road race I’ve done, it’s crowded at the start. Feet and arms flailing every which way. About 100 yards in I stepped on a water bottle that nearly brought me down. How the hell could someone just ditch a water bottle into a crowd of runners?!?!?! I had 26.1 miles to go at that point so it provided a brief chuckle. The potholes were another challenge all along the course. Nothing like quality New Jersey infrastructure!
The first seven miles went by really fast. The run was through some neighborhoods then back past the start line and out towards the shore. The weather was comfortable, cool, and cloudy. Ideal racing conditions. I was checking off 7:45/miles and feeling really in control.
Miles seven through 12 felt like an eternity for some reason. I was still holding a solid pace below 8:00/mile, but I wasn’t spotting any of the mile markers along the course. They weren’t very noticeable. Black signs off to the side with white lettering. Around half way I got a bump of energy knowing I was halfway done. It lasted until Mile 15 when everything went south.
I had fallen behind on my nutrition and at that point there’s no catching up. I was passed by the 3:30 pacers and when I couldn’t hang with them for more than another half mile it was a mental struggle. I hung on as best I could for another 10k, but I was definitely slowing down significantly. Around Mile 22 I started to walk a bit. I did this run/walk strategy for the remainder of the marathon. It was humbling to say the least. I came across the line with an official time of 3:52, fighting the rain for the final 40 minutes or so. Not the PR I was hoping for but I’ll learn far more from this race than any of the others i’ve done in recent years.
I’d never had to walk before in a race. But honestly, I’m glad it happened. Until now I’d been a positive trajectory in all my events. Personal best after personal best. So the endurance gods knocking me down a peg was needed. I didn’t execute my nutrition strategy properly. That was the glaring error on Sunday. With a little more practice and fine-tuning I’ll have it in order for upcoming races. I’m glad it happened the way it did, honestly.
As I was heading up the Ocean Promenade to the finish, two people were trying to cross the street a few feet in front of where I was. The traffic cop told them to wait, but they weren’t stopping. I called out to them, “It’s OK, I’m not moving that fast!” Everyone got a good laugh, including myself, out of that one! I think keeping a sense of humor during these type of events is essential. It’s especially true when the day isn’t going how you wanted it to. I had 11 miles or so to be angry and frustrated. But instead I focused on what I need to improve and the ways I’m going to do that. Being down and kicking rocks the entire way doesn’t do anyone any good.
Outside of the lessons learned while running, I’m not sure anything stuck out to me. The course wasn’t great or overly scenic. For it being billed as an ocean run, you really only saw the water for a few miles. It wasn’t very spectator friendly and the course was mostly quiet with little energy. The only music I heard was coming from speakers people set up on the lawns. Unless I missed it, it didn’t sound like the race organizers provided any music. I also don’t run with headphones so maybe that’s on me? I did enjoy people taking phone calls and texting while running.
The post-race food was bags of chips, fruit snacks, and pretzels. Nothing great. I would have expected a New Jersey staple, like pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwiches, pizza or Italian subs. Oh well.
I’ll take it easy this week with training, allow myself to recover, and then hit the final few weeks to 70.3 Connecticut on June 2.