I ran the 2018 New Jersey Half Marathon this weekend and, just like last year, it was the best!
By the numbers: I finished in 1:58.33, which is a 9:03 minute per mile pace. I made two bathroom stops, saw at least 200 puppies, and smiled the entire time.
But there’s always a little more to the story, right? So here’s a full, probably-too-long rundown of the 2018 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Half Marathon!
Since the race start is a little more than an hour away from where we live, we made a weekend out of it. Brian, Ellie, and I drove down to the Monmouth Park Racetrack on Saturday afternoon so I could grab my bib from the expo. Bib pickup was easy and breezy, and I was out of there in about 90 seconds. (I am not an expo person.)
Then, it was adventure time! We took Ellie to Asbury Park so she could run around on the beach for a while, then grabbed lunch, and checked into our hotel. I put on PJs, ate dinner in bed, and charged my headphones. (I am absolutely obsessed with the Aftershokz Trekz Air headphones! They are, hands down, the best headphones I’ve ever run with — even better than my beloved Sony headband headphones that I was missing so dearly. I have a discount code for these coming so you can try them — give me a week to get it up and running and then go buy some!)
It wasn’t my best work, but here’s my race-day playlist on Spotify. If you’re not running to The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music, you’re doing it wrong.
As I mentioned, this was a run-for-fun race. At nearly 15 weeks pregnant, I felt no need to make time goals or have plans or care about anything. I just wanted to have fun. Running has felt fine for the most part lately, but I definitely feel myself slowing down. I used to do most of my runs around an 8:30-9:00 minute per mile pace; now they mostly hover in the 10-minute-mile range, including plenty of walk breaks. Which is fine! I’m into it. And I didn’t know or care how that would translate on race day.
So the planless plan was to run when I felt good, walk if I needed, stop for water when I was thirsty, and take bathroom stops when my shrinking bladder made the call. And I wore my Garmin because I knew I’d want to see my splits after the race. (Numbers can be fun when there’s no pressure tied to them!)
I felt good when I woke up Sunday morning. I got up at 5 with plans to leave the hotel at 6:30. That gave me plenty of time to go to the bathroom, oh, six times, and crawl back into bed for some Ellie snuggles before getting dressed.
Chauffeur Brian drove us (me and my friends Laura and Myles, who were staying at the same hotel and running/crushing the full, plus Ellie along for the ride) to the start. Just a heads up if you run this race in the future: Traffic really does get backed up leading into the start area. Our hotel was a 9-minute drive away, but it took almost half an hour to get there. It’s not a big deal, but something to keep in mind and prepare for!
It was cold and drizzling at the start, so most people opted to wait inside the racetrack. That seemed like a brilliant idea and we followed suit, until we saw the bathroom line that was hundreds of women deep. (The men’s room, not so much… I’m all for gender-neutral bathrooms in general, but especially at races and Broadway shows.) So we went outside and used the porta-potties, and for a while, the lines were nice and short!
Soon enough, it was go time!
I was in Corral 4. The New Jersey Marathon / Half Marathon does an awesome job with pace groups. Last year, I ran with the 1:45 pace group for a while and I had a great experience. This year, I didn’t plan to run with a pace group, but I was standing near the 1:50 pacer for a bit before the race, and he was giving his crew an awesome pep talk. So nice!
Each corral gets its own start, which keeps things from getting too congested, and when it was time for our corral, I was just so happy! It felt so good to be at a race!
I started running and of course felt amazing for the first two miles. I was near that 1:50 group, which seemed doable for two whole miles. Then I realized that’s an 8:23 pace and LOL, no. So by mile 3, I reeled it in a bit and decided to run what felt comfortable instead of what I knew would quickly become comfortably hard.
The course is flat, and there are tons of turns, which is my preferred way to race. I love turning a corner, running that little stretch, and then turning another corner. It never gets boring!
I saw my first familiar face around mile 4 — hi, Jordan! — and enjoyed looking at all the pretty houses on the water. And lots of them were under construction, which always means one special thing: bonus porta-potties on the front lawns!
The weather was mostly overcast, cool, and a bit windy, and the rain stopped as soon as the race started. It was humid — I could tell based off the sweat mustache I formed by mile 1.5 — but it was cool enough that it wasn’t a big deal.
By mile 6, I needed to pee. Fortunately, there are water stops and porta-potties every mile along the course (I think), so there was a bathroom right when I needed it.
Almost as soon as I emerged from the bathroom, I realized I was going to need another one. But a different kind of bathroom stop. I knew I could hold it for a mile. So I just kind of hoped for the best and kept moving. (Sometimes slowing to a walk helps in these situations. Other times, I find that messing with my forward motion actually makes it worse!) I kept moving as best I could, eagerly awaiting the porta-potty at mile 7.
Except there was no porta-potty at mile 7! I swear it was the only mile on the course without a bathroom stop! I was panicking a little, but tried to distract myself with music and people watching. Finally, I made it to mile 8 and saw some bathrooms — hooray! — but they were all full and I was second in line and I stood there waiting for what felt like forever before it was my turn. I was in and out quickly, but whew. Close call.
Once I emerged (and felt so much better!), I saw my friend Christina out cheering, and that gave me a good boost.
Also, shout-out to Shalane Flanagan. I simply cannot fathom how her bathroom stop only cost her 13 seconds in Boston. When I stopped to pee, I counted, and it took me 15 seconds just to get in, lock the door, and wiggle out of my shorts. She’s superhuman.
Once I got to mile 9, I looked at my watch and realized, holy crap, I could go sub-2 today! I couldn’t believe I still felt so good. I didn’t feel too tired, my breathing was fine, and other than the bathroom stops, I hadn’t needed any walk breaks. My body wasn’t slowing down, so I — literally — ran with it!
There were so many spectators along the way. I saw my friends Dani, Lindsay, and Meredith, and my friends Sarah, Chris, and Judy with their cute babies. I remember reaching down and touching my stomach a few times and asking (in my head), “You good in there, baby?!” Hopefully the answer was yes. I wonder if bouncing around for two hours is fun for a baby or terrible or not a big deal. I’ll have to ask once I meet this kid in a few months!
At mile 9, running four more miles seemed like a breeze.
When I got to mile 10, though, the thought of three more felt a little daunting. I was starting to slow down a bit (I think), and when I got to mile 11 and the marathoners split from the half marathoners, my legs started to feel fatigued. At mile 11.5, the course takes runners onto the boardwalk (Is it technically a boardwalk if it’s paved? I think it’s paved…), which is beautiful and lovely and wonderful and pretty and nice, but also holy headwind. Boston runners, I think I now know exactly what your race was like this year. This was the same. Totally.
Obviously not. But the headwind was pretty strong in the last mile and a half or so. I just sort of put my head down and kept moving forward and smiling at people and puppies. That last stretch feels long. Being up on the boardwalk makes it seem like the finish is imminent, but there’s still a ways to go.
Soon enough, though, the finish came into sight, and I was so happy. I squeaked in just under two hours, and I felt so much better than I ever could have hoped for.
I got my medal, heat sheet, boxed water, and banana, and when I realized I was out of hands, I just opened my mouth and the soft pretzel guy shoved a pretzel right in there. I found Brian and Ellie and even Brian admitted he was awesomely shocked with how the day had gone! (I had specifically told him not to expect me to come through before 9:30 AM.)
My only goal was to beat Laura to the finish (she was running the full, remember) because I wanted to see her come through. And she did, with a 16 minute PR! I finally got to meet Danielle IRL, and she had a great race, too!
If you’re in the NJ area — or even if you’re not — seriously consider running this race, either the half or the full. I’ve had two amazing experiences in a row, and it really is one of my favorite races.
THANK YOU to all of the phenomenal volunteers, race organizers, and spectators. You put on a great show, and I am so grateful I got to be a part of it. And thank you to all the new friends who said hi (mostly to Ellie) at the finish! Ellie loved meeting you and congratulating you!
And then we took Ellie back to the beach. Duh.
DID YOU RUN OR RACE THIS WEEKEND?! Tell me everything!