Buckle up, lovelies. Yesterday was my first race post-partum, the New Jersey Half Marathon near the town where I grew up and a lot of my family still lives. I’ve run the half marathon a couple of times and ran my marathon PR there, as well. Now, in a move that completely shocked me, it’s home to my half marathon PR, too.
The morning started early. I woke at 5:00, washed up and made a cup of tea. I woke and nursed the baby before sending him back to bed with Nik and getting up and dressed myself. After much debate, I wore capris and short sleeves to run, with the forecast calling for a high of 60 and sun. My sisters and I were out of the house and headed to the start at Monmouth Park Race Track just before 6:00.
Getting to the race and parked was supremely easy (which I can’t say of years past). We hung out in the car awhile, hit the porta-potties and headed inside to meet up with our cousin Leigh and some friends. We were lined up in the start corrals in no time, even though the race delayed five minutes because of heavy traffic getting into the start — I guess we lucked out and missed it.
So, race strategy. I debated this one for a few days. Basically, should I go out with Leigh (who ran a recent 1:47) and hang on as long as I could, or run my own race, risk being alone start to finish and also risk never pushing myself? I lined up with Leigh. The strategy then became my usual for a half marathon: take it easy until miles 6-7… basically try to get there without noticing the miles click by. Then, miles 7-10, do the work. Don’t quit. Keep it up. Be positive. Miles 10-13, focus and start reeling people in and picking them off. Kick to the finish.
We went out a little ways behind the 1:50 half marathon pacer, just ahead of the 3:40 marathon pacer, and a a little ways in front of the 1:55 halfers. To be honest, I had no idea how this was going to play out. I figured keep the 1:50 within view until I couldn’t, then hang on tight with the 1:55s. Solid race planning, I know.
I felt good out of the gate — it started at a race track. See what I did there? The first few miles were easy and Leigh and I, along with another friend, Katie, were within a few strides of each other. We cruised, chatted here and there, but mostly just settled in. Instead of wearing a Garmin (which I forgot at home, but still) I used the Map My Run app on my phone so I’d get mile splits and total time, but not end up hung up on my pace. It worked out perfectly and even better and more vague because my splits weren’t hitting the mile markers. I had a really good approximate the whole time and really only paid attention to my split pace.
Around mile four I felt a tweak in my right hip flexor that actually made me kind of shout. It was quick but then mostly subsided. Luckily, it didn’t bother me for the rest of the race (and only feels a bit tight now, 24-hours later). By mile six I knew to be looking out for our support crew and felt a little sluggish and distracted. As we approached the transition area (we had family members doing the half relay, too, so that’s where our people were camped out), I was already talking myself into giving up a bit. You never planned to negative split, I caught myself thinking. It’s only your first race back. Instantly, I buried the thoughts. No time for thinking like that, I told myself, almost sternly despite being in my head. Shut it.
I was thrilled to see my parents, Nik, Henry, and cousins and had a great burst of energy going into mile seven. I also took my first Gu, sensing the negative thoughts were probably coming from depleted energy stores.
The middle miles of any distance race are always the toughest for me. The late teen miles of a marathon and the 7-9 range of a half get me every time. Negative self talk, sore legs, and knowing I’ve already gone a good distance, but have a good bit to go. Right around the halfway point in yesterday’s race, I was plodding along with the 3:40 marathon pace group sort of cracking up to myself at the mere concept (granted I was going half the distance). They pulled away a bit and I resisted looking over my shoulder to see if the 1:55s were approaching. I could still see the 1:50 pace card bobbing up and down in the distance, so just hung in.
One of the games I had decided to employ when I thought about the race and had no good expectation for how it would go was making a new playlist to get me through and to think about a list of people I’d want to dedicate miles to, to keep my mind off how far there was to go or how badly I was feeling. Honestly, new music and having something else to think about was really effective this time around. I didn’t let myself play the list to death in advance so it still felt fresh and distracting myself by thinking about friends and loved ones made mile markers pick up and move themselves closer together, I swear.
My Gu kicked in and I approached the ten mile mark. Leigh was still by my side, though early on in the race she confessed that her legs felt heavy and like they just weren’t waking up (bad for her, good company for me). We can run three miles, I remarked, hoping to reframe what was left of the race.
The last three went quickly. The crowds got a bit better, encouraging me along. I loved the signs and children out cheering. SMILE! You paid to do this! was a personal favorite. Touch here for power! read another. At mile 11, I felt confident enough to start pushing, reeling people in. I wasn’t sprinting around anyone, but methodically pulling them in. One guy with a little ponytail was next on the hit parade when at the marathon-half marathon split he stayed right for 26.2. Go for it, I thought to myself. No. Thank. You.
Around this time I did some rough calculating and realized I might actually PR. I’m terrible about keeping track of my numbers and so I’m constantly missing personal bests by seconds. My marathon PR was a 4:07ish when I missed it by 10 seconds in Vermont. My half was a 1:51:something, I thought going into Sunday morning. When the course turns onto the ocean road for the last mile or so, I turned it on. Honestly — and this is cheesy — I felt so lucky to be out there and I reminded myself of it with each step. The sky was clear, the ocean alongside, my favorite new song came on at the exact right moment.
You gave birth to a baby, I reminded myself with a laugh, you can finish this race.
It’s worth it.There’s no race tomorrow.Push.I buckled down and kept reeling people in, working to kick to the finish, a smile stuck on my face. I knew I must look ridiculous, but I couldn’t help it. I felt so lucky to be running. I remembered how much I wished for that moment for the past year.
The finish line came into view and I ran as fast as I could, with what felt like big, awkward steps. I don’t care! I thought to myself. Get there as fast as you can! I crossed the line with my app recording 1:50:55 for 13.4 miles. I was certain it was a personal best.
The race was made even sweeter with Nik and Henry out on the course, plus my parents (who were living overseas last time I ran this race), and my cousins and sisters on the sidelines and running along with me. With absolutely perfect weather, it was a stunning morning.
My official finish time ended up being 1:50:49, a personal record by a minute and 14 seconds. Unbelievable. 50 seconds to go to reach my New Year’s Resolution of the last two years. I’m ready to go.