Sunday, September 26, 2010

RACE REPORT: Newport Liberty Half Marathon

RACE: Newport Liberty Jersey City Half-Marathon
DISTANCE: 13.1 Miles (Half-Marathon)
DATE: Sunday, September 16, 2010 @ 8:35am
LOCATION: Jersey City, NJ
WEATHER: 64F, 40% Humid, Overcast, Light Wind 8mph NNE
WEIGHT: 158.7

I can remember Gerhardt’s words vividly this morning.

“Do not go all out. Make your half-marathon a training run. If you need to, make the last three miles at your marathon pace.”

My marathon pace needs to be 8:02 (so let’s just say 8 flat). This means he wanted me to go around 8:30 per mile at best for the first 10 miles. Umm, let’s see…okay, that would have given me a final time of roughly an hour and 50 minutes. Not shabby, when you consider that 13 of my 27 lifetime halves have been done faster than that time. So, it would have been a perfect average for me.

Today’s race weather was just about perfect. Though I had my sunglasses on, the majority of the race was under overcast skies. The humidity was still low, and the temps? How about 63 degrees at race time?

Karen got us a babysitter, and she was wonderful. Coming from a big family (6 kids, all told) and raised on a big farm outside of Minnesota, she was perfect. Oh, and she works with Karen too, so this was an extra special surprise. Having someone watching our children means a lot to my mental state when running a race. I wouldn’t have done this race any other way.

Bonnie had mentioned about this race to me midweek. I think this was the same race that the other two people (Kitty and that guy…whose name eludes me still!) had spoken of when we crossed the Queensboro Bridge last Wednesday night together.
They said it was a flat course, like Chicago, and it would be a great training run. I was already registered for the Continental 5th Av. Mile. It typically is a fan fav of mine, but it really didn’t feel relevant to me, so I decided to skip it. This, even though I still picked up my number, and threatened to run with their T-shirt in this race….a further act of denial!

We left a little late this morning (around 7:17am) but nothing too serious. We drove southbound on the FDR and made our way across the Holland Tunnel on the west side. One thing I did like about this race very much was the empty parking lot for all of us runners to leave our car at. We wound up having to park at the very top and outdoor section of the lot (7th floor), but it surely beat looking for parking in a place that I have never been to before in my life.

Jersey City has always looked fairly impressive to me from a distance, but now that I was right in the thick of the “Ex-New York-disgruntled-due-to-tax-so-we-left-NY” financial companies. It was very pretty and clean. Then again, there were several JP Morgan Chase buildings around, but hey, every city is going to have it’s share of ugly greed too, I guess. 

Logistics was something of a nightmare, one of the few “downs” of this event. Baggage check was near the finish, which was also close to the start, but unlike a secured area like at NYRR, you had to line up to hand your bag over to only 2 people behind their table. They were very nice, but you can tell they were slightly overwhelmed. And the bathrooms? Please. I had to complain about the lack of port-a-potties at NYRR races, and that’s when there are like 100. True, this race did not have 5,000 plus entrants like a NYRR event, but when you only have around 20 porta-potties for over 2,000 runners, you know something smells foul….Literally!

We saw one of Karen’s friends, Katie, and then I went to place my bag in check, while Karen was doing her last minute stretching and prep-work on her bag. I never stretch before a race. I like to bounce up and down and other simple stuff, which I gladly do at starting lines. When I finished at baggage, Karen came to baggage, and asked me to wait in the bathroom line.... UGH....Little did either of us know I would walk for BLOCKS to get to the back of that line! More ugh...

People on line with me were expressing disgust over this and how they were probably going to miss the start of the race.

“Start of the race?”, I joked. “By the time we get to the portapotties, the top runner will have already crossed the finish line!”, I added.

But there was a force from above that changed all that (and no, we didn’t pee in the bushes or worse). A woman, an angel of a woman, came to the line, right by us too, to announce that the Newport Health Club’s bathrooms were open. It was only a block away, and I was already running!

I bode farewell to my wife, drained the lizard, and came out a new man ready to attack the race. Fortunately, I wasn’t too long in there, and the reason why I’m really harping on all of this was because if you had read my last race report (Tune Up 18 Miler), you will know how a bathroom stop in the MIDDLE of a race can really screw you up.

This time, I was smart. This time, I finished drinking my 19.2 ounce savory sugar-free Red Bull, 60 minutes before the start of the race. Make this a sticky note for the upcoming Marathons!

There were no “Nazis” patrolling the corrals at the start, because there were no corrals. They had suggested signs by pace and everyone was on an honor-system. And that’s saying something because, I think we easily had way over 2,000 participants at today’s race too.

The race marshall got there late, I think, as I didn’t hear him speak through my iPod-6th Gen-Nano infested ears until 8:33, and we were supposed to get this shindig started at 8:30.

The race finally started without much hoopla. It had the feel of the Miami Marathon with all of the slick buildings around, but at the start, it had more of a Long Island Half Marathon feel to it. Considering how flat the LI course is, I probably was not too far off.

The first mile was a traffic jam, but thanks to lining up at the right spot, and being surrounded by pace-honest people, I still managed to do Mile 1 in 7:58.87.

Little did I know that Mile 1 would be my slowest mile….

I knew I had gone too fast. In fact, way too fast. I actually did the first mile 7:15.77 (here we go again with the Garmin and my running), so I did a manual lap when I finally crossed the first mile marker for an additional 43.1 seconds over nearly….a tenth of a mile extra!! So much for having re-adjusted my 1.02 mile laps back to 1.00. Ugh!

Mile 2 had has heading back the way we came for a while, through the Hudson Exchange and beyond to Paulus Hook before “hooking” a right onto Grand Street.
And mile two was more of the same as well. I wound up doing 7:52.8 (and again that included an overage of .06 mile).

I knew I had to slow down, and I really wanted too. Gerhardt’s warnings coupled with the sudden realization that I accidentally forgot to wear, let alone bring, my compression calf sleeves, gave me worries of injury going at this rate of speed. But there was no way I would or could continue this pace anyway. This was supposed to be “training”, remember?

Mile 3 had me going west on Grand. And sure enough, I was still going too fast.
“What do I have to do to tone this pace down?”, I seriously thought.

And then it happened.

Normally, when I race, I always remember to bring a hankie to wipe excess sweat off. When I sweat, I sweat like a beast. Well, I had forgotten to bring one, but my reliable partner had an extra ripped up sock to give me. Instead of hanging it over my shorts, I rolled it up my right arm.

I had just finished up at a water station, and was very pumped because I drained the empty cup from 3-point land into one of the garbage cans past the tables. I noticed I was sweating a lot so I took the sock off with my left hand and clutched it, while I removed my sunglasses, with my right. All while running, mind you. And yes, it was overcast, but sometimes I just like to wear them anyway.

I dried myself up, but as I put my glasses back on, the sock got caught in the left leg of the glasses, knocking them loose from my hand, falling on the ground behind me. In a state of panic, I quickly turned around to grab them, but I became so frantic, that I missed it on first, and second swipes, before scoring on the third. From that point onward I made it a point to make sure my hand sock was far away from my glasses.
And even with all of that, Mile 3? Seven minutes and thirty three seconds. I ran even faster than the previous splits and that was even ascending a little (which was hardly anything, frankly).

Along the water in Liberty State Park.  Skyline wasn't too different, except replace the lovebirds seen above with a bunch of sweaty and stinky runners!

The fourth mile took us off of Grand as we went under the New Jersey Turnpike not once but twice, finishing us up into Liberty State Park. It is a beautiful park that I had heard of but have never been to. It’s also home to the Liberty Science Center, for which I’d like to take my kids to one day too.

I did Mile 4 in 7:19.43. Insane.

       This was the same view I had except it was overcast at the moment I passed on by the "Lady".

I will spare the boring details about the run through the park, except to say that we ran around a lot in there. We did a lot of back and forths, and it was as flat as could be. I then saw the Statue Of Liberty. It was so incredibly awe-inspiring, as I ran past it imitating it with my arm up. Seeing Lady Liberty that close up reminded me of my grandfather’s (God rest his soul) memories as he came to this country by boat. As his cruise liner was making its way to the west side piers on 34th, he mentioned how starstruck he was to see that Statue of Liberty for the first time in my life.
                                Foot Bridge to Ellis Island.  Not on race day, but on a sunny day.

The other incredible moment came while I ran along the boardwalk. I never knew this before, but there is a foot bridge to Ellis Island!

Along the Hudson River, but this time on the Jersey side.  Looked like this, but again on a overcast day.

Running through the park, along the water, I thought that the wind would play havoc, but it did not, and I was motoring. With splits of 7:25,7:34,7:28,7:43,7:52 and 7:28, for Miles 5-10, I started thinking that I had a shot not only to break my personal Half-Marathon record of 1 hour 42 minutes and 32 minutes, but absolutely shatter it. I even had an outside chance to break an hour and forty minutes, which was mind-boggling, but I still had a 5K to go, and at this pace, I was beginning to show some wear.

The eleventh mile featured running along Liberty Harbor. The sun was now shining, and was beginning to be something of a factor. Fatigue was setting in, and I was getting a little annoyed by having to run around big boats, and transition between trail running and back to asphalt. And yet, I held on to complete Mile 11 in 7:41.97. Still under 8 minutes!
Karen was having a pretty good run herself!

Mile 12 had me going back on Grand Avenue where I had my slip up with my glasses way back. The area was getting a bit more crowded with spectators, but to be honest the competition which was already thinning out for me back by Mile 9 was even thinner now.
Not to sound chauvinistic, but as a man you know you are running well when you don’t see many women running around you anymore.

But as I completed my twelfth mile in 7:41.9, I knew I was going to have my classic kick in me to have a shot to do the unthinkable, which was to do this race in 1 hour 39 minutes and something. However, I really had expended a lot of energy to keep this up thus far. My overall pace if you included the face that I had actual ran 12.21 miles (+.21 over) was 7:31 per mile. This had taken a toll on me and for the first time, I don’t think I had any “kicks” left.

And yet, as I ran around a lot hooks and turns, around a ton of buildings, going north on the Exchange Place Path, I decided to take a ‘risk’ and go for broke once again. This would be a big risk because getting injured 2 weeks before a race, is deadly.

I never lived my life in fear.
And I wasn’t about to do it now, either.

The jets began to kick in. And I was running past the Harborside Financial Center, I began to notice that I was picking fellow runners off again. Step, Step, Step, Pass A Runner. Step, Step, Step, Step, Step, Pass A Runner.

I noticed the wind kicking up and the sun beating down harder. It seemed like the forces of nature were finally trying to, in a final attempt, to beat me down. It figured it would wait when I was nice and tired to pluck me, and send me home without my dream goal. But I already had the best time well within reach, and there’s nothing better than to mentally feel good about yourself, regardless of fatigue, and especially at the end of a race, which is when things are at their toughest.

As I zoomed past Avalon Cove, I could see the Double Tree Suites in the distance. A fresh wave of fatigue began to set back in, especially when I still could not see the finish.

“How much more can I do this?”, I kept thinking. I wanted so bad now to break 1:40, I could taste it. But I was dying inside. I needed to see something that would give me hope.

And then I saw it.

A right turn and suddenly there was the 13 mile marker, and the finish just behind that.

I gulped the air heavily as I stretched my strides, and increased my frequency. My lungs felt like they were on fire. With each breath I was grunting. Grunting so hard, that I could hear it over my footsteps, over the crowd cheering me to the finish, and over my music that entertained me like an old friend throughout this incredible journey today.

I remembered how I had said on video the week before that I would do anything I could in Chicago to qualify for the Boston Marathon. To even “throw myself” over the finish line if it would help. Here I was now doing the same thing two weeks earlier.

I let out a roar as I blasted, not jogged, or sprinted, but blasted through the finish line.

1:40:00 precisely. I shattered my previous record, but I was sad. No 1:39:59.

But then I realized that I did not hit my stop button until at least a half-second after I crossed the mats.

And suddenly, the realization hit me hard. I was overcome with joy, and started crying. I could not contain myself. A grown man. Imagine. What a wuss, right?

Feeling emotional, I finally got the strength to get my bag, and video this raw moment;

After I was done, I was drained. I walked over and poured, unbeknownst to me, highly concentrated Gatorade straight from the gallon jugs that were placed behind the water coolers. I had no clue until I started drinking and realized I needed to stop if I didn’t want to get sick.

I sat down somewhere near the finish, and just hung out to catch my breath for what seemed like forever. Tired, but with a wonderful feeling overwhelming me, the race clock was already over the 2 hour mark.

Afterwards, Bonnie came to the finish as well. I gave her a big hug after she crossed the finish line, thanking her for tipping me off about this race.
We talked for a little while, and suddenly she was gone, to get back to her kids, I take it.

Even if I had sucked today, I would wholeheartedly recommend this race. Even if you like NYC and have no interest in New Jersey, I will tell you that the sights of Manhattan Island, Lady Liberty, and the Harbor were astonishingly beautiful. And for the cost of $30, which we paid right at the start this morning, and thus the highest possible rate, it is cheap compared to NYRR. The only thing missing are finisher medals, and again, more bathrooms, and easier access for dropping off bags. Other than that, I loved this race, and will definitely do it again next year.

With this time, I now have a chance in Chicago.  The age-old formula is to take your best half-marathon time, double it, and add 10 minutes.  My fingers crossed......but my legs keep moving!

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