HOLY COW that was hard! I really wanted to stay positive. The weather report predicted winds coming steadily from the NE at 20-22 mph all morning. The race pretty much runs NE the entire way. UGH. I hate wind.
This race is one of the best values in the area. If you are a USATF-NJ member and register before the very generous 10/1 cut-off, you get a bib for this 18 mile run for a whopping $28 bucks! We park at St. Francis Community Center, or side streets, close to the 7.5 marker. We pick up our bibs, and tech t-shirts in the gym. We have access to indoor bathrooms. Busses transport us to the start on one side of Long Beach Island. At the starting area there are an enormous number of port-o-potties, a table of water and the gear bag truck that brings our stuff to the finish. You can walk to the end of the island and see the ocean. There is no shelter besides a small little bath house with a small overhang that many us of crammed under last year in the rain. However today it was in the 60's and windy at the start.
The race starts at 10:30 am. The course is a point-to-point flat 18 mile run across the entire length of Long Beach Island. People can be overheard saying it is the most boring course they have ever run. Personally I don't feel that way, but have run over 110 miles on a one mile loop. Sometimes I can entertain myself out there. It is one straight flat road for about 17.5 miles, until you turn left, then make two quick right turns ending up an incline to the finish at the Barnegat Light House. Although the website states that the winds generally come from the South, that is not my experience. I have run this 4 times now and every time there has been a head wind of some significance to contend with. This year it was by far the worst! Once (the year the Chicago Marathon ran out of water due to extreme heat) we also had extreme heat at about 88 degrees. Last year it was 50 degrees with cold rain and wind. There is no shade or shelter on this course so what ever elements are thrown at you, you need to be prepared to accept them and cope with them for the entire run.
For me all those negatives are not enough to keep me away. Once you accept the challenges of the weather and understand that you will have to be ok with a straight shot, you then realize that this race still can provide a phenomenal opportunity to run fast. Aid is about every 2 miles and spectators do come out to cheer. The streets are not lined with them, but they are spread out throughout the course in small groups and that helps.
After you finish you get handed an index card with your place on it. There are a lot of snacks at the end: bagels, cookies, bananas, birch beer, and a lot of other things to pick from. The volunteer who handle the gear bags are the best. The are so attentive that as you walk towards their spot, if they can see your number they will grab your bag before you even get to them!
Finally after the race you get bussed back to the Community Center. There is usually a post race buffet of cold cuts and tuna or chicken salad. Last year I thought there was a lot more non-meat options but maybe I missed them this year. There are coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and tons of desserts. Results are available online immediately if you have a smartphone on you. Awards are presented in the gym. Only first place male and female OA get acknowledged with trophies. Age Group award winners get medals.
Although this race does not cater to runners' every whim like some of the much more expensive races may, I cant imagine finding a race of this length that provides so much for such a reasonable price.
My Race (and Sidney's):
Oh boy. First, I don't have splits b/c I missed so many that the data is useless. Basically I ran this whole race by feel. Last year I ran 7:09 pace. I have run a little faster this year so I felt 7:09 in the wind was still possible. I started off last year with a woman named Maggie who was just phenomenal. It was colder and rainy with wind but much less than today. I do my best in the rain.
After Sid and I met up with John, Sue, Maria, Jackie, Steve, Martin and Bill at the start, I left them so I could go up front. Most of the group were running this simply as a long run.
Sidney was running this as a spur of the moment decision he made two weeks ago on really no genuine training at all. Sid's training consist of 4 milers he runs with our dog. Sid has screws in his knee and a achilles tendon that had to be replaced years ago. He doesn't like to make things too complicated, so he decided he wanted to run this race using jelly beans. Not "sports beans" but Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. (Sugar is sugar so why not!) When we looked for them we found Jelly Belly also made Candy Corn. He likes candy corn and it was easy to carry.
I will admit, I was a little worried he was going to have a tough time out there. I didn't want to discourage him, but I also didn't want him to have a miserable day and do too much damage to his knee. I let him know that if he felt that things were not going well for him he could easily bail at the Community Center as he passed it and then meet me at the finish. I was 50/50 on whether I thought he would actually bail out. He later said so was he.
Sidney hung back and I moved up, lining up right next to Maggie from last year! I was thrilled. Maggie is awesome and very strong smart runner. We rambled a bit about expectations. We tried to figure out how this wind was going to alter our plans. A guy behind us said he had calculated 15 seconds per mile, Maggie said she had figured 12. I had planned to aim for 7:05's for the first few miles, then fade as it happened like last year. If I ran a 7:09 pace last year, when I was running just as well, I figured 7:20-7:25 would be realistic pace by the end of today based up on the wind. I still wanted to start at 7:00-7:05 pace if possible because I expected a hard fade.
I have no splits but I know I was faster than 7:00-7:05 pace for the first four miles. My pacing was sloppy but it really had a lot more to do with trying to make the best decisions I could to manage the wind than it did with having no discipline.
A pack of men were running just sub-7. Maggie and I tucked in. We talked a bit about strategy. She is a faster runner than me so this 6:55 pace was likely ok for her. One guy said he felt the pace was too slow. However, it was slightly too fast for me. But if I dropped back to 7:05's then I would be running alone in that wind with no pack to work with. In 20+ mile per hour winds with gust to over 30 mph, a decision that would have me running alone would leave me fighting too hard the entire way. I decided I would rather be faster at the start and get some shelter working within a pack then go at it alone. Maggie and I tucked in and the pace felt good, but fast.
As we approach mile 4, I noticed we were collectively fading. When I noticed a 7:16 on my watch, I looked ahead and saw another pack a little bit ahead. I thought for a minute and then told Maggie, I want to try to move up. Maybe catch that pack just ahead and settle in with them. They looked within range, I moved up towards the front of my pack, and then tried to work up towards them. The only trouble was just as I made that decision, it seemed like that pack ahead picked up their pace too. Maggie made the break with me. We were out fighting the wind. Our pace was only back down to 6:55. It felt much faster due to the effort. She advised that we take out time to catch them. I didn't feel like I had much of a choice. Dropping a 6:30 right now was not happening for me. However, after a few minutes out there without much progress, I noticed the wind plus the pace was too much for me. I had to drop back. I wished Maggie luck, told her to go for it and I slowed. It was just too early to fight that hard. My original pace group caught back up to me and I was so tired from a failed break away by then that I had trouble staying with them so I let them go too. 6:55-7:00 was too much for me today. Soon I found myself running alone, the very thing I was trying to avoid doing. This was going to be a long day!
I hit 6 miles, grabbed a gel and decided to simply take this one mile at a time. I stopped paying attention to my mile splits but I was watching my pace periodically. I found that a 7:25 pace felt comfortable and I felt confident that I could hold that for a while. Yet when gusts of wind would pummel me, I dropped to as low as 7:45s at times. I was able to fight it back down to 7:15s if I worked hard.
Running passed the Community Center, I wondered if Sid would take the bail out or whether he would go on. I figured I would find out by the end. I got to half way a 1:04 which would be awesome if I could run even splits, but I was already slowing down. Now it became a race for place. I really wanted to be able to see Sidney after it was over and tell him I was 3rd. I knew first and second place were going to hold their positions. I just needed to hold mine. I was not confident I could. I still had half the race left.
By 7 miles in, I started to look behind me. I just knew I couldn't let those I could see catch me. I did my best, but the wind was too much and by 5 miles to go, I was getting passed. Two men, only. Phew. I glanced back and saw no one close. I did see someone in a florescent green vest a bit back. I wondered if that person was a chick, but I couldn't tell. It completely realistic for me to get passed by that person by the end. I tried to plan some strategy like to sit at the pace I was holding until 3 to go and then try to kick it in. But a gust of wind would blow me around the street and I knew I had no ability to control my pace. My new strategy was to run hard whenever the wind was weaker and tolerate the wind when stronger. It was all I could do to survive the last few miles.
Although my pace was not getting much faster, I was able to catch a few guys in the last mile. By the time I hit 17, I started to believe that there was a real possibility that I could hold 3rd. But behind me there was someone really turning it on. I couldn't tell if this was a man or a woman. I tried to pick up my pace but I had so very little left. I was back down to low 7's and I was holding this person off. I glanced back and realized this was a younger guy and it didn't matter if he caught me. With 0.3 to go and no one visible behind him, I was going to get my 3rd. Just as we hit the finishing stretch, the guy caught me and blew past. He said "Sorry, I just had to catch you!" I responded, "As long as you are not a chick, you can do anything you want". I had nothing left.
I look around at the finish for Sidney. If I didn't see him, I knew that meant he was still running. I was so happy to not see him there. About a half hour later, Sidney came cruising in looking like he was working but he was moving well! He ended up just sub-2:50 and ran the whole way pretty evenly at 9:27 pace. I am so very proud of him.
Time: 2:12:35 (7:21 pace)
OA: 34 / 716 runners
Gender: 3rd OA