Saturday, September 26, 2015

Guest Blogger: Nikki Drader, Sub-1:29 at the Newport Liberty Half Marathon, Jersey City, NJ. 9/20/15

For the last several months, I have been fortunate to have some fantastic runners training with me.  Even though my own training and racing has been hampered by some medical issues right now, it means a lot to me to still be able to experience the joy of racing through my ambitious athletes.  

Nikki Drader is one of the most talented runners I have been able to work with since I began coaching. I have no doubt that in the months and years to come, Nikki will continue to chip away at her PRs, rising to the podium in any race she chooses to select as a goal.  I am honored to be able to share this Race Report written by Nikki about her recent half marathon PR. The best part about this report is that this half marathon wasn't even her goal race for this season!  


Photo by Becky Wiechman

Race Report: Newport Liberty Half Marathon 
by Nikki Drader

I lined up at the start of the Newport Liberty Half Marathon with my training partner, Rich Timlen, and our Clifton Roadrunner teammates Rich Rubino, Nick Joannidis, and Frank Cunha. All of us were hoping to run around 1:30:00 so we planned to race as a pack. Shannon found us just before the start to talk race strategy. We received our instructions: hold back in the beginning of the race and hope to negative split. Expect headwind in the park and don’t be nervous if the pace began to fade as a result of it. I felt really calm, which is unusual for me when the race conditions are good.

I am never nervous for a race when the weather is horrible. Everyone’s expectations for your race are lower when the weather is bad. But when the conditions are good and expectations are high (this was my marathon predictor race after all) I am usually a head case. Not today. Today my legs felt great and my head was clear. Today I was keeping things light and fun.

Knowing that the first four turns of the race were lefts, we lined up on the left-hand side of the street a few rows back from the Start line. The gun sounded and off we went. I shot out onto the course like I always do and, like always, Rich reigned me back in with a pace check. We were running way too fast. We eased off the pace a bit, the guys took the lead, we were breathing easy, and the pack settled in. First mile, 6:35. 

It was somewhere between miles 1 and 2 that Rich assured me we were going under 1:30:00. He was certain, and you could see it in his running style. A confident Rich takes the lead, which I love because the guy is a human metronome. I settled in behind him and Rubino. Mile 2, 6:43. Still ahead of our goal.

We cruised through the first aid station. I wanted to practice my cup grabbing skills for the marathon so at every station I went for both water (offered first) and Gatorade, took a sip or two of each and tossed the rest. It was shortly after the first aide station that we ran up on Sergio Cano, another teammate of ours. We exchanged some encouraging words, we took a right up Grand, and the pack powered on. Mile 3, 6:52. 

I remember feeling a little nervous here because we had been steadily dropping pace, but there was a very small climb up Grand and once the terrain leveled out we settled back into a quicker tempo. I remember Nick’s reassuring words, “Nice and smooth” as we picked back up. Mile 4, 6:46.

As we turned toward the park after mile 4, I took the lead in our pack for the first time in the race. It was my turn to do the work for a while. Nick joined me. I think it was at the next aide station that I knocked three cups out of the hands of volunteers before I got hold of one. (I apologized to Rich for basically screwing him out of any water) Mile 5, 6:47.

Things get a little fuzzy in the park, primarily because all I can remember is the endless headwind and because I knew we would run a few miles here so I tried to tune out and focus on nothing but my rhythm and my breathing. Mile 6, 6:47. 

It was somewhere around here that Rich came up on my shoulder and said “remember your progression”. “Want to start now??”, I said, half joking. I remember feeling good despite the headwind, but cautious to push too hard this early and against so much resistance as we ran over the water. Mile 7, 6:44. 

I took my second Gu right before we came into the aide station at around mile 7.5. I also knew I was about to hit the turnaround and head right back into the wind so I held steady and waited for the gel to work its magic. Mile 8: 6:51. 

It was time to pick up the pace. There were five miles left and I was feeling very strong and well fueled. I also knew some tough terrain was coming from mile 9.5 to 10.5 (more on that later). I saw Rubino ahead of me and I focused on reeling him in. I thought about Shannon and how she did this all the time in races. Mile 9, 6:38. 

I saw two women ahead of me. “Take your time and reel them in”, I thought. Just like Shannon. By now I was running north up the most poorly paved path of all time. Mile 10, 6:36. 

The footing was awful, but I work in the area and run in the park all the time so I knew what to expect. Arland, who I had met with the pack as we entered the park, was ahead of me. We ran side by side for a while. I complained about the terrible pavement. (Really I mean how could it be THAT bad??) As I came out of the park and onto Jersey Avenue a spectator yelled to me… “Ninth female!” What??? I couldn’t believe it. I felt myself surge. Arland came with me. Mile 11, 6:33. 

2.1 miles to go and I was intent on keeping myself in the top ten so I pressed… hard! My favorite spectator on the course was waiting for me at around mile 11.5. Jim Olivola was not racing that day because he was recovering from an injury. If you know Jim, he is one of the most enthusiastic racing fans I know and it always makes me really happy to make him proud. When I saw him, the wheels came off. He assured me I was well under 1:30:00 pace and seeing him made me feel, well, rejuvenated! I saw him again as I rounded the corner onto the waterfront. I had about a mile and a half to go and there wasn’t another woman in sight. Mile 12, 6:22. 

I was starting to hurt a little, and with no other woman in my front or rearview I decided to back off a little bit. All I had to do now was hang on. I was almost home. At this point I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to come in under 1:29:00. My watch was telling me I had an extra quarter mile on the 13.1 mile course so I wasn’t sure if I would make it. It didn’t matter; I was back in Newport and about to finish this race in the top ten. Mile 13, 6:32. 

According to my ancient Garmin 305, I ran a 6:30 pace through the finish. I didn’t look at the clock until I hit the line… I’d bested my goal time by over a minute and my previous PR by over 5 minutes!

My last half was essentially a reverse progression run. Most of the longer races I ran went this way… it wasn’t until I started training with Shannon that I learned proper pacing. Thanks to her, this race goes down as the most fun race I’ve run to date. This was the first time I’ve raced in a pack and the first time I negative split any race over a 10K. 

Chip time: 1:28:40
9th female overall 
2nd woman in my age group

It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but now I know… trust the plan! :)


  1. Such a wonderful story. Great to see people hit their goals. Wonderful to have teammates to run most of the way with. I know the importance of strong training, of a plan, and of friends along the way. Keep it up!

  2. Amazing! You are so strong and I’m fortunate to get to run with you every once in a while!