City: Long Branch, NJ Date: 4/26/2015
Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
Weather: Mid-50s at start; upper 60s at finish
Course: Mostly flat for a New England coastline race.
Summary: Not fast, but I loved it and had a great time!!
My mother was from New Jersey.
Yes… she was a Jersey Girl… from the Jersey Shore even, before that became a part of the national lexicon because of that reality show. Unfortunately for me, she passed away far too young and too early in my life for me to really know all that much about where she was from. I picked up bits and pieces over the years from things she’d say and some of the items I found that she left behind, and I even saw the town once, but just as we were passing through. I never really got to *see* where my mom was from, and I thought it was important for my kids to understand things about the grandmother they’d never meet that were a factor in how they are being raised today. Because, really, when you are raised by a Jersey Shore girl, there are some parts of Jersey that gets transferred to your kid, even if she’s raised in the south – which explains a *lot* about how I fit in here 🙂
For that reason, I saved this state so I could visit her family and see where she was from. I timed it so I could bring my kids to meet that side of the family because none have met my kids – and I’ve not met theirs. I looked for a race as close to the town she grew up in (which, at the time I knew only as Red Bank) and tried to get it as close to where my cousins currently live as possible. What I found was so much better than I even imagined – a re-connection with a family I’d lost touch with a long time ago. Plus, along the way, I got to experience things with my boys for the first time: seeing Washington DC, New York City, and Hershey, PA, in addition to meeting and visiting family they’d not known. The icing on the cake was that they were perfect travelers for this trip – very excited, sweet and flexible and had a great time. That meant more to me than the race.
As I mentioned in the Prologue, I decided to take my boys on this trip. This is something I’ve been trying to do when I have support and someone to care for them while I race because I’d like them to see me complete races that I work so hard for (they see the time spent on the treadmill – I wan them to understand what it is for). I also have my father’s sense of adventure and curiosity about the world around me, so I want to share that with them, hoping to spark their sense of adventure and curiosity about their world one day. On this trip, I had planned to drive to New Jersey, but stop in Washington DC on the way up (the boys had never been there) and then stop in Hershey PA on the way back. I chose those spots along the way because my older son had read a biography on Milton Hershey (who sounded like a pretty fascinating guy) and, well, DC is our nation’s capital and if you live this close, why not? I took them out of school for a couple of days for the trip, but had very educational things planned.
On the way up, we stopped the first night in Washington DC. In DC, we crammed in as much as we could in less than 24 hours in the city – we walked the Mall, passed the FBI headquarters, walked through the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, went to the International Spy Museum, had a (gluten free) pizza at Pi Pizzaria, walked around the Capital (under reconstruction) and finally went to Ford’s Theater just a few days after the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. We left Washington DC around lunch time and headed to New Jersey where we stopped to get my race packet before heading to my cousin’s house… only to discover her house is literally 1.5 miles away. awwwwweeeeeessssssoooooommmmeeee. No need to drive or have anybody get up early to drive me. We had a great dinner and a good time catching up with everyone that night and, to my surprise, my uncle and aunt bought ferry tickets for the boys and me to go into NYC. The boys are big fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so they’ve been excited about the trip and the ferry was just easier.
One of my cousins planned a detailed agenda for us in NYC – and it was awesome (also see where I get that skill now… I always wondered about that). We followed her agenda by getting off the ferry at 34th street, walking a few blocks to get a cab to Central Park – visited the Central Park Zoo, had lunch there, and then walked to Times Square where we went to the M&M and Hershey stores (keeping with the Milton Hershey theme). By then, though, it was about an hour before the 2nd to last ferry went back to NJ and I didn’t want to be out late, so we decided to get a cab to the same Ferry port we arrived. Unfortunately, though, not only was there a big festival keeping us on the west side of the island, we also had a cabbie who must have been new – I had to navigate him to where I wanted to go and even then he had trouble understanding what I wanted. We ended up walking and barely missed the ferry. No worries – we had another port and another ferry – we took another cab to the Pier 11 Ferry port and waited in a Starbucks until it was time for the ferry. We got home and my cousins once again had a dinner ready for us and we had a great time having dinner and catching up on how the day went… but I was beat. I couldn’t believe I had a half marathon the next day.
I guess the NYC trip took it out of me because I slept like a rock that night. I got up earlier than I had planned and had plenty of time to get dressed and stretched and just wake up. Once I all my stretching and dressing done, I was ready to head out.
One of many things I absolutely love about New England in general is that Dunkin Donuts is prevalent there – I mean, more so than Starbucks (at least that I noticed) and the coffee is WAY better (in my opinion), and, as my luck has it, there is a Dunkin Donuts on the walk to the start line. I set out just before the sun was up to make my way to the start line and, honestly, it was even closer than I expected. I stopped and got the coffee I planned to get (a small), repacked my water bottle holder, and headed back out toward the start line.
The rest of the walk was calming and peaceful. I love little beach towns, and, though we were a few miles in from the beach where I was, it was close enough that it still smelled and felt beachy. In addition, the sunrise was stunning – a mixture of golden-silvery-pinkish-purplely and constantly changing the entire trip. The photo I captured of it only stayed that way for a few minutes. The start line was at the Monmouth Race Track – I’d never been to a race track before and it had an older 1950s feel to it. It was a bit chilly, so I walked inside to warm up and, you know, while I’m there, I’ll use the restroom with running water. It was nice to have the option and I didn’t mind the wait because of it. After the pit stop, I decided to walk around the building a bit – snapping a few photos and just taking in the sights. There was a one-man band (Mario) entertaining us with covers of late 1980s pop songs – I strolled past him to the back half and looked out to the track and notice four horses practicing. It was awesome – I’d never seen it before but grew up loving horses, so it felt like something I’d known all my life. It was a very cool experience for me.
As it approached start time, I wandered outside (it was still pretty chilly to me) and stood in line for *one* more potty break (if you’ve read any past posts, you know how this goes for me…) Of course, the official photographer wanted to get a photo while I’m in line, so I hold up my bib and, wouldn’t you know, it is the best shot of me for the entire race. haha. figures.
It was time for the race to start, so the announcers gathered all of us to the start line, so, I headed over to my corral and filed in with the rest. It was a crisp morning, and the start corrals were pretty crowded, so I was able to stay warm. I decided that, since I was still technically recovering from the full that I wanted to run with music and monitor my pace this time, so I tried to connect my bluetooth headphones – only to discover that this is nearly impossible in the start corral… something I also had to deal with in the Run to Remember half marathon a few weeks later.
Because the start was at a horse race track, it seemed only fitting that the bugler that started each of the horse races also started us off. We sang the national anthem and then got the typical horse race bugle call start for each wave. It was actually pretty fun. After the first bugle call they started playing “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. In my mind, you cannot have a running race in New Jersey – especially one that starts at a race track – that does not have this song pouring out over you in some capacity. I was in the third or fourth corral (I honestly can’t remember now), so the song was still playing as I passed the speakers and it was so loud (to the chagrin of all the locals in Long Branch…) that I could feel each syllable The Boss spoke vibrate through my entire body as I passed by.
The most notable thing for me for this race was the flatness of it – which surprised me because, generally, this area is not really all that flat. While it *is* a beach town, it is a New England beach town, and well, New England just isn’t flat. Later on that day, I will take my boys to Highlands (to see the twin light tower), which is called that for a reason. This portion, though, around the track and through Oceanport, was pretty flat.
We mostly ran through small neighborhoods and I got to see a lot of the little town my aunt and uncle lived in (almost literally passing their house). I also overheard a conversation between two women who were complaining about how the hill on mile 2 was kicking their butt – I had to laugh because I was curious what she was talking about. Between miles 5 and 6, there was a bridge we crossed (which I thought was nice – I like crossing bridges in races and most of the time take note of them) and that was a nice hill, but otherwise, most of it seemed pretty flat to me.
The first five or so miles were pretty good for me – I was averaging around an 8:10 mile until I got to mile 6 where we crossed the bridge and I was starting to feel the effects of the marathon from 4 weeks before this. My legs were starting to feel heavy and, although I had done a double-digit run before this race, most of the runs I had done were much shorter and I was starting to tell that maybe that was having a negative effect.
Plus: as usual – I had to pee.
I managed to keep myself together until I got to mile 9, but I really had to go by then, and, thankfully, there was a port-a-potty right there – this was my slowest mile, though, and put my overall average over 8:30 for the rest of the race. I had some walking around this time, too, because my legs were toast. I really struggled through from that point on to almost mile 11 when I finally turned on to 2nd Avenue and you could see the beach between the buildings and knew we were really close to the finish.
As we turned off 2nd to the side road that then turned onto Ocean Avenue, I started having deja vu from the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon that turned this hobby of mine into a giant goal that led me to this particular race – that turn and seeing the beach really brought back a lot of memories for me. Although, I knew I had just under a mile left, whenever you turn on to a boardwalk like this and you know you’re close, that mile seems to last for about six. Like Virginia Beach, this was a LOOONNNGGGG mile and I was ready to be done. However, unlike Virginia Beach, it was much cooler and the cross-winds from the shore were nice and cool and refreshing, not hot! I was able to pick up the pace a bit as I got closer to the finish, but nothing close to what I was doing the first half of the race. I ended with a 1:53, which was pretty much on the nose of what I told my cousins I’d do (I told them “about 1:53 or so because I’m not feeling it today”) haha.
I finished, collected my finisher items and located my cousins who were waiting with my kids at the finish area. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get in to see the finish, but they tried and I’m thankful I got to see them shortly after. We walked around and snapped a few photos and the headed back to one of their houses so I could clean up and we could do a little bit of touring of the town (Red Bank, Little Silver, Oceanport, Monmouth Beach and Highlands) and visit with the rest of the family who were coming over for a barbecue later that afternoon.
This was one of those trips that I took that will be a good memory for me for the rest of my life. I am happy that I took the time to spend with family and it was good for me to have the connection to my mom’s town and where she grew up (as well as the people she grew up with as I’ve been somewhat removed from them for most of my life). It gave me the context I’ve needed to understand some things about myself. I am also glad I waited to do this race when I could take my kids. Although they still didn’t get to see me finish, they were there shortly after and were able to see that all the hard work I put in on the treadmill week after week isn’t for naught. I don’t think they fully understand it yet, but I hope they will soon. Unfortunately, after about 25 half marathons and now three full marathons, 10 or so 10k and about 20 5k races, they have yet to actually see me finish a race. I hope to change that soon.