Race Report: Flying Too Close to the Sun at Jersey City

The best laid plans of mice and men … aren’t worth crap if you don’t follow them.

You ever know something is a bad idea, and you go ahead and do it anyway?

That was me yesterday. I went out too aggressively in the Jersey City Marathon, and I paid the price in the final miles.

Jersey City Marathon Training Recap

You can read a more in depth summary of my training and my race plan here.

But in short, this training cycle had gone great. I put in tons of miles (~75 mpw average), logged some good long runs (2 x 20 miles, 4 x 18 miles), and hit some good workouts (threshold pace around 6:25-6:30/mi, marathon pace around 6:50-7:00/mi).

I’d gone into this training cycle thinking sub-3:00 was possible – but I knew it could be a stretch. In some cases, I didn’t have great feedback on paces because my workouts were in terribly windy weather – making them seem harder than they should have been.

But I wrapped up last week thinking that sub-3:00 was too aggressive – and targeting ~3:03 was a safer way to play things.

So my plan for the race was to start around 7:10-7:15/mi for the first few miles, work down to 7:00/mi, and hang there until the second half of the race.

Me at the Jersey City Marathon expo.

Race Travel and Logistics

Last year, I made the mistake of driving in. We don’t live far from Jersey City, but what should have been about a 30 minute drive took over an hour to get there and park. I almost missed the start of the race.

So this year, we stayed downtown at the Westin. It’s a nice hotel, and we got upgraded to a premium room with a better view (hooray for platinum elite status). Bonus: the hotel is about a quarter mile from the start.

We drove in Saturday afternoon and parked at a deck a few blocks from the hotel. We went to the expo – which was small but decent. They had some merch and a few vendors. There was also a photobooth set up to take selfies with the step and repeat. There were tons of runners moving through (quickly), and the vibe was great.

My parents had also driven up Saturday to be there early Sunday morning, so we met up for an early dinner around 5pm. I found a good sushi place nearby – Komegashi Too. Some dumplings, a couple rolls, and an extra bowl of white rice made for a decent pre-race dinner.

Then it was back to the hotel to watch some TV and get some sleep.

The view from my hotel room - sunrise behind the Manhattan skyline.

Race Morning

I woke up at 4:45. It was nice knowing that I was already there, and all I had to do was roll out of bed and hit the start.

I ate a bagel with some honey and sipped a cup of coffee. It was still dark when I got up, and I watched as dawn slowly broke over the Manhattan skyline. I took advantage of the extra time, and I had a second cup of coffee.

A little after 6, I decided to go downstairs and loosen up. I jogged up to the start area, wandered around a bit and enjoyed the race atmosphere. The crowd was starting to grow.

The nice thing about having a hotel right at the start is I could jog back to my hotel and go upstairs to use the bathroom. Although there were tons of porta potties around, and the lines weren’t long. Upstairs, I lathered up with sun block and took a gel. Right about 6:45 my wife and I went downstairs to meet my parents and head towards the start.

We walked together for a few minutes, and then I took off to do some quick strides on my way to the corral. I got there with a little under 10 minutes to go before the start.

The Race!

The corrals were all separated by tape. My corral (3) was behind the elites and the sub-elites, and just as I walked up they were taking the tape down and bunching everyone up towards the start line.

I snuck in the back and found an empty spot towards the back of the corral 3 group. I could see a 2:50 pacer up ahead, and I didn’t see a 3:00 pacer. I looked behind me and saw a big group around the 3:15 pacer. Guess I was in the right pace.

They went through the pre-race festivities. The mic kept cutting out on the announcer, and every time we’d look at each other and just wonder when things were going to start. The Star Spangled Banner wrapped up just after 7:00, and we were off by 7:01 or 7:02.

Start to 5k – On Plan and On Pace

We shuffled to the front, and it took about 30 seconds to actually get over the start line. I pressed my watch and set off. The group thinned out quickly enough, and I was able to find a pocket to run in. A few hundred meters in, I saw my family on the sideline and I waved.

A guy from one of the local running clubs, Donny, pulled up next to me. One of the other guys in the club had told him I was looking to run close to three hours, and we got to chatting. It turns out we both ran the same race as our first race – the 2021 Atlantic City Marathon.

Early on, I saw one of the more memorable signs of the race. I forget the exact message (it was kind of long), but the gist of it was, “At least you’re not wearing the new Nike Olympic running kit …”

We turned off the main street and the course zig zagged through some of the side streets. We ran by a tow truck with a car on its bed. They must have been slow clearing the cars off the course, and he got boxed in by the field. Too bad for the guy who’s car almost made it …

This first 5k started out on plan. 7:10 for the first mile. I missed the mile 2 split, but miles 2/3 took 14:05 (7:03/mi). Official split at the 5k: 21:58.

5k to 10k – Off Plan and Running Hot

Things were going great, and Donny was aiming to run sub-3. He mentioned that we were a little slow, and he was going to speed up. I figured I’d hang on for a bit and see how it felt.

Later on, I’d regret that decision. But for now, it felt amazing.

This part of the course changed from last year. It used to go directly into Liberty State Park and then run through the interior of the park. This year, it went out and back along a nondescript road before turning onto the road outside of the park.

After the turnaround – around 4 miles – some guys from one of the other local running clubs pulled up next to us. We chit chatted a bit, and they ribbed on Donny and me for talking. Weren’t we supposed to be racing?

But it felt so easy!

As we closed in on 10k, we turned in towards the park and headed south to finish out the first loop.

We were pretty much perfectly on pace for sub-3:00 – 6:51-6:52. My heart rate and breathing were under control. Didn’t seem so bad. I’d keep going.

Official 10k split was 43:15 (21:17 elapsed for the 5k).

10k to 15k – Cruising Through the Park

This part of the course went straight south along the park before looping through the neighborhoods to head north back towards downtown.

The crowds from downtown were gone, and most of this part is pretty quiet. A couple guys needed an emergency pit stop, and I chuckled as they pulled off to pee behind a tree or a sign.

As we passed an aid station, Donny said he needed to hit the bathroom. He’d catch up later or see me at the finish. I was still feeling good, but I thought it was wise to back off the pace a bit.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the pace, though, and I mostly went by feel at this point. Official 15k split was 1:04:47. This was slightly slower than the previous split (21:32/5k), but not by much.

Probably should have backed off a little more. Or maybe it was too late already.

15k to 20k – Rolling Along the Mini Hills

Here, the course turns back north towards downtown. It’s a long straight section, and there are some small rolling hills.

I was still trying to keep things reigned in, but I noticed myself slowly passing a lot of people. I wasn’t speeding up – so they must be slowing down.

As we got closer to downtown, the crowds picked up. The view was great, too. You head east towards Manhattan, and World Trade Center is clearly visible at the end of the street.

I felt like I had things under control, and I just kept chugging along. But I also knew that the first half can be a lie – so I was waiting to get through 18-20 miles before I really got my hopes up.

Official 20k split was 1:26:20 – 21:33 for the 5k, same as the previous lap.

20k to 25k – Looping Through Downtown

Just after the 20k mark, we’re back downtown. The half marathon runners split off to the right and go to the finish, while the marathon runners head north for a quick loop before heading back through downtown and starting the second full loop.

Donny finally caught back up to me here. He was a little off his sub-3 goal, but he was making up ground.

I knew my family would be waiting around here because we were passing the hotels we stayed at. Eventually, I heard my wife screaming and saw her waving her hand.

I moved over to the right – where the half marathoners were going – to say hi. Donny called out to me stay to the left. Then a course marshall tried to wave me off, too. I ran up to my family, gave them a quick wave, and then I quickly shot back off to the left side of the course.

I missed a few mile markers here, so I didn’t have accurate splits. I stuck with Donny for a mile or so, but it felt too hard so I let him drift away. He ended up finishing in 3:01:39 – so just shy of his goal.

The nice thing about this mini-loop is that you go back the start again – so I waved to my family as I ran by.

I came through the halfway point right around 1:31 – faster than I had planned. I finally lapped a mile marker as I exited downtown, and I knew I was just over 7:00/mi pace. This is when I started to do some mental math and bargaining with myself, thinking that as long as I could stay around 7:00-7:05/mi, I’d finish with a fine time. I could stay under 3:05.

The timing mat didn’t give me an official split at 25k – but based on the 20k/30k splits and data from my Garmin I’d estimate it to be around 1:48:15. That’s 21:55 for the 5k lap – 20 seconds slower than the previous one, but still a fine pace.

25k to 30k – Slowly Starting to Crumble

After we exited downtown for the second full loop, there’s a little mini loop that goes through the backstreets to add some mileage. I remembered it from last year. It’s pretty quiet and secluded.

I fell in with a guy – we’ll call him the cheerleader – for a bit here. We didn’t really chat, but he’d kind of talk out loud. “Hey, we hit 16 miles!” Or if we passed someone on the side of the road, he’d give them some words of encouragement.

There was also a girl with a green ribbon in her hair. She’d pop up and fall back every now and then.

I missed a few more mile markers here, so I didn’t have great feedback on the pace. I was really just trying to hang on – but I also didn’t want to push it too hard. I wanted to make it through 20 miles or so before I really started worrying about the endgame.

I knew my pace was slipping a bit, but I hadn’t fallen off too far yet. I hit 30k at 2:10:43. The 22:23 5k lap time was my slowest yet.

30k to 35k – Beaten Up By a Baby Hill

Here, the course loops back on itself and heads south towards the neighborhoods. You get to see the runners still heading the other direction in the first loop.

I happened to pass by two of my friends who were also running. It’s always a nice little boost of energy when someone calls out your name, and for a moment I forgot how tired I was starting to feel.

Now that we were out of downtown, the instantaneous pace on my watch was more reliable. I was going 7:15-7:20ish, and the race screen widget told me I could still finish in 3:05 to 3:06. I had less than an hour to go, and I just needed to dig deep and grit it out.

Then we got to rolling hills. During the first loop, they’re net downhill – but on the second loop you’re going in the reverse direction. The hill isn’t big – but if you’re already suffering it seems a lot bigger.

The number of casualties on the side of the road was increasing. Cheerleader kept cheering them on, encouraging them to stretch it out and get back to running. When we got to the hill, he yelled out, “Let’s attack this hill!”

And when we got to the top, “We made it!” Of course, there was another small hill up ahead. Eugh.

Green ribbon girl caught up to cheerleader, and they agreed to attack the next hill together. Off they went. I don’t remember if I saw either of them again – but I also started to kind of zone out at this point.

I was really struggling after the hill, so I made the strategic choice to stop and walk for about 30 seconds. It was just what I needed to reset things. When I started back up, I felt a lot better and I was getting back on pace.

Official split at 35k was 2:34:18 (23:35 5k lap). Definitely slower than the previous 5k.

35k to 40k – Struggling Through the Home Stretch

At this point, the course turns back north and runs straight along the park for a few miles before hitting downtown. It’s more or less than home stretch.

I was mentally counting down the miles, but I was struggling. I took another 30 second walking break. A guy from one of the local run clubs gave me a few words of encouragement as he passed me by. When I started running again, I quickly caught up to him and moved ahead.

For a brief bit, I was back on track – with the instantaneous pace on my Garmin showing ~7:15/mi.

But in reality, I was hitting 7:30 for the mile splits. It was also getting late in the morning, the sun was up, and the sweat was starting to build up. It wasn’t really hot – but I was longing for the colder, dim hours of the race start.

Towards the end of this segment, I took a third and final quick walking break. I was watching the predicted time on my watch, and even a 7:30/mi pace through the finish would put me in the 3:08 range. So I knew I could take a few seconds to reset and then grind out the last two miles.

Official split at 40k – 2:58:17. That 5k lap (23:59) was my slowest of the whole race.

40k to Finish – Finishing Strong(ish)

Here, you come out of the park and turn towards downtown. Again, World Trade looms large on the horizon.

The crowds pick up. I know it’s only about a mile until the final left turn, and it seems to take forever.

Now that we’re back downtown, I can’t rely on the pace on my watch. I just put my head down and grind it out the best I can.

Finally, we hit mile 26. I lapped that mile at 7:30. I could see the finish up ahead, and I managed to speed up a bit – not a sprint, but back to ~6:50/mi.

I heard my wife and spotted the family on the sideline. I gave them a grin and a wave, and I probably looked a lot better than I had felt for the previous hour.

I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch – 3:08:32.

Slower than I wanted, but I’ll take it.

A lobster roll, truffle fries, and a beer at the after party.

Post-Race Festivities and Logistics

The end of the race was much better organized this year.

There were tons of volunteers handing out medals, blankets, sports drink, water, bananas, and granola bars. I grabbed a medal, skipped the blanket, and took a sports drink and granola bar. I wandered further along the finishers chute, and they had the step and repeat set up for people who wanted to take a picture.

I left the chute and turned back towards the finish to meet up with my family. I saw them a minute or two later, and thankfully they had the camp chairs with them. After the hugs and congratulations, I plopped myself in the chair and relaxed to sip on my drink.

We stopped at the hotel to get cleaned up, and then wandered down to Hudson Hall for the official after party. There were a couple food trucks, the bar was serving beers outside, and a DJ was playing music. There weren’t a lot of seats, though, so it was a good thing we had our two camp chairs with us. I enjoyed a beer, a lobster roll, and some truffle fries.

Eventually, we wandered back to the hotel. After a quick nap, I fetched the car and we headed home. The traffic was horrendous trying to escape the city, and we spent almost two hours getting home. When I did, it felt so good to crawl into bed.

Reflections and Lessons Learned

This race didn’t go as well as I’d hoped – and this time I’ve got a pretty clear explanation.

I can’t blame the weather or some other external factor. The simplest explanation is that I went out too fast, and I paid the price for it. If I had stuck to my original race plan, I’m sure I would have gone under 3:05 and probably hit 3:02 or 3:03.

It’s so tempting – with the race atmosphere, fresh legs, supershoes, and good weather – to go out fast. It feels so easy. Until it doesn’t.

I’m watching the Boston Marathon as I write this recap, and one of the runners (I think Helen Obiri) said in an interview that patience is the key to the marathon. It really is … and next time, I’m going to be patient.

The time was a PR – 3:08:32 is a little over a minute under my 3:09:47 finish at Erie – and it’s a BQ time with a 1:28 buffer.

If there was an issue with my training, I think it was the relative lack of MP work. I still need to work on my speed, and I liked doing some of these workouts. But I think in my next training cycle, I’ll spend a bit of time focused on speed with lower mileage and then 6-8 weeks focused on more mileage and MP work.

In the short term, though, I’m focused on the NYRR Brooklyn Half in May. I’ve got five weeks between now and then. I signed up hopeful that I could run 1:25 there and qualify for the 2025 NYC Marathon – but now I’m not so sure about that. I’ll evaluate things once I’m recovered and I put in a few more workouts.

From there, I need to decide what to do about the fall. I’m definitely running Chicago in October. My time from yesterday is a BQ, but I’m not at all confident that it’s low enough to actually get in. So I need to decide if I want to run Erie again in September. That would be four weeks before Chicago – so in theory I could put down a better BQ at Erie, recover, and put down a decent performance in Chicago. Or just take it easy in Chicago.

But that can wait until after the Brooklyn Half in May. We’ll see how things go.

4 thoughts on “Race Report: Flying Too Close to the Sun at Jersey City”

  1. Hey Brian,

    Congrats on your run at Jersey City! Really solid run. Love your blog – I just found it and you’ve got tons of great info here. I’ve been reading through your progression with Daniels. I just ran a half on Sunday with a Daniels plan, and I found it was really effective (though admittedly I did not follow it as rigorously as I would have liked). It’s great to see all the success you’ve found there, and I’m going to be looking into the 2Q plan as I look toward a fall marathon. Keep up the great work! I’ll definitely be following your blog to see how it’s working for you.

    • Thanks Aaron! I’ve really become a fan of the JD plans over the years. It’s a really good framework for understanding training, and I found the 2Q plan to be a nice balance between flexibility and rigorous preparation. Hope it works out as well for you as it has for me – good luck!

  2. Hi Brian

    Stumbled onto your blog. Just wanted to say this was really well written and fun to read along. Congratulations on a new PR and keep writing!


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