Yesterday, I ran the Jersey City Marathon. The first half went according to plan. The second half did not.
Background, Training, and Goal Setting
This was my third marathon. I trained for my first two using Jack Daniel’s 2Q training plan, and this time I decided to switch things up with Pfitz. I chose the 12 week plan and I bumped my mileage to peak at 85mpw.
You can read more about my training here and here. It went well. I hit my peak mileage, did well in most of the workouts, and I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. I set a goal of 3:08, with the possibility of a negative split and a 3:05 or 3:06 finish.
My plan was to go out with the 3:10 pacer for the first few miles to make sure I kept the pace conservative. After 3-4 miles, I’d try to slowly pull away and ease the pace down 5-10 seconds per mile. If I could come through the half at ~1:34, I could then decide in the second half whether I’d just hang on for a 3:08-3:10 finish or if I’d try to negative split for something better.
Race Morning – Weather and Traffic Complications
Leading up to the race, the weather didn’t look great. It was hot earlier in the week, it was supposed to rain over the weekend, and it was supposed to be nicer after the storm. The exact timeline in the forecast kept changing from day to day, but I was hoping it would rain overnight, break the humidity, and clear up before the race.
I woke up at 4:30, and I could hear it pouring outside. Uh oh. I ate a toasted bagel with honey and drank my coffee. I woke my wife up so she could get ready, then I went to the bathroom. I’m usually very regular in the morning, but yesterday nothing wanted to come out. Not a good start to the day.
We hopped in the car around 5:40, planning to be in Jersey City by 6:00 to 6:15. When I got ready to leave, the traffic looked clear. But as we got closer, the green lines on Google Maps all turned to red. The approach to the parking garage was backed up and crawling. I was really regretting my choice not to get a hotel room downtown for the night before. But too late now. By 6:35, we could see the parking garage but it was still going to take a while to get there. The race started at 7, so my wife took the wheel and I jogged over to the starting area.
It was still raining, and I got in line for the porta-potties. I hopped up and down, trying to loosen up and warm up my legs. I felt pretty good, all things considered. I got into the porta-potty, had a productive pit stop, and I felt ready to go. Maybe this would be the first marathon where I didn’t have to make a pit stop partway through the race?
I got out of the porta-potty at 6:55. I jogged over to the corrals, and I saw my parents behind the fence. I walked over to say hi to them, told them to find my wife after she parked the car, and they wished me luck. We stood around for a couple minutes in a light rain, and after the usual festivities it was time for the race to start.
The Good – Miles 1 to 15
When the gun went off, we shuffled forward in our corrals until we reached the start line. I took up a position with the 3:10 pace group, and we were off. It was congested for the first half mile or so, but it opened up fairly quickly. The half marathon and marathon runners started at the same time, so it was a crowded start.
The pace group was a little bit unwieldy, so I pulled ahead slightly and ran in front of them for the first few miles. The first two miles were perfect, and I grabbed a cup of water at the first water stop for a little sip. We came out of downtown and headed towards Liberty State Park. Thanks to the drenching rain the night before, the puddles were plentiful and it wasn’t long before my feet were damp. We passed through the second water stop, I took a gel and washed it down with some water. As we ran further into the park, the Statue of Liberty came into view on across the water. My pace for the first five miles was perfect – ~7:12/mi.
Miles 6 to 10 were equally perfect. We came out of the park, up a little hill, and turned to go back towards downtown. The course profile had looked mostly flat, so I wasn’t expecting the hills – but they weren’t bad. I passed a couple kids with a sign saying, “We don’t mind sweaty high fives!” So I gave them a high five and a grin. Around mile 8, we went through a water stop and I took my second gel. I could hear the pace group behind me, but I was slowly pulling away and passing a few people as I went. The average pace for this segment was again a perfect ~7:12/mi.
Miles 11 to 15 were still good, but this is where it started to get hard. We went under an overpass, and it amplified the sound of the crowd which was a nice boost. I passed a dog whose person held a sign saying, “Boop the snoot for zooms!” So boop the snoot I did, and I zoomed away. We made another turn for downtown, and I passed my parents and my wife, who cheered me on. I was glad to see she had successfully parked the car and made it out to the course. I was still on pace, but I was starting to have to push it a little bit to keep from slowing down. Somewhere around mile 11, I took my third gel, and mile 15 I took my fourth.
As we passed through downtown, the half marathoners pulled off to the finish and I was envious of them for being able to stop. The marathon course kept going north out of downtown for a short loop, and then it passed through downtown a second time to begin the second lap and the second half of the race. I lost a few seconds here, but as I passed my family a second time I picked up the pace a bit and I thought I would be ok. Average pace was ~7:17/mi. I passed the halfway point at 1:34:30, so a 3:08-3:09 finish was well within reach. I was beginning to give up the hope of a solid negative split, but I still thought I could hold on to 7:10-7:15 for the bulk of the race and speed up over the last few miles.
The Bad – Miles 16 to 23
But I soon realized that wasn’t going to workout.
Mile 16 was going fine, albeit a little slow (7:19), but towards the end I felt a rumble in my tummy. Digestive issues just seem to be my cross to bear. I’ve yet to finish a marathon without a pit stop, and I often have to stop partway through my long runs – especially in humid weather. I figured I’d get it over with, so at the beginning of mile 17 I pulled into a porta-potty at the water stop. I was in and out like a Nascar pit stop, about a minute. But I felt a lot better, and I hoped that would let me get things back on track.
My split for Mile 17 was 8:23 – so if you account for the pit stop that’s about a 7:15 to 7:20 moving pace. Not bad. If I could speed up just a few seconds per mile, I could definitely make it in under 3:10. But Mile 18 came and went, and my pace was still 7:20. I couldn’t seem to speed up, and things were starting to feel harder.
Mile 19 and 20 were slowly uphill. I was trying to get through Mile 20, and I just kept pushing – but I kept getting slower. 7:34 and 7:50. I didn’t want to push too hard until I was on the last leg of the race, for fear of exploding completely. But after I went through Mile 20, taking my fifth gel, I just couldn’t speed up.
The pace kept slipping away. Mile 21 was over 8 minutes – 8:02. Mile 22 was even slower – 8:14. But as I glanced at my watch, I knew I could still finish with a solid PR of 3:15 or so. I just to power through and keep putting going at an 8:15 to 8:30 pace. Then came Mile 23 – 8:43.
My legs felt dead, and I just couldn’t speed up. I was counting down the distance until the end, and I just hoped I wouldn’t slow down any further.
The Ugly – Miles 24 to 26.2
But things did get worse.
As I came to the end of Mile 24, I felt a slight cramp in my right hamstring. I stopped to stretch and walk it off. At this point, I wasn’t really worried about pace anymore – I just wanted to finish. The brief walking break helped, and I started running again. But a quarter mile later, it cramped up again.
I lapped Mile 24 – 9:53 – and I cringed. I passed through the final water stop and grabbed some energy drink. But then I felt something else in my hamstring. Not a cramp, but nothing catastrophic either. Just a light twinge. I pulled off to the side and stretching didn’t seem to help. I slowed to a walk, and I limped a bit for a minute or two.
I thought about my options – should I walk it in? That would put my finishing time around 4 hours. Eugh. And my family would likely be worried.
Should I ask for a ride and DNF? Didn’t want to do that, but it was an option. If I couldn’t get back into a jog, I might have to.
Thankfully, after five minutes of walking, I was able to jog again. No pain or discomfort, so I just put one foot in front of the other and kept going. I lapped Mile 25 at a painful 13:21. Yikes. But we pulled into downtown, and I kept moving along slowly but steadily. We passed Mile 26 and I was surprised when the lap said 9:39. I turned the corner for the finish line and jogged across – no point in sprinting now.
3:26 finish time. Still better than my first marathon (3:35), but worse than my last (3:20). No PR, no BQ, no negative split. My wife was waiting at the finish, so I gave her a hug and started to ponder what went wrong.
Looking ahead, I’ve got three priorities – 1) figure out what went wrong, 2) recover, and 3) make a plan to BQ for Boston 2024.
I’ve been pondering what went wrong for the last twenty four hours. I think the weather was definitely a factor. I always suffer and underperform in humidity like this, and it’s not the first time that I’ve just petered out towards the end of a long race. So top of the list is probably to hope for better weather.
Training wise, I think missing out on the quality in my long runs also hurt me. I missed a lot of the marathon pace work in the Pfitz plan, so while I got the mileage in I don’t know if I was as prepared as I could have been for the late race. Now that I’m comfortable peaking at 85mpw, I think I might switch back to JD 2Q for my next plan. It’s intense, and I might have to scale it down a little bit, but I think it’ll get me to the finish line ready.
Diet wise, I could also do a little better. This is far down the list of “problems,” but it certainly could help. I didn’t cut back on eating during the taper, and I put on a few pounds. Race morning, I weighed 173, whereas at the peak of training I was in the high 160’s. I’m going to try and slim down a little bit during my recovery period, cut back on drinking a little bit, and be more conscious of what I eat during my next taper. There’s no point in carb loading at the beginning of the week. If I can get to the start line weighing 165, I think that could help.
Then there’s the issue of my hamstring. Last year, it was my hip flexor. That’s better, thankfully. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Maybe it just wasn’t my day, or maybe some more strength training will help. I’ll try to focus on that again during my recovery period. I focused more on my hips last time, but maybe I need to have a more well rounded routine moving forward.
For recovery, the first thing to figure out is how bad my hamstring is. I went out for an easy walk/jog with my dog this morning. We did two miles on the trail, and I jogged about 1-1.5 miles of it. It was a slow shuffle, and I sped up to an easy trot by the end, and my hamstring was clearly tender. Outside of that, though, I feel great. None of the heavy fatigue like I had after November. I’ll take it easy for the next month, and once my hamstring is solid I should be good to go.
Which just leaves the BQ plan. I scouted out some options for a last minute marathon in September. I’ll probably go with the Erie Marathon on September 10. The weather has a good chance of being decent, despite it being September, and that leaves me with 20 weeks from race to race.
I’ll take the next five weeks to recover and slowly build my mileage back up. Then, I can do three weeks of easy base mileage – 60-70 miles, with some strides and an easy tempo. From there, I should be good to go to start another twelve week training block. I’ve got a few weeks to decide for sure, but it will likely be Jack Daniels 2Q, peaking at 85mpw.
So that’s that. Not the outcome I was hoping for. But it’s part of the sport. You deal with a bad race, move on, and look forward to the next one. And the next one is going to be a good one.
3 thoughts on “When the Wheels Come Off Completely: Jersey City Marathon Race Report”
I came across your blog this morning and enjoyed it. I was out there as well Sunday (looks I went by you in M22). The weather was far from perfect, but it was passable and probably sufficient for you to PR in my view as an armchair analyst. Since you have put yourself out there, I will offer some unsolicited advice (I don’t claim to be an expert or a coach, but this was my 18th marathon, and I’ve learned a few things the hard way):
1) Respectfully, I think you eyes were bigger than your stomach on your time goal. Your recent 40:59 10k projects a 3:08 for 26.2, but that doesn’t mean everyone who can break 41 can run 3:08. For my part, I tend to run 3-5 minutes slower than my 10k predicted marathon time when well trained. Frustrating, but so goes it. You had an insane amount of training miles for someone who is running around 3:10 ; have you considered trying to cut back on your mileage in the 12 week buildup and run some more prep races and do some more speedwork? If you can get your 5k close to 19 and your 10k under 40 you should be there on a 3:10 BQ. The sluggishness that set in over the last third was almost certainly due to running 15-20 seconds faster per mile than you were ready to in the first half rather than the weather. I’ve been there and done that (and more than once or twice) so I do have some personal knowledge on this topic.
2) On the GI front, you should move to Maurten gels. They are pricey, but they are WAY better going down and keeping down. I’ve suffered from GI issues myself and am amazed what a difference switching gels has made.
Just my 2 cents. Keep at it. You’re BQ will come before long, and it will be all the sweeter for path you have taken.
Hey Erik. Appreciate the insights, and I don’t entirely disagree. If I had set a more modest PR goal of 3:15, I probably would have made out ok and finished a lot stronger. Hope your race went well.
We have a couple local 5ks in mid to late June, so I think I’m going to run one of those to see what I can do before I get into my next training block.
Great to read your blog. I could picture you running that marathon as I used to live in Hoboken NJ and ran many miles on those streets. I suffered many years with GI issues, and one thing I became very disciplined about is sufficient time to digest breakfast (min 3 hours, preferably 4), and stopping hydration at least 1 hour pre race.
It took me ages to hit my running targets in the marathon and the number 1 tip I can offer comes from the great Gebresellassie, and that is to relax. That likely means switching off from chasing a time and having fun. Then you’ll get to mile 20 and can finish the job. On my first marathon (NYC) I saw a guy high fiving everyone as he sped along overtaking me. That’s relaxed.
Keep going, keep writing, stay chilled.