Race Report: A Rainy and Windy Half Marathon at the Jersey Shore

The weather on Sunday was … interesting.

I was scheduled to run the Jersey Shore Half Marathon as a tune up race for the Philly Marathon. I’d been watching the weather, hoping it wasn’t going to be too warm. It definitely wasn’t too warm..

Despite the wind and rain and all around miserable conditions, I woke up early and made my way down to the shore for the race. Here’s my race report.

Background and Training

I’ve been consistently running since early 2020. I spent the first year building a base, and then I went about setting some baseline times in the 5k, 10k, and half marathon.

Last October, I ran the Atlantic City Marathon and finished in 3:35. I trained using the Jack Daniels 2Q plan, peaking at 55mpw. I then spent the spring training for a 10k and a half marathon. I used Jack Daniels 5k to 10k plan, peaking at 70 mpw. I ran the Cherry Blossom 10k in 42:03 and the Coastal Delaware Half Marathon in 1:32:58.

After I recovered from that half, I spent the summer doing some high mileage base building. I bumped up my mileage to 75mpw and held that level for a month.

Since then, starting in July, I’ve been training for the Philly Marathon. I’m using Jack Daniels 2Q plan. The workouts come from the 70mpw plan, but I increased the peak mileage to 75mpw. I haven’t had any trouble with the mileage, but I have had trouble hitting my paces in workouts. It’s been a real slog – in part because of the extreme summer heat and humidity.

But the last couple of weeks, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I had a good marathon pace run – 16 total miles, with 10 miles @ 7:30/mi. I also had a good long run with cruise intervals – 15 total miles, with a long warm-up followed by 4 x 10 minutes @ 6:56/mi. Finally, I did an 18 mile long run – with 10 minutes @ 6:53, followed by 10 miles easy (8:57/mi), ending with another 10 minutes @ 6:52/mi.

Those were some great training runs. They suggested my fitness was back where it was in the spring – and with the high mileage I was hoping I’d be much stronger.

Race Week Complications

But things couldn’t just go smoothly.

I ran my 18 mile workout on Monday, and the plan after that was to keep running easy until the race on Sunday. I was scheduled for a peak week (75 miles), but I re-arranged things a bit so that I’d only run 6 miles on Friday and Saturday.

Then Tuesday night I went out to dinner and I ate something that didn’t agree with me. I woke up Wednesday, and I didn’t feel good. I struggled through my morning 6 miles, and I was scheduled to do a 6 mile double that evening. But all indications pointed to me getting sick – my heart rate was elevated, my Garmin stress score was elevated, my Garmin body battery had bottomed out. I was afraid it was a cold coming on, or maybe even another bout of COVID.

I had hoped that I’d feel better after work, but when I got home I didn’t. So I ditched the double. I was scheduled for 13 the following day, and I decided to cut that short as well.

Luckily, when I woke up I was feeling rested and well. Whatever was wrong with me had passed. I kept with the plan to cut the day’s run short, and I went for 6 miles. My weekly mileage ended up being 62 instead of 75 – but I figured it was worth easing up rather than risking getting sick.

Although I was feeling much better, I was out of town Friday night for a work conference. I had a little too much to drink Friday night, and after 4 hours on my feet presenting on Saturday I was wiped. But I napped on the way home, turned in early, got a good night’s sleep, and woke up super refreshed Sunday morning.

Race Morning – Weather and Goal Setting

The Jersey Shore Half Marathon is at Sandy Hook. It’s about an hour from my house in West Orange, but mercifully the start time isn’t until 9am.

That allowed me to have a somewhat leisurely morning. I woke up at 6am, ate some toast with honey, and sat down to enjoy my coffee. I checked the weather, and I was a little worried about the rain. It looked like light rain most of the morning, and heavier ran around 10 or 11. I hoped it would hold off. The temperature wasn’t bad, though, hovering right around 60 degrees.

I left the house around 7 and pulled into the parking lot at 8. Plenty of time to check in and go through my pre-race routine. But on the way down, it was raining on and off. It was really windy. I drove over a bridge to get out to Sandy Hook, and the sea was angry with really choppy waves. These were not great running conditions. I was starting to wonder how aggressive I could be with the pace.

I got out of my car and headed over to check in. On my way, I stopped at the porta-potties. The wind was vicious. Every time someone walked out, the door flew open. Every time someone walked in, they would struggle to pull the door closed. My long hair was pulling out of the hair tie and flying all over. And suddenly I realized I was cold – despite having a sweatshirt on over my singlet.

I had run in similar conditions the day before, when I was down in Atlantic City. When the wind gusted, it literally felt like I was running in place. I was not looking forward to those wind gusts during the race.

After the porta-potties, I continued on to registration. I picked up my bib and headed back to the car to pin it on. While I sat there, I worked out my strategy. I’d start around 7:10/mi and work down to 7:00/mi. In those first few miles, I’d feel out the wind and figure out how hard I wanted to push. If it was too rough, I’d fall back on a goal of 1:35. Otherwise, I was hoping to snag a PR and finish under 1:33.

I got out of the car and went for a quick warm up. After about fifteen minutes and one last minute bathroom pit stop, I dropped my sweatshirt off at the car and made my way to the start line.

Race Start to Mile 3

I got to the start line around 8:55. I was wearing shorts and my singlet, but I was surprisingly warm. Around me, everyone else seemed bundled up in coats and ponchos. It wasn’t raining at the moment, but the wind was still kicking up something fierce.

There were two wheelchair racers waiting to start. A trumpeteer blasted the national anthem, and just before 9:00 the wheelchair racers went off at the gun. We waited the last two minutes and then lined up to go as well. I was a couple rows back from the 1:30 pacer.

When the gun went off, I shuffled up to the start line and started my watch as I crossed it. I had my Garmin set to the lap pace screen so that I could keep an eye on my pace. For the first bit of the race, I was stuck trying to get around some slower folks. But things opened up pretty quickly, and before long I had settled in.

I glanced down at my watch partway through that first mile. The lap pace was a little under 7 – way too hot for the first mile. So I backed off a little and ended up hitting the split at 7:05. Perfect.

By the end of that first mile, everyone had settled into their pace. About 50 meters ahead, there was a small group of runners. One of them was a particularly tall woman who stood out – she must have been over six feet. So I used her to keep pace, making sure that the gap didn’t widen. The second mile was great – 7:07.

The course is about 3 to 3.5 miles long, and it’s two out and back laps. The first lap has different turnaround points and is slightly longer than the second lap. As I came up on three miles, I knew I was nearing the first turnaround point. The wind was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. It came and went, and I was feeling pretty good. I picked up the pace slightly, and I split mile 3 in 7:01.

Moving On Up – Mile 4 to 7

The first turn around involves a few different turns that adds a little mileage to the lap. It meanders through the northern end of Sandy Hook, where an old naval fort is. It’s a nice change of scenery from the rest of the race.

As I headed back towards the main course, I noticed that I was beginning to gain on the tall woman. I glanced down, and my pace was under 7:00. Everything felt good, so I decided to try and rein it in a little bit – but not too much. I soon passed her by, and mile 4 clicked off in 6:57.

When I got back on the main road heading south, I spied a new group ahead of me. There were two or three guys together, including one with a bright yellow shirt that said, “God bless.” He was the new target. I kept things controlled, but I was slowly gaining on them. Mile 5 clicked off in 7:02 and mile 6 was 6:59.

Everything was going according to plan. Somewhere in mile 7, I passed “God bless” and moved up further in the race. As I neared the turnaround point, I knew I was halfway done. I was feeling great, and I was beginning to think that a PR was possible. I had brought one gel, and this seemed like a good time to use it. With the aid station in sight, I tore open the gel, sucked it down, and then grabbed a cup of water to wash it down with.

Mile 7 clicked off in 6:57. I hit the turnaround point and thought – all I have to do is keep going.

Hit By the Wind – Mile 8 to 10

Then I turned around, and the wind slapped me in the face. It had been gusting intermittently throughout the race, and it hit me early on when I was heading north and later when I was heading south. But it had been managable.

This time, it was like I hit a brick wall and I immediately slowed down. I struggled to keep from slowing down too much, and my legs were starting to feel dead. As I glanced at my watch and saw the seconds slip away, I was wondering whether I had pushed too hard against the wind in the first half. Maybe it hadn’t gone so well after all, and I was about to fade out.

I passed the marker for mile 8 and my split flashed on my screen – 7:19. Not good.

If I could claw back a few seconds and keep up a 7:15 pace, it might not be all that bad. But as the next mile wore on, I just couldn’t pick up the pace. Mile 9 came and went in 7:28.

At this point, I knew I only had 4 miles left. I knew I could finish. But could I salvage some kind of respectable time, or was the pace going to keep slipping away?

I decided to push it just a little bit in that mile and see if I could get back down towards 7:15. Once I hit the final turnaround, I could re-assess whether or not I had anything left to give.

By some miracle, I did manage to quicken the pace a little bit. As I closed in on the turnaround point, my watch buzzed and flashed 7:18.

Mile 11 to the Finish

In my mind, I knew the only way I could still PR was to finish at a pace under 7 minutes. I didn’t think that was possible, so I just decided to push the pace to whatever I felt was barely sustainable and hold on.

I had switched my watch face to expected finish time, but I didn’t look down at first. I waited until I was about halfway through the mile and then I saw it – 1:32:30. If I kept up this pace, which felt possible, I just might pull it out. Mile 11 clicked off in 6:57, and I was genuinely shocked that I had managed to get back on pace.

At this point, I was closing in on a couple people ahead of me. Over the course of mile 12, I kept pushing. I passed a guy, and the mile clicked off in 6:54. All I had to do was keep it up for one more mile.

In that last mile, I heard footsteps behind me. It was the guy I had recently passed. Up ahead, there was one woman left in close proximity. The rest were out of reach.

With about a half mile to go, the guy came up on my left shoulder. He said, “Are you going to sprint to the finish?” I chuckled and managed, “I don’t think I have anything left.”

“But let’s see what I can do.”

I kicked it into another gear – definitely not a sprint, but definitely a little faster. He fell in behind me, and I heard him say, “You’re killing me!”

We were quickly gaining on the woman now, and quickly approaching the finish line. Mile 13 clicked off and I didn’t look at my watch.

Then my watch buzzed to indicate that I was done. Except I wasn’t …

My GPS was off by about a tenth of a mile, which meant that the expected finish time would have been off as well. Oh well. I dug deep to run that last tenth of a mile – and Garmin said my pace for the last segment was a respectable 6:08/mi.

Crossing The Finish Line

I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch. Looked down – 1:33:09. Just missed a PR by a little over ten seconds.

I grabbed a bottle of water and took a sip. The guy finished a second behind me, and we gave each other a fist bump and a “Good race.” As I walked to the car, I saw the woman who we had passed in the last few meters. We congratulated each other, and then I headed to the car.

The rain was picking up and no one seemed to be sticking around. Might as well hit the road.

As I drove back to the mainland, I thought about my performance. I was a little disappointed I hadn’t managed the PR after all, but overall I was really stoked with the results.

My finishing time was better than I had expected when I started, and I managed to close those last three miles very strongly. When I ran my last half in April, the opposite had happened. I was on pace for ten miles, and when I tried to change gears I had nothing left. I went from a 7:00/mi average pace to 7:30+ for the last couple miles.

Maybe all the extra mileage had paid off – and hopefully it would mean the same thing in Philly in November.

I pulled up outside a local diner that I found on Google. The rain had picked up pretty hard, but I didn’t care. I casually strolled through the rain, found a seat, and scarfed down some banana bread french toast. Yum! Plus a couple eggs on the side. Solid recovery meal.

I got home and took a nice nap. Woke up and took the dog for a walk. Then maybe some baked ziti and ate up.

Recovery and Next Steps

My plan was to take the rest of the week easy and – hopefully – move on to my next workout the following Sunday.

I’m finishing up this race report on Thursday evening, so it’s been almost a week.

Monday morning, I went for an easy six mile trail run. I was a little slow, but I felt fine all things considered. The hills were a little tough.

Tuesday, it was raining. I was scheduled for eight, and I decided to break it into doubles. I ran four on the treadmill in the morning and another four in the early evening. Still slow, but feeling good.

Wednesday, it was still raining lightly. But I braved the elements for an easy six miles on the trail. Another four mile double on the treadmill in the evening brought me to ten miles for the day.

Thursday I was scheduled for thirteen. I again broke it into doubles. Eight on the trails in the morning and five on the treadmill in the evening. I’m feeling good – although I don’t think I’m quite ready for a workout yet.

Tomorrow and Saturday I’ve got eight miles each. That’ll bring me to 68 miles for the week, and then Sunday I’ve got a big long run workout on the schedule.

From there, it’s on to Philly. One more peak week, four more big workouts, then a two week taper and it’s race day. I’ll reassess things at the beginning of November after these last few workouts, but right now I’m still planning to target 3:10. As long as I finish under 3:10, I’ll qualify for Boston 2024.

If I can start off conservatively and ease into about a 7:10 pace – I’ll be good to go.

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