New Jersey/Long Branch Half Marathon – Race Report

 

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New Jersey was cool. Literally. The planets lined up almost perfectly for yesterday’s Long Branch Half Marathon in New Jersey. Since I’m a little pressed for time, I’ll do a summary style race report for this, my 14th state half marathon (just 36 to go!).

Here’s what was good and bad about it:

1) Weather: The Good – The weather was perfect for running – it started off in the 40s at dawn with temps rising into the 50s. Even on a warmer day, the race is early enough (6:45 am start) that it is over before the mid-morning heat. If I could be picky, I’d rather not run with the sun in my eyes for most of the race which was the case since we were running mostly south and east. And the Bad? High sustained winds for the mile and a half along the beach just before the finish. Offsetting that … the cherry blossoms were out, which gave this spring-starved New Englander hope that summer will come eventually.

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2) Race Organization: Overall it was fabulous. Well-staffed, well-spaced water stops with great volunteers, and well-organized number pick up. Plenty of port-o-johns, plenty of parking at the start, organized corrals and a warm place to sit and wait for the race to begin inside Monmouth Park. The Bad? A really long walk to the shuttle bus post-race and similarly long walk to the cars from the shuttle drop off point. And mediocre food at the finish – a dry piece of bread that no amount of water would wash down, a banana, 2 pieces of salt water taffy, and a tiny granola bar. I hate to complain because it’s tough to be a race director, and this one gets a solid A with just minor things that need to be improved – darn good for a race of more than 10,000 people.

3) The Course: Great, mostly flat course, except for a few bridges. I found myself wishing for more spectators, especially during the first half of the course as we ran through quiet residential neighborhoods.

4) The Bling: The Good? Awesome medal. The Bad? Women’s technical T-shirts that were sized small with no warning of same, and insufficient XL T-shirts. The shirts are great, I only wish I had one I could wear!

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5) Pace Groups: The Good? Great 2:45 pace group – stuck with them for about half the race, and then they dropped me. I was smart to quit trying to keep up since 2:45 would have been a huge PR for me and I couldn’t quite sustain the pace. But they were funny and cheerful and did a great job coaching the group along. Ultimately finished at 2:52 and they were still there waiting for me at the finish to make sure I was ok. Even better, this race had a 3:00 Half Marathon pace group, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Since one of my goals was to beat 3:00, I was just glad they didn’t pass me.

6) Unexpected Pleasures – a high energy start to (first) a bugle “Call to the Post” – fitting for Monmouth Raceway, and (then) “Born to Run” – fitting for the Jersey Shore! QR Code on bibs for instant race results! Great motivational signs mid-course made Mile 6 seem to go more quickly.

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7) Unexpected Annoyances – NJ Tolls – $21.05 to go from northern NJ to New York? No coffee at hotel. No coffee at race. No coffee til lunchtime.

8) My successes – this was my fourth fastest half marathon ever, and my strongest race since recovering from my toe injury. I feel like I am still getting stronger and faster, and with the ten pounds off that I gain while injured and a little more training, I am pretty sure I can PR again despite continuing to get older (funny how that happens). I also feel like I’m getting smarter about pacing and race strategy. I felt strong through 11 miles and until I hit the headwind coming back up the coast.

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That’s me leading the pack (ha) through downtown Long Branch near mile 9.5.

What’s Next?  Still trying to find a race for late May or June that fits into my schedule and travel budget. Stay tuned!

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