Monday, May 4, 2009

Long Branch Half-Marathon Race Report

Or . . . The Race The Running Gods Begged Me Not to Run.
Or . . . Optimism Can Kill You.

Okay, so first let's start with the obvious: I had been quite under the weather with a chest cold and/or some kind of bronchial infection leading up to this race. As we all know, I contemplated not running it. But, because I was feeling a tad bit better (and because I am cheap and had paid a whopping $90 to run the race), I decided I'd give it a shot. Now, I hadn't run since the chest funk first appeared in a sorry excuse for a long run the previous weekend, so I had no idea what to expect going into the race. Little did I know that, in addition to the illness, all kinds of things would go wrong in an apparent attempt by the running gods to convince me not to run.

It all started with the whole packet pick-up situation. Now, there is no race-day packet pick-up for the New Jersey Marathon/Long Branch Half . . . except that there is. You see, luckily for all of us NYC folks running the race (and anyone else who wants to partake in the service), a charity called Bosco's Buddies will pick up your packet for you and allow you to pick it up from them the morning of the race, assuming you give them a donation of $25.00 and register by the time the expo opens (which was 10:00 a.m. Friday). As we were laying in bed Thursday night, Wilson and I realized we hadn't registered for the service yet, and figured we should probably do so before falling asleep. Unfortunately, though, we let our exhaustion win out and ended up putting it off until the next morning, knowing we had until 10 a.m. to register for the service (or so we thought!).

On Friday morning, we awoke around 7:00 a.m. and immediately hopped on the computer in an attempt to register; only, when we got to the website, it said that registration for the packet pick-up service was CLOSED! WTF?! It had been plastered all over the website that registration would be available until 10 a.m.! I thought about calling and complaining, but a) it was 7 a.m., b) it's a freaking charity--you can't yell at a charitable organization(!), and c) we really should have registered for the service earlier. In the end, we knew we would have to make it to Long Branch (a 30-minute subway ride + 90-minute train ride or, alternatively, a 75-minute drive) and back on Saturday and then do it all over again on Sunday for the race. It was going to be a loooooong weekend! Figuring we would save ourselves time (and surprisingly, also money), we opted to rent a car from Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.

We picked the car up around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and off we went to the expo. After a 75-minute drive and a brief stop for lunch, we arrived at the expo at Pier Village. We got super lucky, and managed to find a parking spot right away (although we certainly heard enough people complaining about finding parking to know that it was an issue). We had our race packets and tech tees within about 10-minutes, wandered around the booths a bit, and then headed towards the boardwalk. It? WAS FREEZING! It had been sunny and warm back in Brooklyn . . . but in Long Branch, it was chilly and super windy. There was an outdoor wedding set up on the beach, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the couple and their guests! The weather was just awful!

After just a couple minutes, I turned to Wilson and asked if we could head back to the car. It seemed silly to have driven 75-minutes only to get back in the car and head home, but that's exactly what we did. We arrived back in Brooklyn, searched for a parking spot, found one, hit up Trader Joe's and then headed home to make dinner and get ourselves ready for the race the next day. I don't know where the time went, but somehow--between eating dinner, finishing my Run for the Wild race report, creating a new and exciting half-marathon play list and getting my gear ready for the next day--it very quickly got to be 11:30 p.m.! Um . . . did I mention we had to be up by 3:30 a.m. to make it to the race on time? 'Cuz yeah. We did.

We headed to bed and I immediately began to feel SUPER nervous and anxiety-ridden. I generally don't expect to get much sleep the night before a race, but seriously, it was ridiculous how nervous I was, especially since I planned on taking it nice and easy! Looking back, I think the biggest problem was that I just didn't know what to expect regarding how running would feel--after all, the last time I'd run, I felt like complete crap and could hardly hold a 10:30/mile pace! I tried to count sheep, hoping it would bore me enough to put me to sleep, but I eventually gave up on that somewhere around 1600, figuring it just wasn't going to work. I think I finally fell asleep between 3:10 and 3:30, but I can't be sure. Suffice it to say I got VERY little sleep the night before the race!

At 3:30 a.m., the alarm finally sounded. Wilson and I got up and, of course, immediately heard our neighbors coming home from a night out. Ha. I'm sure other people have experienced this before, but it is seriously the funniest thing to be getting up when everyone else in the world is just getting home from the bars. Anyway, we consumed some coffee and steel cut oats, got dressed, and were out the door by 4:15 a.m. We popped in a CD I'd made the night before to jam out to on the way to Long Branch, and this lifted my spirits quite a bit. In fact, the closer we got to Long Branch, the more excited I became about running the race! Wilson asked me what our strategy was going to be (he planned on sticking with me for this race), and I told him I thought we should start out "conservatively" at 9:30/miles, and then if I felt good, we could ramp it up a bit later on.

We arrived within the vicinity of the race track where the main race parking was around 5:30 a.m. And? We sat. And also? We sat. It ended up taking us another half-hour to actually get into the parking lot from the main road and park. The worst part of it was that I really needed to pee! Well, we finally got the car parked and hopped on a shuttle bus that would take us 3 miles to the start of the race; only somehow--I'm still not sure how--the ride to the start was bizarrely round-about, and ended up taking about a half-hour! In the process, we lost all of the other shuttle buses except one in front of us . . . so I'm wondering if the driver in front of us got turned around and our driver just followed him? Who knows. All I know is that there were multiple people on the bus who were talking to friends who had gotten on later shuttle buses and arrived at the start WAY before we did.

FINALLY, we arrived at the start. Let me tell you, by that time, I was in DESPERATE need of a porta-potty (or a bush--and wouldn't you know, I didn't see any bushes around)! We walked toward the start, and came upon a cluster of porta-potties, but the lines were RIDICULOUS! Wilson pointed out another group of porta-potties off in the distance that looked like they had shorter lines, so we wandered towards them. Well, we got there, and there were only TWO porta-potties there. The line wasn't much better, but we hopped on and hoped for the best. You guys, I cannot begin to tell you how slow these people were! It was insane! I have never been in so much pain as a result of having to pee in all my life. I swear to you, there was someone inside one of them for TWENTY MINUTES. What were you doing in there for twenty minutes, buddy? Ugh. Finally, I got to the front of the line and did my business in a fraction of the time it took everyone else to do theirs. I figured--if nothing else--at least I'd won that portion of the race!

Oh, and as if waiting on line for 45 minutes as my kidneys imploded didn't piss me off enough--while waiting, I had attempted to turn my garmin on only to find nothing but blankness staring back at me. I kept trying over and over again, but she just wouldn't come to life. "What gives, garmin?" I thought out loud. But then I thought back to the previous night, when I had plugged her into her charger--she had acted seriously funny and kept turning on whenever I plugged her in, rather than showing the "charging in progress" screen like she normally does. I ended up hitting the power button a couple of times, and finally the "charging in progress" screen came on. I left her to charge, assuming the situation had been remedied, but somehow she must have gotten all messed up again and had her sweet battery drained as we slept (or uh . . . didn't sleep, in my case). What's that you say, running gods? I'm sorry, I can't quite make it out . . .

Once we were done with the porta-potties line, Wilson checked his (functioning) garmin and realized it was 15-minutes to gun time . . . and we still had to make it to baggage drop inside the Ocean Place Resort and back! I told him we should probably multitask and eat our sports beans on our way over there, so we did just that. Wouldn't you know, as soon as we had downed the beans, the announcer came on and reported that due to a car accident, the race was going to be delayed. At the time, he said it would be 15 minutes, but it ended up being closer to a half-hour. Great, those sports beans wouldn't be doing much for us! Ah well. Add it to the list . . .

We dropped out bags and headed to the start to take our places. As we were a little late getting there, we couldn't get anywhere near where we wanted to be--I think we lined up near the 4:45 marathon pacer--but as it turns out, it didn't really matter. Finally, after a half-hour of standing around and a lot of restlessness from the runners all around us, the race started at about 8:00 a.m. The first mile went really slowly--due to the crowds--but I was actually glad for this. I wanted to make sure to take a good inventory of how running felt on my lungs. Well, I don't think I would have felt so bad had the humidity been anything less than 97% . . . but seriously? It was ridiculous! Between my already weak lungs and the thick as crap air, I could hardly breathe! I felt okay for the first couple of miles, but by mile-3, I had already announced to Wilson that time was just not going to be a consideration. It was so humid, I was just PRAYING the heavens would open up and release some of that humidity along with the rain.

By mile-4, we had some sprinkling going on, but the humidity was still killing me. The worst part of it all was that my chest was in SERIOUS pain. I took my headphones off for a second to let Wilson know what was going on, and upon doing so, was shocked to hear the wheezy sound of my own breathing. Let's just say that it did not sound good. I let Wilson know that I was in a lot of pain, but I kept running, hoping it would just go away (riiiight). By about 4.5 miles in, I had already stopped to walk for the first time. The crushing pain in my chest was too much for me to handle, and my legs were already feeling tired and somewhat crampy. It was at this point that I first began to debate dropping out. I knew it was foolish to push myself when I wasn't feeling well . . . and that I might just be jeopardizing my marathon training. But it was so hard to allow myself to quit, considering everything Wilson and I had gone through to get to the race. We kept moving forward, alternating between running and walking, all the while debating what to do.

Just when I started to feel a bit more optimistic, I had a seriously grumpy moment. Somewhere between miles 5-6, I saw a sign for a "fluid station". Considering it had been over 90 minutes since I'd had fuel of any kind, I was in serious need of a gel at that point. Trusting there was in fact a fluid station ahead, I pulled my vanilla gel out of my pocket and tore off the top. Just as I was about to suck it down, Wilson muttered, "Um, wait! I don't think there is actually water at that station--just oranges." WTF? Who puts a "fluid station" sign up when there are no fluids actually being offered?! I was forced to hold onto my (opened) gel until we FINALLY encountered an actual fluid station almost a mile later. UGH. I was not a happy camper. Again, negative thoughts began to creep their way into my head.

Finally, at 7-miles, I made a decision: I wanted that finisher's hat, and that half-marathon medal. I came to run a half-marathon, and damn it, I was already over half-way done . . . I might as well finish! Despite a strong desire to finish, I was BEYOND miserable throughout the rest of the race. Every time Wilson and I stopped to walk, I felt like SUCH a huge failure. I kept apologizing over and over to Wilson, and telling him it was okay to go ahead. He stuck with me and tried to cheer me up/motivate me, but I was beside myself with disappointment. I think the most devastating thing was that just a few weeks earlier, I was running 15 and 16 mile long runs at around a 9:30/mile pace like it was child's play . . . and here I was walking in the middle of a half-marathon, and slowing my boyfriend down to boot. I hate to say it, y'all, but I was one negative-nelly. I had to fight back tears on several occasions. I was just SO humiliated by what was happening. But still, there was a part of me that wouldn't let myself quit.

By mile-9, nearly every muscle in my body was on the verge of cramping, which was very weird, considering hydration was the one thing I thought I was doing rather successfully. I knew that even a PR was out the window at that point (which I never would have fathomed was a possibility going into the race). I was bumming about that one big time, let me tell you. But at the same time, I kind of didn't even care. I just wanted to be done with the race ASAP. At around 9.5-miles, I was able to snag a little container of M&Ms and a cup of cola at the High Energy Food Station (hands down, the best part of the entire race!), which was fun and definitely boosted my spirits a bit. But uh, somehow? The snack did NOT give me higher energy. I was all but dead at that point. Still, what could I do, but keep trucking on?

And that I did. I wish I could say that I ran the last 3.5 miles, but the truth is, I walked much of it. It just didn't seem like it was worth it to really push myself, considering it wasn't a goal race and I was feeling seriously crappy. I can't remember when exactly, but at some point in the race, the gentle sprinkling had turned to full on rain. I was chafed all over my body--thighs, sports bra areas, underarms. My legs were cramping. And dead. My chest was KILLING me with every breath. My fingers were the size of jumbo sausages. It just didn't seem worth it to risk making any of these things any worse. So Wilson and I alternated between running and walking until we had about a mile to go. I decided I would run all of that last mile. And I did. And you know what? I even gave it a good kick with about a quarter mile to go, passing a whole handful of people. I booked it towards that finish line with all I had, grabbed Wilson's hand, and we finished together in a seriously disappointing but still triumphant 2:28:44.

We grabbed our finisher hats and medals, and I all but collapsed onto Wilson. All I wanted in the world was to sit down, but it was POURING rain by this time, and everything was soaked. Wilson grabbed me a juice box and then went to use the porta-potties . . . and I struggled to get the wrapper to my straw off the entire time he was gone. Between the rain and my huge sausage fingers, it was damn near impossible! FINALLY, I managed to get the thing open and suck it down. We wandered around, looking for food, but I was so out of it, I hardly knew where I was. We grabbed a bottle of some kind of apple juice out of the back of a truck, and then finally gave up on the food, not wanting to fight the crowds and just wanting to get out of the rain! We made our way towards the hotel we had checked our gear in.

All of a sudden, I thought I heard my name. I figured I was just imagining it, and kept on walking. Then I heard it again. I turned around and saw a couple of buddies from college standing there! It was crazy-random. I should add that just as I stopped to talk to them, my right calf seized up like nothing I've ever felt before--I was seriously not doing so well. We chatted for a couple minutes (I was so out of it at the time, I can't even remember what we talked about), then we left them to head inside. We grabbed our gear bags from the smelliest room ever, and made our way to an empty room where people were stretching and just hanging out. FINALLY, I could sit down! Only problem? Was that my calves were still cramping. I begged Wilson to stretch them out for me, and again he came through for me :)

We sat and relaxed for a bit, and then decided to head back to the shuttle buses. Little did we know that we had 45 minutes of standing in the pouring rain ahead of us. That's right. We arrived at the shuttle pick-up spot and the line was weaving around an entire block. We waited . . . and we waited. We watched some assholes on the back of the line flag down and jump onto one of the empty buses just before it rounded the corner to pick up people who were actually on line. Twice. But I wasn't going to have anything to do with that. It just wasn't right. So we waited like the good, nice people we are. Finally, after 45 minutes, we made it onto a bus and headed back to the parking lot.

We found the car, jumped in and cranked the heat up. I changed out of my wet clothes into some dry sweats, socks and shoes I had in the car. HEAVEN. Finally, we headed out of the parking lot and were on our way back to Brooklyn. Although we'd originally had dreams of stopping at IHOP on the way home, we were forced to settle for Burger King, as we hadn't taken into account the extra half-hour or so of racing time nor the 45-minute shuttle wait, and we had to make it back to Brooklyn by 2:30 to return the rental car. Thus, fast food it was. Still, we were starving and it tasted SO good! We scarfed our food and then immediately got back on the road. Luckily, traffic wasn't a problem and we managed to make it back to the rental car place in Brooklyn with about ten minutes to spare. Wooo! We walked the four blocks home to our apartment and, upon arriving home, I immediately took the hottest shower ever followed by the best nap ever. Bliss!

So yeah, a disappointment indeed, but what can you do? Sometimes you just feel like crap. And sometimes you have bigger and better things ahead of you, and you just have to keep the focus on those events. Should I have run this race in the first place? Maybe. Maybe not. In the end, there's no clear answer . . . I happened to make a decision to run it. Considering that fact, should I have pushed myself harder? I'm sure I could have, but I just don't think it would have been worth it. So looking back, I'm glad I ran, I'm proud of myself for finishing, and I'm also proud that I didn't make any dumb mistakes. Perhaps I'm starting to figure this whole thing out . . .

Big shout out again to Wilson for sticking with me when he could have run 5 billion times faster. I appreciate it more than I could ever express with words!

Photos to come soon, I promise!


Anonymous said...

Great report! The race (and the way to the start) sounds very heavy, but you did do it!

What is a finisher hat?

EmLit said...

I think your attitude toward this race is right on--you should be really proud of yourself for finishing, and focused on the fact that there are bigger and more important races out there. You'll have plenty of opportunities to run other halfs, and you'll undoubtedly feel much better when they roll around! But you are incredible for sticking it out the way you did, in spite of how difficult the whole thing was! It sounds like it would have been a hard race for someone who didn't have chest congestion.

Anonymous said...

WOW great race report! I'm sooo impressed that you pulled through this - it's definitely the hard races that Test us! but you did it :)

can't wait to see photos!

The Laminator said...

Great race report, Irish. Wow, that sgory is total craziness. I had no idea you had so much trouble before the race, in the race, after the race...Geez, you are one tough cookie.

Just proves again that behind every race time, no matter how good or how bad, is a great story. Yours was definitely one for the ages. Thanks for sharing.

I hope you recover well.

Spike said...

Wilson was the man, glad he was there to encourage you throughout the race. It may sound strange to say I read your race report with a bittersweet smile, so please allow me to elaborate. I also very recently had a terrible half experience, with things going wrong on the trip there, parking issues, and the worst run I could have ever had imagined—made worse by my high expectations going in. But these awful races are important. They allow us to grow and learn as runners; you absolutely made the right choice in running it. I can take heart in your frustration and disappointment and unwavering resilience because it is what will make you a better runner. I love looking back and thinking about how funny some of my worst races are. Hope you are feeling better and back at it.

Great job on finishing!!!

lindsay said...

wow. sounds like quite the race-eve and race! you really stuck it out under numerous crappy conditions. now when you think you are having a bad run you can just remember this day and tell yourself you can get through anything. congrats on finishing and truly earning your finisher awards! hope you are feeling 100% better!

Fair Weather Runner said...

You are amazing for sticking that out. Besides the chest cold issues, that sounds about like my marathon experience. I guess some running days are just OFF days... or there is lack of sleep, pure evil... exact same thing happened to me the night before my marathon. Either way you are incredible for hanging in there and finishing... and OMG, cracked me up with your sausage finger comments! And i LOVE that the race had M&Ms on the course, despite the other crappery they seemed to have like lack of proper aid stations... so congrats!!

aron said...

wow that was one crazy day... yikes. may 3rd was just not the best day for either of us huh? like you said sometimes you just feel like crap... really thats all there is to it. be glad you got the crap out this race, hopefully that means you will feel amazing come marathon day :)

congrats girl for making it to the finish, i know that wasnt easy!

sRod said...

Good Lord! What an ordeal!

It sounds like this race has gotten a lot more popular since I ran it back in 2007.

Congrats on finishing!!!

Laura said...

Congrats on finishing, and way to at least kick it at the end! That's my favorite part, even if I walked during :)