The Direct Edge Newport Liberty Half Marathon on Sunday, September 22, 2013 was my half marathon moment of truth—my second attempt at breaking the 2-hour barrier at 13.1 miles. My personal best from the 2012 Staten Island Half Marathon stood at 2:00:30. And… it still stands.
Let’s start with the race itself.
Direct Edge Newport Liberty Half Marathon
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Direct Edge Newport Liberty Half Marathon is a low-frills event in Jersey City, N.J. with 2,700 runners and a gorgeous course.
When I say gorgeous, I mean gorgeous. As the website claims, this is easily the most beautiful half marathon course in New York City’s metro area. I’ve run the NYC Half, Brooklyn Half, Staten Island Half and Yonkers Half. While they all have their charms—run through Times Square at the NYC Half, finish on the Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn, watch FDNY fire boats perform a water salute in Staten Island, and take in cliff high views of the Hudson River in Yonkers—the Newport Liberty Half Marathon offers more breathtaking views mile for mile than any other NYC area race I’ve done.
The course starts with a 4-mile tour of Jersey City streets. Nothing remarkable there. But before mile 5, runners enter Liberty State Park and are treated to the most dazzling views of New York Harbor, Manhattan and, especially, the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty is so close that you feel like you can run right up and touch her. Once she’s past your line of vision, you’re treated to a buzz by of Ellis Island, all the while downtown Manhattan glitters in the not-so-far distance. Runners pass a bucolic salt marsh, a boardwalk lined marina, and finally finish in the heart of Newport Town Square to a crowd of cheering spectators.
About half of the course is along the water. It’s also pancake flat with two teeny, tiny inclines along the way. But the course did have many turns, some sharp enough to prove tough to maintain pace. The ground cover was varied—from asphalt to boardwalk, a few short dashes over grass and stone pavers.
And as a largely waterfront course, wind was definitely a factor in 2013. While the race website touts its “flat terrain with open skies,” I did find the open skies part a bit challenging too. On a sunny, cloudless day, I was wishing for a bit of shade. But it did make for beautiful vistas.
As a charity race that benefitted the Jersey City Medical Center, I appreciated the lean efficiency of the race’s organization. There were no finisher medals, and cotton long sleeve T-shirts earned the race a pass for not having women’s cut shirts. (If you haven’t read my article about women’s cut shirts, please do). And there was no expo; runners simply picked up bibs before the race the old-fashioned way.
Runners lined themselves up according to pace in a very calm and orderly manner. The start wasn’t marked by a giant banner. Instead, a timing mat lay across the road with no other indicator that this was the beginning of something great.
Mile markers with clocks were placed at every mile. Water stations sat roughly every two miles and runners had a post race bounty of snacks to choose from: bananas, Cosi “Squagles” or square bagels, Nutri-Grain bars, an assortment of chips, popcorns, cheese doodles and the like, apple juice, cranberry juice, sports drink and water.
Getting to the race was easy. For drivers, free parking was just a few blocks from the starting area and for train riders, the PATH station, with trains to Manhattan and nearby New Jersey, was just a few steps to the start.
Best of all, the race cost just $40 if you registered before August 14 and $50 thereafter.
The good news is I ran a 10K personal best of 56:57. I haven’t raced a 10K since 2011, so this was likely to happen in any half marathon PR attempt for me. Yay to a mini-PR!
The bad news is everything else. This might have been the worst race of my life. I made no bones about the fact that I wanted my half marathon time to start with a “1,” as I mentioned in my pre-race post. But it wasn’t in the cards for me that day.
My husband, Phil, and I got to the race early. We sat on a park bench near the water to kill some time. I looked at him.
“I feel really tired,” I said in earnest.
“Your body or your head?” he asked.
“Both,” I said. Then I shrugged. “I’m still gonna give it my all.”
And I did. I set out to run a 9:00 pace to come in around 1:58. My first few miles were right on. But by mile 3, I was already really hot. What had been a rainy, overcast early morning gave way to a beautiful day. It was sunny without a cloud in the sky and temperatures hitting 70 degrees. My legs also already felt tired. I knew that did not bode well so early in the race.
But I kept on plugging. By mile 6, I was feeling really winded. I was also feeling the wind. We ran with 19 mph winds gusting up to 29 mph at times. At times it wasn’t too bad and actually felt refreshing under the sun. But at other times, I felt myself being pushed sideways or having to work against it, depending on where I was on the course. I was starting to have doubts about my PR attempt.
But shortly after Mile 6, I rounded a corner to see the Statue of Liberty right in front of me. It felt like I was running to her. It was inspiring and motivating. I used that to keep pushing into Mile 7. I reached that mile marker still on pace for a sub-2, though my time had flagged a bit. I was running a 9:09 overall pace, which would have put me at 1:59:52.
But then things fells apart. I’d taken a gel at the Mile 6 water station, but it wasn’t sitting well. I was breathing so hard that I was starting to go anaerobic and my stomach churned. I suffer from acid reflux and it can be really bad when I run. The combo of my effort and the gel was a recipe for disaster. Shortly after the Mile 7 marker, I slowed to a walk as I nearly vomited. I managed to hold it in, but just kept walking as I gasped for breath. I must have looked pretty bad. Another woman, about my age, patted me on the back as she passed. “Hang in there!” she said.
I let myself walk for 1 minute, enough to get my breath back, then started running again. For a moment I thought, perhaps, I could pick the pace back up and get back in it. But as I pushed, my body didn’t respond. I struggled to maintain even a 9:30 pace the next mile. My legs felt heavy and tight, and I started vurping. Gross, but true.
By Mile 8, I knew my PR attempt was over. There was no possible way I could have pushed that hard for another five miles. So I just jogged it out. In the last mile, I managed to run a pedestrian-for-me 10:10 pace. Even that left me gasping for air as I crossed the finish in 2:15:06, a far cry from my PR of 2:00:30.
Phil was also gunning for a PR and he also had a terrible race. He too struggled with the sun, the wind and a general feeling of being underprepared. We commiserated after the finish line. And he made this vine of my race:
Lessons From Other Failed Races
The funny thing is, I’m not as upset as I would have thought. I was more disappointed by my bad bike leg at the Wild Dog Triathlon than I am by this. Perhaps because I also had a spectacular swim and run, where I nailed an all-time 3-mile PR, at that tri. If I’d done just 1:10 better in the bike, I could have finished top 3 in my age group, 3:20 better and I’d have won. The worst was knowing that I’ve biked much faster in the past. Instead I placed out of the medals in fourth. Wah-wah.
So at least I’m not beating myself up about this stumbling block. It’s part of life and it’s part of racing. It’s actually the fourth time in my seven years of racing that I went for a PR only to fall short.
The first time was a 10K in 2009. I wanted to break 1 hour for the first time and failed miserably. But I found a 10K the following weekend and ran 59:53. I felt vindicated.
The second time I failed at a PR attempt was in 2010 when I blew up in a 5-mile race for no good reason. I redeemed myself with 1-mile and marathon PRs later in the year.
The third time was in 2011 when I went out too fast in a 10K and missed my PR by 57 seconds. I redeemed myself then with a 1-mile, 5K and 5-mile PR later in the summer.
And the fourth time was yesterday. The moral of the story is that I didn’t give up and just kept on pushing myself. It’s always eventually paid off.
Where Do I Go From Here?
The question on my mind now is: So where do I go from here? I’m torn. I know I have sub-2 in me. I’ve been running faster this year. I’ve got my training log and that new 3-mile personal best to prove it.
The only thing that gives me solace is the Yonkers Half Marathon. I ran that race right around this time last year and struggled to finish in 2:15:40. It was also warm and sunny. But just three weeks later, I ran that oh-so-close to sub-2 PR on a cold, overcast day. It makes me think that my concern that I’m running a month behind in my training this year is completely founded, and that I just need to luck out with the right conditions.
I’m scheduled to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in exactly four weeks. I’ve done the training and have just one 20-22 miler left on my schedule this weekend. But I’m tempted to switch to the half marathon there, which the race organizers kindly let you do, and pick another marathon in November.
If the issue is that I’m one month behind in my training, then this will solve it. If that’s not the issue, then I don’t know. Part of me wants to go ahead with the Toronto Marathon as planned, but another part of me doesn’t want to go into 26.2 miles with this kind of cloud hanging over my head. I’d rather use that event as one more sub-2 half-marathon PR attempt before moving on to a monster distance like the marathon.
I’m going to sleep on it. I know in my heart of hearts that I can run sub-2. I also know that it will feel even sweeter when I finally do. I just don’t know if it will be better to table it for 2013, or give it one more try.
Perhaps third time’s the charm…