The 2010 New Jersey Marathon can be described in one simple word, “Brutal.”
The forecast for the morning was cloudy with a chance of rain. I even contemplated wearing a vest on race morning… That would have been perhaps the biggest mistake in a day filled with small miscalculations and uncontrollable turns of events.
Firstly, I have to thank a runner whom we had never met before Saturday. Due to some rather misguided planning on my part, our hotel was far out of walking distance from the start line, though I had (up until Saturday) believed it to be much closer. So, I called the hotel to see if there was a shuttle, or something that could get us to the train station, which was very close to the start line. Just as I called, another runner was checking-in. Overhearing the conversation the desk attendant was having with me, he offered to give Lucy and I a ride to the start line.
So then, we were off at 6:30am for the race’s extremely late 9:00am… a start time that I seriously hope the directors will reconsider for next year. With temperatures in the high 80′s on the beach at 9:00am, it’s no wonder that over 30 people had to be treated for het exhaustion along the race course.
We started off the race with an aggressive, but easily attainable (based on recent half-marathon and training times) goal of 4:15. In the first mile, we tucked into the 4:15 pace group and settled down through mile 5 or 6. Finally around mile 6 traffic was getting much better, and the group was really running easy. At the same time, we were running farther from the beach, and with pretty much no breeze. Since the sun was high in the sky by this time, there was almost NO shade except for at the very edges of the street. I don’t know what the actual Mercury was, but I can tell you that it was very hot. High 80′s for sure. Maybe low 90′s.
Around mile 9 we found some porta potties that were completely free, and off the path a bit. We decided that if we didn’t use those, we would probably never find any without a line, so we stopped and fell off the back of the 4:15 group. We were okay with that, and thought we would either make up the time or finish somewhere in-between 4:15 and 4:20. We resumed a good pace, and kept at it through the halfway point. Our Half-Marathon split was 2:14, and our 15 mile split was 2:34, so we were still on-track to be around 4:30. Somewhere between mile 16 and 18, however, we drastically changed our race plan. I realize that saying, “somewhere between mile 16 and 18,” is not extremely accurate, however, it should also give you some idea of how that day was going. Though there were markers at every mile, my recollection of the latter half of the race is fuzzy at best. Heat exhaustion tends to do that…
We picked up one of the stragglers from the 4:15 group, a Belgian guy around mile 13.5, and he quickly fell behind. Needless to say, he was not doing well. We had also seen another member of the 4:15 group who was talking to his family just after the half-marathon point. His name was Dave. Dave caught-up to us somewhere around mile 14, and ran with us for a couple of miles. We walked with him through the water stop at mile 16, or so and we got the hint that he was trying to drop behind…. he was not looking so great, so we kept shuffling along without him.
For some reason, I am always able to keep count of the number of runners I have seen “down” throughout the race. At this point, I had seen no fewer than 13 down and, as I said before, we would later find out that over 30 were treated for heat exhaustion. By mile 18, we knew we were simply not capable of safely reaching any of our time goals for the day. So, slightly disheartened by the inevitable, we plodded onward, and started taking walk breaks at the water stations. Before long, however, we would only be able to run in 5 minute stretches without overheating. Just after the halfway point, we were pretty much taking in any hydration we could find, as well as utilizing as much ice as we could get our hands on. We ran with baggies of ice we were able to commandeer from First Aid, and cups of ice we got from a few water stops, and pilfered from frond-yard coolers. Whenever we could, we replenished our ice supplies so that we always had something to cool down our water, and drip over our heads. (though the latter did little good)
For the final 6 miles of the race, we were really hoping to find some reprieve from the sun, and feel the sea breeze we knew we would find at mile 25. That was a long ways away, however. Even with that glorious promise, and the promise of simply being DONE, we could simply not run for very long without getting severely overheated. It went like that for a long while run for as long as we could stand, and walk for about as long. Douse w/ice water, repeat. This was extremely frustrating because the fact of the matter is that we were not out of fuel. Our legs were not tired. Our minds were strong. But our bodies simply couldn’t deal with the heat.
Around mile 24.5 the final water stop, Lucy ran into Beverly, a friend from NikeRunning who was coaching some of her runners. Lucy was unable to speak really, being so overcome with the emotion of being so helpless against the heat, yet having so much left in terms of legs and fuel. At this point, we knew we were done… we would finish. It would not be what we had hoped and trained for, but it would be a victory, and the suffering would soon come to an end.
The sea breeze we had hoped for at mile 25 did not materialized. The cool air had all but faded, which also doused our hopes of trotting home the last mile to just get the dang thing over with. We had the finish line in sight, and we still had to take a walk break, lacking any wind to help cool our ailing bodies.
When it was all said and done, we finished with a chip time of 4:59:50. This IS a PR for me, since I ran SanDiego a few years ago in 5:06.
Post-race, there was also no shade, and very little provisions to be had. We took shelter in a random cool-spot we found before going to the race hotel to get our stuff from bag check. We still had about a mile to walk to the train station to get back to Manhattan, so we rested for a minute, and hiked it out, now more weighed down than before toward the train.
Two days later, we both feel mostly normal. Legs are almost completely fine… Lucy suffered some fairly severe heat exhaustion/dehydration. I was fairly dehydrated, and am just now starting to feel like my fluids/electrolytes are in-line.
Next race? San Francisco 26.2 in July! We runners really are gluttons for punishment….