And don't think that there was no hesitation on my part. The day after Superstorm Sandy flipped our neighborhoods upside down, I wondered how in the hell I would muster up the ability to give a ____ about running a half marathon. I had just run my best marathon one day before we were evacuated, and could not be bothered to bask in the glory of my accomplishment. Managing to (reluctantly) squeeze in ONE training run for Trenton, I realized that if I were going to show up at all, I needed to figure out a way muster up the drive, adrenaline, and energy to give 100% to this race. I also knew that my world would not come crashing to an end if my 100% on this race day did not yield the same results as a "normal" (before Sandy) race day.
Enough with the emotionally driven keystrokes. (For now.) Let's talk about this inaugural half marathon.
The idea of being part of a first time event is always exciting to me. We headed to packet pickup, which was hosted at the New Jersey State Museum, on Friday afternoon. It went smoothly and seamlessly. Race swag was sweet! The drawstring bag and half zip (WOMEN'S) pullover impressed me and made me wonder how much more impressive the race itself would be.
|Inside the NJ State Museum|
I got a glimpse of the medal at the Trenton Half Marathon merchandise table and HAD TO snap a picture.
This medal is one of the classiest, highest quality and possibly the prettiest (hey it's my blog so I can use whatever descriptive I like) medal in my half marathon collection thus far.
|The Trenton medal kicks my other favorite half marathon|
We carb loaded with friends afterward and headed home so I could pull my race day wear together and get some sleep. Trenton is not even a one hour drive for us and I was so glad to sleep in my own bed the night before a race!
Even though we were pressed by a volunteer at the Expo to arrive by 6:30am, we decided we didn't need to do that. Being absurdly early only to wait in the freezing cold at the start just did not seem necessary. We decided that arriving 45 minutes early would be more than sufficient. We ended up waiting in an endless line of cars waiting to turn onto the street where parking was designated. By the time 40 minutes went by, we were almost close to the parking lot. I was confident that even though we would not make it the 7:45 start that this was fine as it was evident that the endless line of cars behind us wouldn't make that start either.
As someone who works for a race and timing company, I have a lot of grace for race day hiccups. And in an inaugural race, you kind of have to expect them. And you have to keep things in perspective- a late start doesn't end the world. That life and death do not depend on instant results. That volunteers may be clueless. Something that was supposed to be "here" might end up "all the way over there" instead. It's just a race.
Long before the start was within my sight line, I knew there was no way I could run without hitting a porta john. Much to my gleeful (can you say that in the same sentence as porta john?) surprise, this race had an ABUNDANCE of porta johns. The lines were amazingly short. It was wonderful!
I believe I waited about 15 or 20 minutes for the MUSKETS (how cool is that!) to go off. For a change, I was closer to the front that I was to the back and didn't have to weave through hundreds of people to find my pace. The course put us in a tunnel right away. I have never run in a tunnel before and it was a fun way to start a race. I happened to notice my pace jump dramatically from 8:40 to 10:52 and I realized that I lost the satellite on my Garmin for a bit.
The course continued onto a nice wide highway and wove into the streets of the city of Trenton. We passed the capitol building, the museums, and other iconic structures. The course was not entirely flat, but the inclines were not so severe that one wanted to cry. Crossing the Trenton Makes bridge was probably the most challenging part of the course for me. It stirred my typically repressed fear of heights and suspension. 1,022 feet (about .2 mile) of steel grating to run on while trying to ignore the slight shaking caused by so many people running at the same time is gut wrenching. Looking down and seeing just how far the Delaware River appeared to be was horrifying and counter productive to keeping my heart rate steady. I only looked twice. Once at the start of the bridge and once at the finish. I couldn't help it. It was scary and I was thankful we were not going to do that again!
After the bridge there were what seemed to be endless roads of relief. We ran the Calhoun Street Bridge back into NJ, and I opted for the sidewalk so as to spare myself from looking down at the river through the steel grating again. My heart was now in this race to finish strong and faster than ever. Something different about this race than any other half: I ran without music in my ears and I ran WITH my Garmin. I could see exactly how I was pacing. I knew whenever I slacked, I would need to make it up somewhere else on the course by working extra hard. Does this make for a better run? I don't know yet. It certainly makes me focus on my pace obsessively. Is this what running is about? Is this what I want? Do I enjoy this? Eh. I need to do it a few more times in order to have a real answer.
When I started to hit that familiar point of disconnect (aka WALL) I remembered why I showed up. I darn well knew no one would fault me for failing to run this 13.1. I knew that anyone would say "well, you just ran Marine Corps and you are dealing with the hurricane mess" if I finished slower than usual. I knew that I could justify just about every desire to slow down, or walk or even ditch... It didn't take much for me to find something to help me push through this run.
(Time to come back to the emotionally driven keystrokes.)
As I powered through the hills in Cadlawader Park I remembered the sound of the wind. I remembered the powerful noise that made me fear for the safety of every single person I know in this part of New Jersey. The wind made me wonder if my oldest son, sleeping in his room in the back of the house (his father's house, we were evacuated) while I was wide awake in the front, was too far away to save. It made me hope and pray that I was the only one awake and petrified- I did not want my children or anyone in that house to have the sound of this wind ingrained in their minds and evoking fear when pondered on in the future, nor did I want the sound of the wind to forever remind them of any unfathomable loss of life if this were to be our fate. I was perfectly still and silent in my fear that night and certain that we would wake up to tragedy beyond our understanding. Far beyond homes destroyed, far beyond businesses pummeled and buried in sand and brokenness. When I ran the last 5 miles at Trenton Half Marathon, I kept thinking about that sound.
All I could do was pour my heart onto that course and with reverence and awe for our safety, work to continue to give every bit of myself. I was running in jubilation. Have you really heard and understood that word before? Have you felt it? Have you ever felt you could almost bow down- no- throw your body to the ground in worshipful gratitude for being safe and alive? Have you ever been to a place in your mind where you pictured and dared to fathom what life might be like without your child or your husband or anyone you dearly treasure and love? Have you been forced to accept how fragile life is and realized that as much as you think you can keep things together, that there are so many forces beyond your control that can snap you in two like a tiny little twig? Have you gone to these frightening, sad places and emerged safe and whole?
The sound of Superstorm Sandy brought me there. And the thought of that sound during this race reminded me that we were spared, blessed, and alive. My fears on that night were cast away and I was given the blessing to return to and stand inside my in tact home, with unharmed children and family. And less than two weeks later, I was blessed to stand at the start of a half marathon, of all things. A half marathon. When my sons and husband lived through the tornado that tore through Lambert Airport in St. Louis (read that entry later if you want) I learned that voluminous gratitude can't possibly be expressed in spoken or written word. It has to be poured out in deed and effort. And to me, genuinity of gratitude does not require a grand display. All you need is to truly feel it and express it in whichever way you are capable. What else could I do but pour my gratitude into this run? Where else could my mind and body possibly be but in a state of sweet gratitude? What better a course?
another runner: Where are you from?
me: The Jersey Shore.
another runner: Wow, and you're here?
me: You're damn right I am. I am alive as ever and still running. Should I have cowered in fear and skipped this race? Should I have given up on something I love to do? Should I have broken my commitment? What purpose would it serve if I did any of those things? Here I am.
(No, I didn't actually say that to anyone.)
And wouldn't you know it, I ran 2:00:50. My fastest 13.1.
The finish was amazing, though I remained focused on maintaining my pace (ugh) as I ran the perimeter of the Mercer County Waterfront Park. I did not even notice home plate until I crossed the finish. I should have looked around and taken it in.
|Still feeling that marathon in my legs.|
No sprint to the finish. No way.
The seemingly endless supply from Philly Pretzel Factory and pizza from Delorenzo's Tomato Pies that was delicious even at room temperature was a nice treat. I would love to run this race again next year and the year after that. I know there were a few kinks as is expected for an inaugural race, but I cannot imagine that this event won't get better and better with age. The (well supported) course alone made it an adventurous experience and I am honored to have been part of this event.