Holy sweet Jesus! I did it! No, I didn't just do it, I smashed it. Crushed it. Rolled over it with a steam roller and ate it for breakfast.

My PR going into this race was 1:59:55. So my goal was to maintain a 9 minute pace for an end time of 1:57. I would have been happy with 1:57. I would have been exstatic with 1:55. But taking a whole six minutes off my PR--I just honestly did not think that was going to happen.

Here's a recap of the race/lessons learned on the run:

So I have issues sleeping before a race. I'm usually so excited and nervous before a race that I just can't sleep the night before. I learned the hard way at Disney where I did not sleep at all the night before and managed to FALL ASLEEP in the starting corral. Since then a swig of NyQuil has become part of my ritual the night before.
After on and off shallow sleeping for 7 hours I woke up at 5am. I ate two slices of bread with generous amounts of peanut butter, along with about half a gallon of water.

By 6:30 we were on the road to the starting line. This was the first time I had to drive myself to a race. And there were warnings that there would be major traffic delays and limited parking. So you can imagine the heart attack I had when, with only 30 minutes until the starting gun, we were stuck in a traffic jam 2 miles from the starting line. Turns out Long Branch just has a problem with some poorly timed traffic lights. We got through it pretty quick and I was able to park within a block of the starting line.

It was perfect weather: 55 degrees when I left the car and light overcast (i.e., there were patches where you could see the sky but we never got direct sunlight). I stood in line for the port-o-johns (one last chance before I hit the road) and stretched before heading over to the starting area.

At 7:27am I headed into the corral for the 4-hour marathoners /2-hour half-marathoners...but by the time I could find a place to stand I was with the 5-hour group (which I paid for later in the race).

7:29..I'm jumping in place, eager for the pre-race announcements to start.

7:30...no gun.

7:35...no gun.

7:40...still no gun.

7:42 the race director finally finds his way to the stage. At this point, I'm already starting to get hungry, so you can imagine I wasn't too happy about the delay. But after a few garbled words from the director, the special guests (who included Kathrine Switzer), and the Star-Spangled Banner, the gun finally went off at close to 7:50.

My memory from the course is spotty...as anyone's tends to be because all you're thinking about is putting one foot in front of the other. I thought it was hilarious that in the first mile I ran by a hot dog vendor setting up her cart ON THE COURSE, as if today were a regular day and there weren't 7,000 people running down the street in front of her.

The first 1/3 of the race took a lot of turns. When I saw this on the course map a few weeks ago I got to wondering how courses are measured. So I took a little trip over to
USATF.com to see if they had their methodology posted. They did, and it turns out that courses are measured assuming that you hug the corners and take straight angles between S-turns...basically they assume runners take the shortest distance and calibrate the course so that everyone runs the advertised distance no matter what. So I didn't feel bad at all getting on the sidewalk and taking the straightest course.

I realized that this race was not for speed runners. So I got the slow people, which is fine. But combine them with the narrows roads of Long Branch and Monmouth, and you get lots of congestion through the first 4 miles of the race. It was a bit frustrating since I was trying to set a PR. But once we got to the straight-aways it was clear sailing.

Most of the race was uneventful, very few surprises. I loved the group of townhouses that decided to go all out for the race and cover all their porches with signs like: "Beer Hydration Stop Here" and "We're All Kenyans Today." However, I did learn how important food is during the race. Normally I go through one pack of GU during a race, just because that's all I thought I needed. But this race I took a different approach and ate my first GU pack at the 50 minute mark, grabbed some gummies at the 8 mile mark, and downed my second GU before hitting mile 11. So smart. Each time I ate it gave me a big boost of energy. So much energy that by mile 11 I was blasting by all the other runners. (And I started singing outloud to my iPod...which I didn't realize until I heard people laughing at me....)

At mile 12.1 (I presume) there was a huge banner with "One Mile to Go." At that point I looked at my watch and realized what time I was going to make. And then the tears came. It was sudden, a cathartic. I cried because I was about to destroy my old record. I cried for all the training runs that felt useless. I cried for all the years I was the fat kid. I cried for my tired body. I cried for all the people behind me that still had miles to go. I cried for every single thing in the damn universe.

And then I realized that I still had a mile to go.

So the tears had to be put on the shelf for now--I could cry when I was done. The last mile went by in a blur. I felt I was going a 1,000 miles per hour and getting no where. I could see the hotel next to the finish and it just would not get any closer no matter how much more I poured on the heat.

I started yelling and waving my arms to get the crowd excited. Thank you to the two girls that saw me barreling down the boardwalk and started cheering my name. I couldn't hear what you were saying (the downside to wearing phones headphones) but it helped a lot.

My only memory of the final few hundred yards was the finish line floating in the distance, never getting closer even though I could swear no human had ever run faster.

I stopped the second I touched the timing mats. It took me ten seconds to remember to turn off my watch. 1:53:52. Then someone took my timing chip off, someone handed me a medal and a bottle of water, and somehow I got a finisher's hat.

In a blur I looked for my wife. I say blur because when sweat mixes with tears it is impossible to see straight (or even keep your eyes open). When I found her in the mob I gave her the biggest hug I've ever given her (which is hard to say once you've known someone for 12 years). I wanted to pick her up and swing her around in one of those classic romantic comedy moves, but my legs were buckling under my own weight--I would have fallen on my ass if I had even tried to pick her up. I showed her my time and she lit up, and when she noticed I was still crying behind my sunglasses...well, I think it made her tear up a little bit too.

This is why I run. The feeling of elation after a race is enough to make you want to run a 1,000 more miles. It is a high that cannot be surpassed. Yes, the sensation is fleeting. Yes, there is lots of pain. And yes, there are plenty of times when it all seems like a bad idea. But crossing thet finish line propelled by nothing but your own two feet is one of the greatest accomplishments a human can achieve.

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