Princeton Half Marathon 2014

There are many reasons why we run. We run to feel good, we run to achieve goals, we run to start or end the day well. Sometimes, rare moments that can’t be put into words as well as feelings, we run to have control over something in our lives. To prove a point even if we don’t know what that is. To think about something as small and primordial as the very next step in front of us. Runners sometimes need to run, because it’s the only thing that makes sense in a world where so many things don’t at all. These are the runs that are the angry or angsty or sad songs on a day we aren’t thinking too hard about them, just merely basking in the feeling. They’re the strangely entertaining scenery whirring by you when you really meant to read on the train. We’ve all had runs like these, that feel like we could run forever as fast as we can, nothing is impossible. Rarely does this run coincide with an actual race. For the Princeton Half Marathon, it did for me. Every single second of this race, there was nothing else I was meant to do but hammer the course to the ground. It was my duty.

Pre-race in the store.

Pre-race in the store.

I thought it was going to be a horrible race. I hardly slept, hardly ate, and hardly drank water the night before. I even started to feel sick to my stomach a half hour before the start. I woke up just before 5 AM 100% ready to run this race. I was ready at 11 PM as well, in fact. I did the course two weeks before and it was definitely hilly. Definitely not fast, I thought. I didn’t even think a PR was in the cards even if it were flat, or maybe I was in shape for it, but I didn’t think I’d have it on that day.

My plan on the line was to just run. See what I had in me and run with it, whatever that was. Try to keep my effort level in the 6:50-7:05/mile range give or take depending on the elevation. The wind had howled overnight and in the morning, it had hardly stopped. The temperature was around 40 degrees. I could tell just from my warmup that we were about to get blown all over the road, but I wasn’t too concerned. The first couple miles were heading down to the battlefield, and by that point the crowd around me had thinned out considerably. We were on uneven gravel at the start of the third mile, then back onto the road which was so windy, then back onto gravel again. Miles 1-4: 6:34, 6:51, 7:06, 6:54.

In the woods, a girl snuck up on me and passed me. I already knew there was one girl way head of me from the start; I could see her ponytail and pink socks. I forced myself to stay focused and stay right on this other girl, and I did. I passed her back shortly after on an uphill on Alexander, and made sure I stayed strong and dropped her. The Washington Rd. hill was coming, the part everyone was dreading but I knew that once it was over, my favorite part of the race would begin. I tend to feel mentally and physically better during the second half of a half marathon, and I already knew I preferred the second half of the course. So I was actually excited. I kept it controlled up the hill, and absorbed the cheers from the spectators. At the top was the Nassau Street crossing and a sweet downhill into the north side of town. All four corners were lined with people cheering, and crossing that street was was one of my favorite moments from the race. Miles 5-6: 6:54, 7:17 (hill #1).

The beginning of the Washington Rd. hill. It turned out the girl who snuck up on me was my friend's sister....

It turned out the girl who snuck up on me was my friend’s sister….

The next mile was mostly downhill or flat, with a short uphill at the end combined with what was definitely the worst gust of wind of the entire race. I started to really find my stride in this mile though, into the next. The splits sounded fast but didn’t feel fast. Miles 7-8: 6:39, 6:36. 

In the next neighborhood there was a left turn on a random street. I knew this because I did the course two weeks before with a queue sheet in my shorts pocket, basically. I was pretty focused on my own race, but I did notice a few runners up ahead running straight, past the turn. I was coming up on a guy I knew, and I heard him ask a woman standing on the corner if this was in fact where to turn. She seemed to reply in the affirmative, and I was confident in my knowledge of the course anyway, so I turned with everyone else around me and didn’t think much else of what was happening there. At another corner up ahead, I heard a bunch of screaming girls and turned to see at least one girl I coached at Girls on the Run on the bed of a pickup truck, cheering for “Coach Meghan.” It made me smile and push on toward hill #2, on Snowden and Herrontown. I knew this hill was going to be tougher than the first because if its location on the course and the fact that it was so long and gradual. I brought a Gu for the first time in a half, and my plan was for it to kick in during the final few miles, so I had half of it before the mile 9 water stop…but I failed to actually grab a cup of water. The cups were plastic, so that was part of the problem. I attempted to grab it about three times, but ultimately ended up with the taste of plain Gu in my mouth until the next water stop. Just before that one, I finished the Gu and actually took water successfully. I also passed a pivotal competitor at that first water station, I’ll add…. Miles 9-11: 6:49, 7:25 (hill #2), 6:44. 

phm6

Then the race really began. Or maybe it was phase three. One of our longstanding group runners, Patrick, has always given me great running and racing advice, and words of wisdom in general. He uses the expression “take him to the woodshed” frequently, referring to basically dropping the hammer when running with someone and seeing if he comes along. Since we were passing through his neighborhood, and coincidentally the hill where he tends to take people to said woodshed, I thought to myself, to the woodshed! and it gave me some extra energy.

Mile 12 had a big net downhill, and mile 13 had a net uphill but included some downhill too. I remembered my long run when I previewed the course two weeks before, and how I said, “If I feel good at this point in the race, it’s going to be so much fun.” Well, I did. And it was. I ran the twelfth mile in 6:21 still feeling strong. I saw and heard some people I knew and didn’t know calling out to me on the curb. One group told me I was the “first woman.” Then another. I was confused, because I was definitely second. That girl had been ahead of me from the start. I might have even corrected someone using two fingers and a muffled “I think I’m second,” like I couldn’t take credit. I figured they had just come out of their houses and had missed her. Mile 13 ticked off in 6:15 but I wasn’t looking at my watch then, I was just hammering toward the finish line. Paul Robeson Place, where the race started and ended, was packed with spectators, some of them friends, some Girls on the Run girls and their families, and many others I didn’t know. I knew even before I saw the clock that I was going to finish under 90 minutes, and it was the greatest feeling to have accomplished that – my ultimate half marathon goal – right here in my town with all these people who know me here supporting me. Official finish time: 1:29:36.

Finishing the job.

Finishing the job.

When I finished, people took pictures and asked me questions. At that point, I thought the other girl must have dropped out, if I really did finish first. It was soon discovered, a few minutes later, that the girl was among the dozen or so people who had continued straight at that important turn on the course. In other words, they didn’t know the course and got

I was too cold to fix my hair beyond this. We should have gotten a photo post-shower...oh well.

Mayor Lempert and me, with the cup. I was too cold to fix my hair beyond this. We should have gotten a photo post-shower…oh well.

lost, but there was also no race marshal there to direct them. Obviously, none of my races are without complications. You can read about the race’s ultimate decision on the matter here. Summary? I finished first, they gave the other girl the win, they made up a time for her (which is kind of weird, but it is what it is). I did win the Mayor’s Cup, for the fastest finisher among runners from businesses in town (it’s currently being engraved!). The mayor was cool and called me inspiring, which was really nice to hear coming from her! I had work all day after that, but we did get to escape and head over to Triumph for the race sponsors’ party, which included good food, a slideshow from the race, networking, a presentation, and growlers galore. And yes I did “clean up nicely,” but there are no photos to prove it.

Not fully engraved yet, but this is what it said when I received it.

Not fully engraved yet, but this is what it said when I received it.

The Princeton Half Marathon was the most meaningful experience I have ever had during a race or any run at all. I have never felt so much control over my own emotions and the outcome of an event. Before, I had always thought of good races being a product of x, y, and z: eating right, sleeping right, training right. And they are, but only to an extent. It was this race that taught me the power of the mind and the heart, and what they can do when they work together. This race was a fun game, a 13.1-mile reckless journey in an invincible fast car. A one hour, twenty-nine minute, thirty-six second song that has powerful lyrics but no conceivable words. What were x, y, and z? The chirping calls of “Coach Meghan” from the curbs, the feedback from the streets I’ve grown to know so well, and the feeling that this race was more than a race, it was something I needed to do, as best I could.

Things in life still don’t make sense. There’s still no tangible control. But whenever I get sucked inside to that place where the sad songs actually have words, and the scenery on the train does make you think about the who and what and why, I have this 1:29:36-long moment of my life to remember, and the memory gives me the energy to feel okay.

The most fitting quote for the back of this medal, if I may say so.

The most fitting quote for the back of this medal, if I may say so.

waiting my turn (because I want to)

New York City Marathon Weekend

Last weekend, I went to New York City to work the marathon expo, as I did last year. I was not particularly excited this time around, mostly because it took a lot of planning just to get there, and I was in the peak of training and I knew it would take at least a few days to recover from the physical and mental exhaustion of the event. Still, I remained positive as I put together this whole plan of packing, dropping everything off at work, running to work, staying at a friend’s house, storing extra stuff at work, and walking to the connecting train early Friday morning to take it to the main NJ Transit station, which would in turn take me to NYC. Phew. To make matters worse, it was raining and ridiculously windy, and an entire water bottle leaked in my bag before I set foot on the first train. By the time I got to the Javits Center with all my stuff for the weekend, I already wanted a shower. Heck, I wanted a shower before sunrise. A twelve hour day of working on my feet, bright lights, and talking was ahead of me though. Long story short: I will never be a candidate to commute to another city for work. I need hours to get myself together after a single trip, it seems…that’s not good.

A scene from the maze you now have to navigate through construction to get to the Dinky station in Princeton. Time: 7:05 AM (after I missed the first train and was brave enough to try finding my way to Wawa while waiting for the second...).

A scene from the maze you now have to navigate through construction to get to the Dinky station in Princeton. Time: 7:05 AM (after I missed the first train and was brave enough to try finding my way to Wawa while waiting for the second…).

Thus, my own mini-marathon began. On Friday, day two of the expo and day one for me, I was assigned to work with CEP, but we had so many staff there that we were actually blocking the product, so I moved over to Superfeet, where I got to see two of my favorite reps, Anna and Rich (they were at the RW expo too)! I also tried beef jerky for the FIRST TIME, which was mind-blowing. Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried expensive, gourmet, flavored beef jerky first…I’m probably going to expect all future beef jerky experiences to be just as good. It was KRAVE Jerky…I can’t even look at the pictures, I just can’t…linking it and exiting that window right now.

Seriously though…

(Enough said.)

(Enough said.)

Clearly, the beef jerky was a memorable event at this year’s expo for me. Moving on. I eventually found myself needed at the Brooks booth (yessss), where I was stationed in the apparel section and then on one of the registers for the remainder of the expo that day. A strange moment happened when I saw a man holding two basketballs and commented, “Basketballs? That’s the wrong sport!” He replied with, “Or the right one! You don’t know who I am?” Note: when someone says “you don’t know who I am?” take that as a

I ended up getting a picture with Doctor Dribble....

I ended up getting a picture with Doctor Dribble….

warning that you are a.) justified in not knowing who he/she is, and b.) you are about to get a lengthy explanation of who he/she is. Turns out he was “Doctor Dribble,” and dribbles two basketballs while running marathons to raise money for charity. Apparently he holds a Guinness World Record for dribbling during a marathon.

Eight o’clock finally came. After closing up the registers, warding off rumors that the expo was until nine, and convincing fellow female coworkers that we should request a departure for the hotel, I escaped to fresh air for the first time since before 9 AM. Expos give you a warped sense of things…NYC air becomes fresh air, etc.

Later that night, everyone who was anyone in the running industry found themselves on the lower level of Rosie O’Grady’s, like every year on NYCM weekend. I got to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in awhile as well as meet new people I had heard of but never met before. I saw Megan and Hannah, met an editor at Running Times, met some cool people from our corporate office, had a business-related chat with the founder of a successful chain of running specialty stores, possibly met Desi, and definitely lost my voice. It was an overwhelming runner’s paradise, complete with alcohol. I only wish it wasn’t so late and everyone could have stayed longer…but unfortunately everyone still had at least one work day ahead of them.

Rosie's is for runners.

Riley, Jacqui, Chris, me, Pat…. Rosie’s is for runners.

Saturday…I somehow held on surprisingly well after little sleep and general exhaustion. I worked at the Garmin booth all day, which was more exciting than I anticipated. I got to play around with the brand-new Forerunner 220 and 620! And let me tell you…they are awesome. You know when you see an old gadget and think of how it looks ancient compared to whatever is new? These watches made my 210 look old. No lie. I don’t wish I waited for the 220, since I got my watch in April and it has helped my training tremendously since then. However, if there was some sort of option to trade, I would do it in a second. The most notable improvements, in my opinion, are: 1.) weight and size: the 220 is as

Garmin Forerunner 620 and 220.

Garmin Forerunner 620 and 220.

sleek and light as an everyday watch, 2.) wireless uploading, and 3.) the buttons are much easier to press. The third reason may sound strange, but sometimes I have issues with the buttons on my 210…they aren’t the easiest things to find or press hard enough, especially while you’re running and wearing gloves, or during a hard speed workout when you really don’t want to expend your energy on pushing a darn button. Kudos, Garmin. Both models have increased $50, but for the improvements, it’s probably worth it. The black and blue 620 was so popular at the expo, we sold out of it early on Saturday.

I’m not going to go into detail about the extra time we spent after the expo technically closed at 5:00 PM on Saturday. We were there until after 9:00 PM, with the union workers, moving and carrying and stacking heavy boxes and not really knowing what was going on or how late we would be needed. I debated trying to get another night in the city out of my trip, but after going to one bar with a coworker for a quick drink while carrying two big bags, I decided to catch the next train back to Princeton from Penn Station. I ended up boarding one with three minutes to spare, not even realizing a train was leaving at that time, and then catching a free University bus back to town after that. I met up with some friends as soon as I was back, and they questioned my sanity for leaving New York after ten on a Saturday night. But you know what? I was so relieved. I felt so at home and so relaxed. I no longer was holding heavy bags, no longer felt rushed (I even wished I’d skipped the little bar and ran right to the train from Javits, honestly). I was happily exhausted and I couldn’t wait to go to sleep and then return to normal life. I will write more about this later, because this was a weekend that made me realize how much I love Princeton.

Princeton Half Marathon Morning

On Sunday, I awoke to the sound of cheering outside. I had thought about waking up early enough to catch the start of the inaugural half marathon, then go for my long run, and then go to work. Plan B was to wake up and start my long run way before the start, so I would arrive at the finish in time to see the fastest runners come through, then go to work. I decided on Plan C: do whatever the heck I felt like doing, and maybe the timing would match up and I would see part of the race. I ended up beginning my run at 9:00 AM, and the start had been at 7:30 AM, so I did see some people I knew heading down the final stretch to the finish. The first few miles of my run (my plan was 13 miles) was along the course; I ran on the other side of the road in the opposite direction. I saw plenty of people I knew, friends and customers alike, and cheered them on as I ran. It was a nice, distracting start to the run. I split from the course eventually, and entered a more quiet zone. I had expected this run to be quite the death march after the crazy weekend on my feet with very little sleep (and Halloween week before…just saying). It wasn’t so bad, though. I didn’t go out far enough for thirteen, and ended up doing some circling around downtown when I got back. In hindsight, I should have done an actual extra loop somewhere, but I didn’t…oops:

loops113A very interesting phenomenon occurred, during the entire run when there were people around, but particularly in the last couple miles when I was doing all this adding-on-distance nonsense to make 13 miles. People on the sidewalks seemed to think that if I was running, I should be running the half marathon. At least, that was the vibe I got from all the comments: “You’re running the wrong way!” “Why are you still running?” “Did you get a late start?” “You should’ve started earlier and done the half marathon” “Why aren’t you in this?” “Doing your own half marathon?” And the comments behind my back: “Why is she running now?” “Why didn’t she just run the race?” “Why is she running over here?” PEOPLE, CALM YOURSELVES. ALSO, YOU’RE NOT FUNNY. Just because I am running, and there is/was a half marathon within a few blocks of where I am right now, does not mean I cannot run through this town. I wasn’t really angry or frustrated by the comments, I was more amused by the number of people who just didn’t get it. Call me a running snob, I don’t care, I’ve probably earned it long ago and that’s cool with me if I’m speaking truths, but:

Running is not racing. I am training for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. I raced a ten miler and a 10k a few weeks ago and I am allotting the three Sundays in between those races and that race for quality long runs. I just worked the New York City Marathon expo and got back to NJ less than twelve hours ago; I spent twenty-four hours on my feet this weekend, with poor sleep and poor nutrition to boot. I am feeling run down from all of this, and I need to run thirteen miles easy today. Running thirteen miles at whatever pace I feel like running is what my body can handle. Racing a half marathon after all that, and two weeks out from my goal race? No. Why would I ever do that? If I ran the Princeton Half Marathon, with a bib number, I would race it. I would probably feel horrendous, yet still make myself run pretty fast, and then get sick, and sabotage my goal race. I might injure my calves, which were noticeably cramping up after not having much time to hydrate during the weekend.

To summarize: yes, I live in Princeton. Yes, I work at a running store in Princeton. Yes, I had thirteen miles to run on the same morning. Yes, I chose not to run the Princeton Half a long time ago because I knew my schedule and I knew that it didn’t have a good place in it, for smart reasons. I am happy with my decision. Some runners can run races, and work them into their schedules as long runs. I can’t. That’s just the runner I am, and honestly, I don’t have a desire to change that. Running may be racing to some people, and I respect those runners’ goals and perspectives. But, I am not one of those runners, and I can only hope my goals and perspectives can be respected too.

Anyway, I ended up running a semi-hilly 13.0 miler at 7:51 pace (I ranged from 7:20 to 8:20…), feeling much better when I finished than when I started. The marathon of a weekend continued, as I worked all day and tracked lots of people via the awesome NYCM tracking app on my phone and watched live coverage at the finish on our store iPad (yay for working technology!). The app allowed me to track up to ten runners…as each one finished, I added another – there were so many people I wanted to track! Congrats to everyone who ran (and a shout-out to fellow bloggers I follow, Susan and Hollie, my coworker Becca, and a member of my running group, Michelle, who finally got her sub-4)!

That weekend was very much about waiting my turn to race. I was absolutely fine with it.

Next up, the last couple weeks of training and Philadelphia Half Marathon goals, all that required stuff….