The day before any race I usually try to prepare the best that I can for the adventure. Including going to bed early, eating healthy and relaxing and staying off my feet but this past Saturday I did anything but that. I was on Long Island for a wedding which was supposed to take place on Sunday (the night of the Newport Half Marathon) and since I was there, and I needed to get in the miles I decided to register at the last minute for what is usually said to be one of the most scenic races in the Northeast. The day before on the other hand was not like the eve of any other race. I went to Coney Island with Bride and two of our friends, walked around followed by being out late at the rehearsal dinner. I woke up really early and made the 40 minute drive across Manhattan to Jersey City for the race.
This race was full of firsts for me. Starting with it being the first time I have done race day registration. I usually plan my races out well ahead of time, and build up to them. This one was different though, it was a spur of the moment race that I looked at as just part of my training for the Chicago Marathon. After arriving I walked up and paid the, very reasonable, $50 for the race day registration. I got my number, my t-shirt and was on my way to bag check quickly. I needed to check my bag immediately because I needed to get in a few miles before the race since I needed them to properly prepare for my upcoming race. I originally planned to get in 7 miles before the half marathon to bring my total miles to 20 for the day but I woke up a little late, and hit a little more traffic than expected on the way over so I only was able to get in 4 before lining up.
As I ran my early miles in the fog and the humidity I noticed that I was definitely not the only one using this time to get in the extra miles that we needed. In fact I realized that many of the runners there use this race as a training race for a later fall marathon. I finished my 4 miles with about 25 miles until step off but I quickly realized that biggest fault of this race. The size of the race, about 3,000 runners was just too many for the location of the start. We were in a small park near the water in Jersey City and there was just not enough room for everything that is needed at the beginning of a race. There was very little water and even fewer porta potties, luckily at this time in my running career I am well trained to not need to use the bathroom before many races.
The race began in front of a large mall and a couple of large hotel and headed around some old industrial buildings before coming back on the other side of the street to the starting line around mile 2. From mile 2-mile 3 there was a gradual hill but in reality of many other courses it would not even be considered a hill. Mile 3-mile 4 lead you through some of the nice neighborhoods of Jersey City before turning towards Liberty State Park right after the mile 4 marker. You enter the bread and butter of the race, Liberty State Park, around mile 4.5 and begin a journey that will wind you through the park for the next 6 miles that will include some of the best views I have ever had during a race.
Liberty State Park is where many people catch the ferries to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The park is right on the water and through the first 1.5 miles of the park you don’t quite see what makes this course so iconic. When I came to mile 6 I noticed the time clock that said 54 minutes. I knew that I started a minute or so after the clock and I felt good so I began to think that it might be possible to break the two hour mark for the first time in a race. I told myself to keep up my pace until mile 8 and then make the decision to push it to the end to guarantee the sub 2-hour finishing time.
After mile 6 you turn towards the water and you realize why this is such a great course. Here you run right along the water and not only can you see lower Manhattan but you are very close to the Statue of Liberty (the NJ coast is closer to Lady Liberty than the NY coast). The morning has been very foggy and hazy, create a very high humidity from the rain the night before, but right around this time in the race the sun poked out, the fog broke and the Manhattan skyline appeared. It was a beautiful sight and since I cherish a great course when I run, it was a great added value to the race. Miles 6-8 followed the water, including a switch back around mile 7.75. As I reached mile 8 I realized that I still felt good and I decided to push my pace to guarantee that I would achieve the sub 2-hour time.
Mile 9 brought the course right next to the ferry port where there was a line of cars waiting for the race to pass until they could park and get on the ferry. Miles 9-10.5 winded through the last part of Liberty Park including passing the boat docks, before entering the roads of Jersey city again. The small hill that we went down around mile 3 we now had to climb headed towards the waterfront. Mile 11.7 marked the final water stop and that is around the time that I finally realized how great of a race I had ran and that I was going to break the infamous 2-hour mark in an actual race. After the water stop I passed the mile 12 marker and looked toward the finish line.
The last mile of any race is always the hardest but I found this mile one of the hardest closing miles I have ever had. You ran on the waterfront and constantly had turns, that you always thought would be the last. The winding final mile closed as you finally turned back onto the road that you started on and headed towards the finish line for the last quarter of a mile. You turned and finally saw the finish line at the 13 mile mark and as I turned I saw that the clock said 1:58:15!!! I knew that I had broke the 2-hour mark and not only that, I had done it after start the day with four extra miles!
I will soon follow my race review template for this race but I thought my milestone deserved some credit before I point out some of the more negative aspects of the race. This race, more than any other, provided me with more confidence than I have ever gained before from finishing. As I now look forward to racing through downtown Chicago in a couple of weeks I know that I can keep the pace that I need to give me a chance of reaching my stretch goal of a 4:00:00 marathon. I went to the wedding that night and danced the night away despite my legs being tired from the miles. It was a great running day that I will be able to point to as a milestone for many years to come.