I started running three years ago for an article assignment (“let’s have the non-runner run a 5k!”). I took third place in my age bracket, and have been hooked ever since. Last year, I ran my first long race, the Ocean Drive 10-miler, which is part of the Ocean Drive Marathon. The marathon stretches from Cape May to Sea Isle City; the 10-miler ends in North Wildwood.
These are not easy races. They involve bridges and, given that the route is by the water, a lot of wind. The timing at the end of March can make things interesting, too. Last year’s start-time temperature was about 35 degrees, with in-your-face wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour.
My goal last year was to complete the race and not require immediate medical attention. I finished in 1:36:19. That’s a respectable pace of about nine and a half minutes per mile. But this year, I wanted to do better. I didn’t expect to win, but I wanted to improve my time. I trained for ten weeks, throwing in tempo and sprint runs. I set a fast-for-me goal: one hour and twenty minutes at an eight-minute mile pace.
Typically, pre-race is like a carnival. Runners stretch and prep along Beach Avenue in Cape May and family and friends watch, wait, and encourage. The first three miles through Cape May are lined with spectators, cheering you along the way before you turn onto the Ocean Drive to Wildwood.
Not this year. This year it rained. This year I was cranky. Hundreds of runners were forced to stretch and shake off nerves in the lobby and hallways of Congress Hall. We spilled into the dining areas and even to the Boiler Room, a nightclub with floors still sticky from the night before.
As we filed out to the starting line, a woman tried to mash through the runners on her bicycle, banging into jittery runners while screaming that her daughter didn’t have a race number. The last thing you need before a long race, especially in bad weather, is a stage mom screaming in your ear.
After the national anthem and a moment of silence for fishermen who were lost at sea the week before, off we went with only occasional encouragement from the volunteers keeping cars off the road and the clutches of people tucked under the overhangs of motels closed for the season.
I didn’t have much to do while running 10 miles except plod along. I talked to a few runners along the way: a gentleman in his 60s running his sixteenth marathon and trying to run one in every state; a young man running his fourth; a couple that encouraged me to go for the full 26.2 miles one year.
But I mostly kept to myself, eyes on the road and shielded from the rain by my hat. In rough spots, like the two bridges and the last three miles, I repeated the words to a song — matt pond PA’s “Spring Revives” — in a loop in my head. (“Will not wait / for anyone / to get ready / you took too long/ I am not full / on going out / I don’t care if / I talk too loud.”) The song has nothing to do with running, but the words in my head took my mind off the pain in my lungs and legs and kept pushing me through.
Just run a 5k, I told myself as I finished the seventh mile. The 10-miler home stretch is usually on the Wildwood boardwalk, but construction had us in the streets. Mile 8, mile 9. I was running fast but my legs and lungs burned. A woman stopped in front of me and put her hands on her knees. I wanted to do the same, but pushed through.
One final turn, up a slippery boardwalk ramp, people cheering “Go runners!” around the bend. My boyfriend, who won his age bracket and finished fifteenth overall, met me at the last half mile, yelling for me to “Keep it up!” In the home stretch, I heard my mother calling my name, “Go Jen, go Jen! You’re almost there!”
I saw the final clock ahead. I had fifteen seconds to beat my goal time with nothing left in my legs or lungs. I pushed out everything left, a mix of sweat and rain and tears coming down my face, and crossed the finish: 1:19:55. I beat my goal by almost five seconds and shaved sixteen minutes off my time from last year.
I crossed through the end gate, and a volunteer handed me a finisher’s medal. I was drained — mentally and physically exhausted.
It was an accomplishment, for sure. But as I hugged my mom, I saw runners still going on the boardwalk. They had another 16.2 miles to go until the end of the marathon. I still have one more race to do. Someday. Maybe.
Now, where’s the ibuprofen?Click here to leave a comment