Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Princeton Half Marathon

Lots of fun discussion between friends as to whether or not HiTOPS could call this year's half marathon the inaugural race since last year's race was washed away by Superstorm Sandy last year, but it was still the first year the race happened.

Last year I did not sign up for this race. I was concerned about running this and the Trenton Half Marathon only six days apart. I just did not think I had it in me. Then I heard people referring to it as the "Mercer Marathon" -- two half marathons in the same county within a week. It is probably the only way I will ever run a "marathon." 

So I registered.

Then I started hearing comments from my running friends. Comments along the lines of "oh I'm not doing that race it's too hilly" or "too hard." That's when I started to panic. I knew there were hills, but "too hilly" for my serious running friends? I'm not serious. I'm just out to have some fun.

Don volunteered to be a race marshal and be the "lead rabbit" as he called it. To prepare for the race, Don downloaded the course map into his new GPS gadget and did the whole course a week earlier. It took him just under an hour to do all 13.1 miles. We figured the fastest runner would be 1:10 tops (it was also the day of the NYC Marathon). After his trial run, Don said "you do know this course is hilly, right?" 


He assured me the worst of it was Washington Road. I thought that was odd since running friends were complaining about Herrontown Road, but who was I to argue with him, after all he had just done it. I took myself out for a training run up and down and up and down Washington. Yes, it is steep, but the pain is over in less than half a mile. 

I felt a surge of confidence that I could do this without dying and before I being kicked off the course.

Day of the race came faster than I ever anticipated. It was the first day of the time change. In theory an eclipse was happening at 6:30 AM. I never saw it.

Don woke up at 5 and cycled to the start. He had to be there by 6:30. As a runner, I wasn't due there until 7, so I drove. I parked near the start / finish line. The course is a giant figure 8. It is a really nice course. 

My goal was sub-3 hours. I'm hoping to PR next week (sub 2:43) in Trenton, but this was not a PR kind of course, at least not for me.

Start/Finish: Paul Robeson Place, two blocks away from HiTOPS. Don is at the start/finish line in the picture. The Monday before the race there was a fence along the right-hand side and the road was being repaved. The day of the race there was no sign of construction. They lined us up according to our anticipated pace. They started on time. We were all past the start line within 90 seconds (or so). It was very smooth. I felt as if I was in the exact right place as I did not pass many people, nor did many pass me. It was one of the best starting experiences I have had.

First mile: Past very expensive, enormous old-money homes in Princeton along
Hodge Road. We turned right onto Library Place, and past Princeton Theological Seminary. It during this mile when I met Liz. Liz and I started chatting and didn't stop until the end of the race when we met up with our families. For the first half of the race we kept to a 2 min walk/1 min walk, with walking uphill and through the water stations.

Second mile: Right on Mercer Road and past Einstein's home towards Battlefield Park.

Third mile: into Battlefield Park, past the off-spring of the giant tree that had been there since Washington's era. It is starting to look big enough to merit its large fence. I still think of it as a seedling. This took us off road -- and the part where Don was most needed since the police cars were not allowed on the trail. Based on what people were telling me just a week ago, it looked like the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) cleaned up the path. I did not see any holes, ruts, acorns or giant black walnuts.

Fourth mile: Came off of the trails and through the IAS. We passed the Nassau Swim Club. Never knew that was tucked back there.

Fifth mile: back on a trail. I did see a giant hole on this one, but still not as bad as warned. Went up Alexander Road past my first office. A month after I started to work for The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation the office moved to its current location near the train station. Just before the office building I saw a couple of women dash behind a giant fir tree for a potty break. 
Sixth mile: went past a couple of campus police officers on Faculty Road who told us we were about to go downhill. Um, sure. Technically there was a slight downhill, but the forewarned hill on Washington Road was just around the corner. Before reaching the corner, we hit a water station being manned by members of the Girls on the Run. Liz stopped for a break, but I lingered taking pictures and we caught up with each other again, which was nice. Here we go -- uphill through Princeton University, past the Woodrow Wilson School for Public Policy (not to be confused with my first job). 

Whew! We made it.

Seventh mile: I felt like a rock star as the police stopped the cars so I could cross Nassau Street. By this time the 1000 runners were dispersing. We turned onto Wiggins Street about a block away from HiTOPS. Here we faced another water stop. It was MUCH appreciated after that hill. Looked like it was in someone's front yard. We turned left onto Walnut Lane and passed Westminster Choir college. This was the first of two times I tried to go a different way, but was put on course by the kind police officer blocking traffic for us.

Eighth mile: Continuing past Westminster Choir College. This is where the miles begin to seem longer than the ones in the beginning. This is also the area I am not as familiar with. Don was done with being the lead runner. He finished in 1:21, then Don ran some messages. I was around mile 6.5 when the lead dude finished. Up until Washington I had a perfect 12 min mile pace going. That was shot! Then again, that was the plan. I knew I had to maintain an average of a 15 min mile to be allowed to finish the race. I also knew I didn't want to jackrabbit too much in the beginning. The plan worked.

Ninth mile: Hooked another left, this time on Clover Lane and began the giant uphill I was worried about. We met Sandra. Sandra was running her first half marathon (as was Liz). Prior to the race, Sandra's longest run was 4 miles. She still beat us.

Tenth mile: Still going uphill. Thankfully there was a water stop along here. I felt like sitting down, but knew I'd never keep going.

Eleventh mile: Can you tell it is all blending together? Somewhere along here someone said the last water stop (which I knew was at mile 11.2) was "just around the corner." I think we also heard more "it is all downhill from here" <-- liar, liar pants on fire! In theory this is when we went "down" Mt. Lucas Road. It still seemed like an uphill, so we turned around to convince ourselves it was a downhill.

Twelfth mile: We finally made it to the final water stop, and port-o-pot. Less than two miles to the finish. Don reported to us that the last runner was a mile and a half behind us. Looking at my watch, we knew we had sub 3 in our grasp.

Thirteenth mile: I thought it was supposed to be all downhill after mile 10.25? We kept having rolling hills. 

The last bit: Liz's family surprised her and went to the finish line with her. I picked it up and ran the last bit alone.

My final time: 2:52:27.502, a 13.09 min mile pace. Yeah! Only 9 minutes slower than my PR last year in Columbus, Ohio. I finished 801 out of 824 finishers. No word yet on how many started.

Looking over my watch later I was even more pleased. I did not tank. My slowest mile was an uphill 15 and change. There were miles I went slower, but managed to pick up my speed on the next mile. 

It was supposed to be 20 degrees colder at the start than the race I did the day before. When I woke up, I was glad it was a little warmer than that. I was comfortable running in shorts and a sweatshirt. I had gloves just in case, but only wore them while waiting for the race to start. 

The crowd support was amazing -- even for slowpokes like me. Though I did hear one woman say "oh, there are more!" Yes, the gap had grown that large.

The volunteers, all 240 of them, were amazing. Running is the easy part of it. Handing out water or telling cars they can't go on the road just yet can't be that much fun.

The weather was great -- a bit chilly to start, but not humid or raining. The fall foliage was at peak.

I nearly left my camera behind so I could focus on the running. Who is kidding who. I needed the distraction on the hills. Since I finished before being kicked off of the course, I'm glad I had it with me.

Once again, I was only one of a few people wearing a sparkle skirt. It helped Don find me in the crowd, and kept my tush a little warmer.

It was my first time being on a committee for this race. I enjoyed seeing what goes into something like this. On Monday I stuffed packets. 1000 runners doesn't sound like that much (compared with some races) until you start to put together 1000 packets. Yikes! In each packet went a bunch of papers, and a box of baking soda. That's what you get when Arm & Hammer is a major sponsor. Though we laughed at it, we all agreed that is one item that will get used.

Planet Princeton Press:


  1. The race sounds really great, congratulations!! I ran through Princeton a lot when I still lived in NJ and have a love/hate relationship with those rolling hills (I did the healthcare 10k in June the last two years). You definitely got good weather for it!

  2. Nice post Jacqueline! I also take a picture to that battle field park and make it my background my twitter account. Thank you for sharing. Good job on the run��.

  3. Yay! I saw you and your sparkle skirt most of the race - I, too, had the deep seated dread of 'getting kicked off the course' - nice job!