Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014 Princeton Half Marathon

I've been procrastinating writing this post. This year's Princeton Half Marathon was a hard race for me. I signed up for the race months ago with the intention of carrying the HiTOPS GoPro camera and taking videos from the back of the pack. I didn't even carry my camera this time around, let alone carry their GoPro.

Last year I ran the Princeton Half Marathon with the intention of doing it one and only time. It is a hilly course. Unlike Disney and other races, this one is designed with the elite runner in mind. This was emphasized when they changed it from a 15 minute/mile requirement to a 14 minute/mile pace. As a committee member, I understand the reasoning behind it is so that roads can open faster and so the police stationed near the beginning of the race have a chance to shift to further in the race in order to close roads. As is, it is an all-hands-on-deck event for the local police forces (Princeton, West Windsor, Princeton University, and there might be another).

A week before this year's race I twisted my ankle during the Perfect 10 Miler. I spent the week nursing my ankle and not running. A kind friend called it my "taper." I knew it was recovery.

As race day neared, we learned the forecast was calling for 37 degrees at the start rising to 43 by the finish. That was the good news. The bad news was that winds would be 18 MPH at the start rising to over 20 MPH with wind gusts anticipated around 40 MPH. Princeton is filled with many old trees. Lots went down during Hurricane Sandy, but there are still more trees and branches that fall during every storm. Fortunately I have not heard about any trees or branches landing on anyone, but that was the fear my friends had prior to the race.

Speaking of friends, Gabrielle and Stacy raced with me. Okay, they were also running the Princeton Half Marathon. Okay, I didn't run it, I mostly walked it, but we were all moving our way through the same course on the same day. 

Cold start -- see we are all wearing long pants (I have on my wind resistant heavy duty winter running pants), sweatshirts, and gloves. I'm glad I grabbed Ashley's sweatshirt.

Once again Don was the "lead rabbit" - the cyclist leading the way so the runners do not get lost or have to worry about pesky details like where the course goes. Unfortunately the same service is not given for later racers and a couple ended up making a wrong turn, but that was not on his watch.

The course was the same as last year -- we started off on Wiggins (which was newly repaved, again, prior to this year's race), went past some huge homes on our way to Mercer Street and Einstein's house. We turned left into Battlefield Park, and passed Laura with her family cheering me on. She shouted "I look forward to your pictures!" Sorry to disappoint you and my other friends, but picture taking was not to happen.

The GoPro camera was offered to me as I passed the starting line. It was on a stick. I looked at the stick. Thought about the wind gusts. Thought about my sore ankle. Then politely declined the offer. It would have been too much.

After Battlefield Park we go on a trail behind the Institute for Advanced Study (where Einstein worked) and through a neighborhood, then back on a trail, then up Alexander. Yes, it felt like a lot of turns. Wearing my green sparkle skirt and doing my intervals, a girl pointed to me and said "see, mom, that's what I was doing yesterday!" I asked if she ran as part of Girls on the Run (I had heard they did their group 5K the day before in a cold rain storm) and she said "YES!" I called her a Superstar and said "Girls on the Run have so much FUN!" She cheered even louder.

I was doing great up until this point. I was maintaining a solid 12 min/mile (my goal). The first 3.1 miles flew by in euphoria. However, I also knew what was coming up -- Washington Road. I pushed my way up the hill making friends with a woman named Lauren who had just had a baby, and soon afterwards lost me in the wind (yup, feeling like an old lady at this point).

That feeling was replaced by feeling like a rock star as traffic on Nassau Street was held just so I could cross! By this point, the crowd was mighty thin, so I may have been the only person to cross.

As a committee member, I was well aware of when the sweeper van would come and take me away. The last one was at mile 12.1, but there were a couple sooner. That 12.1 mile marker was my push as I slogged up Herrontown Road. By this point Don had found me. The fastest person finished at 1:18 and change, just as I was passing the half-way point. By the time I was passing Westminster Choir College (mile marker 7-ish), Don was cheering me on. 

Don left to check on other runners. I saw a lady on the side of the road looking d-o-n-e DONE. She was with a police officer and Ivy, another roving cyclist, but I stopped to offer her a friend to walk the rest of the way to the finish line. After a couple of minutes (moments) of discussion, we parted. Her knee, or hamstring was bothering her too much to continue. By this point I was starting to fear I would not finish in time unless I hustled.

Don found me again at mile 9.56. By that point I was spent. I had done two 10-mile races the weekends before. I'm thinking that is my limit for the time being. I did not train enough for Princeton, and it showed.

Last year I felt I took the same race at more a relaxed pace, I made friends with
another woman, and finished at 2:52. This year I did not take pictures, walked a lot more, and felt like I pushed myself more, yet finished at 2:56:32. On the one hand, it was only 4 minutes slower. On the other hand, the course limit changed from 3:20 to 3:04. I was 1112/1135 (13:28 min/mile pace). My friends gave up on waiting for me because they figured they must have missed me (no one believes I am as slow as I am).

After the race I listed to Darla, Bo and friend play with Bossa Nova in Hinds Plaza (that area next to the library no one seems to know has a real name). I huddled next to the heat lamp while waiting for Don to wrap up his volunteer duties. 

It was 43 degrees at the finish, but "felt like" 33 degrees. It took me a couple of hours to finish warming up.

Back to that half-way point ... as we turned right on Wiggins, I wished I could turn left instead and turn the half-marathon into a 10-ish K. Any takers?

Huge shout out to all the volunteers, and volun-tolds (police, EMTs, HiTOPS staff) who encouraged us through the race. I hardly ever went more than a tenth of a mile without seeing a friendly face, someone who could help me if need be, which I appreciated more after the Caffee Gelato race in Delaware. The crowd support was awesome! Rather than being annoyed with having roads closed, people turned it into block parties. I grabbed a cup of OJ along the route and a party (mile 7.5?) to help sustain me for a bit.

Somehow during the past year a church sprang up on the route at the bend on Herrontown Road (?). The church members manned a much-appreciated water stop. I hope they were praying for us as they worshiped! 

Greatly appreciated, also, were the awesome runners shirts. Rather than staying in bed on a windy day, I went out and ran (walked) the course. I finished before the cut off and earned the right to proudly wear my shirt -- hopefully with the orange sparkle skirt that arrived a day too late to wear for the race. I'd say "next year," but I've given Don permission to make sure I don't sign up for it again. Well, unless they offer a 10K option. A girl can dream, right?

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