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New Jersey Marathon
May 5, 2013
I closed my eyes as we approached the staging area. Mom drove, silent. She knew not to talk to me before races, and the only noise was me softly giving directions to Monmouth Park. It's normally a thoroughbred horse race track, but that day, it was the start line of the New Jersey Marathon and Long Branch Half Marathon.
Under my sweatpants and sweatshirt, I wore an outfit I had tested in my sixth Ocean Drive 10 miler five weeks before: two-toned blue tank top, black compression shorts (and Body Glide spread liberally on unmentionable areas that would otherwise chafe over the next four plus hours), blue knee-high compression socks, black gloves, Timex sports watch. My yellow visor rounded out the ensemble. On my feet were the blue and orange Mizuno Musha 5s that I hoped would carry me over 26.2 miles in under four hours and 35 minutes.
In 2010, I signed up for this race. It would have been my first marathon, but I ran myself into the ground and quit half way through training. That year, temperatures topped out at a humidity-soaked 89 degrees. This time around, race day was a freak cold day in May in New Jersey, with a forecast high of 53 degrees. If I planned to blame the weather for not reaching my goal, I lost that out. I couldn't have asked for a better day or better conditions to try, in my third marathon, to put together a race for which I could be proud, one where I didn't crash and burn and beg and cry and almost crawl to the finish line in the final miles.
I had 18 weeks of training in my legs and lungs. I prepared using a controversial marathon training method blasted as dangerous, unhealthy, and unproven. It put me, a middle of the pack amateur, through high-intensity workouts, topping out at 56 miles a week - a volume that sent me into daily naps and two dinners a night. One of my editors and a long-time runner wished me luck with the training as if I were about to paddle a canoe into the Bermuda Triangle. I ran that schedule fresh out a breakup with the man I thought I was going to marry, and somehow kept it up through living with my mother, re-settling my home, trips to Seattle, Florida, Las Vegas, white-knuckle clinging to the runs to keep me from falling over the edge into the black tar pit of my mind that kept telling me that I was a failure.
I had pushed my body to the brink to outrun my pain. And as I stepped into the Monmouth Race Track and planted myself among the thousands of runners who would test themselves in either a half marathon or marathon that day, I felt more prepared than before my last two marathons. My body was humming. My muscles were in tune. I had panicked before most of the races I'd run in the last seven years - dozens of 5ks and 10ks and 10 miles and half marathons but this time my breathing was steady and I was strong, like a horse set to charge out of the gate.
Except for one thing: doubt tickled in the back of my mind that this marathon would end like the Philadelphia and Chicago Marathons. Maybe I hadn't rested enough in the taper, or the ankle that was sore last week would give out, or the training method I used really was snake oil, and I'd end up a carcass being picked over by seagulls on the streets of Long Branch.
No, I told myself. No. Stop. That wasn't going to happen. That could not happen. I had no excuses. That day was do or be humiliated. I had the training. All I had to do was push my mind out of the way, get the hell out there, and run.
Mom stopped just short of the entrance to Monmouth Park. I got out of the car, said goodbye to her with a squeeze of her hand, and walked to the start.