I packed the wine, but I forgot the opener. In a dry town, such as Ocean City, NJ, this induced temporary panic. Where the heck were we going to find a wine opener on a dry island? Before you judge my fondness of wine, I will tell you that I can live without it; however, one of my pre-race rituals is a glass (or two) of wine the night before (I’m 99% sure I started the hashtag #Wineloading).
The good news: tragedy averted… Our room at The Flanders Hotel (two blocks from the starting line) had a wine opener.
My wife and I had a private happy hour before heading out to dinner at Cousin’s (a perfectly nice place in Ocean City for pre-race pasta).
Waking up two blocks from the start of a race feels good. Less to worry about: How long will it take to get there? What will parking be like? Etc. On the other hand, the 9am race start does not feel as good. I like an 8am start (at the latest). That extra hour feels like an eternity to me; however, we made the most of it by eating casually in our room, and headed toward the start just before 8:30am.
A pre-race positive of this race: NO Porta-Johns to worry about because the Ocean City boardwalk has plenty of public restrooms! Knowing this can really calm a runner down.
The start time weather was 57 degrees and sunny. I was a little worried it might be windy, but so far so good. I knew the lack of wind wouldn’t last but it could have been much worse.
My wife and I gave each other our normal pre-race kiss and told each other to be careful (another ritual). Based on previous results of this race, I knew if I was feeling good, I could possibly finish in the Top 10; however, I refused to line up on the front line of a race (I’m superstitious about being presumptuous). So, I lined up in row two, just behind the guys wearing split shorts and singlets.
When the gun went off, we headed west on 9th Street. I followed the lead pack (a group of eight men and two women). I kept my distance behind them because I didn’t want to go out too fast. The first turn is on to Asbury Avenue, part of the central shopping area for Ocean City. It’s a beautiful street, with lots of mom and pop shops (even though it looks like Starbuck’s is infiltrating the town soon).
With the front pack (of eight now) in my sights, my pace felt comfortable; however, my first mile was 6:10, which was a little faster than I wanted. I decided not to panic because I felt so good. Mile 2, another 6:10, but I still felt fine. Most of Mile 3 involves crossing the Ocean Drive bridge as part of an out and back portion of the race. As I started to catch two runners that had fallen off the lead pack just before the toll booth at the base of the bridge, I made some lame attempt at an EZ Pass joke. Thud, ok, these two didn’t like my humor, so I moved ahead of them.
I figured the bridge would be a slower mile because of the long ascent up, and it was slower but not by much (6:16). It was here that I thought one of two things was going to happen: 1) This race was going to be a disaster, or 2) This would be a special day.
On the other side of the bridge, the view of the Egg Harbor Inlet heading toward Longport was beautiful. The sky was crisp and blue (I would have liked a few more clouds because I was starting to heat up). After the turnaround, we headed back to face the bridge again, and most of Mile 4 into Mile 5 is the bridge. My cumulative time at Mile 5 was Sub30, which I haven’t done since college. Since I was still feeling good, I figured the course might be slightly mismarked. I didn’t overanalyze it.
At this point, the lead pack had broken up, and there were five or six runners in front of me, two of which probably wouldn’t be caught. Just before getting on to the boardwalk, I passed another runner, and found myself in 5th place. The surface of the boardwalk felt much better than I thought it would. It was more bouncy and forgiving than pavement, but you still had to be careful of uneven spots. I slipped into 4th place.
As I passed people lined up for breakfast at Browns Restaurant, the aroma was amazing. I was temporarily jealous of them! Miles 6-8 were steady (6:03, 6:05, & 6:05). During this stretch, I ran side-by-side with the 3rd place runner. I asked him if he thought we could catch the two guys in front of us, and he emphatically said no. As we exited the boardwalk near Mile 9, he started to labor so I tried to focus on the 2nd place runner. As I continued south toward 36th Street, Mr. 2nd Place’s shirt was getting bigger. He was getting closer! We turned around near Mile 10.
“Ok, only 5k to go, no problem,” I thought to myself as I started to head north again toward the boardwalk.
This is when the wind kicked up. The last 3.1 was directly into a constant headwind. Ouch. This was the toughest part of the race. My thoughts turned from Mr. 2nd Place to survival. The steadiness of the wind almost broke my spirit, but, just before returning to the boardwalk for the homestretch, I saw my wife, and she gave me a boost. Less than two miles to go!
This time, the boardwalk was more crowded with non-racers. It was a bit of a challenge avoiding some cyclists and casual walkers; however, many of the people cheering started telling me the same thing: “You can catch him!”
“Catch who?” I thought.
There he was: Mr. 2nd Place!
Before I knew it, I was nearly side-by-side him with ½ mile to go. He must have heard my foot steps because he turned around. When he noticed me, he went into another gear because he sprung forward and put some distance between us.
With less than two blocks to go, I made my final surge, but I was running out of real estate. The crowd noise got louder. We both sped up but our pace was the same now. He ended up taking 2nd place by 4 seconds.
As I crossed the line in 1:20:42, I realized I had beaten my PR by 2mins 28secs. I was satisfied but suspicious. I knew I ran a PR pace but not dramatically faster than previous races.
Later, my wife and I determined that the race was most likely about .08 short of 13.1. So, even with my personal adjustment, I probably would have run 1:21:26 if the course was a true Half. Still, it would have been a PR by 1min 44secs.
All in all, it was a fun race and a great experience. The post-race food included Manco & Manco pizza, salt water taffy, donuts, pretzels and plenty of fruit. A nice spread! Also, you had your choice of a medal or a visor. I chose the medal and my wife chose the visor. A thoughtful option!
Thankfully, regarding the two scenarios I envisioned at Mile 3: The race was special as opposed to a disaster.
I accept the fact that my PR days will be behind me soon, but it’s nice to know I can still grab one at age 43.
(My kind of race expo)