Latest reviews by Joe
Growing up in New Jersey many of us spent our summers down the shore (that’s right the shore NOT the beach) and for me there wasn’t anything better than exploring the shore towns of Asbury Park, Avon, Belmar, and Spring Lake. So it’s safe to say that I’m a little biased when it comes to my review of the course for Asbury Park Half Marathon, but, childhood memories alone don’t carry you through 13.1 miles, so read on and learn how my day went.
Living in Philly it’s not a terribly long trip to Asbury Park, so after setting an early alarm to account for traffic and the fire drill that is packing up a one year old to spend any time outside we got on the road with coffee in hand (key component pre-race). The trip was pretty uneventful and we got there with time to spare before the start, however, walking over I noticed the line for the bathrooms was at least twenty people deep (note – go early or stop on the way into the city).
After a brief warm up I was feeling good and looking on track to put down a PR (sub 1:40) based on my training times up to this point. As the pre-race announcements began I noticed the wind picking up but didn’t think much of it, it’s an ocean front race – of course there will be wind I thought (that would come back to me big-time around mile 4).
Before I knew it the gun sounded and we were off on the first mile on Ocean Avenue passing the iconic Wonder Bar and the Stone Pony. The first mile felt great and even though I was starting out a little too fast I knew if I slowed up a little on the way back I’d be back on track. As we finished the quick loop and began heading back up Ocean Drive I saw my cheering section comprised of my wife and my son who were both cheering loudly for me. It was here that I shed my throw away shirt and got the reminder to slow down from my wife, who a stronger half marathoner than I am, so I listened (just don’t tell her that).
As I heeded the good advice I noticed the wind picking up, was I slowing down or was I about to get blown all the way down to Cape May? For the next few miles the races weaves through the boardwalk and the backstreets of Deal with turn offering its own unique take on headwind which was met by a few grumbles from my fellow racers (I thought this was odd – runners never complain right?) Anyway, despite this headwind things were still going alright, but as we approached the turnaround I felt myself struggling to keep pace. I attributed this to the wind and told myself that it would all sort itself out once I got the tailwind on the way back.
All of this sounded great in theory and I actually started back towards Asbury Park feeling strong and passing people along the way. However, I noticed that the further along I got the worse my stomach was beginning to feel. Think positive – you’re fine I told myself, and for a while I was just fine, even looking good for a few pictures my wife captured of me. As I passed her at the 7 mile mark she subtly let me know that it was time to pick it as the fast out and back on the boards was up ahead, which was just what I wanted to hear as I love running the boards.
However, as my pace picked up so did whatever was going on in my stomach and I thought, Houston, we might have a problem here! As I weaved my way towards the boardwalk I began looking for a bathroom as a preemptive measure to avoid a real problem. Looking around there was nothing at all, the boardwalk bathrooms were closed and I had passed all the port-o-johns a mile back – uh oh!
Getting on to the boards around mile around mile 8 made things feel much more settled and while the idea of an emergency bathroom break faded what didn’t was the pain in my stomach which seemed to only get worse until I was eventually walking along doubled over. Trudging along watching my PR slip away to be replaced with stomach pain, the kind that feels like someone hit you in the guts with a hockey stick for fun (I’ve seen stranger things in my home state of NJ), I realized that today wasn’t going to be my day.
Just after mile 9 I found myself tearing off my bib and stumbling off the boardwalk to begin the slow march back to the start, my day was over. A DNF is never anything that you strive for as a runner, but, sometimes things happen and that is the nature of racing and learning your limits and how to push past them.
Despite not being the day I wanted for myself Asbury Park is nothing short of amazing to race. The course is spectator and runner friendly (despite the wind) and you get to sample some of the best the Jersey Shore has to offer. I would highly recommend turning up the Springsteen and getting in on this fast, flat course down the shore, you won’t be sorry.
The Back on My Feet 5 Miler is a great Philadelphia race for a great cause with funds going to Back on My Feet to combat homelessness through the power of running. Needless to say it’s a race/cause that means a lot to our family and friends and I’m happy that I could be part of it with 20 other runners from Jefferson.
Race morning was a bit of a rush getting out of the house as I didn’t exactly plan the extra time needed to get out of the house with a 10 month old. You’d think over the last months I would have gotten that down to a science, but no, as a new parent I'm just happy if I remember to wear pants on a daily basis. Despite the rush we got there in no time, living up the block has its advantages, and were greeted with a sea of people as this local race now has almost 2,000 runners.
Finding my Jefferson teammates was going to be like finding a needle in a stack of needles but eventually I found a few and made my way to the starting line WAY in the back. Given my starting position and my goal to run sub 40min I knew that I was going to be doing a lot of bobbing and weaving to find open road, and with that in mind I had my pre-race Jet Blackberry GU and prepared for the miles ahead.
The gun went off and the crowd slowly started moving along, first the elites, then the 7:00min -10:00min corral (yes you read that correct) and then all of those in the back of the pack like me. The first mile of the race takes you west on West River Drive past the famous Boat House Row and having run here more times that I want to remember I tucked into the left side of the race to avoid the wind blowing off the water on the right. My strategy seemed to be working and I was beginning to find open road all the way to the edge of the road and began to establish my pace.
As you approach the end of mile one there are two things you can see, the refreshing oasis that is a water stop and a race course that turns left. Now normally a left turn isn’t something to fear in a race, hell NASCAR goes left for 300 miles, but this left marks the point in which your flat race turns into a hill climb as you make your way up Sweet Briar and eventually Lansdowne. Having prepared and trained on these hills I wasn’t really worried, however, I was surprised by the number of speedsters taking the hill at pace.
As I dragged myself to the top of the hill I could see the 2 mile mark in the distance and made a goal of getting myself back under control by the time I hit that mark. As I turned the corner passing by the Please Touch Museum (a great Philly museum for kids) I felt my breathing was under control and decided to push pace as I knew the Black Road downhill was coming up. Rounding the traffic circle I began to let my legs fly as I began the steep downhill portion of this course that would take me back to the flats of West River Drive.
Sweeping back onto West River Drive with your legs burning from the downhill you encounter a small out and back to catch your breath before hitting the last 2 miles to the finish line. Those last 2 miles seemed like they were going to last forever as I tried to stay in the middle of the road to avoid the uneven paving on the sides of the road, I don’t want to hurt my ankle again (another story for another time, damn 16th street).
Soon after this balancing act of finding the middle of the winding road I could see the finish line up ahead and noticed that my pace was right where I wanted it to be, which for me a near miracle. Crossing the finish line I got plenty of high fives, they are as much a part of Back on My Feet as hugging (come out at 5:30am and you’ll learn) and set about finding my amazingly supportive family who gives so much to allow me to continue to train and race as a new dad.
Overall the Back on My Feet 5-Miler was a great race in which I met my goal of a sub 40min run with a time of 38:22 and was able to be part of something greater than myself to have a positive impact on the issue of homelessness in Philadelphia.
Distance: 5 Miles
Place: 235 of 1,569