On Sunday I ran the 19th annual Newport Liberty Half Marathon in my own ‘hood, Jersey City!
Seven weeks is probably the shortest amount of training time I’ve ever given myself, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I loosely followed a training plan from Runner’s World, but mostly just as a way to get my mileage up safely. I skipped all the speed work, so there was no surprise when I came in over their predicted finish time. I didn’t feel as prepared as I wanted to heading into the race, but I felt good and strong throughout, so I’m going to call it a successful training session none the less.
Let’s start at the beginning though. I ran this race in 2010, and I didn’t really like it actually. It was my first half marathon, and I thought it was really poorly organized and too hectic. Running Chicago and Rutgers confirmed that this is not a super half marathon. It is, however, cheap and local! I wasn’t going to do it again, but after hearing that close to 10 of my friends were running it, I decided I’d regret it if I skipped it, so I signed up. I think the race cost like $42, so it wasn’t too hard of a decision to register. I talked Chris into joining me, and despite a busy summer and German adventure, we somehow managed to hit all but 10 miles of the plan.
There is no pre-race day packet (actually there are no packets, just shirts) pick up, which is a pain since Chris and I planned on taking the light rail to the race star, so we wouldn’t have a car to leave our stuff in. Luckily, Debbie’s wonderful husband Mike held our shirts for us while we ran. The race starts in Newport Town Center which is right in the middle of downtown Jersey City. It’s easily accessible from the city, Hoboken, Bayonne and the rest of JC via the PATH train and light rail. There’s also free parking in one of the near by garages, so getting there is not a problem at all.
Race morning ran pretty smoothly. Chris and I met up with Debbie and Mike and took the light rail to the mall then walked over to Newport Center.
It was so fun having everyone at the start. With good friends and without the threat of monsoons hanging (literally) over our heads, Chris and I were definitely in better spirits than at the Rutgers half.
There were at least double the port-a-potties as in 2010, which was a blessing since that was one of the most major criticisms of the race at the time. They even had attendants directing bathroom traffic. Checking in went smoothly as we were sorted by last name then sent to another tent to pick up our shirts. The shirts were long sleeved this time, a nice change from the short sleeved variety, but they’re still not tech tees.
The race is chipped, and the start is fairly well managed. There are no corrals, but there are markers for various paces. We said goodbye to Debbie since she’s speedy and headed to the 10 minute/mile pace group (everyone lies).
The UDel sweatshirt was another marvelous Goodwill find
The race, scheduled to start at 8:30, probably started right around 8:35, which is the closest to on time I’ve ever seen. We quickly discarded our sweats (thanks Goodwill) and warmed up fairly quickly. It was about 60 at the start, so it was chilly in the shade but nice in the sun. We decided to try and maintain an 11:20 pace, since we’d been doing our long runs right around 11:30, and this was really just supposed to be an easy run for us.
The first mile is the most boring as it takes you up to the local Target and back, but it’s nice to get it out of the way as it somehow makes the rest of the course feel shorter. Chris and I had a blast people watching and singing songs to get ourselves amped up. I’m sure we annoyed anyone within range, but we had a blast singing first real songs, then later just making up the words to our own songs. Who needs an iPod?
After doubling back over the starting line, we headed pretty much directly to Liberty State Park where the bulk of the race takes place. We entered the park right around the 4th mile (those first 3 really flew by) and stayed there until the 10th.
Luckily, I knew that the course zig zagged through the park several times, but it’s disorienting and frustrating if you’re new to the race because there are so many different lines of people running, and you keep thinking you’re heading out only to do another loop. I honestly had no idea which people were ahead of us and which were behind. Still, the views of the NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty are amazing, and take your mind off the course. After sticking closer to 11:30 miles, we finally hit our stride and every mile in the park was between 11 and 11:20. The wind was pretty strong (though Chris said it wasn’t bothering him at all) in the sections of the park close to the water, so it felt like a harder effort than it was, but before we knew it, we were making our final turn and heading out of the park.
The bathroom situation was not great throughout the course, but the park has a few bathroom options (one of which we took advantage of). The water stops were well placed with most offering both water and Gatorade and really friendly volunteers.
I think I had been so focused on just getting out of the park and away from the wind, that when we hit 11 miles pretty soon after getting back on the road, we were both really shocked that we only had two more miles to go. We really picked it up at that point and stayed comfortably under 10 minute miles. I think, having only trained to 10 miles, both of us had been saving our energy so as to not burn out before 13.1.
Once back on the road, we were essentially running the same route we ran all of our training runs on, so we were feeling really good. Chris was looking super confident, and we both decided that we wanted to push it out and finish strong. We were having a great time. We passed a bunch of people and flew through the finish line while the clock read 2:28: something.
After crossing the line, we encountered the same problems I remembered from 2010: long, long lines for food and a shortage of water. Luckily, you really do finish in the center of downtown, so there are tons of food options including a Starbucks, Duane Reade and a diner within steps of the finish line. We chose not to wait in line, since we weren’t planning on staying long anyway, and met up with our friends instead. Pretty much everyone killed it. Debbie and Cameron came in under 2 hours (go girls!) Mike and Nicole were right around 2 hours. Judy and her dad (how awesome is that??) were under 2:30 I think. Chris and I only had two goals: finish, and finish under 2:30. We did both, and we actually finished faster than the Rutgers half as well, so we were feeling really good about that. Our official chip time was 2:26:54. Go us!
Overall, I was so impressed with how much better this race has gotten. It’s much more organized and less hectic. You’ll still face a lot of the problems that just come with a small (cheap) race. There aren’t a lot of amenities, and you certainly won’t walk away with a “swag bag” but the course is beautiful and flat and fast! If you want it to be, this course is a definite PR maker.
I was so happy to be doing it with Chris. It’s crazy to think that we didn’t even know each other when I ran it the first time, and now I can’t imagine running anywhere in Jersey City without him. Both Chris and I said we were so glad we decided to run it. 2 half marathons in one year! I’m pretty pleased with that.