Report from the Trenches: NJ Marathon

Carb-loading with a sundae and a side of fries for lunch!

Carb-loading with a sundae and a side of fries for lunch!

Over the weekend of April 26-27th, I packed my bags and hopped the train to Long Branch, NJ. I was en route to this cute beach town to pace one of my athletes during his marathon debut. The NJ Marathon and Half Marathon runs through residential neighborhoods with many twists and turns, with the marathon heading on an out-and-back to Asbury Park, ending with a mile or so run along the beach and what would have been the boardwalk if Hurricane Sandy hadn’t destroyed it, finishing with the ocean on your right and screaming crowds and hotels and condos on your left.

If you are looking for a springtime race, this might be one to add to your calendar. The weather turned out to be practically perfect. Cool and sunny, low humidity thanks to rain showers the night before, and minimal gusty winds as beach marathons go. The Half Marathon started 75 minutes before the Marathon, giving way to a race course that never felt crowded after the first mile. The race is small by city marathon standards, and so logistics were easy. Instead of navigating race morning around 20,000+ runners, only 2113 runners completed the marathon.

Wearing a trash bag pre-race to keep warm. Yes, its ghetto. But it works.

Wearing a trash bag pre-race to keep warm. Yes, its ghetto. But it works.

The race course was very flat, with only a few very tiny elevation changes in the first 10K. Bag check, parking, and porta potty lines were never very crowded. The race expo was also never very crowded, and easy and free parking made the process a breeze. The race organization also sent emails (I think I received 10 emails?!?) with race-day information as things changed, and in an effort to guarantee a great race weekend for everyone.

There are a few restaurants in Long Branch serving the needs of carb-loading marathoners, but the Italian restaurant we chose filled up quickly after 6pm. Luckily we sat down right before the restaurant got slammed, so consider this when strategizing meals. I find its often best to eat an early dinner the night before a race, as this gives you the opportunity to rest, sleep and digest without feeling rushed or full when trying to sleep.

The volunteers were great, but if you are looking for a race with lots of energetic spectators, this isn’t a big city race and doesn’t have those big city crowds. There were many quiet miles, though the folks who were out and cheering were much appreciated by the runners. Both the Marathon and the Half offered pacers, a tool many runners take advantage of, especially when they have a specific time goal. If a small, flat, no-nonsense and fanfare race is what you crave, I highly recommend NJ Marathon.

Starting line. A thin crowd 40 minutes before the start.

Starting line. A thin crowd 40 minutes before the start.

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