EMT is small race (about 500 people) put on by the Monmouth Co. Parks Department in Lincroft, New Jersey. I probably never would have discovered it--and certainly never would have done it--had it not been for one of my running buddies, Bettina, who lives in NJ. Last year we were both running Boston and she suggested this course and a good tune-up. I had such a good time that as soon as Bettina told me she was doing it again I knew I had to sign up.
Since this was a tune-up race I hadn't done much in the way of targeted training. That means I went into without a set goal (read: anything under 1:25 would be acceptable). The real point was just to test my fitness on a course that's closer to Boston than anything I would find in the city (see the profile below).
The next morning I had my ritual bagel peanut butter and a glass of Gatorade before we drove to the race. One of the great things about EMT is that it starts and ends at the Brookdale Community College Gym. That means you can wait inside where it's warm before the race and shower afterward. Bettina and I picked up our numbers and t-shirts and tried unsuccessfully to find our friend Kelly who was also running.
After my usual 50+ bathroom visits, we headed to the start line. Thankfully, Bettina had given me a garbage to wear while waiting since it was 39 and I was wearing only shorts, a singlet, and a new pair of arm warmers (I lost my old one's in the wash!). I also owe Bettina because she lent me her extra Garmin since I had forgotten my old-school Timex at work on Friday.
Although the race was timed using b-tags, there was no start mat so everyone would be going by gun time. I tried to get as close to the line as possible before the official said, "GO!"
The first mile or two go through residential areas and if it weren't for the fact that there were only a handful of folks spectating, it would have felt a lot like Boston. Mile 2 went by in 6:21.
Pretty early on I found another runner to talk to who also lives NYC. It turns out he's from Brooklyn and will also be running Boston. Although his half and full PRs were much faster than mine, we happened to be going the same pace and the conversation made for a good distraction.
My only real complaint about the race has to do with the water stops. The first one, near mile 3, was on the right side, off the road. Trash cans blocked easy access and instead of standing forward with cups, the volunteers were hunkered behind the table. Grabbing water wasn't easy and I think it slowed me down a little. Mile 3 was 6:27.
Over the next mile the course narrowed a bit (we were running on roads still partially open to traffic) and a hill slowed me down to 6:34 for the mile. I got through 5 miles in 32:03 according to the official clock. I always try to run the tangents but unfortunately the second water stop, right by mile 6, was on the wrong side of the road just before a turn. For the next few miles, I hit the lap button at the wrong time so I don't have accurate splits.
At mile mile 6 my new found running buddy apologized but told me he had a killer playlist for the final 7 miles of the race. I told him no problem but began to inch ahead. The course was now pretty rural with fields and horse farms. At once point we passed what looked like an apple orchard.
The real hills in this race happen in miles 6 to 10. I also feel that a half marathon starts around mile 7 when you've got about 10k to go. In spit of some tough hills, I felt pretty strong during this stretch. Just before Mile 10 when you hit the last and probably toughest hill of the race, I caught up with another runner. I told him "You got this." He said, "No, I don't, but you look like your in it for the long haul." That made me feel pretty good. I had run miles 5 to 10 in 32:32 (6:30 pace) which was slower than I would have liked, but I did feel good in spite of some challenging hills.
The final 5k goes through the paved trails of Thompson Park and there is a lot more winding back and forth than the course map above indicates. At any one point you can look forward and see runners snaking one direction or another in front of you, deceptively close. These seemed like the longest miles of the course even though they were the flattest. Nevertheless, I had now settled on a goal of sub-1:25 (my permanent back-up half goal) and I knew that was going to happen if I could just stick with it. Just after mile 12 as we turned back into the community college, a spectator said to me, "Not much left." I wasn't sure if he was talking about the course or me!
I also got passed by a kid (I later found out he was 17) but I couldn't keep up. Still, I felt pretty strong and knew I would have a surge left for the final .1. Sure enough, at Mile 13 I picked it up and covered the final stretch at a 5:32 pace. I crossed the finish line in 1:24:54.
It was slower than my time at Houston (1:24:37) and my time from last year (1:24:11) but I didn't feel bad about it. Last year, I had taken a long time off following the New York Marathon and begun an 18 week Boston program at the end of December. This time around I took almost no time off, but only began doing speed work again a few weeks ago. Considering how strong I felt during this race, I'm pretty confident that I am on the right track for Boston.
It may not have been my best day, but somehow, even though I cam in 28th overall, I was third in my AG.* That means I got to take home a cool trophy (see left). Even better, Bettina shattered her old PR by almost 5 minutes, running a 1:36:27!!! That was good enough for 2nd in her AG! Even our friend Kelly, whom we finally found after the race, set a PR.
As always, every race is a learning experience. I'm really glad I did this one and now I'm pumped for my final month of serious Boston training! I think doing all my long runs on hilly terrain has paid off but now it may be time to increase the speed work, particularly the MP miles.
*There's really no mystery here. The overall winners weren't eligible for AG awards which bumped me up a couple of slots. I'm not complaining though!