Monday, June 6, 2016

We were born to run: The New Jersey Marathon

If the town of Asbury Park, New Jersey were a person, it would be Cher.  Or Madonna.  For over a century, this New Jersey beach town has stayed relevant by changing with the times. 

At the turn of the 20th century, Asbury Park was a genteel seaside resort where wealthy families from New York City and Philadelphia would go in the summertime to take to the waters.  Imagine all those old fashioned swimsuits - you know, the shirts and bloomers and caps, as fashionable swimwear for the early 1900's American east coast families.  For these families, swimming in the bright blue ocean along the mile and half long beach was a welcome respite from the hot buildings in the cities, prior to air conditioning.

By the mid 1900's, Asbury Park was a family beach resort again - but this time with an amusement park.  Some of my happiest childhood summer memories were spent every summer in Asbury Park.  From the Tilt a Whirl to the merry go round carousel, (where I tried every summer, then after several years, I finally leaned off my horse far enough to get the gold ring!) to riding bicycles on the wooden boardwalk with my parents and brother and sister.  Sometimes my grandparents would join us - as seen in this photo - and three generations would bask in the sun by the ocean, eat salt water taffy, and stroll down the boardwalk.

By the early 1970's, Asbury Park hit hard times.  Riots in the streets, economic downturn, summer visitors going elsewhere - my beach town was hit hard.  But music helped Asbury Park both stay relevant, and get back on track.  Musicians flocked to the Stone Pony, a newly built bar and music showplace.  Bruce Springsteen - with his 1973 album, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." - and other musicians made Asbury Park the place to go.  Asbury Park became synonymous with coolness! 

Slowly, the near empty streets began to become filled again with stores, restaurants, bars, and homes, first for single people, then for families.  Hotels were refurbished, or built anew.  Real estate became expensive and enticing again.  By the second decade of the 21st century, Asbury Park was back - an upscale beach resort with fine dining, luxury hotels, a vibrant music scene - and a marathon that ran through not only Asbury Park but about a half dozen other Jersey shore towns, and the still sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean.

For a Jersey Girl raised along the beach towns of Monmouth County, there was no other marathon to run in NJ but the New Jersey Marathon.  Luckily, I persuaded my running buddies - St. Louis Sue, who I met in Argentina and have run 7 marathons with; Colorado Charlotte, my former Brevard County, FL running buddy from Set Goals, Not Limits running camp - we got each other to Boston, and have run Marine Corps and Chicago together; Carol, a local past president of our Space Coast Runners Club, super fast and super nice; Lea Anne, another local Set Goals Not Limits Runner who is also fast and has a mega watt smile on any running course; and Jersey Girl Mikaela, my friend Debbie's (we are Jersey Girls who go back, waaaaay back,  to pre school together)

 22 year old daughter, who would make her marathon debut at the NJ Marathon - to join me in this quest. 

We all met up at a pre marathon pasta dinner and regaled Mikaela (or frightened her?) with our stories of previous marathons and what to expect on Sunday morning.  Mikaela was a good sport and took it all in stride.  The weather looked awful for the next morning - 50 degrees at the start and dropping throughout the morning, windy, and rainy. 

We awoke the next morning to weather exactly as predicted the night before.

 Armed with Dunkin Doughnuts coffee and... well, doughnuts, we put our big girl running shorts on, braved the elements, and ran 26.2 miles in driving rain, wind gusts and cold (to us Florida residents; Mikaela and Charlotte and Sue took the weather conditions as is with no complaints) along the Jersey shore.

In spite, or maybe because of, the weather, I just couldn't stop smiling.  In all my marathons, I never felt as strong.  I never felt pain or discomfort.  I just kept running, past mansions that would make Jay Gatsby jealous, past the gray and stormy Atlantic ocean, on the boardwalk of my childhood dreams.  I couldn't stop smiling.  I was back.  Back in New Jersey, back with old friends and new friends. 

I was home.

I approached the finish line, mindful of my in house team physician/sponsor, who strongly advised me to finish the marathon no earlier than 4 hours 30 minutes.  I was OK with that, since I had the Rio de Janeiro Marathon 28 days later.  That being said, I didn't want to finish any slower.  So I perfectly timed my race so that I would approach the finish line at 4:29, then wait out the extra minute.

Most finish line pictures show a runner exuberantly crossing the finish line, with his or her arms over his head, a Rocky-like pose of victory.  Some runners are even kissing the ground as they finish.

Me?  I was caught by MarathonFoto staring at my watch for about 45 seconds, patiently waiting for 4:30 and change (to be on the safe side) for my finish line cross.  As I stood there, in the driving rain, I heard the spectators yelling to me, "Don't stop now!  You are almost there.  You can do it!  GO!!!"

Definitely my most unusual marathon finish ever!

Right after I crossed the finish line, there was my cousin Donna and her husband Andrew, waiting for me.  They drove over an hour to see me.  The last time I saw Donna was almost 30 years ago, at her wedding, when I watched her walk down the aisle at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, FL, as pretty as a queen.  It was wonderful to catch up with Donna and Andrew.  I wish I could have spent more time with them, but after a few minutes I began to get hypothermic and needed to get back to the hotel to change.

That night, after our post marathon dinner, Sue and I got to check out the Stone Pony.  We either:  A: danced the night away with dozens of our new best friends at one of the coolest bars and music venues in the world or B:  Stayed long enough to buy T shirts and check the place out, then went back to the hotel to recover from the race.  It was marathon night:  you be the judge.

When I told my elementary through HS friend Amy about my marathon runs in May, NJ and Rio, she couldn't believe it.  "You were the last kid picked for every team sport in school!"  she said.  "Do your gym teachers know how you turned out?  I can't believe it!"

Amy, I can't believe any of this either.  I didn't start running until I was 45 years old, and I ran my first marathon a month before I turned 50.  I have qualified for the Boston Marathon 3 times.    NJ was my 14 marathon, Rio, 4 weeks later, would be my 15 marathon on my 4th continent.  If the good Lord is willing and creeks don't rise, as we say here in the south, I hope to run a marathon on all 7 continents and in all 50 states.  I've already run the 6 World Marathon Majors with my running twin Sheri.  And when all that is done I will just have to pick another running goal.  I don't ever want any of this to end.

So I guess if the town of Asbury Park, NJ were a person, it would be Cher, or Madonna. 

Or me. 

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