My First Half Marathon

So as you may or may not know, I ran my first half marathon this past weekend. I wrote a post about it when I first signed up about 8 weeks ago. I was excited but scared, thrilled but terrified. Before taking the leap to sign up, I had run maybe 5.5 miles at a time max. So I knew 13.1 was definitely going to be a challenge, but I had 8 weeks and faith that I could do it.

Some background on my running in general - in high school I could run 1 mile...maybe...on a treadmill. During gym class, I never could (or maybe I just wouldn't) run the mile in full. So in short, I was not a "runner" growing up.

Fast forward to about 2 years ago, I started running outside and eventually worked my way up to a bit over 5 miles which I ran a couple days a week. I actually didn't hate running. It made me feel good, and it was an accomplishment to come from not being able to run 1 mile to running 5+. On and off over the last year or so, I'd run here and there 3-5 miles. It wasn't as big of a part of my life, but I could still do it.

So I decided to take the big leap and commit to a half marathon in February with one of my best friends. She had run a few before, so she sent me her training schedule. I started out following it at week 3 (it was a 10 week schedule, and we were 8 weeks out). I literally followed it to a tee, and I kept up. I ran up to 10 miles which was honestly huge for me. I would've never dreamed or tried to do that before.

My long runs were on Saturdays, and after 10 miles came 11 and then 12 the two following Saturdays. 12 was the longest run of the training, and then it worked back down until the final 13.1 run on the actual marathon day. I was kind of dreading those 11 and 12 mile runs after I had finished 10 miles, but I felt confident and able.

So the Friday before the 11 mile run arrives, and I start feeling like I have a cold. GREAT. Colds are the worst because everybody's like, "Oh it's just a cold," but you still feel like freakin' shit. I wasn't counting out running the next day by any means, so I decided to try to go to bed early and hope for the best in the morning.

I wake up Saturday still feeling like crap. Within an hour I have a 102 degree fever which lasted all day (and through out Sunday), I'm exhausted, delirious, and achey. So running was not in the cards. I accepted it. One day is not the end of the world, and hopefully I'd be better by my next run day, Monday.

Monday comes, still really sick. Tuesday and Wednesday pass, and I finally make myself go to the doctor. He can't tell me anything except that now I have bronchitis because whatever virus I have has managed to go down into my brochioles which is just annoying and painful. And oh yeah, since it's viral, no meds will help. I was literally sick until the following Sunday and still had a cough here or there for days after that.

I finally got back into running that Monday, but I had missed both the 11 and 12 mile runs. I managed to do the 4 miles on my training schedule for that Monday but was a coughing mess during and after the run. My next run was scheduled to be 6 miles. I could run 4. I pretty much wanted to cry. I could only run 4 miles and was a couple of weeks out from needing to run 13.1.

That weekend I was supposed to run 9 or 10 I believe, and I did 8. So I was feeling a little better. I did my shorter runs throughout the week, and the next weekend I could only do 6.5. I felt like a mess. One day I felt like I could do it, the next I felt exhausted and weak. I really just didn't know what to expect.

The final week of training comes, and I completed all of my shorter runs/walks. Race day arrives, and I am FREAKING OUT. My longest run was 10 miles and over a month ago at this point, and I'm supposed to run 3.1 more than that.

I just tried to push the negative thoughts out of my mind, and you know what, if I needed to walk, I needed to walk. This had already been such a huge accomplishment, and I couldn't help that I got sick. I just needed to do the best I could, and that was enough.

So the race started, and I was running with my friend. Well, everyone was running together because it was packed and going really slow through the streets of Asbury Park. I actually didn't mind because one of my biggest fears was wearing myself out in the beginning. My friend wanted to go faster, so I told her to go on without me. 

I picked up my pace a little but still tried to keep it steady while not pushing myself too hard. I started to slowly pass person after person. The miles passed, and I really didn't feel tired. I knew I could keep going. I got past 10 miles and honestly felt surprisingly great. Some time after the mile 11 mark, I ran into my friend, and  I actually felt like I could go a little faster. So I did.

Mile 12 comes, and I'm thinking YAY only 1 mile left! I look up to where I know the end is, and it looks like 5 miles away. I started to feel exhausted and like I just pushed myself too hard too fast over the past mile or so because I knew it was coming to an end. 

So I actually started to slow it down. I know I know, there was only 1 mile left. But I really felt it was what my body needed to finish the race strong. My friend caught up to me, and we finished the last half mile or so really strong and together. It was actually amazing to cross the finish line with her!

Post-run thoughts were water and food, so I had plenty of each. We received medals and shirts, and then some other friends joined us to celebrate later on. My initial feeling was I'm never doing that again. But honestly, I was only sore for like a day or two. I'm not saying another half is definitely in my future, but I'm not saying it's not.

Overall, I had a really good experience. I learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of. And most importantly, as cliche as it sounds, I learned to not give up on myself. I thought there was no way I'd be able to run that much, especially in the time I did with the issues I had during training, but I did. Listening to my body was SO key. During the training and the race, my body told me when to go when to stop and when to push harder. And it was right every time.

Beaver Brook Trail to Lost Lake

To continue on with my hiking challenge, this past week I hiked the Beaver Brook Trail in Marcella, NJ. It was a beautiful trail mostly in the woods, ending at the Lost Lake (pictured above). It was mildly challenging incline-wise, but those parts were very brief and limited.

We started out on the Highlands Connector trailhead which brings you right to Saffin Pond (pictured below). It's quite a nice view to start.

The path brings you along the side of the pond until you reach a bench where you make a left to continue following the Highlands trail.

You follow this trail for the first 1.6 miles. It's all in the woods and mostly flat or declining. We rarely ran into anybody except for a few bikers and a couple of people walking their dog. This was the last point we saw walkers before returning to the pond. At 1.6 miles you reach the Beaver Brook Trail.

You continue to follow the Beaver Brook Trail (crossing over the Yellow Trail at 2.1 miles). The trail begins to get a bit more challenging with a change in the terrain and a couple of steeper inclines (but nothing too crazy). You cross over some unmarked trails and the lake starts to come into view.

Once you can see the lake, you're very near the end. You come upon Split Rock which is just a giant split rock.

Once you get through the rock and continue a little further you reach a beautiful view of the lake. There are tons of lily pads and a couple of beaver dams. Make sure you continue until you see the very large dam on the right side. The dam kind of creates a second mini lake, and an amazing view.

After soaking in the view (and trying to spot some beavers, which we didn't), we turned around to head back. We did keep hearing a plopping noise into the water, but we couldn't see anything but the splash unfortunately.

We followed the same trail backwards until we came upon the yellow trail. We decided to take this back instead. It also made the trail longer (instead of 6.6 miles we did about 7.5 miles).

The trail back was relatively similar, a little wider and maybe a little less rugged at points. We did see a random rock with smaller rocks piled on it from a previous hiker.

We mostly just wanted to switch up the scenery instead of doing the same trail twice. But we did also get to enjoy the added view of a marshy area and a little frog friend.

We followed the yellow trail all the way back until we came upon the initial pond and finally the parking lot. Our legs were ready for some stretching and our feet were ready for a break at this point.

Overall, the hike was very pretty, especially the lost lake. The beaver dams were an awesome and unique sight. The trail was very empty, and we rarely passed anybody (especially on foot). Most people we crossed paths with were bikers or people by the pond in the beginning. In terms of difficulty, I expected this hike to be harder than it was. From what I had read, it was given a moderate level of difficulty. I might give it an easy. There weren't many inclines, but the distance did add up. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice walk with some great views.

For a full step-by-step overview of the Beaver Brook Trail to Lost Lake click here.

Stairway to Heaven

This past weekend I started off my hiking challenge by heading up to Vernon, NJ for the Stairway to Heaven trail. The trail is a total of 7.4 miles over a mile of it being a steep incline.

I am by no means an expert hiker. I've done about 5 trails throughout New Jersey, and this one was definitely the toughest. It was a tough but totally worth it. I do think that anyone who sets their mind to it (and paces themselves and listens to their body) can complete this trail.

The trail starts out on a board walk and is a very easy walk for about 2 miles.

The boardwalk is about 2 people wide and surrounded my mostly tall grass and some water and swampy areas at points. We saw a number of turtles.

The picture above was taken very close to the beginning. You can see the mountain that we climbed to the top of far off in the distance.

You cross over a couple of bridges on the way towards the mountain including "Lovers Bridge". The boardwalk also get much skinnier and becomes 2 beams as you get out of the marshier area. You end up crossing over railroad tracks and going through a pasture where you can see some cows.

Finally you make it to the mountain.

You head into the woods, and follow the trail. It starts to become rocky, and that's when you know you're almost at the beginning of the climb.

Once we actually started to climb, I limited the picture-taking. It was a lot of climbing, and you could definitely feel it all over your legs and butt. We took a couple of quick breaks to catch our breath and enjoy the scenery. Finally we made it all the way to the top which is actually past the look out point. At the very top, there's a mailbox with a book that you can sign, so of course I did. Then we headed down just a little to the lookout point.


What a view! You can see the pasture you walked through, and the beams look like little lines. There also happened to be some sort of music event going on below, and we could hear the music all the way from the top. The huge tent looked like a little square.

After enjoying the top for a good 15 minutes, we headed back down and did the trail in reverse. All in all, it took about 4 hours including our rests, picture breaks, and 15 minutes at the top. It probably would've taken about 3 1/2 hours had we not stopped.

It was totally worth it. The varying elements of the path, different scenery, and amazing view from the top. What a great hike! Highly recommended if you're up for the challenge!

For a full overview and description of the trail click here.