Prior to the Miles for Music 20k in Highland Park, NJ, I’d never run a 20k before. It always seemed like a weird distance to me. I’d much rather just run an extra .7 miles for a half marathon, but I had a lot of fun at this race!
This wasn’t a planned race. Instead, it was a last minute decision I made on a whim the day before after my wife casually mentioned that I may not be able to do my twenty-miler in the park as planned because of the race. It quickly hit me that putting this race in the middle of my twenty-miler would be a great way to measure my New Jersey Marathon training process and add some excitement for a long run.
I woke up early so I could get to the park and knock out 6.1 miles on the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath, which starts at the park and is one of my favorite places to run. I kept it relatively easy at an 8:45 pace, but I knew I wanted to push myself a bit during the race. After a relaxing run, I got back to the car with 20 minutes before the start. Thanks to my amazing wife taking care of getting me all registered while I was running, all I had to do was pin my bib on, take a couple swigs of water, and walk over to the starting line.
I was planning to run somewhere around an 8-8:15 min/mile. I wanted to push a little, but not give a full 100% race effort. I seeded myself about where I thought I should be and, before I knew it, the race was off! Since I don’t run with a watch and checking my pace on my phone isn’t super easy, I had to guess about where my pace was, but I tried to keep myself from going out too fast. Things thinned out really quickly and I settled right into a 7:40ish pace. Faster than I wanted to run, but I was feeling good. After the first 5k, I knew this was going to be a good race and I didn’t want to back off at all.
The Miles for Music 20k course is actually three laps in Johnson Park. On paper, it looks like it’ll be brutal just going back and forth a bunch, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. I got to see the wife’s beautiful face SIX times! SIX!! It’s nice when you’re tired at the end of a race to know exactly what’s ahead. You can leave yourself mental markers for where you want to push or how to handle certain parts the next time around. Plus, you know exactly when a water stop is coming up, though, I didn’t end up taking any water during the race.
I hit the 10k mark at 47:02 and knew I was kicking ass. I was feeling a little tired, but nothing that had me worried I wouldn’t be able to hold my pace. With 12.3 miles on my legs by that point, I was pretty psyched with how I felt.
I kept steady around the rest of the lap and found myself behind an older man whom I simply couldn’t pass. I had been slowly picking off runners most of the race so far, but this guy kept picking it up just enough to stay in front of me. After almost a mile and a half of cat-and-mousing with him, I got next to him and he gave me a “you’re doing great!” We chatted for a few minutes and he joked that he was saving himself for the last 5k, to which I responded he’d have me beat if he picked it up at all. As we came up on the next water stop, I pulled ahead, but I heard him just off behind me for a while.
Coming around the last turnaround on the third lap, I kicked it into gear for a strong finish. I was feeling pretty tired, but I still had enough in the tank to pick it up for the last two miles. I picked off a few more runners while getting pretty close to my puke-pace–you know, when you’re pushing yourself at the end of a race and if you go any faster you’re going to puke all over the place. I rounded the corner to the finish line and kept it steady for a solid finish. As of writing this, the time is still unofficial, but I saw 1:34:28 on the clock when I crossed, a 7:37 average pace. Whoa! I really didn’t expect that!
All-in-all, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to run this race and my performance. I rocked this race and felt good doing it. After totaling up the race, the 6.1 miles before, and a 1.5 mile cooldown afterwards, I walked away with 20 miles at an 8:03 min/mile. Just two seconds slower than my goal marathon time with five weeks to go before the race! And on top of that, I ran very consistent splits without the help of a pacer:
- Mile 1: 7:43
- Mile 2: 7:37
- Mile 3: 7:19
- Mile 4: 7:33
- Mile 5: 7:42
- Mile 6: 7:42
- Mile 7: 7:40
- Mile 8: 7:39
- Mile 9: 7:38
- Mile 10: 7:38
- Mile 11: 7:23
- Mile 12: 7:14
- Mile 12.4: 7:16 (pace)
Even though the race is three loops on an out-and-back course in the park, I enjoyed it a lot. I would definitely run it again. My only complaint would be that there was very little crowd support. With runners passing most spots in the park six times, just a little support would go a long way.
Edit: My official time was 1:34:34.