Race Recap: Firecracker 4-Miler 2015

Happy summer, everyone! I’m back with some exciting news…

I have NOT, in fact, fallen in a ditch somewhere. I AM alive and well. And I will NOT disappear for weeks at a time again, I swear!

Clearly, when it comes to life as a running blogger, I’ve been a fraud for the past several weeks (okay, months). Not only have I let life, work, etc. get in the way of blogging, but after struggling through the New Jersey Marathon in April and pretty much falling apart during the particularly disastrous Wildwood Half Marathon in May, I haven’t wanted anything to do with running.

I’ve been going to Taekwondo at least 3 times a week, which kicks my butt, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting around eating Fritos on the couch all summer. But, truth be told, my runs lately have been limited to short jog/walk/run/sniff sessions with my new best bud.


Sometimes we only make it a mile (especially on those HOT summer afternoons that we both loathe so very much) before he lays in the grass and tells me he’s done for the day, and sometimes we hit the park and go between 2-3 miles and he seems like he could run around and chase birds play all day, but I hold back because he’s still a puppy and I know I have to be careful.


But when it comes to running on my own…well, I can’t remember the last time I ran anything beyond 4 miles.

And, honestly, I have been MORE than okay with that. After running 3 marathons in a ridiculously short period of time — New York in November, Disney in January, and New Jersey in April — I had just had ENOUGH. I wanted a break, and as guilty/lazy as it made me feel, I knew that physically — and, quite honestly, mentally — I was in desperate need of a training hiatus. Since then, I’ve been focusing on my karate and just being active in general, like spending hours in the park with Todd and my favorite canine (who, BTW, has a brisk walking pace that’s faster than my running pace, haha).

So you can imagine my anxiety last weekend when Todd and I arrived at the starting line of my annual Fourth of July race: the Firecracker 4-Miler in Cranford. It was my very first race EVER back in 2011, so regardless of the fact that my running mojo has been completely nonexistent lately — and I am nowhere NEAR “racing” shape, even for a 4-miler — I was still excited to participate.


My first Firecracker. Back when I thought cotton tank tops were optimal running gear. Ah, memories.

However, the Firecracker 4-Miler is always one of my toughest shorter-distance races of the year, because the 4th always just so happens to fall on some ridiculously hot, humid day and the sweltering temperatures make me want to kill myself by mile 2. To that end, I have never done better than a 10-10:30/minute mile in this race, and have never crossed the finish line with anything but a 40 in front of my time…which is certainly not my best.

But this year, the heavens opened up and for some who-knows-what reason, it was, amazingly, NOT that hot on Saturday. It was fairly cloudy that morning, and it was supposed to rain during the day, so the high was only supposed to be in the mid-to-upper 70s. Not 85+ degrees like 2014, or 90+ degrees like 2013. WOOHOO!

2013...almost 90 degrees by 9am...wanted to die.

2013…almost 90 degrees by 9am…wanted to die.

Because of the fact that it was just a teeny, tiny bit cool that morning, I let myself hope that this would be the year I would break 40 minutes in this race. It wasn’t a huge deal or anything, and this is always very, VERY much a “just for fun” race for me, so I wasn’t going to let myself be disappointed if I didn’t meet that goal. However, I thought it would be kind of nice to prove to myself that it really IS the weather that kicks my butt every year, and I can stop letting myself secretly think that I’ve shown absolutely no improvement since my first race ever 4 years ago…since I consistently finish in almost the exact same time every year.

IMG_3742Anyway, the race draws some 1,000+ runners, so it’s pretty congested in the first mile or so. Still, we fell into what (surprisingly!) felt pretty cozy to me given my complete lack of training — around a 9:45ish/mile pace — and I was delighted to discover that I wasn’t completely drenched in sweat within the first 3 minutes of the race.  By mile 2, I was still feeling pretty good, and we were still running just a smidge under a 10-minute/mile, so it was at that time that OF COURSE Todd felt the need to announce, “hey, maybe this is the year you break 40 minutes!”


Here’s the thing with me and time goals. I WANT to set them, I WANT to crush them, but unfortunately, I’ve found that more often than not, they end up ruining my life. I am without a doubt my own worst critic, and when I set a goal and don’t meet it, I feel like a complete and utter failure and it completely ruins the race for me. OR, such as in the case of the NJ Marathon this spring, I let that stupid little time goal cause me such ridiculous levels of anxiety that I spend the entire race beating myself up when I inevitably don’t perform to my standards, and I can’t even enjoy the experience.

So, I basically told him he needs to 1.) not jinx me and 2.) be quiet immediately. (Although, admittedly, I may not have said it so nicely.) ;)

At that point, though, I DID really want to go for it, but I know myself enough to know that the second half of ANY race is always harder for me, whether it’s 4 miles or 13.1 miles or 26.2 miles. So I knew that just because we were doing surprisingly well in the first half didn’t mean squat.

Fortunately, the course is flat as a pancake and I obviously know it like the back of my hand, so I knew mile 3 was on a trail and nice and shady, and typically local residents are out on their lawns spraying runners with hoses/sprinklers and cheering us on. AND, since all of my piano students happen to live in town — and one of the families actually HOSTS the race — I knew I’d likely see some friendly faces along the way.

I DID see some of my kids and got a few personalized cheers, not to mention random compliments on my “tutu” from strangers, so that was definitely helping me to not get so worked up by the impromptu time goal we had set for ourselves. Mile 3 still had us hovering under a 10-minute mile, and there was one point when Todd picked up the pace a bit (he wasn’t even wearing his Garmin, so he was totally winging it) and I tried to keep up…and found we were pulling out a 9:15/9:30 for a few minutes. That would be a pace I haven’t run since, oh, I don’t know…MARCH?!…so I was feeling pretty impressed with myself right about then.

In mile 4, runners circle back into the park where the race started, and there’s a festival and lots of spectators and excitement. It was, of course, in that last mile when I started to experience my usual bout of nausea. Every friggin’ year with this race, I swear to god. Any time I race in warmer temperatures, I end up feeling like I’m going to lose my breakfast, and then I spend the rest of the race scared sh*tless that I’ve going to toss my cookies in front of everyone and humiliate myself. I usually blame the intense heat for my annual bout of nausea, but this time, I’m sure it had to do with the fact that I was pushing myself harder than I have in months. Based upon my calculations, I knew we had a little less than 11 minutes to finish the race in sub-40, and now I just HAD to meet that goal.

In the last half mile or so, I tried my very best to ignore the nausea and run as fast as my legs would carry me…somewhere around a 9:15. Todd, of course, was feeling just fine and dandy, because he’s actually been, you know, running. As we approached the finish line, I saw that there was still a “39″ on the clock, so we booked it…

…and finished in 39:14!


Obviously it’s not a 4-miler PR or an amazing performance for either of us, but it is, BY FAR, the best I’ve ever done in this particular race. More importantly, it made me feel a lot better about being so lax in my running as of late…I haven’t completely lost all of my fitness and I’m still in running shape, so I can stop mentally beating myself up about how I’m going to fall apart in the first few weeks of marathon training because I’ve let myself be so “lazy.”

‘Cuz guess what, ladies and gentlemen? Next week officially starts NEW YORK CITY MARATHON TRAINING. That’s right, the big moment is almost here (already)! So this is literally my last week of taking any sort of running hiatus…and let me tell you that I am enjoying it, haha. Of course there’s a part of me that misses running, but there’s an even bigger part that is very, VERY nervous about ramping up a marathon training plan in the middle of July…when, as ya’ll know, I HHHHAAAAATTTTTTEEEEEEEE summer running.

Anyway, after we crossed the finish line and sat down and I inhaled ate a banana, I started feeling better, as I always do. We then stuffed our faces with free ice cream, popcorn, and various other goodies — that is, after all, the highlight of this race for us, not gonna lie.

IMG_3751 IMG_3773

Plus, our favorite local running store was there selling discount sneakers, and while they didn’t have my size/model (naturally), they DID have a pair of the 2014 New York City Marathon sneakers (you know, the shoes that I bought for like a million dollars) in Todd’s size — and they’re his usual running sneaker. So he gets to actually train in NYCM sneakers for NYCM — and all for the low, low price of 50 bucks! Lucky bastard.


Afterwards, we had a BBQ at my parents’ house, and took about a zillion pictures of ourselves with the dog. Because it never seems to get old. :)


 We ate like pigs, took Miles for a little walk in the park, and hit the fireworks that night.


So, all in all, it was a successful 4th of July…and, for me, a successful return to running. Which, of course, means you will DEFINITELY be hearing a lot more from me in the coming weeks. I’ll have to apologize in advance for the inevitable whining that’s about to come your way…”it’s too hot for running, waaaaahhhhhh!” ;)


How did you spend your 4th of July?

Did you race this year?

Any advice for me on getting back into marathon training after a hiatus?


  1. Diana Trybulski says:

    Jennifer, great to see you blogging (and running) again! I really love your honesty – it’s refreshing! (PS You really don’t complain anywhere near as much as you think you do – fact is, running in hot weather is hard AND painful – you are entitled to vent!). Thanks for the inspiration, always!

  2. Yay for coming in under 40!
    Glad to see you back on the blog. We miss you. The pup is SO Cute!!!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Meranda! I’ve missed all of you guys, too! It sucks when I let blogging fall by the wayside; I LOVE to do it, but it’s so easy to let my other stuff take priority…especially since, as you know, I sit behind the computer and write all day. Now I get to play catch-up with everybody, though, which is always fun! :)

  3. so glad you are back!! and great job on the race-I agree, hot and humid and I cannot run. I am starting to just suck it up and deal with it. I ran a 5k on the 4th and did much better in the heat than I thought i would

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Juliana! That’s awesome! I know it takes time for your body to adjust to running in the heat, and for some reason, mine just never does. Congrats again on your awesome 5K finish! :)

  4. Congrats on finishing under 40 minutes!

    I’ve been totally slacking on the blogging and running too! I can’t believe its already fall marathon training season, time to get moving.. Ugh.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Jessica! I know, right?!?! It really snuck up on me. I can’t believe it’s July already, and NYCM is practically right around the corner. *GULP*

  5. Listening to our bodies also means listening to the mental state. Sounds like the break was great and good luck with NYC training!

    • Jennifer says:

      Sooooo true. It was definitely my head that needed a break more than my body, that’s for sure. Thanks, Lesley!! :)

  6. Congrats on breaking 40 minutes! And whoever thought to have ice cream sandwiches available for runners post race is a genius!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Kathyrn! YES!!! OMG, it was the most delicious ice cream sandwich I’ve ever had in my life, lol. I never let myself eat those, and I gotta tell you, I was damn good! Haha.

  7. Congrats on breaking 40 minutes! That had to feel so wonderful! =)
    I think some times a needed break is necessary with running, and getting back into it with such a positive race will hopefully help ease you back in as you gear up for the NYCM training!

  8. Congratulations on a great race. Best of luck in your training for this year’s NYC marathon.

  9. awesome job at breaking 40 minutes! you are getting so speedy! also, i’m on the east coast for six weeks this summer, and HOLY HUMIDITY! i know you’ve always talked about how you hate the heat when running and i never truly understood until now. i’m on team loathe with you!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Brittney! UUUUUGGGGGHHHHH, it is the absolute WORST, right?! Sometimes I feel like such a whiny baby, but the humidity really does make me absolutely MISERABLE!

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