The First Time Finish Line: Ocean Drive Marathon Race Report

A map showing the route of a road.

Note: This race report is from one of our athletes Tim Byrne, who raced in the 2014 Ocean Drive Marathon. It was his first marathon – and what a day he had! I’ll let him tell you all the story. It’s great! 


The Ocean Drive Marathon is a point to point course that runs from Cape May to Sea Isle City along Ocean Drive, a secondary road in Cape May County that mirrors the Garden State Parkway but travels over the barrier islands. There are also 2 companion events: a 10 mile race (starts with the marathoners, ends at the 10 mile mark in North Wildwood), and a 5k (an out and back from the finish line in Sea isle City).

Course map of the Ocean Drive Marathon.

I had done the 5k the year before, which was my first race since I ran track in HS, and it was after losing about 60 pounds (graduate school will do that). After the 5k I thought ‘maybe next year I will try for the 10 miler’, but things escalated dramatically after I set IMLP 2015 as a goal of mine & subsequently contacted No Limits Endurance.

The plan was simple: don’t go out too fast at the start (which, as a 200m specialist, I seem to have an affinity for doing), run conservatively, increase effort around the 13.1 mark and again around the 18-20 mile mark (depending on feel), and run on HR while monitoring pace, but don’t make bad decisions based on slower-than-expected pace. The plan was, in other words, to finish my first marathon and not hate it so much that I would never want to do another.

Back up to 24 hours before race start. I had only been that nervous for a sporting event once before in my life – before my first boxing match. Junior Olympics in ski racing, HS states in track, Olympic qualifiers for boxing, nothing else compared to how I felt before those 2 events. It wasn’t just nervousness – it was, to be honest, worry and downright terror. Most of this was brought on by a sudden sore throat/congestion/swollen sinus the morning before the race, which I noticed during a 20 minute Z1 run (read: just barely faster than walking).

“How am I going to run 26+ miles while sick?”

My body showed all the signs of nervousness – constantly going to the bathroom, lethargic but not tired, unable to sleep etc. I did nap a few times throughout the day and somehow got to sleep the night before.

Race morning: woke up and the symptoms were thankfully gone, but the damage from the day before was felt. Stomach was not ‘queasy’, but it was not rock solid. However, at that point I was starting to get more excited than nervous and was able to eat my full breakfast and go down my pre-race checklist.

The weather had been very volatile, calling first for 25mph N wind (headwind, as race is roughly from South to North) but sunny, then windy but cloudy, then cloudy but not windy & different wind direction etc. The final time I checked the weather (approximately 6am race morning, 3 hours before start) the forecast was mid 40’s, foggy (only a few hundred feet visibility), with 8-11 MPH E wind, shifting to ENE around 11am. While it was foggy and mid 40s for the entire race, the wind forecast was only accurate for the first half. Starting in Stone Harbor, approx. mile 15, there was suddenly an 18-22mph direct headwind (elaborated on below).


Getting fueled up!

I arrived in Cape May about an hour before the start and walked around with my wife, sister, and in-laws, which served as both a warm-up and time killer (I was told no jogging to warm up, 26+ miles is plenty of time to get warm). We then went into Congress Hall to warm up (which was a really cool added benefit – Congress Hall is a gorgeous old Victorian hotel in Cape May).

Start – Cape May

At the start I was 100% determined to not start fast. I was content with anything under 9:30/mile JUST SO I do not go out too quickly. I had auto-lap set to one mile, and lap pace programmed onto my watch (I find auto-lap & lap pace to be far more accurate & helpful than ‘pace’, which fluctuates wildly). I looked down about .25 miles in and saw 8:48/mile. OK – I felt good, but I hadn’t even reached the first mile yet, so I pulled back a bit and ended up somewhere around 9:05 for the first mile.

My plan was to go no higher than 75% of my Z2 max for the first 10k, and no higher than middle of Z3 on the first 2 bridges. [Looking for some insight about the HR zones – try this post.] On the causeway from Cape May to Wildwood I realized I was more than 5k in and still felt great, going up to the top end of Z2 would not be detrimental at this point, as I was already running close to it. So, instead of slowing down, I made that adjustment. At this point I was being passed more than I was passing, but I had faith in the plan Maria gave me. And on the miles where my pace was > 9:10 I did not let it lead me to make poor decisions.


My old stomping grounds. This was still 10 miler territory so the racers and spectators were plentiful. I did start to see what I assumed (or hoped) was “10 miler carnage” starting around mile 6 – although, on average, I was still being passed regularly at this point. Running on the boardwalk was great – it’s where my 2nd summer job was in the summer in HS so I know the landmarks pretty well. Around mile 8.5/9 (probably starting around Morey’s pier) I started getting passed even more – I realized it was the 10 milers giving their kick. I had to swallow my ego big time here to not chase after some of them, but I kept remembering my experience at the AC half (went out way too quickly & felt like death for the second half of the race) and how stupid that would be. My wife met me at the 10 miler finish and gave me a new bottle for my hydration belt – but for the first 10 miles there were so many stations I almost didn’t need to drink any of mine.

After the 10 miler finish, the field became very spaced out. As it turned out, the majority of the people at the start line are running the 10 miler, not the marathon. And the clear distinction between the 2 levels of people and spectators made me realize: I am far more comfortable running alone than with people. Maybe I am the opposite of most people and need to practice running in groups? I became way more relaxed and focused once it was ‘just me’. Running through North Wildwood and all the bars was really cool as well.

After the 10 miler finish I was never permanently passed until the finish, and I was almost constantly overtaking people – which I was told by Maria and John would happen, but it is difficult to believe (especially when I am the one normally sprinting at the start and being passed the rest of the race) until it happens. There was one guy in particular on the causeway from Wildwood to Stone Harbor that walked the aid stations, where I would pass him, and then he would pass me. This happened for 3 aid stations in a row until we entered Stone Harbor, and he seemed to pull away.

Foggy conditions – who needs to see?

“I guess you cannot run them all down,” I thought. And he looked like he was in good shape so I was OK with it.

As I passed the 13.1 mile mark I was around 2:00:10, which I thought was perfect because I was hovering around low end of Z3 and had a ton left in the tank, . At the 13.1 mark I allowed myself to go up to middle of Z3, and even if something did go wrong over the next few miles, as long as it wasn’t too bad, I could chase it down in the last 2 or 3 miles. However, I was surprised my HR was that high for the pace I was putting out. It felt like a Z2 effort, but it was probably lingering effects of the nerves from the day before. Overall, though, I was pretty happy – as I went into the middle of Z3 my pace dipped into the high 8’s until….

Avalon/Stone Harbor

I loved the race, the organizers were prompt with responding to questions, the website had tons of information, the race started at 9:00AM ON THE DOT, and the first half of the marathon is really awesome (I haven’t talked about the scenery much because it was foggy, but it is a gorgeous course).

Having said all of that, these 8 miles from beginning of Stone Harbor to Avalon (all 1 island) are perhaps the most boring 8 miles on the planet.


And, as if someone was playing a cruel joke, all the streets are numbered starting with 110th street when you arrive. And yes, they count down. Every. Single. Block. Until you get off the island on 1st street.

I don’t know how I kept it together – I just tried to think of nothing and ‘meditate while running’. I think the fact that I was now passing everyone I could see (visibility was a few hundred feet at this point) helped a lot.

When you run into Stone Harbor you make a right turn for about 6 blocks to the very end of the island and then turn around for the awesome voyage through the island. About halfway around the 180 degree turn-around I thought there was a sudden gust of wind hitting my side. By the time I had made the turn I realized there was now a 15-20mph headwind. My effort almost immediately went from mid Z3 to high Z3/low Z4 and stayed there until I was sheltered by homes in Sea Isle City. Again, luckily I was doing better than everyone else I saw, so I never got into a bad place mentally.

At one point I spoke with a guy from Morristown who was doing his 25thmarathon – when I said this was my first he said ‘oh man that is brutal’ and I responded ‘yeah but I would rather have this than 95 and 100% humidity’.

I became chilly here, which I did not think was possible (Maria calls me a ‘polar bear’ as I don’t need a lot of clothing for winter running). John had warned me 2 nights prior that the north wind this time of year is COLD. It was almost a completely different race for this portion.

To be honest there is not a ton to report here – I tried to do as little thinking as possible to try to stop from becoming negative. I felt my left big toe start to hurt and my right hamstring start to tighten up, but I wouldn’t say either of them registered as pain – they were more just sensory information. Like ‘hey, you have been running for a while’.

My wife met me at mile 20 and swapped 2 more water bottles for me.

And that guy who pulled away from me at the beginning of Stone Harbor so far that I couldn’t see him in the fog – PASSED HIM about 1.5 miles from the bridge to SIC. And not at an aid station either. He didn’t even put up a fight – I almost felt bad. Most of the people I passed tried to hang on to me – which I was fine with, I hoped I could block the wind for them for a moment – but none were able to hang on. And that was the one negative to passing everyone in the 2nd half of the race: no one to block the wind for me.

That form is delicious at mile 26.1 – are you kidding me this is your first marathon, Tim? Are you sandbagging us? 😉

By this point the race was really spread out. From the Avalon/Sea Isle City bridge to the beginning of the boardwalk I only saw (i.e., passed) 4 or 5 people. The bridge going in was almost a surreal experience – it was so foggy you could barely see the ocean below and was completely closed to traffic due to construction and completely barricaded. I was on it all by myself. I felt like I was in a post-nuclear war film.

At this point I roughly knew where I was as I did the ODM 5k the year before which was an out and back from the promenade. The wind seemed to die down, which I imagine was because of the homes & the constant twisting and turning, combined with the fact that Sea Isle City is positioned at a slightly different angle as opposed to the previous 2 islands.

Once I got onto the boardwalk I could see the finish. I passed a girl around the same time I passed the guy in Stone Harbor who had a friend join her as a pacer for the last few miles. At this point I could hear them coming up on me and they passed me right before the boardwalk. My muscles were tight but I still had a lot in the tank, and about .5 miles out I decided to ramp it up a bit. I was well aware I was not going to break the 4 hour mark, but I wanted to run “for real”, as I felt like I had been running in Z1 into the wind for the past 10 miles. I finished the last .5 miles with an average pace of 7:27/mile, so I had more in the tank than I thought.

With my kick I passed another 5-6 people and brought it home in 4:04:27.


1) Before the race I was constantly told by Maria and John that “the wall” is a myth – and they are absolutely correct. I never hit it. If I were running a more aggressive race plan I understand I would tire more, but I highly doubt there is some magic number out there whereafter continuing becomes exponentially harder. It has to be a mental barrier. Don’t allow yourself to even go down the path that would lead you to thoughts of ‘hitting the wall’.

2) I never had a negative thought (or, maybe more appropriately, I never gave negative thoughts any attention), and it is because I thought about the ‘5 min window’ Maria talked about. I didn’t let myself think about the finish until I was in Sea Isle City, and I didn’t allow myself to think of ‘how far I had come’ at any point in the race. Most of the time I can’t tell you what I was thinking about.

3) I will always hate taper – but I will hate it a little less each time because I now understand what it does for you. Maria can vouch that I was, literally, going insane – I am surprised she didn’t have me committed somewhere. Side note: I looked it up and apparently ‘phantom sickness’, especially a ‘phantom sore throat’, during taper IS an actual thing.

5) This has given me a lot of confidence in my ability to run long distances. Not necessarily to run them fast, but to be able to ‘hang on’ in a triathlon coming off a good bike, which (for this season) will do.

I want to thank Maria & No Limits – I could not have done this without you. And I want to thank Maria and John for the pep talks & wealth of knowledge they have and their willingness to share it, as well as John specifically for making the Marathon look like a warm-up jog.

Tim with his wonderful family and support system at the finish. Congratulations!


You rock, Tim! You are an incredible athlete and we are honored to be with you on your endurance journey! *weep weep* 

The First Time Finish Line: Ocean Drive Marathon Race Report
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