Mission accomplished. The weather cooperated, my hamstring felt fine, and I ran the New Jersey Marathon in 3:43:11 (UPDATE: The results are out. My chip time was 3:43:06, clock time was 3:44:06), beating my previous best by three minutes.
Matt and I drove down to Middletown, NJ, yesterday afternoon to check into our hotel and then went to Long Branch to pick up my race number and timing chip. The race expo was held in a tent on the beach; it was previously held in a nearby hotel, but apparently a wedding took precedence. The winds were blowing fiercely off the ocean, threatening to blow the tent away. We went back to the hotel, where we watched parts of "Varsity Blues" and "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" on TNT (they had to bleep or dub a whole lot of the latter) before heading out to a Macaroni Grill for dinner. I chowed on some chicken parm and pasta as well as salad and bread, thoroughly stuffing myself. Although I was pretty full last night, I knew it would provide me with some good fuel for the race. It had started misting and looked to be a preview of the race weather.
We got up at 5 and were parked in Long Branch a little after 6. The race started at 7:30, so we hung out for a while in the van just watching people show up. Finally just before 7 we walked over to the race start. It was foggy and in the high 40s, but not raining. I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeve tech shirt, but had a cheap jacket I picked up at the expo for $7; I planned to ditch it after the first few miles. As it turned out, I just wore it for a while before the race and then took it off before the start. The race was two flat 13.1-mile loops through Long Branch, starting and ending at the beach. I decided to run behind the 3:40 pace runner, figuring I could drop back if I needed to. But I got into a good rhythm and stuck with him (doing 8:20 miles) for most of the race. It wasn't until mile 22 that I had to drop back. I started getting some stomach cramps, not food-related but just muscle tightening, and walked a little. I wasn't able to really get going again until partway through mile 23 and picked up my pace again. Although the 3:40 pace was shot, I managed to get in at 3:43 and felt strong at the end. It was a great experience; the race was well-run and well-organized. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a small marathon (2,500 ran the marathon; 5,500 ran the half). Matt was a great spectator, showing up at several points to cheer me on. The weather worked out perfectly; the clouds didn't part until right after I was finished. On the way home, we hit a McDonald's and I picked up a Quarter Pounder with cheese; guess I was craving some junk food.
So marathon number 9 was a definite success. I know I could have broken 3:40 if I hadn't had those cramps. I'm seriously considering running the Philadelphia Marathon in November; it'll give me nearly three months before I have to start training again and I won't have to worry about it being too warm (I hope).