I wanted to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon this fall. I had been feeling sluggish and out of shape, so I knew I would need as much time as possible to get in Boston-qualifying shape. I was looking at Rehoboth Beach Marathon and Three Bridges Marathon, primarily because they are both the first week in December, and would allow ample time for training.
Kurt was planning to run Steamtown again. I was torn. If we were already driving up to Pennsylvania and paying for a hotel, I really wanted to run it this year, too. Well, what I really wished was that Steamtown had a half marathon too, but it doesn’t. I had gone the past two years to cheer Kurt on, but the first year I was in my walking cast, and the second year I still hadn’t recovered enough to train for a marathon. So, If I was going back for a third time, and would be physically capable of running, I definitely wanted to run.
I told Kurt to go ahead and sign me up. At the time, I was thinking that I would just jog it nice and easy, and use it as a training run for my goal marathon. I was overestimating my restraint, and forgetting that “easy” and “marathon” do not belong in the same sentence, regardless of pace.
Early in the summer, Kurt and I both signed up for Mark Lorenzoni’s marathon training program. I had told Mark that I wanted Rehoboth to be my goal race, but that I wanted to run Steamtown as a training run. He only wrote my program leading up to Steamtown. He told me that if I wanted to use Steamtown as a training run, I should only run the first 20 miles. I was pretty sure I couldn’t do that, but didn’t tell him that. I was still thinking I would just jog the whole thing, nice and easy.
As the training progressed, and the days got cooler, I started to feel better. I was nailing the shorter fast runs, and the long, slow runs, but was struggling and not able to maintain the paces I was supposed to be hitting on the workouts that were supposed to be long and fast.
As Steamtown approached, I stopped in to talk to Mark about what he thought I should do. He looked at my training log and came to the same conclusion that I had. It didn’t look like I was quite ready to maintain the pace I would need to qualify for Boston. His advice was to try for a pace I’d be happy with, but if I was struggling in the final miles, to stop and try again at Rehoboth. He said if I ran the whole thing and was really struggling at the end, I wouldn’t be able to recover in time to run another solid effort two months later.
The week before the marathon I felt like I was coming down with a cold. I had a slight sore throat, and was having trouble getting in a deep, full breath. A combination of carbo-loading and PMS conspired to leave me with an insatiable appetite and some major water retention. I made it a point not to go near a scale, but I was pretty sure I’d gained a couple more pounds on top of the five or so I’d gained over the summer.
Packet pick-up was kind of exciting, because I was actually going to run this year. The weather, however, was not looking good at all. Forty degrees and rain. I was surprisingly calm the night before, and slept really well.
I was breathing a little better, until I put on my sports bra. It felt like it had shrunk several sizes. When we stepped outside, we were happy to see that it wasn’t raining, and it didn’t feel terribly cold.
It did, however, feel terribly cold on the 45 minute bus ride to the start. I pulled up the hood of my raincoat on top of the winter hat I was wearing and tried to keep from shivering.
As we got off the bus, high school volunteers greeted us with bottles of water and good luck ribbons. I had my empty coffee cup in my hand and was eyeing a trash can by the front door of the school. I made a bee-line to the trashcan and proceeded to throw my coffee cup and newly acquired good-luck ribbon into the receptacle. As soon as I did it, I realized what I’d done. It did not feel like a good sign.
All runners are allowed to sit inside the school to wait for the start of the race. There were volunteers everywhere, directing runners, and handing out water and snacks and coffee. Kurt and I found a spot on the gym floor and waited for the start. I’d decided the night before that I would run the first half at about a 9 minute/mile pace and then, if I was feeling good, I would pick up the pace from there.
It was cold waiting for the race to start. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, so I was surprised how many spectators were lining the streets as soon as we left the school parking lot. I was also surprised at how slowly everybody around me was running. It’s always hard for me to judge pace in the first few miles of a marathon. Adrenaline makes me feel like I’m running slower than I am.
As I passed the first mile marker, though, I saw that we really were running at a fairly relaxed pace. My first mile was actually a little slower than my 9 minute goal pace (9:10). Mile 2 (9:09) was as well. After that, I slowly picked up speed. I was having a lot of fun running through all the little towns with people lining the streets, cheering us on. In one town, there were people in church clothes and a priest in full robes, standing out in front a church cheering on all the runners. That made me smile. A “Big Bird Loves You” sign in another town gave me a good laugh. At one point, somebody was playing “Footloose”. The song really pumped me up, and I wished I could take the entire soundtrack with me. I knew it would come in handy later.
At mile 8, I was feeling really good, except for an occasional pain in my hip flexor, and wondering when it would start to get hard. At mile 13, I was thinking the same thing. Except by this point, some muscle on the side of my hip (gluteus medius?) was burning. I’d never had muscles burn in a marathon, and was curious how long a person could run with burning muscles.
Around mile 14, we hit the trail section. The trail is dirt/gravel and mostly flat and shady along the river. I love trails, and got a little bit of a mental lift here. Miles 14-17 were all at about an 8:30 pace. Around mile 17, there is a section that skirts some soccer fields. Kurt had told me that this section was mentally hard for him, so I hadn’t been looking forward to it. As I started this section, Kurt was just finishing. We were surprised to see each other, as the timing had to be just right. If either of us had been faster or slower by 10 seconds, we would have missed each other. He was about 3/4 of a mile ahead of me at that point.
Right after I saw him, the running started to get harder. I had planned to take a gu at every other water stop, but there were so many people out on the course handing out water that I couldn’t tell which ones were the official race water stops and I got off schedule. At mile 18, I’d only taken 3 of the 4 gu’s I had planned to take by this point.
My pace was slowing. Mile 18 was 8:40. Mile 19 was 8:50. Mile 20 was 8:52. I told myself that all I had to do was run each of the remaining miles at a 9 minute/mile pace. No slower! That should be easy. Mile 21 was 8:58. Crap! Push! Mile 22 was 9:15. Right now is when I should stop if I want to run another marathon this fall. That isn’t happening. I really need to pick up the pace! Mile 23 was 9:21. Seriously?! Mile 24 was 9:24. Hang on!!! Ok, 9:17 for mile 25. From looking at the profile map, I was expecting mile 26 to be 1/2 mile uphill, then 1/2 mile downhill. It was more of 1/2 mile up, 1/4 mile sort-of up and 1/4 mile down. I don’t know exactly what my final split was, because I pushed the wrong button on my Garmin at the finish, and didn’t realize it until I hit the refreshment tent.
I finished in 3:52:36 (the clock shows gun time, not chip time). A new PR by about 3 minutes. I was hurting enough to think I probably wouldn’t be running another marathon this fall. In fact, my muscles have never been so sore after a marathon. The food didn’t even look appetizing. I’ve never not had an appetite after a marathon. I grabbed a half a banana and a couple of orange slices, but didn’t eat anything. I went to look for Kurt.
I was really hobbling. It took a great effort to step up and down from the curb. I circled around for a few minutes before I found him. He told me he’d been hit with calf cramps in the last few miles, and ended up finishing only about a minute ahead of me. We both had PR’ed, but were still somewhat disappointed with our performances. Kurt had, admittedly, been running quite a bit faster than me for the past few months. He felt like he was capable of running a faster time. Still, he’d shaved 7 minutes from his PR.
I was feeling like my 3 minute PR probably wasn’t worth giving up the chance to try to qualify for Boston this season. But stopping at mile 20, just because I wasn’t running quite as fast as I’d hoped, didn’t feel right. It felt like quitting. I ran the best race I could on that particular day, and I’m ok with that.
It was really damp and cold when we stopped running. I was shaking uncontrollably as I tried to hobble back to the car. We ducked into the mall and found a Starbucks. I ordered a pumpkin spice latte and Kurt got a hot chocolate. Warmed up, and with some sugar in us, it was much easier to make our way back to the car.
Splits: (1) 9:10 (2) 9:09 (3) 8:51 (4) 8:18 (5) 8:22 (6) 8:18 (7) 8:51 (8) 8:20 (9) 8:38 (10) 8:28 (11) 8:43 (12) 8:46 (13) 8:47 (14) 8:35 (15) 8:39 (16) 8:36 (17) 8:31 (18) 8:40 (19) 8:50 (20) 8:52 (21) 8:59 (22) 9:15 (23) 9:21 (24) 9:34 (25) 9:17 (26) ??
I like that the course is point-to-point, and that it goes through so many little towns. I also love the rails-to-trails section. I really do not like all the down-hill running.
This would have been an A++ if it weren’t for the scarcity of port-o-johns near the finish line. The race is really well organized, and the volunteers are amazing. The assistant race director’s weekly e-mails are awesome. It’s worth running the marathon just to get those e-mails.
A long sleeve, technical t-shirt. At first I was a little disappointed about the blaze-orange color, but than I realized that it will make a spectacular don’t-shoot-me shirt to wear for trail running during hunting season.
Finishers Medal/Schwag: A-
I thought the medal was really cool. There wasn’t much in the way of free stuff in our packets, but the race has so many little perks that seem more important than free granola bar samples and coupons to stores that I’ll never be able to visit, that I’m giving it a high score anyway.
There was pizza. It looked like it was the Old Forge style so famous in that part of Pennsylvania, which I thought was very cool. I just wish I’d been able to eat it. There was also soup (perfect for the cold morning) and some pretty yummy looking cookies, fruit and whole wheat pretzels. I think there might have even been coffee.