Where to start? First, I haven’t written anything since the Burning River 100 miler over two months ago. After recovering from that race I started getting back out running low miles, but just couldn’t get fired up to dive into another training cycle. So I ran when I felt like it which was mostly on weekends with minimal weekday mileage. I rode my bike a bit and just took it easy opting to have fun at Steamtown rather than pursuing any lofty goals.
During that time my world became quite chaotic as the owner of the company I work passed away unexpectedly. Unknowns began to compound and I began working more trying to cover some of what he did to keep the business running. Things started getting ugly as accusations were whispered around the office of me attempting to grab power. Soon the environment turned hostile, not in a physical way, but hostile in attitude. The stress was taking a toll.
More stress and anxiety were building and during the time I probably needed to run the most I couldn’t get out the door. I knew the Steamtown Marathon was coming and hoped to train and shoot for a 3:30 finish, what would be a PR by over 15 minutes. As the weeks went by I was only running 20-30 miles with two weeks near 40. I got the long runs in and some unstructured speedwork mostly in the form of progression runs and tempos and I hit the downhills hard to build my quads, but overall I feel like I didn’t truly train. As race day neared I adjusted my goals. There would be a ton of good friends at this race and I was wrapping up an incredible year of racing here. I decided my plan would be recklessness, something I never would have chosen before. I would hold a PR pace for as long as I could and if I imploded and had to walk the rest in then so be it. I would enjoy the weekend with friends and the opportunity to run close to where I grew up. It would be my time to let all the stress go. Sometimes recklessness pays off….
Bright and early at 6 AM Keith showed up at my house. I loaded up my gear and we hit the road. The 5 hour drive sped by as we chatted. Arriving at the hotel , which Ely graciously offered me a bed in, we talked for a just a few minutes before Todd and Deana arrived. While Keith, Todd, and Deana took a course drive Ely and I relaxed and talked. Soon we were off to the Expo.
We attended part of the race briefing, in which the same messages were repeated over and over. Run your pace for the first half. Don’t get caught up in running faster on the downhills and conserve energy for the hills in the last few miles. Then the floor was open to questions. The first question was this:
Can you describe the three hills at the end?
I looked at Ely and he looked at me. I could see we both wanted to laugh. Instead we got up and left. Soon we met friends as they stopped for packets. Craig showed up, then Paul and Lori. Scott was at the pacer booth as he would be leading the 3:35 group, and Eddie and Ryan were there not long after. I also ran into Adam, one of my best friends growing up. He is an incredible artist and a speedy runner. It was great catching up a bit! And in a shameless plug check out his incredible artwork here. At 4 a few of us took a short shakeout run with the last 1.25 miles on the final stretch of the course.
Todd, Keith, Deana and I went out for some Italian-style pre-race dining. The food was great and I overate to excess. I started feeling sick…very sick and it was progressing. As I began to walk towards the bathroom I grabbed a chair, my vision closing off and the next thing I saw was my friends standing over me. I had fainted and crumpled up on the floor. A strange occurrence I attributed to stress and perhaps a vasovagal syncope effect. Whatever the case I was happy enough it wasn’t a seizure and I slept like a baby until wake-up time at 5 AM.
Sunday – Race Day
It didn’t take long to get ready. Everything was laid out neatly….ok the “neat” part is a lie. Everything I needed was in one little pile on the dresser. I was dressed, soft flasks filled , and coffee in
hand within 20 minutes. Ely and I were on the shuttle by 6 AM and at Forest Hills High School, the starting location, before 7. I hit the bathrooms and soon it was time for SCRR and Runderful group photos.
The race started at 8 AM to the sound of a cannon blast. Those early miles had some small rolling hills, but overall it was a net loss on elevation and clicked off enjoyably. Roughly 700 feet of gentle descent are found in the first 11 miles.
The leaves were changing in northeast Pennsylvania making for beautiful and scenic miles, but none more so than the early miles (3-6) through forested country roads and later the Heritage Trail miles which were scattered between miles 12 and 19. We made our way through the small towns which dot the Lackawanna River; Simpson, Carbondale, Mayfield. The locals were very friendly and excited to show off their town and spirit. Many of them had set their own makeshift water stations. They cheered, they huddled under blankets ringing cowbells and clapping, and some simply watched silently taking in the sight of these strange folk clad in neon and shorts tormenting themselves for reasons they will never comprehend.
The first official spectator viewpoint is in Carbondale at mile 8 and I was excited to see Colleena and her family cheering and waving a sign for me. I stopped briefly for sweaty hugs and continued up a slight hill energized. By mile 13 we were running relatively flat ground with some light ascents and descents. The back half the course would drop around 200 more feet of net elevation so we were still always trending towards lower ground.
As mentioned, between miles 12 and 19 the course periodically would run on sections of the Lackawanna Heritage Trails. Most of these “trails” were paved, but there was a nice little gravel section. The leaves in full display of color were absolutely breathtaking. Though I was getting tired and in more and more pain as the race progressed ( is my toe broken?) areas like these brought me back to a place of awe and joy.
On one section of heritage trail another runner, Steve, and I chatted about our good fortune. The
Steamtown Marathon benefits the children at St. Joseph’s Center. Many of these kids were disabled and never would be able to care for themselves. Some were bound to wheelchairs for their entire lives. We may have been in pain, but we were still moving and we had chosen this trial by fire for ourselves. The children of St. Joseph’s did not have a choice. Their trials were thrust upon them.
Throughout the race I fought some mild GI distress, but ultimately held the ship together. My race regimen included Hammer supplements: 1 endurolyte extreme and 1-2 amino endurance caps
per hour with a goal of getting about 200 calories per hour. The calories came from melon Heed and nocciola gel. The gel became hard to get down later in the race and I am sure I came short of my caloric intake goals, but had enough to get through. At mile 20 I started slowing down. I lost around a minute per mile off my pace with a little more coming off of mile 24 which had a steep, but short hill climb that I had to walk some of. That said, I never experienced the full on wall. After that hill I crunched the numbers. Barring any major disaster I had a PR in the bag and most likely would come in under 3:40. I was excited and when I hit mile 25 I knew the rest of the course. Keeping a steady pace I rolled ahead and just at the bottom of the last hill climb who did I see? David (who ran a 2:50:57 finishing 21st!) , Megan, and their dog Big Essie! I was ecstatic and got hugs from everyone (including Essie). Charged up with love and gratitude I shot up the last hill climb only letting off near the top when I felt some tunnel vision coming on. I reminded myself not to be dumb and coasted the downhill into the finisher’s chute at a chip time of 3:37:28.
This was my favorite marathon I have been privileged to run. The course and spectators were great and cool temperatures didn’t hurt either. Also it was the greatest race weekend I have experienced. Amazing friends both new and old made this a truly memorable time. Much love to the whole Runderful crew and a special shout to my Dad for coming out to the finish line!