They say “The Steamtown Marathon Will Humble You”…they aren’t kidding! There is a reason why it’s the smallest field of runners of any U.S. Marathon! I also see why people do run it and why the field of runners grows each year. It’s an unbelievable experience…more than just a “marathon”.
The weather was perfect! 50 some degrees at the start, 74 at the finish–a bit too hot for a marathon, but it could have been worse–it was in the high 80’s there last year at this time! The first 7-8 miles were a steady downhill to the point that that I got blisters in places that I’ve never had them before! The scenery was breathtaking…the fall colors were at their peak and that was a nice distraction especially since I-pods/headphones have been banned from marathons, boredom can set in pretty quick! Cindy and I ran our PR’ (“personal record/best”) for 5, 10, 15 & 20 miles of the race which was VERY exciting for us! We held a steady pace in the 8:15-8:40/mile range all the way through the 16th mile. From 11-18 miles, the hills were up and down, but manageable. The uphills kept getting steeper and longer after that and the downhills fewer…the leg heaviness was getting the best of us as we both were feeling something we’ve never felt in any of our long runs…Charlie Horses–we’re told by the seasoned Steamtown runners that’s from having so many initial downhills and probably taking them faster than we should have, but it felt good, so we went with it. With each stride it felt like our calf muscles could rip apart at any moment. We were able to push through it to 20 miles without losing much ground and had a PR of 3:05…the positive part meaning we had 55 minutes to finish the last 6 miles which would have been a VERY doable 9:30/mile pace to still meet our goal time of around 4:00 which shouldn’t be a problem considering we did the first 7 miles in 1 hour! Cindy and I “planned” to finish together, but agreed if one of us felt better, we’d pull apart and go for it. (We finished the 2006 marathon together at exactly 4:28:46) In a nutshell, it took us 1:15 to finish the last 6 miles for a final finish time of 4:19:15. That’s the part that we’re having trouble with; falling apart after 20 miles and not having enough left in the tank to finish the way we’d planned. There was the dreaded killer hill just before the finish, then then a 7 block downhill stretch to the line. Cindy was about 100 meters ahead and I don’t know where I found the energy but I caught up to her during that time and we stepped onto the finish mat with identical times again! Given the hills and how ill-prepared we were for them, (AND 3 miles of the course were also in the woods on mulch & cinders so that was painful after being on hard pavement) we are happy we at least knocked off 10 minutes from our 2006 time but it certainly wasn’t close what we were on target to finish at. There were around 1900 runners registered for this race and 1500 some finishers…I can’t imagine not finishing but I also see how realistic injuries are when you run a course you’re not properly prepared for!
There aren’t enough words to describe how horrible we both felt afterwards and into the next few days! On the positive side, the hip pain I’d been battling in training since spring never flared up once and that was what worried me more than anything! We learned alot about how we need to be training in order to meet our goals next time and are trying not to be too hard on ourselves considering we didn’t start doing full marathons until our 40’s!
This race was an experience we will never forget. The best part is that we reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in 5 years (we met them on our Bermuda cruise back in 2003) and had a fabulous long weekend with them and had so much support and good cheer from them, it made the experience more than we could have asked for. (FYI…Eastern PA has the BEST pizza!), the Pocono mountains are unbelievably gorgeous this time of year and the race benefitted a great cause–the severely retarded and handicapped residents of St. Joseph’s. 3 different times that we topped a hill, there were the residents sitting in their wheelchairs along with their caregivers cheering us on in whatever way they were able to. When we saw all those people incapacitated in their way of life, it made the pain we were feeling worth it. At mile 23, I felt the need to take a walk break there was a spectator with a prosthetic leg who yelled “come on #1138, dig deep, you can finish this!” He was dressed in running shoes and running apparel–obvious he was also a runner despite his disability and that was the turning point for me to get this done. It was an amazing feeling when I ran my first one in 2006, but this experience trumped anything I felt back then, even the agony I was in afterwards!! I can’t wait to do it again!!!