All I need to know about running, I learned at Steamtown

October 7, 2007
"Whether they go up or down, hills are tricky"
I usually slip in and out of expos, allowing myself enough time to pick up my race packet, register my chip, and complain about the free shirt ("why isn't it moisture wicking? Man, I wish it had long sleeves...!"). This time, I attended a presentation of the course by the race directors. I was aiming to qualify for Boston and felt like this race would be "the one".

The Steamtown marathon has a reputation for fast times, mostly due to the 955' net elevation drop during the first half of the race (which is exactly why I chose it). Most of the advice surrounded running an even pace on the downhill, even holding back a bit, to avoid quad burn out. That made perfect sense to me.

"Expect the Unexpected"
We started in Forest City, home of the cleanest port-a-potties on Earth- port-a-potties at races are typically really disgusting. Rather than a gun, the huge BOOM of an authentic civil war cannon signaled the start to get us moving! A very narrow, extremely steep 2-block downhill began the race. This is the sort of grade that necessitates constant braking (i.e. "marathon shuffle") or else you'll twist your ankle before the race even really begins.

In spite of the downhill I managed to keep things in control with a 7:55 first mile. At the bottom of the first hill, a surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowd welcomed runners. Do they bus these people in just for the marathon?? Surely they can't all be local residents...!

"Slow and steady keeps you in the race"
Along the course, the scenery was was like something out of a beautiful autumn watercolor painting. Through mile 8 we had a steady decline- people were flying down the hills! Using an incredible amount of self control, I averaged 8:20 miles until we got into the town of Carbondale, which ended the drastic decline. In the coming miles, I would pass almost all of the runners who sped past me during the early downhills. I was on pace to BQ.

"Computers are about trying to murder you at a water stop"
Last week on The Office (ironically set in Scranton), Michael Scott drove his car into a lake because he was too focused on his GPS. In a weird twist of fate, I slipped on a cup and puddle of Gatorade at the mile 10 water stop and fell down. Shaken and embarrassed, but certainly not hurt, I got right back up and continued to run. It wasn't until mile 13 (1:48:30, still on pace for BQ) that I realized the distance on my Garmin still read "10.05 miles" and only the time function was working. I had relied on my Garmin perhaps too much during training, so this was a definite setback.

The next few miles were on the Rails to Trails path: a beautiful, tree lined dirt trail and really cool environment for a run. The surface was a bit tricky, causing me to lose some time, but a welcome exchange for the scenery and mental lift.

"Never never never give up"
Knowing I have to average 8:23 min/mi to get a BQ I am now 3 minutes behind goal. Mentally this is disturbing, but I don't recall a moment where I thought, "you won't make it." I had thought for awhile that this would be "my" race and held on to the hope that I could make up the time somewhere.

Somewhere between miles 21 and 23, I started shutting down physically. I just didn't want to run anymore. It hurt. My quads were now feeling the early downhills, my right calf was screaming, a dull ache began in my left foot, and the "squish, squish" of the water in my socks assured me that blisters were inevitable.

As if the physical pain was not enough, the course began uphill sections between miles 23 and 24. Thank God my Garmin wasn't working at this point…I don't even want to know what pace I was slow grinding! At mile 25 with 3:38 on the clock, I remember thinking, "if I run this last mile in 2 minutes, I will still qualify for Boston." I know, right?! Seriously, my fastest HALF mile ever was 2 and a half minutes…I was in high school…talk about holding on, even when there is NO hope.

When I turned the corner with about a quarter mile to go, I could see the finish line but I already knew I was not fast enough to qualify for Boston. I didn't even have a PR. It was the longest quarter mile I have ever done. Through tears, anger, and frustration, I reached the finish line in 3:49:49.

"Mother nature has an interesting sense of humor"
From the race directors on Monday, Oct 8:
"Yesterday was by far the hottest Steamtown on record. To give you an idea of the impact heat can have, our median finish time yesterday was a full 10 minutes slower than the average for our first 11 years. We also treated more runners in our medical area than ever before."
Enough said.

"Excuses are for losers"
I used to love to tell my interns, "Don't make excuses. Excuses are for losers, challenges are for winners." Now I know how annoying that must have been...

I don't think I am a complete failure, Sunday simply was not my day. I won't blame it on the water stop fall, the course, my Garmin, or the weather. Sunday just wasn't my day. The Steamtown marathon marked state number 10 in my quest for all 50 states + DC. As we were walking from the finish line, Trey told me "You have 40 more races to go. I'm sure one of them will be Boston." He's right.