2009 Steamtown Marathon Race Report

My Steamtown Marathon started the day after I ran the Boston Marathon. I was completely dissatisfied with my performance at the Boston Marathon. I wanted another chance. So when I got home, I got online and signed up for the Steamtown Marathon thinking it give mive the best shot to qualify for next years Boston Marathon. I wasn’t even sure I could qualify again. I ran so poorly in Boston. And it had been over a year since had run the 3:30 marathon at Shamrock to qualify. And that had been my last sub four hour marathon.
In August, I completed the Louisville Ironman. I had only 6 weeks to recover and train for Steamtown. Overall it had been a good year. I had the poor race in Boston. But other than that, I had PR’s at the 3.5 mile Chase Corporate Challenge, the Wakely Dam Ultra and another small 3 mile race that my company does. And I had finished the Ironman faster than I had even hoped. And my training seemed to go well, so I hopeful for Steamtown.
Less than a week before the race, I developed a cough. I was hoping it would go away before the race. But it didn’t. But I rested as much as I could. I skipped my final 3 mile run thinking rest would be more beneficial.
The Steamtown Marathon is in Scranton, PA, which is only about 3 1/2 hours from home. So Saturday morning, we got up, and finished load the car. We dropped dog off at vet/boarding kennel, and got on the road. The drive was uneventful. We arrived in Scranton about 2pm, and headed straight to the expo. There were many people wearing Boston Marathon jackets there, including me. I picked up my runners packet, and chip. I checked out the tiny expo, but there was nothing of interest for me. I could have bought some running clothes, but I really don’t need anything. I was interested in some natural running shoes like Newtons, or K-Swiss, but didn’t see anything like that. So we left.
We headed to the hotel which was about 6 miles away. My TomTom GPS was great in getting us around. We checked in, and hauled our stuff up to the room. I had forgotten to pack my alarm clock, but fortunately there was one in the room.
There was plenty of stuff near the hotel. We walked next door to a grocery store, and I bought some Vaseline and some Mucinex. We didn’t see any restaurants nearby that looked like good sources of pasta. So we got into the car, and headed off. We found a Pizza Hut which I knew from the commercial now had pasta. So we stopped there. I got a basic spaghetti with meat sauce, side salad, and garlic bread. I remembered I forgot to buy non-diet Pepsi. So after we ate, we went next door to a CVS, and bought some Pepsi and some snacks. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a Subway, and I bought a foot long cold cut combo sub for breakfast. Then we headed back to the hotel for the night.
I attached my timing chip to my shoe, and my bib # to my jersey. I debated about what to wear for the race. But with temperatures forecasted from 34F to 56F, I decided to wear my leggings and my long sleeve tuxedo jersey. I laid my stuff out for the evening, and headed to bed. I set the alarm for 4:30am.
I slept fitfully waking up about every 30 minutes or so to look at the clock. I did manage to get a solid block of sleep between 11:30 and almost 3am. I was very stuffed up during the night, and did spend some time coughing. At 4:30am, I got up, showered, drank some Pepsi, and ate maybe 4 inches of my foot long. I got dressed, took a Mucinex. I wore sweat pants, and a long sleeve Rochester Marathon short over my running clothes. Then we headed to the car.
Helen drove me into town to the bus pickup location. The marathon people were great, and gave us sheet with detailed directions from and to various places. We had directions from our hotel, to the buses. Helen dropped me off, and headed back to the hotel to get some more sleep.
I boarded one of the buses. Shortly before the bus left, a guy came on to give us last minute information. I stressed that we should try to pace ourselves evenly throughout the course, and not try to run the downhills in the first 8 miles too fast. He asked if we had any question. I raised my hand and asked “How long is this marathon?” which brought laughter from the runners on the bus. He paused for the briefest of moments, and responded “As long as you want it to be.”
As we rode the bus to Forest City, I kept an eye on the roads. There were a bunch of hills. The hills seemed steeper than they looked on the elevation chart. I wasn’t if sure this was the race route or not, but figured at least some of it had to be.
When we arrived at the high school in Forest City, there were lines of HS student volunteers waiting for us. Cheerleaders cheered us. One of the students led us to a gym where we would wait. There were goal times posted around the gym. There were no official pace groups, but we could form informal pace groups by waiting near the signs with our goal times. Not sure if any pace groups formed or not. There didn’t seem to be one for the 3:30 pace that I was going for. I did talk to some people who were going for paces like 3:40 and 3:20, etc. The race started about 8am, so I waited till about 7:30 to strip off my sweats. I shoved them in a bag with my number on it, and turned it in.
I made one trip to the porta potties. Actually, I made a second trip to the porta potties, but only got halfway through the line before we had to head to the start line.
It was cold. I think someone said about 32F. I saw many people in shorts and singlets shivering. They had signs up so we could arranged ourselves by pace. I lined up near the 8:00 pace sign. Then they had us all go forward to the start line itself.
After the national anthem, they let the disabled racer go. I couldn’t tell if he was in a racing wheel chair or a hand cycle. But with all the down hills in the first 8 miles, he would be flying! They said that we await for five minutes, but I think it was only like two minutes. They announced on your mark, get set, then fired a cannon. And we were off. I started my Garmin as I crossed the start line.
The first 8 miles or so have the steepest downhills. But there are uphills here too. More uphills than I expected. But I was okay with that. I planned to run at around an 8 minute pace, and try to pace myself evenly along the course. I ran up the hills. I didn’t want to go out too fast on the downhills. Since the Garmin 305 pace jumps around, I tried to keep in just below 8:00 minute/miles. On the downhills, I tried to run them so as not to try to fight the hill. I didn’t want to waste energy trying to slow myself down. So I ended up running these at maybe 7:30 pace. My hands were very cold. I had brought gloves which I had stuck in my jersey pocket, but I didn’t take the time to put them on.
I took 20 second walk breaks each mile. When I started walking, I would try to pick out someone who was running near me. At the end of 20 seconds, I would run to catch up with them, then fall back into pace. I noticed most of the runners around me were going way faster than me. I let them go. I figured I would be passing some of them later on.
The aid stations were spaced out every two miles. I would grab some Gatorade from most of them. But I planned to take gels about every four miles. I would grab water from the aid stations when I was going to take the gels. I planned to take gels about every 4 miles. I took my first gel at about mile 4, my second gel at about 8, and my third gel at about mile 12. I figured I could take gels at 16 and 20, but have nothing for the next 6 miles. So I took my next gels at miles 18 and 22. This seemed to work.
The course was very nice. The road was a little rough in spots though. The volunteers were great. There were lots of spectators along the way and they cheer us on.
Over the first 8 or 10 miles, I managed to bank about 3 minutes without trying. I honestly tried to stay on pace. But I also did not want to fight the downhills either. I hit the half-marathon point at 1:42:20 which is a PR. My fastest half marathon was the Niagara Fall Intl where I ran 1:42:49. Now my plan was to try to just hold a nice even 8 minute pace.
There was porta potties scattered long the course. I didn’t use them, but saw many other runners do so. I also saw runners run to relieve themselves in the bushes. I yelled at one guy, “Hey, I know what you’re doing over there!” I always wanted to do that.
The course had seemed to flatten out some. But there were small hills to run up and down. I was ahead of schedule, so I took a few 25 second walk breaks, and didn’t always make a huge effort to catch up to the people I had been running near.
There are a couple sections of trails that the course goes on. From about mile 15.75 to mile 17.25 we were on a trail. This trail was a dirt and gravel road. Then later on, maybe around mile 18, we ran around a little park, then we were on another trail, this one covered with wood chips. This trail was a bit damp in spots.
At about mile 17, with 9 miles left to go, I was ahead of pace by about 2 minutes. My legs were tired, and getting sore. I figured I could run that last 8 miles at about 8:15 pace. But something happened. Over the next handful of miles, I saw my buffer disappear. I am not sure where it went. I thought I was holding pace. I went from two minutes in the bank, to about half a minute over a mile or two. Then in the last three or four miles, the bank was gone, and now I was into my extra 59 seconds. And the last 3-4 miles has some of the biggest uphills on the course. Crap! What happened? I started to think I wasn’t going to get my BQ! I was going to miss it by seconds! I started to push myself to keep the pace. It hurt. A lot!
On one uphill, I was running up the hill, and asked some other guys if this was “the big hill”. The one guy said yeah, this was it, the last big hill before the finish. Great. But then about a mile later we were running up another bigger hill. I heard the guy say to his friend that he had thought the last hill was the big hill. Ack! And if that wasn’t enough, this section of road was under construction. They had roughed up the asphalt for resurfacing making hard to run on. It was much rougher than I normally see for resurfacing, and my feet were rolling this way and that. I continued to push myself up the hill. Must hold the pace! I skipped the last water stop.
When I got to mile 25, I had 9 minutes to reach the finish under 3:30:59. 9 minutes to run 1.2 miles. I could maybe do this! I took a last 10 second walk break, and then put the pedal to what was left of the medal. Starting at about .75 miles to the finish, there is an uphill section that lasts for about a half mile. And it was kind of steep. I kept looking at my Garmin, and pushing up that hill. Then I was over the top. It was downhill to the finish line. I ran with everything I had. I knew I was going to make it now. I crossed to line, and stopped my Garmin. It read 3:30:28. I caught my breath, I yelled, I am going to Boston again! I got my medal, and got my chip cut off. They gave me a mylar blanket and a bottle of water, and I moved on to get my food. They had quite a selection: cola, Gatorade, bagels, doughnuts, cake, cookies, small sub sandwiches, bananas and other fruit. They gave us bags to take what we want. I grabbed some stuff, through it into the bag, and made my way out of the finishing chute. I looked for Helen. I didn’t see her. After not finding her after the half marathon in Toronto, and having her return to the room in tears, I decided to stay right here till I found her. Besides, I didn’t know where else to go. I stood on a bench and scanned the crowd for her. Then I spotted her. I yelled her name and got her attention. We made out way to pick up my morning clothes bag. Then after a short hobble to car, we were on our way home. I changed clothes in the car. We stopped at a McDonalds along the way and got food. Not to mention several stops along the way to stretch my legs when they started to cramp up.
When I got home, I looked up my time. I found my chip time was 3:30:26. This was short of my 3:30:14 PR. And I didn’t break 3:30 which was another goal. But I qualified for Boston! I registered for the Boston Marathon the next day.