It’s been about a week and a half since I ran the Lehigh Valley Health Network Marathon (or “Lehigh Marathon” as I liked to call it) on September 11, 2016 . Honestly – I have written this post several times and deleted it just as many time.
I’ve gone through a lot of emotions over these past 10 days since running the , but I finally think I can honestly recap the race and my emotions.
If you follow me on social media (here, here, and here), you have followed my journey and knew by the afternoon of September 11th that the race did not go as expected. My 4th marathon was in the books with a final time was 3:51.
What many don’t know was that – Yes I was training for the Lehigh Marathon but what I was ultimately trying to accomplish was running a marathon that would qualify me to register for the Boston Marathon – Yup the big one!
I “attempted” to quality for Boston while running the New York City Marathon last year, but I never truly focused on that goal throughout my training. After finishing the New York City Marathon with a time of 3:49, I realized that I was close to qualifying in the 40-45 age range, where I would need a 3:45 to qualify.
When I first met with Coach James in February, and he about my 2016 goals, my first response was “Boston”. We hatched a plan to get me healthy and strong to run the Lehigh Marathon, as the registration for the 2017 Boston Marathon would open the next day.
During this training cycle, I felt that my training was solid. I hardly missed a workout and, with the exception of a couple of sessions, I was consistently hitting my paces during my quality runs. Even when I took basically a week off in July, I was able to jump back into training and remain consistent.
During Ragnar, this past May, I told my friend Sean Duffy (Cheetah 4 from Team Sexy Sexy Cheetah) I had signed up for the Lehigh Marathon and asked his advice as he had run it the year before. He advised that the course was flat BUT that a majority of the course was on a cinder trail. I took it in stride, but in hindsight it might have been a good idea to take some of my runs to Connecticut’s Rails to Trails to mimic race day conditions.
As many of you know – this summer has been atrocious for running. Hot and humid, day in and day out, but I was out there slogging the miles. I embraced those few days when the heat would break and running would be an enjoyable experience.
About 2 weeks from the race, I had an Achilles flare-up. Tape, compression and physical therapy were the name of the game and using these three tools consistently helped to pretty much resolve the issue before race week.
Unfortunately, as my flare up was winding down, my anxiety about the race day conditions was winding up. No matter how many times I refreshed my Weather App or looked at a different Weather App – the conditions remained the same for race day- hot and humid.
I was fortunate that Coach James and I had talked (thank god for technology) and came up with a plan, which included:
- Bringing a long sleeve shirt to the start soaked in ice water. That would keep me cool until the start while I warmed up (HA) and then I could change into my race shirt just before the gun went off.
- Instead of starting at 8:21 (my prescribed marathon pace) – I would start at 8:35. Ease into the first couple of miles (which are a net down hill) and then increase the speed.
- Preview the course the day before with Mark to find spots he could be at with cold water, a water soaked shirt and hat.
I felt a little bit better, actually much better then I did before last years race because I had a plan.
So we headed down to Allentown on Friday (with my mom who was gracious enough to be co-cheerer and volunteer) and Saturday morning Mark and I headed out for a shakeout run.
My running time was only 25 minutes but let me tell you it was HOT, and it was probably 80 degrees at 8:00 AM. I was nervous already and it only got worse after my run, but luckily Mark did a great job keeping me distracted for the rest of the day.
Packet pickup and the “expo” was small, which surprised me. I understood that the race was small but for being touted at a “BQ” race – I thought there would be more vendors. And the shirt/swag that they handed out – Not impressed.
Before leaving I stopped at the “Concierge” booth to try and get a feel for the course maybe get some tips. Again I was not impressed with those manning the booth. They were not helpful or enthusiastic and it appeared that a couple of them had not run the Lehigh Marathon in the past.
What was cool was the location where the packet pick up was held. Located in the Steel Stacks – Mark and I marveled at the huge, monstrous steel stacks that towered above us. We took a quick walking tour which gave a great, brief history of what an industrial powerhouse this area used to be.
A relaxing lunch was followed by the best idea that Coach James had – an afternoon at the movies WITH RECLINING SEATS. GAME. CHANGER.
Before heading back to our room for the night, we checked out the course and I am so glad we did. It helped a lot on Sunday – knowing how far I was away from the next time I would see Mark and ultimately how far away I was from the finish line.
THE LEHIGH MARATHON START
The next morning – I got up, got dressed, prepared my oatmeal and a half of cup of coffee and headed to the shuttle bus that would take me from the Finish to the Start. I told Mark that morning that I was done looking at my phone – it was giving me too much anxiety and at this point there was nothing that was going to change what was going on outside.
In hindsight – I should have looked at my phone as Coach James had texted me and told me to go out even slower then we discussed – Whoops!
I headed outside and a wall of humidity hit me – Yuck. I would later find out that the temperature was between 70-75 at the start but the kicker was that the dew point was 72 degrees
We got to the start (about a 30 minute bus ride away), I donned my wet shirt, warmed up and waited for the start. The shirt was a great idea because I went from being hot and uncomfortable on the bus to cool at the start.
With minutes to go I changed to my race shirt and headed to the start. Again, this is a very small race so it was not that hard to find a place to line up. There was a bit of heightened security but nothing out of the ordinary. With some quick introductions, we were off.
So if you hear anyone talk about this race – they will tell you that it is a net down hill and for the most part it is true but what I realized was that the majority of that “net downhill” is during the first couple of miles, when you are pumped and ready to go.
Unfortunately I went out way too fast (8:13; 8:13; 8:07), and it was not until mile 4 (8:22) that I reigned it in. I felt pretty confident and comfortable on the course, even when it changed from pavement to cinder. In hindsight – because of the dew point my running output was an 8:00 minute mile or faster, definitely not the paces I had been training at.
I first saw Mark at mile 7 (thank you for wearing an orange shirt) who handed me the best tasting and coldest water ever as I ran past.
What I was not expecting, after passing Mark, was when the course changed from cinder to basically a single track trail. For a portion of the course, you were running on 1 of 2 rutted running tracks. So, if you wanted to pass the runner in front of you, you would have to go around them on uneven grass. Having dealt with ankle/Achilles issues in the past, I did not realize that the constant pounding and maneuvering on uneven surface would be detrimental in the later miles.
I was also fortunate to have met another Connecticut runner at the start, who was running the Marathon Relay “for fun”. Shout out to David Fusfeld for running with me for 6 miles (I think) – he was a great “pacer” and I wish he would have stayed with me for the rest of the race.
Luckily as David peeled off – I happened upon Mark. An unexpected surprise at Mile 13! At that point I was still on pace running an 8:19 and 8:34 for mile 12 and 13.
However, it was during these next miles when the humidity, uneven trail and heading out too quick took it’s toll. The dew point was dropping but I had no idea. I also started to feel a dull ache in my ankle that was slowly traveling up my calf – probably due to the uneven running surface. These miles were also the most lonely – no spectators (besides people out for Sunday exercise) and no water stations that I can recall.
Mark saw me again at Mile 17 and one look at the clock and I knew that my goal time was not going to happen. I was crushed and as I passed Mark, I knew he knew but with a cold bottle of water, he told me I was doing great. He later told me that he was concerned because I had stopped sweating and chugged water like it was going out of style. Usually in races I don’t take too much water because I am afraid of cramping but I had no qualms about water that day.
I had read a race report and knew that after mile 20 there was a hill. I was expecting it, but what I was not expecting was it to be completely rutted and unpaved. Basically it looked (and felt to my feet) maintained. I made a bargain with myself that if I could make it up the hill I would stop at the next water station, take a GU and some water and gather myself.
After cresting the hill, I was shocked and happy to see (and recognize) Mary Johnson (an athlete and Coach of McKirdy Trained). She also had a runner on the course. I slowed down but as soon as I did developed the worst Charlie Horse I have ever experienced. The kind that sent me crumbling to the ground in excruciating. Thank god for Mary who massaged my calf, gave me some electrolytes, and gave me the best words of wisdom – “You just have to rip off the band-aid and start running again”.
I did but those last miles were a bit of a blur. I am ashamed to say that I might have walked up some of the final hills, frustrated at myself and frustrated at the weather.
Rounding the corner for the final mile was slow and crossing the finish line was sweet relief.
What was even better was that my mom, who came down with Mark and I for the weekend, was volunteering at the finish line and was able to hand me my medal. I was grateful she was there to see me complete what I set out to do so many months ago.
After getting my medal and some water, I headed to the shade to cool down.
After searching a bit for the food line – which was located behind the start line, I grabbed some stuff and headed back to the hotel, bypassing the exceedingly long beer tent.
I went back to the room to lick my wounds and see what damage running 26.2 miles had done.
In the end – I ended up with some pretty nasty blisters, a bit of sun burn and a calf cramp that took several days to resolve.
But mentally – I am still licking my wounds. Yes – the weather played a big role in my outcome but when you put that much effort into something, you want it to work out. You want people to see that all the early morning and bed times meant something.
In talking with Coach James last week he helped put things into perspective. Yes – I have come a long way since February and the conditions of the day was the main culprit.
Running on uneven terrain, sweating profusely and using a ton of energy over that terrain was the perfect cocktail for what happened on the course.
I am happy to report that even though my time (3:51) was not what I was expecting – I don’t hate the marathon. In fact, I left Pennsylvania having more respect for the distance. Last year, while running the New York City Marathon I pretty much hated running from mile 15 to the finish. This year – it started at mile 22 and to me that’s a win.
And an even bigger victory, is that I ran the Lehigh Marathon uninjured and have recovered pretty quick. Despite the first couple of days when the stairs and I were NOT friends, I have “bounced” back pretty quick. My first run this past Saturday, although not pretty, did not “suck” as much as I thought it would. I have my training plan to thank for that.
So – What Did I Learn From This Race
No matter how hard you train, the weather ultimately plays a role in how well you do. I know that my training got me to where I am, in the best possible shape I could be, but mother nature decided to be a BITCH that day.
For a marathon that touts itself as a “BQ” qualifier, does not mean that it is going to be completely paved. Take that into consideration while training. Always check the course maps.
Know that if you are going to run a small marathon, you will have to pump yourself up during those later miles.
Having a plan (like Mark meeting me at various points in the race) when conditions are not ideal, helped me run the best possible race I could that day.
I went home from this race really wanting to sign up for another marathon right away, or even running the Hartford Marathon. But I have been talked off that ledge – time to recover and start training for my next challenge….RACING the Manchester Road Race on Turkey Day.
So, even though the race did not turn out the way I wanted it to, I feel that I have learned a lot about myself – what I do well and what I need to improve on.
In hindsight, I am not sure I would have signed up for the Lehigh Marathon had I known what the weather conditions would be, but that is the chance you take for signing up for an early September marathon.
I came away with more respect for the marathon and also learned what “To Do” and what “Not To Do” for my next marathon, sometime early next year.
On Ward and Upward!!!