Name of the race: Steamtown Marathon
Where: Scranton, PA
Date: October 9, 2016
Time: 8:00 am
Distance: 26.2 miles
Terrain: Net decline, small rolling hills throughout, a mountain at Mile 24 (I kid about the mountain, but it feels like one when you’re tired)
Entry fee: $95
Swag: Long-sleeved tech shirt and finishers medal
Post-race Food: Turkey hoagies (subs for those of you who speak a different dialect of American English), donuts, oranges, bananas, apples, soups (different kinds, I had barley), pasta, and even more food I don’t remember, chocolate milk, and water.
Performance: Overall: 864/1728; Gender: 274/772; Age group (35-39): 53/118
Weather: 52 degrees, 71% humidity
Let’s just get this out of the way. I had a crappy race at Steamtown and I’m really disappointed. I’ll do a write up about my thoughts on my training during this cycle later.
Saturday morning, Ben ran Rock n Roll Brooklyn. Bandit and I stood on Eastern Parkway, which is just north of our house to cheer for him (or in Bandit’s case, bark like a nut and try to attack the runners because they’re running and you’re not – you think you got the taper crazies!) and our PPTC teammates. Our original plan was to head out to Scranton as soon as possible after the race, but Bernie Sanders moved his rally from its original location to the site of the expo, much to the dismay of Jim Cummings, the Assistant Race Director and writer of hilarious race emails. (Seriously, one of the best reasons to sign up for Steamtown is for his frequent missives about the race and its preparation.)
Since the expo had to be delayed, we decided to eat an early lunch at home and then head out. The trip from our home to the other side of the Holland Tunnel (about 8 miles) took an hour and half. And this is not even considered to be especially heavy traffic. We arrived at the expo around 3 pm, just in time to meet up with Nell and her entourage.
Nell and I have been in frequent conversation about our training and Steamtown all summer long, but the last week before the race, we were in hyper drive and had a telepathic connection to each other. Late one evening I randomly texted her to moan about the forecast (it was predicting rain) and she was just on her weather app. Then a couple of days later, at 5:30 in the morning, she texted me to send me good news (cool weather with no rain) just I had finished looking at the weather app. When I told Ben about our newfound psychic ability, he thought we both needed a chill pill.
We had dinner together at Samario’s, which is a red-sauce Italian restaurant that came highly recommended by locals and frequent Steamtown participants. It did not disappoint. The portions were huge and there were ample rolls galore with cinnamon butter (so good!) for carb-loading. I ordered the lasagna, which was quite delicious. We were all satisfied with dinner. We were done by 7 pm and ready to go to bed.
Early in the morning, I dressed, drank some coffee, ate my lemon curd cupcake, and headed out to catch one of the buses to the start line. There’s a line of thought in the bogus New-Agey Self Help Law of Attraction that says that if you put something out in the universe, you’ll attract it and it will come to you. Well, for several months I’ve been reading Jim’s hilarious emails and has hoping deep down inside that something would happen to me so that my situation would make it into a story in his email. Be careful of what you wish for because I was on the ONE BUS out of the several buses from a LOCAL BUS COMPANY that got lost. He must thought we had signed up for a local tour of exciting Scranton. I should have known that Sunday was not my day when we had an inauspicious start with the bus immediately making a wrong turn right from the start. After circling around, we got onto the freeway and made it to Forest City, where the start was. But the bus driver took us on another tour. I happened to be sitting with a girl who lived in the area, when she, all of a sudden, sat up and said that we were going the wrong way.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes, the high school’s over there. We’re going in the wrong direction. We’re going farther away from the high school with every block.”
After several minutes of growing concerns and murmurs (and the bus driver driving along merrily), a few local runners protested and told the driver to stop and turn around. Since I was seated in the back, I didn’t hear the entire conversation, but it sounded like the driver didn’t want to. I thought a riot was about to happen. A guy stood up, went down to the driver, and insisted that the bus turned around. The bus turned around and we cheered. Finally we were on our way to the start line.
I had planned on hanging out in the high school early so that I could hang out with my friends, but I was there with only a half hour left to the start. It was just enough time to visit the lavatory, take a pre-race gel, and mill around for a few minutes to find my friends. People were sprawled out everywhere, so I wandered from one big room to another to find my friends.
I heard my name being called out and it was Shan, a PPTC teammate and a reader of my blog! We found our other teammate, Em, and got a team photo taken. After a few minutes of chatting, we headed out to the start line. I anxiously looked around for Nell. I knew she would be with the 8:35 pacer. She found me and we waved to each other. I settled behind the 8:45 pacer. We sang the national anthem.
Bang! Off went the cannon and we were off. We carefully ran over Fred, the big speed bump at the start. Steamtown may be a “small” race, but at the start it’s quite congested, like NYRR-style. It was especially bad if you were trying to hang with the pace leaders.
The first mile was a bit slow at 8:59 pace. It should have felt really really easy. Instead it felt like work. I was worried, but hoped that in another mile my legs would loosen up and I would feel better. We sped up for the 2nd mile. At the start of the third mile, we settled into pace. My legs still felt heavy. I immediately knew BQing wasn’t in the cards. I let the pace group go and set myself for my other goal of PR’ing at 3:50.
Once I set the pace group go, the congestion slowly fell away. I tried to relax and enjoy the experience. Hands down, the course scenery at Steamtown is one of the best in the country. Gorgeous fall colors decorated the route. It was utterly picturesque. There were several moments where I wished I had time to stop and take a photo. My favorite segments where when we were running on the “trails.” Most of the trail sections are paved, but there was a short 1/2 mile proper trail with dirt and rocks. It was very very very pretty.
For a small race that takes place mostly in the countryside, it has good crowd support. All the towns that we ran through had good loud crowds and there were several points along the course where people were waiting to cheer for us. Lots of aid stations, especially because several people very generously set up unofficial aid stations with more water, Gatorade, candy, orange slices, popsicles, and even beer at Mile 25. I really loved running this race. It’s exactly the type of race I love – a small cozy race with great community support. Steamtown is an amazing marathon. It’s a runner’s race, meaning it’s organized with runners who care about running in mind. Year in, year out, it’s well-organized with a race staff who care about runners and amazing volunteers.
I even felt nostalgic at times remembering certain sections from when Ben ran this race a few years ago. I didn’t know quite when I was going to see Ben and Nell’s husband, but I figured it would be around the halfway mark and at around Mile 17. I was happy to catch sight of them at Mile 12. I was running well, but I was growing more concerned about my 3:50 time goal. It just wasn’t feeling as easy as it should be feeling.
Before running Steamtown, people warn you of the quad-destroying downhills. In my opinion, the downhill is not nearly as terrifying as people make it out to be. There is one section that is rather steep and you’re likely to brake as you’re running downhill, but it’s a short section, about as long as a long driveway. The rest of the downhill is gentle and very easy to run. Run for the Red is a lot steeper. My quads were not destroyed after the race.
I caught sight of Ben and Nell’s husband again at Mile 16 and by then I could feel the time goal of 3:50 slipping away and I reset the goal to PR. Any PR. I was slowing down.
Between Miles 18-20, I spent the entire time thinking about what was going to happen at Steamtown. I knew the possibility of PR’ing was slipping away and that I was most likely going to have a mediocre race. Truth be told, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t train all summer to have a mediocre race at Steamtown. I don’t care if I have a crappy race at a non-A goal race, but Steamtown was my ONE BIG RACE OF THE YEAR. To have a disappointing time was almost too much to bear. I considered dropping out at Mile 20. I had my phone and I could call the guys to come pick me up. I would call it a long run and just sign up for either Philly or Richmond in November. As I considered extending my marathon training for another several weeks, I realized that I couldn’t. The busy season of my work is about to start and I simply didn’t have the time to devote to more marathon training. Steamtown, like it or not, was it. Either I finish it or I don’t. There’s no do over.
At Mile 20, I was running through a town and saw what time it was. Although at that moment, I knew technically I still had enough time to PR, I knew I was slowing down too much to continue the pace required and that frankly, I had to do all that I could to even claw myself to a sub-4 hr marathon.
Mile 22, I hit the EFFIN’ WALL. Bam! My legs gave out and churned like I was wading through pancake batter. It wasn’t nutrition because I stuck to the same nutrition plan that I did for Wineglass. My legs were tired and were just done. At some point I saw the 4:00 pace group leader run by and if I hadn’t been so tired, I might have been tempted to cry. As it was, I had no salt left in me to cry. I sweated it all out on my face. It wasn’t my day.
Mile 24 was the dreaded infamous mountain of Steamtown. It’s as steep as Mt Everest if you were to go by all the grousing given by runners. In reality, it’s not that bad, but after 24 miles of hard running, that one last hill is demoralizing.
The last mile in Scranton is amazing. The crowd is so thick and it’s so loud with all the cheering and ringing of cow bells. If I had been having a better race, I would have wanted to soak in the atmosphere, but I was wallowing in misery. After the race, Ben told me that if I had wanted him to, he would have gladly paced me the last 6 miles, “but you probably didn’t want it.”
“No,” I answered, “I was having a bad race. I wanted to be alone, wallowing in misery. You would have been too cheerful for me. I want to be grumpy.”
I heard both Ben and Shan yell my name as different points as I ran to the finish line. I was happy to finish and cross the finish line. I was upset at seeing a time with 4:0X. I waded through the other runners and grabbed the finsher medal that I didn’t want (not like this) and food.
The post-race spread was amazing. So much food! I wish they gave us a plastic bag so that we could easily dump stuff in it so that I could get more food. It was hard handling everything. I got what I wanted and hobbled out to find Ben.
The moment I spotted Ben, I croaked, “Did Nell BQ?” He nodded his head, “She got a 3:38.” I was so happy for her. I shuffled as fast as I could to go find her so I could hug her. My friends had great races. Shan killed by running 2:44:44 and not only that, he negative-split the course, so he gets a pair of free shoes for meeting the Strava Back Half Challenge. Nell BQ’ed and Em PR’ed. I’m thrilled and so proud of them. So many of my friends, including you my readers, were so supportive and sent me wonderful sweet messages. It meant a lot to me to be supported and cared for like that. Thank you.
I’d be lying if I said that I was happy that I finished and for not quitting. I’m disappointed. I acknowledge that running marathons isn’t easy and there’s nothing wrong with running what you can on race day. Bad races happen. Bad days happen. Still, this is hard to take when you do so many weeks of training and put all your hopes and dreams in one basket of racing eggs. I was disappointed after the race, and after thinking about this for the past few days, I’m probably even more disappointed now than I was right after the race. Rumination is not a good thing.
I’m taking this week off from running. I do a few slow miles in the up coming week and then see how my legs feel. I have a few more shorter races on the calendar. Depending on how recovery is going, I’ll either do those races as slow recovery runs or test my legs to see if I can start doing short hard training runs.
I posted a short message about my bus ride to the start line on the Steamtown Marathon Shuttle Facebook page. Jim apologized, although there was no need because 1) it wasn’t his fault and 2) we got to the start line in time. BUT I got my wish about being in one of Jim’s email because in his last post-race email he wrote:
bus driver, Mr. “Around the Block in 80 Days” got lost going to the starting line. We very much apologize for the stress that must have caused those of you unlucky enough to be on board. Since there is no logical reason for a local bus driver to get lost, we have come to the only conclusion that makes any sense.
Bernie Sanders was driving.
I can die happy now. At least I got my wish of making it into one of Steamtown Marathon’s email stories. If you’re wondering if you should ever run Steamtown, go run it. It’s one of the best marathons to be a part of.