One of my big goals for 2012 was to run a full marathon. 26.2 miles. Just a bit daunting at first. A bit.
As my training progressed and I got more long runs under my belt, I wasn’t feeling too bad about this goal. A hiccup occurred in August when I pulled my right groin muscle and was put out of commission for a couple weeks. I missed an 18 mile run and “jumped back into things” by participating in Pretzel City’s Labor Pain 12-hour ultramarathon. I ran 26.2 miles total, but not all in one go. More accurately, I ran 5 loops of 5 miles plus one .6 out and back for 26.2 miles in a total of about 6 hours. Not exactly the same as running a continuous road marathon, but it was vital training in my eyes.
After the ultra I was still battling some soreness and had put on some weight from cutting back my activity (running, lifting weights). I ran the Bird-in-Hand half marathon and 5K. I also ran the Rotary Celtic Classic 10K in Bethlehem the week before Steamtown D-Day. I was feeling OK. My health was okay, as tested by the good staff at Marywood University in Scranton where I participated in a study of marathon participants. I just didn’t feel as if I had been doing as much as I needed to since I pulled the muscle back in August. Let’s say I took a bit of an exaggerated taper from running.
Regardless of that, I was running at Steamtown. I drove up to Scranton the afternoon before and stopped first at the high school for the expo. I was first drawn to the two running stores at the expo and bought socks, a fuel belt, and gloves. It was supposed to be cold the next morning and possibly rainy (according to the forecast, anyway). I wandered around and eventually found the doors to the packet pick-up area. There were no lines! I quickly got my bib, shirt, timing chip, and a medical info card to stick on the back of my bib should something happen to me during the race. Like get attacked by the wild Scranton boar or something. Or more likely, get severely dehydrated.
I next checked in over at the Marywood area to have some more tests run for the study. This took about 40 minutes or so (mostly waiting for one procedure) and I was back in my car and trying to get my bearings. As someone who considers themselves well-traveled in the state of PA, I had actually never been to Scranton until a few days before the marathon (for the Marywood thing). Upon getting into town, I recognized some scenes from NBC’s The Office, which is supposed to be based in Scranton. I also heard the steam whistle of a train, which is another thing the city is famous for – steam locomotives. Hence, Steamtown Marathon. Scranton is also known as “the Electric City” as it was the first US city to have functioning electric cable cars. Facts! I have them!
After checking out a few things in town, I checked into my hotel at the Scranton / Wilkes-Barre airport. This was the closest Holiday Inn I could find with vacancy for the race (about 8 miles outside of Scranton). Keep that in mind if you’d like to run this in the future and you’re from out of town. Hotels fill very quickly. I booked my room quite a number of months before the race. It wasn’t much of a big deal because the hotel was nice and I needed to stop over in Wilkes-Barre at the mall to find running shorts. The Steamtown Mall in Scranton didn’t have much of a selection.
I found my shorts and decided to eat at Panera for my pre-race dinner. Yes, I realize I’m boring eating at chain restaurants, but hear me out: it’s predictable food that has not made me sick and it’s not heavy or gloppy. A sandwich and soup was a good choice. After that it was back to the hotel to relax, talk to Rob a bit, and call it an early night. Oh, and also to prepare all my stuff for a very early wake-up call. And to try to not be a nervous wreck.
At 4ish AM I was up and at ‘em. I got dressed, put in contacts, went to the bathroom 50 times (or what seemed like it), finished off the rest of a bottle of coconut water, packed up my bags, and checked out. It was cold outside – 37 degrees – and I was happy I bought a car with heated seats. With virtually no traffic in sight, I quickly got up I-81 into Scranton, onto the express to the downtown, and found a parking space along the street. In accordance with the helpful map mailed out by the race directors, my parking space was legal and OK for race day. It turns out I was only parked a block from the bus area, and I was able to hop on the first bus to the starting line.
The bus ride seemed to be all uphill and a long ride. Totally just my nervous perception but I was thinking the “this race has a lot of downhill” warnings were pretty damn accurate based on the bus ride to Forest City. We finally made it into the parking lot of Forest City high school. I thanked the driver, hopped off the bus, and scouted out the bathrooms. Damn nerves. Luckily there were zero lines at this point. After that, upon entering into the high school, we were greeted by cheerleaders! I could not believe everyone was so peppy at 6 AM!
Because our group arrived early, we had the run of the gym at first. This meant room to stretch out, eat, do whatever. More people started to arrive and the gym got very crowded in very little time. The crowded conditions led to the gym getting very warm. I was personally OK with this because it was quite cold outside and after a couple visits to the line of bathrooms outside, it was nice to come back in to a toasty gymnasium. Nearing the start of the race, I dropped off my jacket and bag at the bag check and started the nervous waiting game.
At about 10 minutes prior to the start of the race, a big wave of people, myself included, started filing out to the starting line. There were signs with expected pace by the minute, so I went over and hung out with the 10 minute group. There were not official pacers for the race, just pace groups to clear up the mass of people in the starting line. I started my usual pre-race ritual of turning on my Garmin, starting up my Spotify playlist and tucking away my iPhone into my (new) fuel belt pouch, checking my gels, and crossing my fingers that I brought enough gels and fuel for the race.
Next, the Star Spangled Banner was sung, a scripture was read (I’m going to assume by a priest, I couldn’t see anything), and the bike race started. A couple minutes later a huge cannon sounded and the rest of the horde was off. The going was slow at first. It was more of a shuffle motion getting to the line. I heard the beep from the chip and we started moving a little faster. The first portion of the race was obviously chaotic, as any larger race is. I think the tally was around 2000 runners for the event. There were some cancellations at the last minute. No matter, we were all out on the course and spreading out.
The first downhill was pretty steep through Forest City. Down the hill, then to the right onto the main road (route 171) which we stayed on for some time. The course was generally flat, with a slight downhill gradient, and only a couple notable hills.
The course went through several small towns starting with Forest City, then continuing through Browndale, and then Vandling Borough. From Vandling, there was a stretch of several miles with open space and scattered homes and forest on either side. This portion was mostly downhill. Next came the town of Simpson, then Carbondale. Carbondale featured a couple of my favorite spectator signs – “If running a marathon was easy, it would be called YOUR MOM” as well as “Toenails are for sissies”. Next was Mayfield Township then the borough of Jermyn. Jermyn is the birth of first aid according to the banners hanging in town. I can’t remember if it was Mayfield or Jermyn, but I swear I saw “Fear the Flying Spaghetti Monster” drawn on the roadway in sidewalk chalk. That’s uh, a little tongue-in-cheek humor for us agnostic folk.
After Jermyn was the halfway point. I passed by the 13.1 mark at around 2 hours, 10 minutes. I was doing just fine for a four hour, thirty minute finish time. I felt OK. I was starting to get a little bit of fatigue, and decided to take one gel. I was under the impression that there would be food and non-drink items at the later aid stations and I should be OK with packing 2 gels for the race.
Miles 14 to about 18 (I think) were on a rail trail along the Lackawanna River. This, in my opinion was the most enjoyable portion of the course and was highly refreshing. It gave a much needed break from running on paved surfaces. I also grabbed a couple sweet items at one of the aid stations to take the place of the gels I probably SHOULD have packed. I can’t say the same thing from mile 19 and onward as we moved back onto the pavement. I was really starting to feel crappy as I neared mile 20. If this was the fabled wall, I was running into it. I took my second gel at 19.75 miles. It took me a little longer to down the thing as my stomach was feeling somewhat nauseous. I chased it with a bit of water at the next aid station and felt a little better. I was still running at this point and had not stopped. I had to start taking breaks about 22 miles in. I took advantage of any aid station at this point. I needed hydration. My packs were empty and packing 2 gels was a horrible idea in retrospect.
The last couple miles felt like torture. I was alternating walking and running and my legs felt like lead weights. The nausea had died off at this point, thankfully, and I was not cramping, very thankful for that. Still, though, my legs and hips hurt pretty bad. We started to run through more residential areas with more spectators. This was helpful and motivating. Legs still felt like poop, though.
Nearing 1 mile remaining, I caught up with a guy wearing a St. Luke’s Half shirt with the LVRR logo on the back. I kept in pace with him for the rest of the race, even up the dreaded hill right before Cooper’s Seafood. As I got to the top of the hill I thought I saw Cthulu attacking Cooper’s but then realized they have a giant octopus atop their building. Awesome.
From there, it was just a couple blocks to the glorious finish line. I was so happy. I didn’t sprint or anything but picked up my pace just a bit – all adrenaline. Clock time was 4:40:54. I then got my mylar blanket and an awesome finisher medal. Train bling!
After the finish I headed through the line looking a little dazed and someone helped me into the area for Marywood study participants. I had to have my hydration tested again (urine sample) and from that I could immediately tell I was dehydrated pretty badly. I waited for the next round of tests and chugged some water. And some more water. At this point I was feeling better. My nausea had passed, my legs were in a holding pattern, and I my temperature was more even. Soon after, though, I got raging hungry.
I skipped out of line and hobbled over to the food tent to find a tantalizing array of square pizza slices, pierogi, and some form of Pennsylvania-famous casserole. I went for the pierogi and pizza. Fast carbs, man. The pizza tasted delicious. It was like a slice of childhood because it tasted like the pizza my grandma used to make when I was growing up. The pierogi were also tasty. That’s right. Pierogi is plural. It’s not pierogies, people. Sorry, pet peeve. While I was munching down food, I also grabbed my bag at the bag check because in the process of eating outside I had gotten the shivers and needed my jacket.
I got back in line and waited for a good while longer. This was really the only downside to being in the study. The last test (breathing analysis) required took a lot of time and created a bottleneck. I ended up being the second to the last to get the test done and at this point I think the clock was at 6 hours, 20 minutes. It was a little bit of a wait and I was happy to be done and on my way home at this point.
The drive home felt LONG. It felt this way because I was getting very tired and wanted a nap very badly. I got home and downed a half pot of coffee, a bowl of Weetabix (I gotta give a shout out to my Foodie Penpal for last month for sending me this fine cereal), and some trail mix. I got a shower and hopped into bed for 3 hours. Best damn nap ever. Later that evening I announced to Rob that I wasn’t cooking and wanted to go get some carby Mexican food. And being the good boyfriend that he is, he obliged and we went to Fiesta Ole.
So there you have it, I finished my first marathon. I’m the doof in yellow.