Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lehigh Valley Marathon for Via – September 11, 2011

Finish time: 3:37:09, 8:18 average pace.  Positive split of about 1 minute.
Placing: 182 of 667 overall, 4 of 32 males age 55-59.

The story:
This was my goal race for the year and I waited at the start with local runner friends Johna, Amy, Laurie, Susan.  Along with welcoming comments related to the sponsoring organization, there was a moment of silence in observance of the September 11 anniversary.  A local first responder sang the national anthem.  The course began on the west edge of Allentown, went through a bit of Bethlehem and finished in Easton.  It followed the Delaware and Lehigh River Canal system which connects these towns.

My goal was to finish at least 5 minutes (preferably 10) under my BQ time of 3:45.  This would require an average pace of 8:24 (or 8:12).  Because of course changes and the forecast for humidity, my plan was to try for 8:15 to 8:20 pace to midway in the race, then pick up the pace as much as possible.

I carried my own homemade sport drink and planned for refills at 3 points on the course from my volunteer support crew – Brenda, Nikki, Anna, Trisha.  According to plan they would meet me around miles 6, 13, and 20 with my drink and honey based energy gel.

The race has a big downhill just out of the start, then there is a challenging uphill in the second mile.  The flat and fast elevation profile had suffered a bit from the course changes.  A couple of miles of unpaved surfaces were eliminated from both ends of the course.  The crowd of runners seemed quieter than usual in the early miles; maybe it was the 9/11 anniversary or the common challenge we faced to get a satisfactory BQ.  About mile three I heard Johna and Amy coming up from behind and we ran together for a couple of miles until Amy stopped to answer a call of nature.

The course was relatively flat from here until we approached mile six by going up a ramp to a bridge.  After crossing the bridge we looped to the left and then back under the bridge to head downhill to the canal towpath.  On this downhill Johna and I came to the awesome YRat support crew.  I walked while I got my refills and gel while Johna continued running.  To get to the towpath we went under a train bridge with a train travelling on it.  The towpath was a bit narrow, only wide enough for 3 runners together.  This made for some occasional slowdowns until someone would break through or around to pass.  The towpath took a bit more effort to maintain pace but I was running easily enough and seemed right on plan although I was actually ahead a bit.  I apparently have a better memory for the pace I saw when checking my watch than for the time it showed at the end of each mile.

Around this time I started chatting with some runners about their race goal and learned we were aiming for about the same time.  I ran with a Cindy from Rochester for about 5 miles to my next support location about mile 13.  We were ranging between 8:21 and 8:06 pace in these miles and passed Johna in this section.  At Bethlehem the course left the towpath for some paved roads with some extra looping around and something like a detour through historic Bethlehem.  In this out and back section I saw Johna and then Amy who had really made up a lot of ground.  I noticed some old stone walls, building foundations and stairways.  I was expecting a big hill here, but I had misread the map so there was only a gentle uphill.  Since we were approaching my next personal aid station, I bragged about my support crew and the whole YRats group.  We eventually came to where The Crew waited with my second refill.  Again I walked through my aid station.  The pattern was Nikki swapping my sport drink bottles (even placing it in the bottle belt) and Brenda was ready with the gel and water to wash it down.  Anna took pictures and whooped it up.  Trisha stood by and watched the whole process; I wonder what she thought!

Across the river from the 14 mile mark I could see the old steel mill furnaces and smoke stacks from Bethlehem Steel.  The pasta dinner the night before had been just across the street from there.  Beginning with the second water table in the race I would walk long enough to get a cup of water, drink about half and dump the other half over my head to keep from getting too warm.  These water tables were 2 to 3 miles apart.  The relay exchanges were a little more exciting with more people and noise.  Some aid stations had junior cheer leaders for the runners.  I guess they normally cheer for youth football teams.  Mostly they looked at each other while cheering and not at the runners. 

By midway I was a couple of minutes ahead of the Garmin virtual partner.  This was where my pace was to pick up and that’s how I thought it went.  But on reviewing my splits, I was a little slower in the second half.  For most of the rest of the race I was trying to stay under 8:10 pace.  About mile 15 I told myself it was only one 90 minute race pace tempo run like in my training to the finish.  This was supposed to be comforting, but didn’t quite do it.

After the 3rd relay exchange the course moved from towpath to an almost single track path.  This caused more congestion and slowing unless you were willing to run the edges to pass.  That’s what I did and for several miles swapped places back and forth with a Marathon Maniac.  My legs were tiring and getting sore.  Eventually they seemed ready to cramp, especially the lower quads just above the knees.  Like other times this increased until the end of the race.

About mile 20 the path ended on a gravel road with a short quick uphill turn and there I found the YRat Crew.  Here Anna brought out washcloths that were soaked with ice water.  These were so refreshing while I took in the other refills.  I walked considerably longer this time before resuming my run.  Six miles remained.  Just a 10k run.  I felt sure I could keep the 8:10 pace or better.  After a mile or so on gravel road the course moved to paved roads.  The first part of this was a steep uphill of 50 yards or so.  I chose to walk this.  Then late in mile 23 and a good part of 24 we had a long difficult hill.  I didn’t see how I could run this faster than walking, so I walked again.  Of course my pace dropped off a lot. 

Then a spectator or volunteer told us there was no more uphill.  I hoped he was correct.  The road did level out and turned downhill a bit.  Someone said there was only a mile and a quarter to go, but my watch said it was a mile and 3 quarters.  It also said I had been running 3 hours and 26 minutes.  If there was only a 1.25 miles to go I thought I could do that in 9 minutes.  But it was my watch which was correct.  I have found more often that my watch thinks I completed the race distance before I got to the finish line, so I decided to wait for my finish line push until I could see the line.  A couple more turns and the finish line came into view.  And there was also a side road out and back to do before heading to the finish.  Maybe it was now within 3 quarters of a mile.  I was pushing myself harder but my pace wasn’t increasing nearly as much as the effort.  As I finished the out and back part I saw Cindy from Rochester entering the section and didn’t think she would make her 3:40 goal.  She missed by 37 seconds.  One last turn and just the final 2 tenths up a small hill to the finish.  I knew I could push the pace that far and “charged” the line, passing 5 or 6 runners.  I stopped my watch a couple steps past the timing mats and saw 3:37:11.  I had a nice PR, sub 3:40, and a chance to rest.

And The Crew met me again, providing more nourishment and encouragement.

Mile splits according to Garmin:
1 to 13:  8:08, 8:21, 8:24, 8:19, 8:14, 8:18, 8:24, 8:26, 8:08, 8:21, 8:07, 8:06, 8:11,
14 to 26.2: 8:30, 8:20, 8:13, 8:20, 7:56, 8:17, 8:43, 8:11, 8:07, 8:35, 9:18, 8:11, 8:08, 0:52
Miles 1-13 totaled 1:47:27, 14-26 totaled 1:48:49.  Plus the point two in 52 seconds.

The race organizers had more than the usual challenges to make this marathon happen.  There was damage to the towpath/trail sections from hurricane Irene and then more heavy rains from the next tropical storm.  They had to change both the beginning and end of the course and get it recertified so that the Boston hopefuls could use their time to qualify.  This was completed less than 24 hours before the race started.  They did a great job of communicating the status and changes to the runners.

local coverage has photos showing some of the course, one pic of Susan Graham-Gray