Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New Marathon PR at Run for the Red, Pocono Summit, PA. 5/18/14

9th Female, 3rd in Age Group
I was a little unsure if I made the right decision. Two weeks ago I ran Strolling Jim, a 41.2 mile road race through some very hilly terrain in Wartrace TN.

I ran well, through about 32 miles. And then the heat, the hills, my lack of hill training all caught up with me.  My quads felt like they were bruising from the inside out with every step beyond that 32 mile mark.  And even then, in the midst of the suffering, I knew that the crash and burn at the end of that race was exactly what I needed to prepare myself for a great marathon two weeks later.

I found my wall.  The beauty of finding the wall and continuing to plod on beyond it, even at a slow demoralizing pace, is that it can make you really really strong for the next well timed race. I know my body and two weeks later was perfect timing for me.  At the end of Strolling Jim I saw Laz. I thanked him for a great race and I told him right there that I knew I was going to have a really great marathon soon because of it. (I didn't expect a PR, but I thought I should be faster than my Boston time).  He laughed a bit and said, Strolling Jim was going to make that marathon seem pretty short. He was right!

Despite all the good suffering I did on May 4th, I was torn because this race fell on 5/18. This is the Sunday of the same weekend Three Days at the Fair was happening.  So many friends were racing Three Days (a series of races from marathon through 72 hour timed races).  As a NJ ultra runner, it seemed like a requirement that I attend this amazing event in my state. People were traveling from all parts of the country, even other countries, to race Three Days and I was getting up at 4 am to go to the Poconos.

I had decided to register a few weeks ago, likely during the after glow of my decent performance at the Boston Marathon.  I felt that had the weather been cooler at Boston, my race would have been better even though that Boston (3:22) was one of my faster marathon times despite me still being heavier than my ideal racing weight.

A few days after Strolling Jim, I noticed my scale (the one that tells me many outright lies about my body composition) suddenly displayed a slight drop in Body Fat % accompanied by a slight increase in Muscle Percentage.  I believed the numbers had changed because my training suddenly started to feel easier and I felt stronger.  The Boston Marathon week seemed to mark a revival of good health and it has continued for some time now. I hope it lasts for a while.

It is a fast course. FAST. Very Fast. I was told it was fast by many people. I had no idea that they meant FAST!  It is the FASTEST marathon course I have ever run (clearly).  The elevation chart revealed this course is primarily a point-to-point downhill (with some minor ups in the middle) and with more significant rollers at the end, but nothing like Strolling Jim!

The first 6 miles seem to incline and decline but with no significant drop in elevation. Then at 6.5 miles, we hit an amazing stretch of descent that is just liberating.  If you love to run fast with wild abandon, faster than you know you have any right to be running in the middle of a marathon, so fast that delusion of grandeur flood your mind as you start to believe you may actually be a superhero, so fast that even you start to think about how stupid you must be to be running this fast, then this race is for you! 

But if you are the type who has trouble with downhill racing, who worries that their legs will not survive the constant pounding so they hold back, or who is just not trained to handle the descents and ends up so beat up that their legs have nothing to offer in the last 6 or so miles, then maybe you might not like this race.

In addition to the fast course, after a hot TN race, the ideal cool weather was the best gift I could have gotten.  As we drove into the mountains, the temperature dropped into the low 40s.  It was cool and dry with a slight breeze. There is not much better weather than this for a marathon.

Everything about this race seemed so easy and well organized.  Emails were responded to promptly in a friendly and helpful manner. For an extra $20 fee they allowed race day bib pick up.  I appreciated that option as it saved me a lot of money.  The Parking was plentiful at the school.  There was no stress or hassles with getting our bibs and getting ready to race.  The school was warm inside and we had access to the bathrooms, with very little wait, if any at all. The truck that brought gear to the finish area was sitting at the starting line. There were pacers available if needed.  The course was well marked.  It finished on a track, which I just love.  They announced your name as you run your final victory lap :).  Results were posted quickly. Gear Bag retrieval was next to the race results. A lot of food was available at the end, but mostly deli sandwiches and fruit.  Awards ceremony was fast and there was no wait to get on a bus back to the start. Truly, I just loved everything about this marathon.

First, it was a really nice surprise to get to meet Meghan at the starting line.  She is a member of my NJ Road Racing Team (Clifton Road Runners), but we have not yet had the chance to race together.  Funny to run into her at a marathon in PA.  She was able to share some information about the course since she ran it last year and we moved up towards the front just before the gun.

When asked what I thought I would do, I generally give the same answer each time.  "I will go out on pace to run a great race and see how long I can hold it."  That is pretty much what I always do. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it is not my day.

So I decided to start off hovering around my marathon PR pace for the first 6 miles and this is pretty much just what I did.

Before the start: I took a gel on the walk over to the starting line. Two more in my pockets for the ride
M1 7:15
M2 7:23
M3 7:25
M4 7:18
M5 7:24
M6 7:09

As we approached mile 5, another woman was near by asking about the course.  I shared what I knew, that at some point after 6 miles, we start heading DOWN.  She asked, so is everyone here pretty much just waiting for mile 6?  I said, "I don't know if everyone is, but I know I am!"  I felt truly amazing at this point, and much less stressed than I felt I should when averaging 7:20s.  I thought about Strolling Jim and how well it prepared me.

At mile 6, I decided to pass the 3:15 pace group and get ahead of them.  I was hovering a bit behind them, but reeling them it.  At the last aid station it was chaos.  About 20 guys in a pack, all trying to get water from 4 volunteers.  I was lucky I got a cup and decided I needed to get ahead of that for the next aid station.

Once I made a move to pass, the descent started so I just keep up my pace.  It felt amazing to run so freely and easily.  Mile after mile, the terrain was fast and runnable.  My biggest issue was the camber of the road and this caused me to try to find the most level location to run while still being mindful of the tangents.

With every steep decline, I pushed myself.  I passed people faster than I have ever passed anyone in a marathon.  I heard one guy comment about The LESSON he learned last year about being too aggressive to early and how it would all come back at the end in those hills.  I didn't care.  I was Stupid Aggressive… and it felt awesome.

M7 6:43
M8 6:35 (yeah, that's right…a 6:35 split at mile 8 in a marathon! Stupid Fast! Who does this!?) :)
M9 6:50  (took a gel here, even though I didn't think I needed one)

And that little block of miles right there is what I know attributed to my final time being what it was.  Sometimes it just pays off to do what other people think is stupid.  But Stupid is truly relative. I am pretty confident that there were very few people that ran a 6:35 41.2 mile long run through hot and hilly Tennessee as the peak long run, so maybe for them sub-7 paced miles were too much to handle.  But for me, I knew I could deal with it or I would take my beating when it came. 

At mile 10 we started to hit an uphill but I was having so much fun I just worked it the best I could. It was hard but I wasn't falling apart.  I did feel impacted by the ascent and knew I was in for some pain in the last 10k.  I decided that there was nothing I could do to make those hills at the end be kind to me, so instead I was going to bank a little time (despite this normally being a bad idea… but you need to run the course and take advantage of what you can)… I would spend those minutes as needed in the last 10k.

M10 7:16
M11 7:09
M12 7:14
M13 7:02  (1:34:02 half marathon split… one of my fastest half marathon times ever)
M14 7:15
M15 7:16
M16 7:05 (second gel)

At this point most of the crazy fast stuff was over and I was starting to settle down.  I can't say that I was falling apart yet. But the terrain was slower and I was tired.  I wanted to regroup because I knew Miles 21-23 were going to be very hard.  That little elevation photo suggested it was going to be challenging. I grabbed a gel at 16 and tried to stop thinking about the impending fade.

M17 7:20
M18 7:22

It was starting to warm up some and I was feeling it.  My entire body was covered in salt (a sign that I am not yet heat acclimated).

The uphills were here now and all I could was try to survive.  Some people were already walking but I refused to walk.  I passed as many people as I could in this section, even though we were all moving slow.  I noticed that my fade was not as significant or any worse at all than any one around me at the time.  In fact, I was running when many were not. This was all the proof I needed to know that my aggressive pace early on what the right choice.  I know I would have slowed anyway on these hills.  That stretch of sub-7 miles simple gave me a cushion and time to spend as needed.  It may not have been pretty but it worked!

M 19 7:34
M 20 7:37
M 21 7:40
M 22 7:47
M 23 7:50
M 24 7:47

By mile 24, I was toast.  The hills did take a lot out of me, but they are hills and that is what they do. They were not as bad as I imagined they would be.  I think I may be able to handle them better if I go back.  The temperature was up at this point and we only had a little left to go.

Some woman at the top of the last hill was handing out High Fives. She slapped my hand so hard I called out, "Man you are strong!" and the guy ahead of me thought I was talking to him. He thanked me and then encouraged me to get up with him, but I just couldn't catch him. :)  

I had to fight for these two miles. I tried to pick up the pace, but I was having a little trouble. I knew that I had worked this course to a new PR, but I just needed to say strong and finish it off.

M25 7:36
M26 7:31

At 26 miles we enter the stadium and we get to run our final lap around the track.  There were no ladies ahead.  No ladies behind me.  No men in range or threatening to pass me.  I had no more gears to dig into but tried my best to give a strong finish.  The announcer called out my name.  The crowd the stadium seats cheered as if they knew how awesome this time was for me. 

It was everything a PR Marathon Finish Should Be! 

Last .2 2:16.

Time: 3:12:56  (7:21 pace) (New PR by 3 minutes!)
OA Place: 67th 
Gender Place: 9th
AG Place 3rd.
Shoes: Brooks T7 Racing Flats, brand new right out of the box that morning
Fuel: 3 Roctane Gel and all the course supplied Power-Aid I could spill on myself.


  1. Great race and RR! LOL on the guy commenting about the lesson he learned. I hear snide comments when I am running up the hills in a 50K. It's like they don't think I know that the standard thinking is that you walk the hills. I don't care. I am running for the exercise and I like running the hills.

    1. Thanks Tony! And keep running those hills.. not every ultra runner walks all the hills… you don't need to if you like to run them no matter what anyone else say. :)

  2. Nice job Shannon! I did this race in 2006 & 2007 and it was pretty good. The reason that I haven't been back is because they charge extra for race-day packet pickup. They only have a few hundred runners, so it shouldn't be that complicated for them.

    1. It should no be that complicated, especially since many runners are likely to travel and stay over night, so only a handful end up paying for race day bib-pick up. But I will pay the $20 since I do work on Saturdays, and it saves me $$$ because I am not forced to stay in a hotel over night. So many races don't even offer this anymore and those races tend to be the ones I don't want to attend. This race has a low entry fee if you register early so I think at the end of the day, I feel it is worth my extra $20 to get the bib race day. But I get your gripe. It gets old getting nickel and dimed just to remain active in our sport.

  3. Very cool report, Shannon. You were missed at Three Days but obviously made the right choice. A race - especially a marathon - where one does that well and feels that awesome and where little or nothing goes wrong is rare. Runners only get a few races like that in our lifetimes and each one should be cherished.

    Congrats on the PR.