Sunday, October 23, 2016

Steamtown Marathon, Scranton, PA, 10/9/16

I have started and restarted this race report many times. I have replayed this day in my mind, over and over, and it feels really good. 

I needed this. There is a lot of chaos going on around me right now that won't be discussed in any race report. Sometimes just having a good day means a lot more than anyone looking in from the outside could ever realize. It may seem to some that running and racing (for us non-professional athletes) is "not real life". But sometimes these moments, these “not-real-life” moments are so very necessary because they let us escape from those “real-life moments” that are out of our control and a little painful. When a “not-a-real life moment” lifts you up in a healthy way, reminds you that you are strong, and gives you the chance to celebrate something that feels wonderful, then that makes those "not-a-real life moment" very real. I will cherish this day. 

Last month I ran a 2:56:14 at Big Cottonwood. That race was not easy. I walked away from that race in awe of what just happened. It felt like a dream. I got lots of kudos from those who were very proud of me… but (as Kim knows) there was this little voice, this very critical, judgmental little voice in the back of my mind, that questioned how much of those 3 minutes and 46 seconds of sub-3 time was a product of the course and how much was because of how hard I worked

Could I run a sub-3 again? Will I fall right back into running the 3:11- 3:15 best efforts that I have done so many times before? Maybe none of that sub-3 time was because of me and my efforts?  Ok, some of it had to be, I knew that (but self-doubt is irrational). I have worked very VERY hard. I look different. I feel different. All my performance have improved. They project out to a sub-3 marathon. 


I had nine Creating Momentum runners, including Kim and myself running Steamtown. I like to send my runner to Steamtown for fall race goals because the course is one of the best in the country for great running in October. If you want to BQ, consider Steamtown! 

At first, I was not intending to go. But Kim was going to Steamtown to run her butt off and I really wanted to be there to see her shine. In fact, all of my runners were very well-prepared and ready to have great races. I decided to give up the chance to improve my scorecard in our local race series, and go support my friend and my runners!

The night before the race, Kim and I were up until midnight hashing out various race day pacing scenarios. I spent very little time preparing my own plan, but that was ok. I did not really want to think too hard about it. I had trained for months, peaked, and tapered ALL for Big Cottonwood…Steamtown was an after thought. I could still run great, but if I did not, I would not be shocked. 

So I planned to try to run the first half about a minute slower than my half PR (which is 1:27:21) as long as that pace felt sustainable. Most people don't negative split Steamtown. The hills in the second half of Steamtown are more challenging than what I faced in the second half of Big Cottonwood. I tried to be realistic and not set my heart on another sub-3 or a negative split. How could I really expect to run great when the training cycle ended a long time ago? Regardless of reality, I knew I was going to go for it. I will either run a sub-3 or blow up trying. What did I have to lose? This was not my goal race. I already met my goal at Cottonwood.  

Race Day:
I took a gel, lined up towards the front, and off we went. I felt good. Comfortable. I had written 8 pace plans for this race for my runners. I knew the course like the back of my hand. I expected M1 and M2 to be fast, M3 to be slow and the M4, M5, and M6 to be some of the fastest of the race. 

M1 - 6:35
M2 - 6:36
M3 - 7:00
M4 - 6:37
M5 - 6:26
M6 - 6:41

There were no surprises so far. I did have moments where I started to feel my back get tight. And moments where my pace felt harder than I hoped it would feel. But my plan was to pay attention to my breathing, not get ahead of myself, and not allow lactate to build too high too soon. I find myself thinking about lactate recycling a lot now when I run. I don't run based on pace, I run based upon perceived effort. The plan was to run comfortably hard until I give myself permission to race harder (at M18) or until my body lets me know it could not do it today.

I don't look at splits when racing. I let the watch auto lap and I periodically check the watch for "current lap pace" or "average pace" to see what I am doing.  I am really pleased to see how evenly I held the pace despite some inclines in this section.

M7 - 6:43
M8 - 6:44 (I forced myself to take another gel at M8, even though I felt I didn’t need it.)
M9 - 6:43

For much of this race, I ran on autopilot, a little scared of what the outcome could be. I liked having my last race be a sub-3 PR and once I cross that line slower, I knew I would feel a little sad. 

M10 - 6:37
M11 - 6:44
M12 - 6:42
M13 - 6:44

At the halfway point, a guy asked about our split.  Half 1:28:10. (Looking back to Big Cottonwood now, I am surprised to see I came through 1:28:12!). 

We started talking and then I noticed the pace said 6:52 for the first time since the uphill mile 3. I had to politely excuse myself from chatting, conserve my energy and focus on staying on target.  M14 - 6:48

I picked up the pace knowing that if I really wanted a Sub-3 again, I needed a good 15-20M stretch, because the hills were coming after 20 (with the worst at Mile 23-24). If I carefully (comfortably) banked a little time now, I could spend it later and still sneak in around 2:59. 
M15 - 6:30

Ok, that felt fantastic. Really much better than thought. So I keep pushing the pace. I expected to positive split this course and with a1:28:10 I had some time to do it.  
M16 - 6:38, M17 - 6:42.

I wanted to hit 18M in 2:00 to have a good shot at my goal. I make it there in 2:00:54. Close enough!  M18 - 6:31 (I take my second gel here).

I knew mile 19 was slower… but I could not remember why.  I assumed there was a hill, but there was actually a dirt path. The terrain change slowed me down, but I made an extra effort to push myself to not lose much time. I promised myself that once back on the pavement, I could dig deep to keep my momentum going. M19 - 6:47, M20 - 6:39, M21 - 6:38

Starting in mile 22, the hills begin. I know the worst is M24. I am digging with everything I have in me. I am running my heart out! M22 - 6:40, M23 - 6:42

I get to M24. I am determined to not let that hill destroy me!  I lean into it. I drive my arms hard.  Someone yells out “Way to used your upper body to work the hill.” M24 is tough. Really tough.  M24 - 6:56

As soon as I crest M24, I fight my desire to slow and instead work to get back on pace. I try to shift gears and I find that I have another gear in me!  I am racing the clock.
M25 - 6:34

I am overcome with shock that I may do it again. This is driving me. It will be close… 26.2 is one thing, but this course always comes up long.  26.4, 26.5 are common course distances that our imperfect watches tell us we ran. I need to expect this and take nothing for granted. 

I crest the last incline, a man yells out, “You need to hustle.You will be the last woman to break three!”  Oh wow, I have 6+ minutes left and some distance less than a mile on my watch and this guy says it will be really close…So that means I have a chance to do it again!. 

"DIG!... DIG!... DIG!..."  M26 - 6:27  

As ran my heart down and approached the finish line, I noticed the clock and it shocked me. 
Last .35 - 2:07 (6:04 pace)

...2:55:43... 2:55:44... 2:55:45 ... ticked down as I crossed the mat.  

I stop running. Everything around me freezes or maybe everything just seemed to be moving so fast around me it was a blur... In that moment, I am alone in space and time. I look at my watch 2:55:47.  

Oh thank goodness!  I DID IT!!!  Sub-3!  But wait, that time can't be correct?!  

And then it hit me. Oh WOW! I PR’d… I could NOT believe it!!  And a few moments later, I realized that I had to negative split to do it. I still cant believe I negative split the hills. 

For the next hour, I was able to witness a stream of Creating Momentum Runners coming through, almost all running the races they had hoped for and most setting HUGE PR’s and getting their BQ’s.

As I stood at the finish, the RD walked up to me and said “Congratulations! You were one of our sleeper elites! We had no idea who you were!  Why didn't you register as an elite runner?”  
I replied, “I didn’t think I was fast enough to even consider that.”  And he said “Well, next year you need to request an elite bib”…. and walked away leaving my head spinning, in such a good way. 

It was just such a great day. I felt validated as an athlete. I felt validated as a coach. But most importantly, I was able to experience life from a position where happiness outweighed hurt. And I really needed that. 

Time 2:55:45 (6:43)
OA: 37/ 1729
Gender: 4th Place Female OA
And 6th Fastest Time ever run by a Master’s Female at Steamtown. 


  1. Once again very inspirational Shannon, congrats on your many successes :)

  2. dang dang dang. sleeper elite. I freaking love that phrase. An awesome report.
    Karen Finney

  3. "Running to him was real; the way he did it the realist thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free." ~ John L. Parker, Once A Runner

    Congratulations on your PR and another sub-3!