What is harder than running a sub 3 hour marathon? Trying to do it again.
This distance has intimidated the life out of me since crossing the finish line of the 3 Bridges Marathon nearly five months ago. I had built up “the big sub 3” for so long and when it happened I was elated but after I came down from cloud nine something happened. I didn’t know if I could ever do it again. I had executed a nearly perfectly paced race (for me) and sometimes it can be very hard to follow up a successful performance. Fear of failure or of not meeting expectations can be crippling. My mediocre half marathon performances this spring did not build any confidence in me for racing longer distances. Truth be told, for the last few months I have only enjoyed racing the 5 and 10k distance. This is not exactly the best way to go into a marathon. I have a lot more confidence in myself as a runner in shorter distance races. I know what to expect. Marathons are just so long… I never know how I’m going to handle that last 10K. This scares me.
I first heard about the Poconos Marathon when my family vacationed near there last summer. I sent my sister Tricky (remember the one I met up with in PA for another marathon in ’12) a link to the race website. There was also a nice cash prize too for the top 3 overall finishers and last year the number one female finished in 3:06. (This was how I justified spending $400 on a plane ticket.) If a 3:06 won surely I could place in the top 3 and I would more than cover the cost of a ticket- plus I’d get to see my parents.
Some how I convinced my sister to join me and then my parents (who live in PA) planned to come cheer for us. I left Arkansas Friday afternoon and got to Pennsylvania late that night.
|En route to Little Rock airport- the whole crew came a long to say good-bye|
|Carb loading on my layover in Chicago… Hands down the worst spaghetti meal I’ve ever had.|
Saturday morning we headed to visit with my Grandma who lives on the way. I do not get to see her very often so this was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
|my parents, my sister Tricky, me and my grandma|
Then we went to my favorite philly cheese steak restaurant. I’m not sure if this was the best day-before-race meal but anytime I am in town we go there. There is nothing even remotely like it in Arkansas.
After lunch we said good-bye to my parents and grandma. We weren’t going to see my parents again until mile 16 of the marathon! Tricky and I were headed to the expo and then to her friend Rachel’s family cabin which was located near the halfway point of the course.
The expo was located in the cafeteria of the Stroudsburg High School. It was small but it had what we needed. We got our race packets and picked up some gels. At the expo we were also able to meet up with a mutual friend we both have on Daily Mile- Kristin. She is so sweet and friendly!
|3 Bridges has this thing about their runners showing off their shirt at different races so of course I had to represent 3B26 in the Poconos!|
|Rachel and Tricky|
|Tricky and I sporting our bright yellow race shirts|
Saturday night we stayed deep in the mountains. Rachel’s family cabin was so cozy! After dinner we watched a little Downton Abbey and Rachel (who is a beautician) painted our nails. It was the perfect girls night… if you could forget the fact that we were running 26.2 miles in the morning!
|Taken right outside the cabin|
|so cozy by the fire|
|all my race gear ready to go!|
|my bed at the cabin|
Tricky and I left the cabin around 6:45 Sunday morning. The race started at 8 and we were only about 15-20 minutes away. On the way I had some oatmeal, half of a banana and some water. It is so hard making myself eat before a marathon because I am so nervous!!
The race starts at Pocono Summit, PA at the Pocono Mountain West High School. The school is open to all the runners and there are plenty of restroom facilities. We dropped off our bags which would be transported to the finish. While we waited to head to the starting line we met up with Kristin and her husband, as well as another mutual friend we have on Daily Mile- Tad. The weather was looking good- mid 40’s by start and shouldn’t get higher than 60. There were no excuses!
|pre-race jitters pose|
The Course and My Pacing Plan
The Poconos Marathon is a point to point race from Pocono Summit to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. There is a huge net loss downhill (2,225 ft) but as you can see there are some small spikes of elevation gain (821 ft) spread throughout. The majority of the downhill section ends around mile 18 and then it is more of a rolling finish. I had never run a marathon like this but I was anxious to experience it for myself.
|So much downhill- what could possibly go wrong?|
In the months leading up to this race I googled some runners race reports to get a little inside scoop on the course. They all admitted how fast many of the early miles seemed to be and how hard it was to reign in their pace. It seemed very easy to get caught up in the downhill and go out way too fast. Then around mile 17-18 to quote one runner, the “party was over.” The last stretch didn’t look that bad to me but I decided I really needed to watch the downhill and not go out too fast. I didn’t want the last 10K to be a death march.
My plan was to aim for around a 6:45 pace. I knew this might mean a 15 sec swing either way but I was hoping to hit 6:45 for most of the race. In marathons I know I’ve paced it right if my splits are all within 30 seconds or so of each other. If there is closer to a minute (or more) between my fastest and slowest mile splits then I did something wrong.
I said goodbye to my sister and friends and headed near the front. I had no idea who my female competition was but my end goal was to place in the top three.
6:42, 6:52, 6:55, 6:41, 6:42, 6:42
These miles are not my favorite in a marathon. It always takes me a few miles to get in my pace zone and it is the most crowded. Several females past me during the first mile. (At least 7 or 8) I told myself not to worry- I would see them later. 🙂 I focused on staying in control of my pace. This first stretch did not have that much downhill in it. I knew that was coming later so it gave me something to look forward to down the road- literally!
|Miles 1 to 6.5|
6:43, 6:31, 6:45, 6:49, 6:46, 6:50, 6:54
This section was the easiest. On the uphills I would pass other runners and on the downhills a few would pass me. I felt like I was really prepared for the hills and I was not working hard on the downhills, just gliding down them trying to save my effort for later. Around mile 10 I found myself right behind two other female runners. A coach (?) yelled to one of them- “You’re in fifth!” I slowly caught up and passed them both putting me in fifth.
|Miles 6.5 to 13.1|
Half Marathon Split- 1:28:53. I had about 2 minutes wiggle room to make it under sub 3 but if the race went longer on my watch than 26.2 (which it always does) then I would have even less time. I really needed to stay on pace!
6:43, 6:38, 6:39, 6:41, 6:34, 7:06
I was feeling great on miles 14-18. I waved to my parents at mile 16 and was feeling pretty confident about finishing. Then climbing up a long stretch at mile 19 I knew I was in trouble. I saw my first 7-min split and it was pretty discouraging. I couldn’t let it get me down. I remembered back to the Bass Pro Marathon I did in Springfield, MO last November. (In Bass Pro I had stayed right on 6:45 pace until mile 19 and then when I saw my first 7. From there it only got worse.) I was determined not to let myself get defeated and give up. I knew a PR and a sub 3 were going to be close so I had to keep pushing.
|Miles 13.1 to 19.7|
7:02, 6:48, 7:03, 7:08, 7:00, 6:59, 7:00, 1:27 (6:11 pace for last 0.24)
This was rough. Miles 20-23 were the hardest in the race. I passed another female around mile 22 or 23 and then I started hearing people say to me I was third female. I just had to hold on!! After the last hill at 24 (which was actually not that bad at all compared to earlier ones) I started feeling a little better. I focused on trying to get my miles under a 7 minute pace.
|Miles 19.7 to 26.2|
I was heading to the finish and then at mile 25.5 a female passed me- one I had passed earlier at mile 10! I had no idea one was that close to me and it was incredibly shocking / devastating to be passed this late in the race. She just had so much kick left and I tried to pick it up but I couldn’t match her stride. I kept running but had a pity party in my head for about 10 seconds. I couldn’t believe I was not going to make top 3. Then I saw it. The second place female was up ahead and was slowing way down. The woman who had just passed me was going for her and passed her at the beginning of the track entrance- right at the mile 26 marker. I started to kick it in too. I thought maybe- just maybe I could pass her too and then I’d take third. By the time I hit the mile 26 marker at one end of the straightaway she was about 100 m ahead of me. I could not believe the race was actually starting at mile 26. Unbelievable. I started sprinting at a 6 minute pace. My calf muscles immediately started cramping up like I have never felt before but I had to make it in. I started realizing I probably couldn’t catch third. The finish clock was about to change from 2:58 to 2:59 so that was another motivation. I hit the last straightaway and watched the second place female finish exactly 20 seconds in front of me and third finished 10 seconds in front of me. That was a swing of $1500 and $500. So very frustrating. I have no doubt if the race would have been a little longer I would have come in third because I was catching up with her. I wish I would have kicked it in sooner. The good news- I did PR by about 23 seconds but it was a very bittersweet finish.
Official Finish Time- 2:58:56 (6:50 avg.)
Official Results can be found here.
It turns out this race allows runners to double dip awards (win overall and in age groups) so as luck would have it I did not win my AG either. Even though I was 4th female overall I ended up being 2nd in my age group. Last year the winning female ran a 3:06. This year 8 females ran a 3:06 or faster!
As soon as I finished I was barely moving. My calf muscles were really cramping up and my quads were burning. There was a guy at a tent near the post race food giving massages so I went over and I think it really helped. I finally got through to John (who was at church with the kids) during this time so I filled him in on the morning. I really, really prefer races when he is there but it’s not always possible. I know he would have clued me in how close a runner was behind me and how close I was to the runner in front of me. He will definitely be at my next marathon! I know the no runner tracking was killing him!
Then I hobbled back over to the finish to watch for my sister. She was shooting for a sub 3:20. She had an excellent training cycle and I felt confident she would make it and she did! 3:18:07!
Her last marathon (3:27) was the one we did together a year and a half ago so this was a 9 minute PR!!
|Tricky and I with our parents after the race|
Our Daily Mile friends who ran also set PR’s. Kristin ran a 3:29 and Tad ran a 3:10.
|Kristin, me and Tricky|
|Tricky and Tad|
Would I recommend this course? Absolutely! The race was very organized and the course made it fun. A little challenging but in a good way. I would definitely recommend to doing a lot of hill running – both uphill and down. There were hardly any flat sections. If you like flat this is not your race. I would also strongly recommend not to sprint the downhill. You definitely need to save some energy for the last 10K.
This is WAY out of order but not sure where to throw this in. I rotated between water and gatorade at almost every water stop. I had a gel at miles: 6, 12, 18 and 23. I would get my gel out around the mile I wanted it and hold it until I saw the next water stop ahead. Then I took some water with it. I really wanted to try some Gen UCAN but I accidentally left my entire stash on my kitchen counter and it is not sold anywhere near the race. I’ve heard one too many positive things about that stuff so I figured I would give it a try. I guess it will have to work its magic in my next marathon.
After the race we went back to the cabin to shower and change. Then I said good-bye to Tricky and Rachel who had to drive back to Connecticut. My parents took me to lunch and then we enjoyed a little post race milkshake .
I spent the full day Monday with them in Pennsylvania after the race. It was really nice to relax and spend time with my parents. On Tuesday I flew back to Arkansas. Home sweet home! It’s hard to be away from my crew too long!
|I missed these guys!|
I’m not sure what/when my next marathon will be. I would like to do one in the fall and I would REALLY like to see a 2:55 or better. But I cannot think about it right now. I definitely want to switch gears and focus on shorter races. I have some 5k’s and a 1 mile race coming up in a few weeks so it’s time to get speedy!