We woke up at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning for the race. Actually, before the crack of dawn, since we got up at 4:30am and had to drive in the dark for an hour and a half before spying daylight. In our hurry to get on our way, I skipped breakfast, figuring I’d find some yummy muffin/bagel etc on the way. Instead, we found one lone gas station that had coffee and… not much else in the way of breakfast. So instead, I took the oh-so-smart-and-healthy approach of running the marathon fueled by a cup of blueberry-flavored coffee and a fun-sized pack of Skittles that was provided in our race packet. (Why didn’t I eat one of the many protein bars I always carry in my laptop bag? I have no idea, but those Skittles sure were tasty.)
We parked at the high school track which would be the finish line of the race, and found a quick and convenient packet pickup that provided me with the aforementioned Skittles. After a pitstop in the plentiful and clean bathrooms (real toilets, not porta potties!), and passing some time reading through the guide to Lancaster County (did you know that Teddy Roosevelt once had a friend who lived there so he visited one time? This place was so famous!), we headed off on the wooded trail to the starting line. “About how far is it?” we asked one of the volunteers. “Oh, it’s about twenty five hundredths of a mile,” was the reply. Or… a quarter mile? Very well then 🙂
We arrived at the start to find a row of portapotties with only a 2-3 person line waiting for them, and I warned BF that he was getting spoiled by these small races, explaining how at the Country Music Marathon, Jocelyn and Emilia and I waited over an hour for bathrooms before the race. But, spoiled or not, I loved it! Such a treat to arrive just in time for the race rather than have to get shuttled somewhere hours beforehand.
And when I say “just in time,” I do mean just that. The half and full marathon started about 50 yards apart from each other, and no sooner had I walked over to the full marathon start area and started milling around with the crowd than a gun went off. We all looked at each other – was that the start? – and then realized yes, indeed it was. No pre-race announcements or National Anthem here! I quickly started my Garmin and Cardiotrainer app, and off we went.
We headed on a short little out-and-back to the Drake Well Museum (despite reading the tourist guides, I still wasn’t sure what that commemorated), and then headed back to the start to head up a steep dirt road that seemed to have no end. Up and up with no end in sight, the hill lasted for over a mile, and I definitely took plenty of walk breaks! Knowing that all the hills were frontloaded in this course helped me make the decision to rest up, since I knew that a few minutes of walking now would allow me to run faster later, when it was flatter and easier. At mile 2, we came to a screaming downhill that allowed me to regain quite a bit of time, so my mile 3 split came in at only 36:44 (yes, “only”; with all that walking, I thought that was still pretty decent).
However, the hills didn’t end there – we continued to climb upward (400 feet) over the next 2.5 miles, getting only a few blips in the road that weren’t a struggle. I spent the time doing my own version of fartleks – convincing myself to run to the next tree before taking a walk break, or promising myself that I’d run for one full song before another break. Meanwhile, I enjoyed some funny sights along the way – like the house that had two dogs in front of it. One dog would spy a runner coming and immediately start barking his head off and heading toward the edge of the lawn – at which point the other dog would give a few deep barks, rebuking the animal, until he shamefully came back to the porch and then began the routine all over again. Too funny!
Fortunately for my legs, though, mile 5.5 began another steep descent. In fact, it was so steep that I was a little bit afraid to run for fear of falling! I don’t think I’ve ever run such a steep downhill, and I was glad that I didn’t hurt myself (either by falling or tearing a muscle). After that, things leveled out a bit, and we ran through “Downtown Titusville.” (That’s right, not just one McDonalds, but a Burger King too!) By the time I reached mile 7, the absolute end of the hills, I had exactly 77 minutes on my clock – and now it was time to make up time.
Turning past the high school where we would eventually finish, I found myself back at the start of the race, but facing the opposite direction – where the half marathoners had gone. We had a very short, quick uphill, but in my mind, it barely counted as a hill at all after what we had already done. (In fact, it doesn’t even really register on the elevation map!) We were entering Oil Creek State Park, and I loved getting to see all the half marathoners making their way back to the finish line. While out and back races can be boring at times, I love that they give you the opportunity to see / cheer for the other runners in the race! For me, it was a nice chance to say hello to the BF and cheer for him to hit a new half marathon PR – nearly 5 minutes off his first half marathon time. Way to go!
My pace dropped quite a bit from here on out – from mile 7 to the end of the race, my slowest mile was 9:23 (in mile 22, when I kind of lost my mojo for a little bit ), and I only had three miles at all where I ran over a 9 minute pace. I was cruising! It helped a lot that the course was a beautifully paved bike path running through the woods – so we had a comfortable surface to run on, lots of shade, but still some pretty views that reminded us of the glory of running through nature. Despite it being an out-and-back course, the woods provided plenty to see (including some historical landmarks along the way, though I obviously didn’t stop to read the plaques). As I mentioned before, I know that some people think of out-and-backs as boring, but the “scenery” was ever changing with new runners heading back in the other direction, and the miles seemed to fly by. Before I knew it, I was at the 17.5 mile mark and turning around. Less than nine miles to the finish!
It was comforting to know the route I was running, particularly since it had been pancake flat… or so I thought. As I headed back, I realized there had been just the slightest downhill on the outbound route, so it was a bit more effort coming back. Not what I wanted this late in the race, though I suppose I was glad to have it happen when I was already doing so well and just wanted to maintain my fast pace! Meanwhile, I was also glad the race organizers had done such a good job spacing out the water/Gatorade stations every two miles – I could use my watch to know when one was coming up, and they made good milestones for me to encourage myself to “just keep pushing a little father” before taking a break. Almost before I knew it, I was at mile 25, and getting ready for the final little downhill and traverse back to the high school for the finish.
I have to admit, I was pretty spoiled by the shadiness of the woods – something that I realized when I came out of them for that final mile. Turned out that it wasn’t so much that the day was cool, but more that the race was well-planned to take us through the leafy woods! The path from the woods to the high school was much less shaded, and much hotter – so I was glad the finish line was almost in sight. For that final mile, I tried to focus on finishing strong, and managed a nice 8:42 as I approached the track where we would end.
I entered the fencing around the track and saw BF waiting for me at the finish line… but wait! There was more. “One lap around the track!” a volunteer hollered at me. So close, yet so far! However, I had turned my music off in anticipation of the excitement at the finish, and was rewarded for doing so with one of my favorite workout songs being played by the DJ: Disturbia, by Rihanna. When the Fit Bottomed Girls featured it in one of their first playlists, I downloaded the whole list and used to lift to it daily, until it got so habitual that listening to the the pumping beat would get my feet tapping while I was in the elevator on my way to the gym. Now, this song was going to power me home.
And power me it did – I was thrilled to finish just under four hours, in a cool 3:59:23. And all this when I had put in no preparation and basically done everything wrong? I was shocked, but so, so happy. I think my goal of doing one marathon a month this year was dead on – it’s definitely helped me to stay in marathon shape even without really training.
In contrast, next up is a marathon I am training for – the Wineglass Marathon in Corning. I’m trying to actually stick to a training plan this time, at least kind of sort of, so it will be interesting to see how my results compare when I’ve put the work in vs just winging it.
But for now? I’m thrilled with my sub 4 🙂
Distance: 26.2 miles
Pace: 9:04 / mile
Overall place: 65/129
Gender place: 16/32
Age group place: 2/3