Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poconos Run for the Red Marathon Race Report

I was afraid this race report would happen. Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Was I just doomed from the start with 100% humidity? Who knows. In the end, I finished my 15th stand-alone marathon, albeit not in the way I would have liked.

After I fell apart during the RnR DC (for which the race report is still half written after Blogger ate the second half of it and I am too bleh to finish writing it), I immediately went on the hunt for another race to attempt at BQ. I eventually found the Poconos Run for the Red Marathon and signed up after hearing good things. I then had about 2 months to maintain my training and work hard.

The training went well, but I cannot say I did every workout. I ran most of them, but I didn't do as many speed work workouts as my coach prescribed and I didn't hit the gym as much. I started going at least once a week with some West Philly Runner friends and I have been steady in my November Project workouts (which incorporate hill running, stair running, and a variety of body weight workouts like burpees, squats, push-ups, and the like). I just had this nagging little voice in my head that felt like I hadn't put in the proper work to reach my goal.

A few days leading up to the race, people started talking about how humid it would be. I was religiously tracking the weather, per usual for a race, but all anyone could talk about was hot how it would be. I kept brushing it off like it wasn't a big deal, but I was starting to worry. I especially do not do well in heat and humidity as it just zaps me of energy. This happens to everyone, but I think my patience with it is just far lower.

Luckily, my costume (a deviled egg. Get it? It was a too hard for people to get, but I was happy to run my 13th consecutive marathon in a costume!) was good for the heat (white tank!) and I knew I couldn't do anything but deal with the heat. My mom snagged me in Philly later on Saturday, then we drove to Stroudsburg, PA. We ate a late and quick dinner, then we hit the hay.

The only positive to the 8 AM race start was that I could get in 7+ hours of sleep before the race. The downside? Walking around the starting line area was already sticky and hot! I was reminded, though, how much I appreciate smaller races. I was able to pick up my bib the morning of (for a fee, but still), I was able to hang out inside a high school before the start and use their restrooms. Two minutes before the gun went off, I had to pee yet again and I was able to scurry to the port-a-potties (with zero line!), use it, then be back before the gun went off. As much as I love bigger races like Philly and the Marine Corps Marathon, I love little perks of smaller races like that.

I said hello to some friends like Keith Straw, who was pacing the 3:50 runners. I told him that I better not see him along the course (*spoiler* I did). I got in my space between the 3:25 pacer and 3:35 pacer and got ready. After the national anthem was sung, the gun went off and so did we!

This course is a significant net downhill course, but I quickly learned that there are lots of small inclines and declines along the course. I found myself starting out too fast, so I had to calm down and not let the excitement get to me. I was staying around my goal pace, but was hovering a few seconds per mile below that. I knew that a slight buffer for the first half might be good since the hillier sections were later on, but I did my best to reign my excitement in.

The miles ticked away and I was waiting for the significant downhills because I wanted them. The roads became more scenic and boom, we hit the downhills. I really wish I had taken any photos along this part because man, it was beautiful. Running through the Poconos area allowed me to see some beautiful things!

I was a bit fast after hitting the major downhills, but I ended up pretty much right even at the halfway point. I passed it and while I normally feel great at the halfway point, I started to worry. The course was become less shaded by trees and this is where my mental demons started to really come out.

Just around mile 14 is when things fell apart. I kept feeling how much effort it took to keep the pace and I knew I couldn't hold on to it for the rest of the race, especially with the bigger uphills between miles 20ish-23ish. And so I pretty much gave up. I let my mental demons and the humidity take ahold of me and dictate my race, sadly.

Around mile 16, I took my first walk break. I was embarrassed because I never walk in marathons, but I was so done. I started to panic about how much was left in the race and how drained I felt. Thankfully, the race was remote, so I couldn't easily drop. I just keep chugging along. Nearly any uphill, I walked. I tried to push myself, but I really just couldn't. I was beyond demoralized and upset that I let a little hardship make me give up.

I can't remember the mileage, but a local friend, Mel, and the 3:35 pacer he was running with, caught up with me. I tried my darnedest to stick with them, but it felt too hard. Could I have kept up? Or was I just afraid of pain and hardship? I started to wonder why it was so hard for me to keep pushing when any little difficulty hit. When I PRed at the Richmond Marathon, I remember the last 10k being so hard and that I was holding on by a thread. How come I couldn't push through this time like I did then?

Eventually, we got to the 20 mile mark and I knew I had a long 10k left, but I had to keep going. I then got passed by a friend, Paul, pacing the 3:45 group. He said if he saw me on the course, he'd kick my ass and when he saw me, he gave it to me. It was a good push, but still demoralizing because I felt embarrassed by how much I had fallen apart.

While it was a small race, the support was really great, especially with the temperature and humidity. They had a water station about every 2 miles and in the later stops, they had ice. I'd stick it down my bra and allow it to cool me off slightly. I also, for the first time in forever, dumped water on my head at many aid stations. I hate being wet when I don't want to be (aka all of the time), but I knew the wetness was worth cooling my head down. The saving grace, too, was the aid station worker who had dunked towels in ice water and was wringing out the water over people's necks; I would have kissed him if I could have thought straight.

The miles slowly ticked away and I pretty much started the mourning process. I thought about all of the amazing supportive people in my life who believed in me and while obviously my race is a blip on their lives, I felt bad for even potentially letting them down. I mourned the fact that I most likely (unless something changes and I find a pre-September race) won't be racing in Boston in 2016 with so many friends. I thought about how instead of training for this race, I could have spent the time doing other workouts and focusing on trying to be in the best shape for my wedding. Then I let it all go. I realized I couldn't change a thing at the moment and I had to put it all behind me.

The last few miles, I just tried to smile as much as I could, I thanked everyone who was out there on the course, and tried to enjoy myself in any way possible. Soon enough, I was running on Stroudsburg's Main Street and nearing the high school for the track finish. I ran through the high school's parking lot and onto the track. Runners had to do 3/4 of a lap and finish on the track. I got to see lots of spectators cheering in the stands and I was finally finishing. I saw my mom with about 100 meters to go and was happy to see her face.

I ended up finishing in 3:55:25. Was it my slowest effort? Nope. Was it my biggest blow-up? Nope, I can give that to the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. Was it the hardest marathon for me to finish? I think so. It took so much out of me mentally and physically, I was wiped far too early. I do always say that on any day, I could go out and complete a marathon distance, so it felt good that I was able to finish my 15th stand-alone marathon and make that statement true.
15th stand-alone marathon complete!
I think I'm done racing marathons for a bit. I've found the pressure to be a bit too much for me mentally and I just want to run some for fun and get back to ultras. I have realized that the margin for error in marathons is so much smaller, so it adds this major pressure to me that has put me in a mental funk when racing. If I slow down by 30 seconds per mile, that can make or break my marathon goal. In an ultra, you have a little more leeway and being a few minutes slower or faster isn't usually a big deal. I have faith that I'll secure another BQ and actually run Boston one time, but I have to learn to be patient. I'm lucky to have finished upright and to have finished at all in that heat and humidity, so I'll take it as a win!


  1. I have fond memories of doing the Run for the Red several years back. It was the first marathon that I really "raced", and it went really well until I bonked hard at mile 25. Oh well, the finish line food spread was awesome at least!

    I'm sure you'll get your BQ again soon enough, though it might be tough to find a race before September. Good luck and keep having fun!


  2. I am also a professional runner and took part in many marathons. Its just incredible to be a runner and I can't deny the health benefits of running. Nice post and keep writing more.