The Very Cold (Sub 50 Degree) Marathon Start
This past weekend I ran my second Pocono Marathon and it was a great experience. Last year, I made the decision to run my first marathon. The timing worked out that the Pocono fell right at the end of an 18 week training program that I wanted to start on January 1st. My goal then was simply to finish....in hopefully under 4 hours. After crossing the finish in 3:53, I was ecstatic....both goals accomplished!
Then I had a major reality check. In the fall, I ran the Rochester Marathon. While the race started off ok, it quickly turned into a brutal heat fest. Temps skyrocketed up to nearly 90 degrees and the humidity was hovering around 95%. It was awful. People were collapsing, and being rushed to hospitals. At mile 20, the race was shut down. I had still not learned about the importance of taking electrolyte tablets in hot conditions and was quickly stricken with intense muscle cramps. I had to walk/limp for several miles, and crossed the finish feeling miserable, in a much slower 4 hrs, 33 minutes. I felt so deflated. How is it that I could run a marathon in 3:53, and then finish Rochester 40 minutes slower?! After rochester I shifted my running to trails and ended up enjoying running for endurance (for fun), and not worry about speed. I slowly built up my confidence again, and decided this spring to take another stab at Pocono. This time, my goal was to beat 3:53 and prove to myself that Rochester was not representative of my abilities.
The weather for the race was supposed to be cool and cloudy...perfect in my book. I did not anticipate the gusty winds though, and when I toed the line at the start, it was extremely cold. I had actually grabbed an extra garbage bag from the volunteers and put in on as a windbreaker. The start went great, and I kept a vigilant watch on my heart rate monitor. I have learned that those first few miles, it is so easy to get over excited and burn too much precious energy that you will need on the "back 9". I happily let people pass me and made sure to maintain a sub 160 heart rate. At about mile 3, the course makes a quick u-turn and switches direction down the highway. This was nice, since the wind was now at my back giving me a little "push". I tore off the garbage bag (superman style), and ran on. I was feeling great at this point.
For the next 5 miles, the course was fairly straight and uneventful. You run through the small town of Mt. Pocono and then at about mile 9 hit the start of the big descent. For the next 3 miles, I cruised at sub 8 minute mile pace on the fast downhills and made up a lot of time. I knew as long as I could keep my heart rate down, why not get as much speed as possible,
From miles 10 through miles 20, the course winds through my favorite section of wooded country roads. I crossed the half-way point with a time of 1:47:02, nearly 5 minutes faster than last year! I was looking good, and still felt good.
At about mile 18, I hit a nasty hill that I had remembered was where I hit the wall last year. I made it up and over, and still felt ok.....and pushed on.
At mile 21, the course crosses over a bridge and continues for 3 miles uphill through what I consider to be my least favorite section. It is a tough way to end a race. It is all made worth it though when around mile 24 you start running through neighborhoods and seeing friendly people cheer for you at the end of their driveways.
It was at this point that I still had not hit "the wall" yet, and my heart rate was still sub 160. I looked at my time, did a little math, and figured that if I pushed it, I might be able to actually finish with a sub 3:40 time! So, I flipped over my watch, and said to myself, "ok the rules are no longer in play....time to punch it!"
For the last two miles, I ran way too hard, and way too fast, but I didn't care. By the time I made it to the stadium at mile 26, I was already feeling empty, but I pushed on. I saw the clock was just about to pass 3:38 and I knew if I sprinted around the track I could make it.
So, I gunned it for the last 0.2, and crossed the line in 3:39:36 (3:39:23 chip time)! I immediately felt vindicated from my performance in Rochester! Overall, it was a great race, and I was very surprised to have maintained 8:23 mile pace (considering my training runs were more like 8:45 pace). Of course now I've kinda screwed myself at ever PR'ing again. Oh well.
Coming up to the Finish!
Here's a local newspaper article about the race:
Video from near the finish - courtesy of mom