"If you’ve raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5). Our journey is intended to be more than simply "stumbling" through the days while the world "wears us out.” We are made to experience the thrill of "running with horses” and to navigate life amongst the "thickets." The RWH blog focuses on both the spiritual race of which Jeremiah speaks, and the physical act of running that I absolutely love. In short, it's where "the miles meet the Message" to provide insight, perspective & encouragement that might enable you & I to successfully run either of the races set before us. May our course be purposeful and may we be passionate in our pursuit of the abundant life He desires for us.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Charles Dickens and the Pocono Mtns Marathon

I have thought long and hard about how exactly to share my experiences from the May 20th, Pocono Mountains Run For The Red Marathon. Ultimately, I keep coming back to Charles Dickens as best describing how this race played out.  So, if you will excuse my paraphrasing of Sir Dickens, here is how Charles would likely have intertwined my thoughts into his well known quote, had he pinned on a bib and run Pocono alongside me last month.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the greatest of efforts, it was the poorest of efforts; it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness; it was extreme elevation gain, it was extreme elevation loss; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of disbelief; it was the fastest of miles, it was the slowest of miles; it was the brief, cool spring of hope, it was the eternal, hot summer of despair; it was a moment of pain, it was a moment of joy .......... " - Charles Dickens revised 5/20/12

OK, OK, you get the picture. But really, it was all of that and much more. I have never had such mixed feelings about a performance as I have about Pocono.  It was bittersweet, or maybe it was sweetbitter; depends on when you ask me and where my mind is at the time.

There is a ton of background on how this race came to be, but I'll keep it short.  As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, (Pocono - Checklist Marathon), I am attempting to maintain a pace of 3 marathons per year over the next 15 years, in order to complete 50 states. The main race is an all-out effort, PR targeting fall event; i.e,. Marine Corp in '11, Chicago in '12. Next, I plan on running a moderately paced race in early first quarter of each year; i.e., Disney in '11, Wrightsville in '12.  The third race will be scheduled in late spring, and is considered a "checklist" race. In other words, no pressure on time, no worries on training, emphasize the fun and the location.  That is what Pocono was intended to be. Just wanted to check Pennsylvania off the list.

I arrived in Stroudsburg, PA, on Saturday to pick-up my packet.  I knew I could easily run 26.2, given the residual benefits of hard training earlier in the year.  But honestly, I came into this weekend having run only an average of 10-15 miles / week since late March. I'll admit that this light training did create some concern over fatigue. But this was all about taking it easy and having fun, right?

Pocono Run For The Red is still in it's early days as far as marathons go.  However, the course is very scenic and the volunteers come out across several mountain communities to assist.  Because of this support, it continues to grow in popularity. Over 1,300 individuals and 250 relay teams started this year's run. A new record, despite the race offering to defer entry fees due to the heat.
If you are familiar with the area, here is the course, per my Garmin.
Speaking of the heat, there are a couple of issues with Pocono that make this race one to really think about before signing up.  First, it is late May and temperatures were a huge factor.  The race started with temps above 70 degrees and by late morning we were topping mid-80's. Secondly, the race doesn't start until 8:00 a.m. Starting the race closer to 6:00 a.m., like most warm weather events, would have definitely made a difference with the heat. Finally, a "Mountain Marathon" means exactly that, there are mountains throughout the marathon! Which, by the way, are two words I never want to see together again on another race medal of mine.

Fast forward to the starting line. The sun is up and we are all starting to sweat it out as we settle into place.  Here is where I made the first of many strategical errors on the day.  I had initially thought that a sub-4:20 marathon would be a respectable time. I would target slow, 10:00 miles and just enjoy, as if on a training run. Remember Dave, it's a checklist race.  Well, as I progressed through the pace groups, of which there were many, I thought how the 4:10 group looked and felt like a much better starting spot.  Wait, I probably should be in the 4:00 pace group, I did run a smooth 12 miles last weekend and I will be fine. You know, if I start with the 3:50's, then I can take my time through the aid stations. Heck, with that logic, I should start alongside the 3:40 group, hang on, and make sure to walk every aid station.  That will bring me home nice and strong. And so I nestled in amongst the 3:40 pace group with my "on the fly" plan.

Did you see what just happened? I went from sticking to my goals for the race, to running with a PR pace group! What a goofball.  On the other hand, the added beauty of the checklist race is to learn as much as possible about race strategy and other factors. Even if I blow-up, I want to consider the middle run of each year as a lab experiment. To that objective, mission accomplished.

The gun sounds, runners move and we are off.  The following Reader's Digest version of the race notes highlights observations from various points.
The sun is nice and bright as the start draws near. A great day for ..... the Beach, maybe not 26.2
The Start: For the first time in a major race, or long training run, I didn't use music. This was really cool for the first 500 yards.  Just as we crossed the start, I was thinking about how all those footsteps sounded like a horse stampede.  At that same moment, as if reading my mind, a lady in front of me says to her friend, "I always like this sound, it reminds me of the ocean waves."  Anyway, after 500 yards I really wanted my music back.

Mile 1 - Mile 7: Mostly downhill and I am feeling great. I am now several strides ahead of the 3:40 group, even though I have grabbed water and Gatorade at every aid station.  There were stations every 2 miles.  Because of the heat, they started giving out full bottles of water. I was already "squishing" in my shoes from this sweaty morning.

Mile 8 - Mile 13.1: The course ends up losing over 1,000 ft of elevation when it's all said in done.  So yes, in theory it is a downhill course.  However, what it seems is that the downhills are steep drops, say 100' over 1/2 mile, while the inclines are long, gradual (some not so gradual) climbs upwards of 75' over a mile.  We had our first major climb just after mile 8 and then rolled up and down to the halfway point.  At this time, I now had a PR half at 1:46.  I was doing the math in my head and really liking the results.  I forgot that most of the uphill is in second half, and 80 degrees was just around the corner .....

Mile 14 - Mile 20: Somewhere between these mile markers I remember telling myself that I was not going to be one of the runners that were starting to test out the local EMS services.  I had passed two or three of them on the ground, (they did have help, I did not go "Bad Samaritan" on them), and had been passed by a couple of ambulances. I pulled back and let the 3:40 group pass, then the 3:45 group, then the 3:50 group.  Get a sense of where this is going. 
I calculated that I consumed 90 ounces of fluid during the race.  Coupled with pre-race and post-race, about 200 ounces.  The crazy part is that it was 12 hours later before the first restroom break was required! Thanks to aid workers - great work.  
Mile 20 - Mile 25: Wow! That's about all I can say.  I had struggled to complete Wilmington in the heat and humidity, but still pushed a sub-3:50.  I had no idea what struggle was until these final miles.  I kept drinking fluids, running through sprinklers set up by neighborhood residents and opting for the ice down the back trick. Every little bit helped, I think. Most of all I tried to keep a sense of humor. There was one group of townsfolk around mile 24, older individuals, sitting near the curb and cheering everyone on. As they saw me coming, they yelled, "you are looking really good, really good".  All I could think to say back was, "Thank you, I appreciate it, but you are all LIARS!" They laughed, I laughed.  It bought me another 50 yards of energy. Then I was passed by the 3:55 group, and finally the 4:00 group just as a I crossed Mile 24.

The Finish Line: Two significant observations about the finish line at Pocono.  First, I think every marathon should try to finish with a lap around the track.  It was great for spectators and it was a really nice, flat, cushioned, inspirational setting to bring you home. Additionally, as you see in the photo, my trademark smile and hands above the head in victory, just didn't happen. Oh, I was smiling on the inside, and my hands were trying to lift in victory, but the coordination was way off.  I staggered home with an official chip time of 4:05:32.
Inside is a guy with raised arms and a big smile, while outside is a guy with lifeless arms and a twisted tongue? Who, by the way, collected enough salt on the side of his shorts to put Morton's out of business.
Pocono is now in the books and it's 18 weeks to Chicago. I had originally hoped that each of my 50 marathons would be sub-4 hours, but it's not meant to be. And that's OK. After all, it was the best of times and the worst of times.  And I wouldn't trade this experience for an uneventful 3:59:59 for anything.

There is much more to share about Pocono, if you are interested in running the 2013 version, or have any questions at all, let me know. Other than that, I'll see you in October. 

From the Pocono Record below. 

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