ALLENTOWN, PA. This was my fourth St. Luke’s (FKA Lehigh Valley) Half Marathon, and I had more anxiety than I usually do for a race like this. Here’s why: Three days prior to the race, during a routine six miler, I experienced shortness of breath and heart palpitations. I ended up in the ER. The good news is everything with my heart looked normal (speculation is I had some kind of allergy attack or exercise induced asthma).
Despite my relief that my heart is fine, I was still worried that I would have breathing issues during the race. It was in the back of my mind at the start, and throughout the race. Thankfully, I did not have issues.
The weather at the start: Perfect (low 40s, low winds). This was more welcomed news to me.
The first five miles of the St. Luke’s Half are downhill to flat. The race starts at William Allen High School, and it is very easy to go out fast (Mile 1: 6:14). I missed the Mile 2 marker, but the combination of Mile 2 and Mile 3 was 12:31 (a little fast for my liking).
The race continues to Mile 5+ with an out and back along MLK Drive. I got to see my wife, and also heard words of encouragement from a friend from Muhlenberg College. This part of the course continues as flat and fast. I felt good, but found myself running alone with no specific pack to latch on to.
The next part of the race heads into the Little Lehigh Parkway. Due to safety concerns involving an unsafe retaining wall, the course had to be re-routed, which meant we had an additional hill as part of the course this year. The hill was not steep, but felt lengthy. Plus, since we entered the park at a different location than usual, it seemed like we ran on more gravel than usual (I could be wrong).
I did not see a mile marker until Mile 8 (so my five mile time from Mile 3 to Mile 8 was 31:52 – Still pretty fast for me in April). However, as we got deeper into the park, which includes a beautiful covered bridge, the rolling hills slowed me down (Miles 9 and 10 were a combined 14:11). Also, I was still running alone. I was “a runner without a pack.”
Once over the covered bridge, runners shift directions to the other side of the park. Here, you can see the runners behind you across the way and they can see you. My wife (who was on her way to a PR!) said she saw me, and I was completely alone (her words). This is a tough place to be as a runner in a race.
After climbing out of the park, the course slowly heads back passed Yocco’s Hot Dogs (Mmm) to Cedar Beach and toward the finish. The last couple of miles are relatively flat, and I managed a couple of 6:45’s. As runners near the finish area, there is a very short hill that takes everyone to the entrance of the track where the race ends.
There are few things more fun than finishing a race on the track. My rule usually is: “Nobody passes me on the track.” However, I found myself alone. There was nobody within 25-30 seconds of me (either in front of me or behind). I led a very lonely existence in this race. This is strange considering over 3,200 people ran it. Fortunately, on my way to getting a post-race snack, I bumped into another fellow Muhlenberg Alum, which was a pleasant surprise!
Official Results: 1:25:28
47th out of 3,240 runners
9th in age group (competitive age group)
My goal was to break 1:25, a slight miss, but I was only off my Course Record by 12 seconds. I’ll take it considering where I was three days prior. Also, I added on 6-7 miles after the race because this was my last long run before the Run for the Red Marathon on 5/20. These were slow but necessary additional miles.
The St. Luke’s Half is always my favorite race at this distance. It is well-organized, not too big, and has great post-race food. You can’t beat Vegetable Pierogi Soup! Also, there are lots of good bands along the race course. Two highlights for me during this race: 1) A solo acoustic guy singing “I Melt With You” by Modern English and 2) A fun band jamming to “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers.
Oh, and you get your name on your race bib too! This race was one of the first in the nation to start this trend, which is a blessing and a curse for someone named Gerard: “Go Gerald,” “Go Jared,” “Go George,” “Go [long pause] Dude!”
Lonely Boy: By the time I hit the track, nobody was within 30 seconds of me (either in front of me or behind me)