When the bus drops you off at the start of the Steamtown Marathon in Forest City (this race is point-to-point), you immediately feel special.  A volunteer comes onto the bus, welcomes you and gives you instructions. As you exit the bus, the Forest City High School cheerleaders do a cheer for you, you are given a souvenir ribbon, and another volunteer leads you into the gym where runners can stretch and keep warm. This was comforting for those of us with pre-race jitters.

The weather cooperated for Steamtown. It was supposed to rain, but, thankfully, not one drop fell during the race.  It remained cloudy, and the temperature held around 44 degrees. Perfect conditions (for me).  I did wear “throw-away” gloves, which I ended up wearing the whole race.

The way my training had gone, my goal was 2:57 to 2:59. I resolved to focus on 6:45/mile pace because the math was easier (I don’t like to think too much during a marathon).

The first eight+ miles of Steamtown are flat to downhill.  If there is one race where it is important not to go out too fast, it is this race because of the hills that come later from Mile 23 to the Finish.  You cannot “bank” time at Steamtown. I was fortunate to pace these first several miles with two younger runners, which happened to be Navy cadets… two great kids that kept calling me “Sir”…still weird for me to hear that. Their goal was Sub3. We ran together and chatted occasionally. They kept me in check (we ran 6:44-6:52 pace during those eight miles). I didn’t go out too fast (Phew).

At Mile 8, I was in 86th place (yes, a young spectator was counting!).  This is when I broke away from my new Navy friends. Breaking away from a pack is always scary during a marathon.  Running on your own is much tougher when you’re running this distance.  I was hoping to latch on to other people running at my pace goal. I never found anyone to run with, but today would be my day (at least I told myself that).

My first half was 1:28:16, slightly fast, but I felt good, and I would find out soon enough if I went out too hard. Mile 15 was 6:29. Whoa, “OK Gerard, slow it down” I told myself.  My next few miles, which were along a beautifully scenic “Rails to Trails” path, were more consistently in the 6:40s again.

I started to think it might be my day when Miles 21 and 22 were both at 6:37. It was just beyond Mile 23 where I was brought back to earth.  I turned my ankle badly, and as I compensated to correct it, I strained my groin.  I assessed the damage, didn’t panic, and kept running; failure was not an option. I remained in “Mr. Spock” mode (I explain Mr. Spock in a previous post: SEE The Music of Running: Vol. 2), but ouch.

I slowed down at Mile 24 (7:29), both from the pain of my ankle/groin, and the steep hill in the Green Ridge section of Scranton. Mile 25 was a bit better (7:10), but in the final mile, the wheels were coming off my wagon. The final mile is a straight-away and a long, ascent up Washington Avenue.  It is not a steep hill, but it never seems to end. When I did make it to the top of this hill in downtown Scranton, I could finally see the finish line, which was still a couple hundred yards away.

If you’ve ever done a marathon, you know how the last few hundred yards feels.  It goes quiet. You feel like you’re walking.  You almost feel detached from your physical body. Your brain is telling you to go, but your body is unable to respond; however, somehow you snap out of it. You begin to hear the crowd again, and you push through to the end.

Finish time: 2:57:56 (a PR by 1:49, and a CR by 4:04)

(My 2nd half was 1:29:40, slower but not a bonk)

Place: 48th overall / 12th in my age group (the 40somethings are competitive).

# of finishers: 1,938

Most Memorable Song: “Smokin” by Boston (blasting from someone’s front porch), Runner-Up Song: “Desire” by U2

This was my third Steamtown, and it continues to be my favorite marathon for many reasons: it’s scenic, well-organized, fast, not too big (field is 2,500), and the crowd support in the small towns along the way is amazing. The people cheering you on will push you and give you hope for humankind. There are moments of quiet, but the balance of quiet and crowd support seems to match my running personality.

Oh, and GREAT post-race food!!  You can’t beat it !!

The hill at Mile 24

Mile 24 – Ouch

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