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There Are Good People in this World: 2015 NYC Marathon Recap

My mom would have been disappointed in me because I spoke to strangers in NYC at 5:30am. I’d been unsuccessfully trying to hail a taxi to take me to the New York Public Library so I could get on a bus to Staten Island.  While waiting, two pedestrians asked me if I was heading to the buses, and I said yes. They told me to follow them to the subway, which I blindly did because a nervous runner is not always a smart runner. Fortunately, these were fellow racers and good people who even paid my subway fare. Yes, that is the truth.

I got to know them (a father and daughter) a bit while waiting in the bus line. The father was running his 25th NYC Marathon, and the daughter was running her 3rd overall marathon. She was fighting off a nasty cough. As we patiently waited to board the bus, they unknowingly calmed me down ahead of the trek to the start. “There are good people in this world,” I thought to myself.

The bus ride was long and quiet until the person sitting next to me made a deep, nervous exhale. I said something like “Yup, I know what you mean.”  Her name was Nelly, all 4’10” of her. She ran NYC last year in the crazy wind, and was thankful for better weather this year. As we exited the bus, we talked more about the race course and other marathons we’d run; however, in the chaos of the Staten Island security entry, we got separated. I hope Nelly had a good race.

The Staten Island staging area looks like what I can only imagine an internment camp might look like.  It is located at Fort Wadsworth, so it as a very cold feel to it. Fortunately, I only had to
spend just under two hours there. It is a makeshift city with a Blue, Green and Orange “Village,” more or less.  It is quite an impressive operation; however, it is very difficult to stay low key before a race in such a setting.

By 9am, I was in my corral…Wave 1, Corral 1…It was a good feeling to know I’d be one of the first people over the Verrazano Bridge. When the gate slid open to the side to let us out of our corral to head to the start, I felt like I was in a scene from Gladiator…entering the Colosseum for battle.  Double decker buses were lined up on both sides of us as we walked to the start. Tourists cheered for us from atop of these buses as we took our designated spot.

When the canon went off at 9:50am, it was on. I was thankful to be able to run the upper deck of the bridge. When I ran NYC in 2006, I was on the lower deck. This felt less claustrophobic.  Because of the crowded start and the incline, Mile 1, as expected was slower (7:34); however, coming down the other side of the bridge, Mile 2 was blistering fast (5:59). Oops.

The Highlights and Lowlights

1)    Brooklyn – The crowds and enthusiasm in Brooklyn were unmatched by any other borough. Perhaps it was because the Brooklyn miles are early. If Staten Island made us feel like Gladiators, Brooklyn made us feel like rock stars. The energy from spectators was contagious, so I had to keep my pace under control.

Most of the first half of the race is in Brooklyn. The music and crowds really lifted us as we made our way through. I will never forget a group of drummers that had spectators and runners
chanting as they played. Unforgettable.  I hit the Half on the bridge from Brooklyn to Queens in 1:26 exactly.  I was literally right on pace for my race goal (2:52). I felt good.

2)    Queens – The marathon doesn’t spend more than two miles in Queens so I didn’t really get a feel for the borough. The Queensboro Bridge was in sight, and this was uplifting. Yes, the 59th Street Bridge had me “feeling groovy.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  The bridge is long and eerily quiet. It is a good time to check in with your head during the race…a time to ready yourself for the upcoming difficult miles.

3)    Coming off the 59th Street Bridge – The feeling you get from the crowds as you come off the bridge into Manhattan is hard to describe in words. The only way I could ever do it justice is to suggest you run the race yourself. Then you’ll know…you’ll get goosebumps from the wall of noise.  The crowds on 1st Avenue will blow you away.  I mean, there is a “Holland Tunnel” of crowd support for the Dutch runners alone!

Just passed mile 16, I saw the big yellow “G” down the street, so I knew where my wife would be. Before the race, I told her I’d wave if a PR was still in play, but I’d stop if it wasn’t. I did neither. I
simply pointed to her and did a fist pump to let her know all was good.  Adrenaline was firing with the Bronx looming.

4)    Stomach Cramps – Literally minutes after the fist pump, the stomach cramps abruptly showed up.  I wasn’t sure if it was from my wardrobe malfunction early in the race when two energy gels fell out of my shorts in Brooklyn, leaving me with only two gels for the first 18 miles.  When it happened, I tried not to let it worry me. I even said something arrogant to myself like: “Alberto Salazar didn’t take ANYTHING during his ‘Duel In The Sun.’” I’m no Alberto Salazar. Maybe it was the borderline warm temperatures. Maybe it was the later start time. I won’t ever
know for sure, but the pain was intense. I knew I was sufficiently hydrated though. Yet, the pain could not be ignored.

I still managed a 6:30 for Mile 17, and a 6:47 at Mile 18, but the pace slowed substantially after that.  Mile 18 was probably my last Sub 7 mile, and part of it was thanks to my friend Jen, whom I know via social media. She was cheering just before Mile 18. Jen even made a sign for me. Again, the thought hit me: “There are good people in this world.”

5)    The Bronx: As I entered the Bronx, the wheels were sharply coming off the wagon. Not only
were the stomach cramps an issue, but I was starting to lose my legs now. There is nothing worse than the brain wanting to go while the body will not allow it to go.  It is a disheartening feeling. So, my goal of 2:52 slowly became my goal of a Sub 3 hour marathon, and eventually became a goal of survival. The miles in the Bronx were desolate and not so pretty.

6)    Mile 24 – After gutting my way down from Harlem into Central Park, I saw my wife for the
2nd time.  This time, I stopped to give her a hug and kiss since the PR was no longer in play. Also, I wanted to let her know I was fine. I didn’t want her worrying. She is a worrier.

Once I got further into Central Park, my pace picked up again. I felt like I was on my home turf. Plus, I knew the end was near. I knew that Sub 3:04 was still a possibility so I used that as my final motivation. Somehow, I picked up the pace enough to barely make it: 3:03:59.

Normally, a “Positive Split” of +11(1:26 / 1:37) would have been very upsetting to me, but I left nothing out on that course. I truly went for it, and fell short. I’m thankful for the miles and the finish. I’m thankful for the fellow runners and race volunteers. The volunteers for this race are second to none…they are the best. They are out there for hours, and are so upbeat and supportive.  I do love New York and New Yorkers.

There are good people in this world.

 

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The rush of coming off the 59th Street Bridge

 

 

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My cheering section (with the sign from the 2006 NYC Marathon!) 

 

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I have no recollection of this photo being taken

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Top Crying Moments from the 2014 Boston Marathon

 I’m an unapologetic crier.  I’ve said this before.  So, in heading back to Boston to get some closure after last year’s tragic events, I knew tears would be included; however, triggers from something traumatic are strange: You don’t know they are going to be triggers until you start crying, and I’m talking crying out of nowhere.

I cried when we ascended from the T subway and walked toward the finish line, literally moments after arriving in Boston on the Saturday before the race. Plus, my heart rate shot up which threw me for a loop.  PTSD is a real thing.  I can’t imagine what soldiers must go through on a daily basis.  The finish line area was packed with people taking photos the whole weekend which was nice to see.

I cried when Boston by Augustana came on my playlist. Also, It’s Time by Imagine Dragons and Homecoming King by Guster…these songs will always make me cry now, and that’s ok.

I cried during my shakeout run when passing the church which ended up being the makeshift meeting place for catching up with my wife after the bombings last year.

I cried at Easter mass then the priest (who was awesome) asked Boston Marathon runners to stand up. He said a prayer for the runners and the congregation gave all of us a long round of applause.  Tears.

I cried while in line for the Porto-John in the Athlete’s Village during the moment of silence for last year’s victims…thousands of people in Hopkinton, and you could hear a pin drop. This makes me cry as I type this (true).

I cried just before the Start during the National Anthem and Flyover.  National pride and remembrance were collectively swelling in Hopkinton, and throughout the race route.  The crowd support was indescribable. I will never forget the collective spirit of the day.

I cried during the race when I saw a sign that said: “Thank you for coming back!”  and, yes I laughed when I saw a sign that said “No Time for Walken” complete with a photo of the quirky actor.  I needed that laugh.

I cried when I saw my brother, who surprised me with his visit, near the Newton Fire Station (Mile 17ish).  I hugged him, and I warned him that my hamstring was shot and not to worry…I’d just be running the rest of the race slower.  I had one working hamstring, but I still had two legs.  I was reminded this as I passed a runner with a prosthetic leg.  I briefly wondered to myself if that was one of the bombing victims or perhaps a soldier.

And, yes, I cried the whole way down Boylston Street (I always do), and I mean a full on blubbering cry this time. Ahead of time, I planned to run straight down the middle of Boylston Street to take it all in (and I thought I’d feel safer in that space); however, I impulsively went all the way to the left side of the street (the side of the bombings).  I turned to the crowd, put my hand on my heart as I passed the two bombing sites, reflected and remembered. I thought of Martin Richard, who will never turn nine years old. Then, I headed to the finish line because that is always the goal: to finish

Yes, extra hydration was required Boston Marathon weekend.

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 Down one hamstring at Mile 17

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2013 – Running Year in Review

Strange year: There was the good, the bad and the scary.  The scary dominated, but the good won out in the end.  As far as the bad? We always learn from the bad.

The Good:

  • Adult PRs in the 5k (17:43), 10k (38:26), Half (1:20:43), and Marathon (2:55:10)
  • New High in annual mileage ( 1,601 and counting )
  • Got up enough nerve to join a running group
  • #BostonStrong (more on that later)

The Bad:

  • Barely finishing the ½ Sauer ½ Kraut after being sick all week
  • Melting at the Wilkes-Barre Half turning in a “Positive” split like none other
  • Summer injury JUST before ramping up training

The Scary:

  • The irregular heartbeat DNF at the Runner’s World Half
  • Boston 04/15/13 (this was the scary bad)

On Boston

Boston taught me a few things:

  1. I’m never going to be fully ok (and that’s ok)
  2. I’m an unapologetic crier
  3. People ARE inherently good, and runners rule … #BostonStrong

2013 taught me a few things too:

  1. PRs do NOT translate into satisfaction and fun
  2. Happiness and fun matter
  3. See your doctor
  4. Maybe I’m not an island after all (Running Groups are good)

That being said, in 2014, I’m cutting back my racing (maybe) and PR attempts (hopefully). I would say I’m going to have more fun with running, but saying things like that doesn’t work.  Forcing fun doesn’t work.

I’m just not going to think so much.  I will start by not wearing a watch in 2014.

One thing is for sure:  I’ll be in Boston on 4/21/14, and I plan on taking back Boylston Street. 

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 Before added security

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 PR

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Delaware Marathon 05/12/13

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Runner’s Amnesia: A Lesson from the Philadelphia Marathon

Two years ago, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon with my wife, as she attempted to qualify for Boston.  It was very memorable.  I even did a long, very detailed Race Recap (see archives).  I remember a ton from that race, even the most intricate details. It was a very special and fun experience.

This year, I ran the same race; however, this time, I had a PR in mind.   The good news:  I got my PR; however, the bad news:  I don’t remember much from this race.

Yes, I remember some fragmented sensory details:

Sounds: A bad song – What Does the Fox Say?  A good song: Welcome to the Jungle. The occasional “Go Jared, Go Gerald” cheers from awesome spectators (great crowd support this year).

Sights: A race sign: “Tired? Honey Badger Don’t Care.” Also, I got to see my wife and some friends on the out-and-back portion of Kelly Drive; however, I don’t remember what I said to them.

Smells: The amazing aroma of food in Manayunk, and the beer emanating from the Drexel students on 34th Street.

That’s about it.  Other than the above, I remember the “pre-race” stuff and the “post-race” stuff.  The “during-race” stuff: Not so much.

I have tried hard over the last three days to think of specific moments or memories in the race, and I can only come up with two:

1)  Mile 1: Accidentally bumping into a runner, who replied rudely “JESUS CHRIST!” – Thank you rude runner.  You are partially responsible for getting me fired up from that point onward.

 2) Mile 9ish (near zoo):

Me: (Burp) “Oh that felt so good.”

Fellow Runner: (Burp) “That was awesome.”

So, aside from a negative interaction and burping, nothing else.  No other memories (Oh wait, two Gu fell out of my pocket on Delaware Avenue, so I had to turn around and pick them up – I just remembered that). Perhaps I’m in a temporary state of Runner’s Amnesia and maybe additional memories will come back to me (just like the Gu story).

For sixteen weeks, I was laser focused on a PR. Mission Accomplished. Yes, there is some satisfaction to it, but at what expense?  First of all, I don’t remember much from the race.  Second, I’m sure I was a grump, especially in the final weeks leading up to the race.  Third, I might not be physically burned out from training, but I’m mentally burned out from Spring-Fall-Spring-Fall marathons over the last two years.

Major Lesson Learned: A PR does not equate to more fun or wonderful memories

In five weeks, I start another marathon training cycle, and I plan on enjoying every moment of this down time.  Also, I’ve decided there will not be a PR attempt in this race.  In fact, I might run it with my wife. It’s time to have fun again (although, this might not be fun for her)!!

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(Photos help us remember)

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Race Recap: Delaware Marathon 2013

Up to a certain moment, I was frighteningly relaxed for this race. My BQ was in my back pocket from my fall marathon, so this would be gravy. However, as I lined up at the start, it hit me:

“Damn, this is a marathon. This will be hard. I must respect the distance.”

So, as the National Anthem was playing, I coudn’t swallow. I guess my nerves finally arrived to the party.

I didn’t have a specific goal for this race but my typical goal is to go Sub 3 hours. My backup goal is to finish safely and alive. I knew I was in 2:55 to 3:00 shape, but the weather was a bit warm for me (61 degrees, 89% humidity at the start).

With that in the back of my mind, I figured I’d go out conservatively, hopefully latch on to someone at a similar pace, and take it from there. Well, I didn’t go out conservatively: Mile 1 was 6:29 (oops).

Fortunately, after I slowed a bit, another runner pulled up next to me, and asked me what my goal was (his was similar). So, we decided to stay with each other for as long as possible. His name was James, and this guy saved my race (more on that later).

As we were running, I noticed that James had a lot of fans on the course. It turns out that he used to live in Wilmington, and had people throughout the course cheering for him. However, he also seemed to know many of the race volunteers and police officers directing traffic. I jokingly asked him if he was the Mayor, and he laughed, and said no but he was a previous winner of this race.

My first reaction was: “Crap, I have no business running with this guy,” but the pace felt good, and since it was a small race (600 marathoners), I didn’t want to run alone.

James gave me great tips regarding course strategy, which brings me to the course itself:

The course: Two laps though the riverfront, parks, and neighborhoods of Wilmington. So, when you’re at Mile 7, you get a preview of what Mile 20 will look like. This is a blessing and a curse. The blessing: You know what’s coming during the 2nd half. The curse: You know what’s coming during the 2nd half.

Something that James said to me as we climbed a mile-long hill from Mile 6ish to 7ish that proved to help me later: “Once you’re finished with this hill the 2nd time —also Miles 19 to 20 — the remainder of the race is generally flat to downhill.”

So, with that in mind, we ran together and came through the 13.1 split in 1:28. So far so good. However, from Mile 15-16, I started cramping (bad stitch, perhaps from the sun exposure along the riverfront). James and another runner pulled slightly ahead of me.

This is about the time I saw my wife: “I’m feeling it” I told her. She, with her cowbell in hand, said something inspirational, and I moved along. Not sure if it was seeing her or the fact that I was entering the shaded portion of the race that helped, but I temporarily felt better (cramps subsided), and pulled even with James again.

But this was short-lived. At Mile 19, we were heading into the hilly portion for the 2nd time. James pulled away. I slowed (not awful – Mile 20 was 7:13). At this point, though, James pulled too far ahead for me to feel connected to his pace. I was now on my own at Mile 20. If you’ve ever been alone at Mile 20, you know how lonely it is.

This is the point when I almost threw in the towel (the point where I would go from goal pace to survival pace). However, something stopped me from giving up (not sure what). It might have been the earlier words of my temporary running partner that helped me hold on:

“Once you’re finished with this hill the 2nd time, the remainder of the race is generally flat to downhill.”

So, even though my pace fell off (6:55-7:10 the rest of the way), it wasn’t a bonk. I was holding on. In the shaded, residential portion of the race, the crowd support was so helpful. At Mile 23, my cumulative time was 2:37:13…there was still hope for a Sub3.

Also, another surprising thing happened: I found myself running with and passing some of the Half Marathon participants. I encouraged them as I passed, and they encouraged me. It was a win-win for all of us! We survived the portion of the race in the Little Italy section of town (where there is additional sun exposure).

Most of the last three miles was flat to downhill with the exception of a pretty lengthy bonus hill that James had initially underestimated (during the home stretch). I gutted it out with the hope that I could still do a Sub3. Once the last hill crests, you can let gravity do the rest and make your way to the riverfront for the finish.

I ended up crossing the finish line at 2:58:53 (with my hand on my heart in honor of Boston). My 2nd Half was just under 1:31…I slowed but not too badly. The heat affected me, but the shaded course saved me. James saved me too. I was fortunate enough to see him in the finish area, which is where we fist bumped and congratulated each other.

Even though this wasn’t a PR race, I feel satisfied with the results: 1) It’s a tough course, and 2) I finally didn’t bonk in a race with the temperatures above 60 degrees.

NOTES: There are also 4-person and 8-person relays and Half mixed in with the Marathon which can make the first half of the race a bit confusing and crowded; however, seeing these runners during the 2nd lap actually helped me psychologically.

This race is great for spectating. You can see the runners at least four times without having to move. You can also move throughout the course and see runners multiple times. I must have seen my wife four times during the race (and this was a HUGE help).

Some pics…

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Perk: Custom Bib to avoid being called Gerald, Jared, George, or Greg!

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Not feeling good here, but I have my red socks!!

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My favorite race hardware ever! Chase Utley agrees!

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James got me by 59 seconds.

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Race Recap: Steamtown Marathon 2012

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

0 comments on “This Is Why I Love The Steamtown Marathon…”

This Is Why I Love The Steamtown Marathon…

We receive messages like this from the Ass’t Race Director…

Greetings and happy Friday the 13th Steamtown entrants! Hope you didn’t trip over a black cat on your training run today.

Well, it’s only 81 days to the 17th annual Steamtown Marathon. By now your long runs should be getting pretty long so I thought I’d remind you in a very quiet, gentle, and meek way to MIX IN SOME DOWNHILLS ON YOUR RUNS!

Steamtown is a quad killer. The course features a 955’ net elevation drop from start to finish but the vast majority of the drop is in the first 8 miles. The course has so much downhill during the early stages that you will feel like you are “running through a cool rain forest without a tie on.”

Many of you are probably now saying to yourself, “Myself, since the early miles sound so easy and fun, I think I will run really fast early on and bank time. Then, I can take it easy during the later stages of the race and still meet my goal time.”

Wrong naiive runners! Banking time is a really bad idea and will result in agony and despondent thoughts when you hit the uphills (yes, uphills) in the later stages of the race. Your best strategy is to keep an even pace and try your best to run even splits for both halves of the course.

I strongly suggest you attend the race expo to listen to the presentation about our course from really smart running people. They will make you promise that you will try to run even splits and will hold you down and give you a pink belly if you refuse.

In the meantime, here are some links to pages on our Web site that I recommend you read:

http://www.steamtownmarathon.com/4.3.html

http://www.steamtownmarathon.com/4.html

http://www.steamtownmarathon.com/4.1.html

Also, if you are seeking yet another great half marathon in Northeast PA prior to running Steamtown, why not give the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Half Marathon in fabulous Wilkes-Barre, PA a try?

Here is a link: http://www.wilkesbarreracing.com/WWK_HalfMarathon/

Well, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Will drop you another line in a couple of weeks. Get going on those downhills.

Sincerely,

Jim “Do you think he’s serious about the pink belly?” Cummings

Asst. Race Director