Monday, October 8, 2007

Steamtown Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 29th Edition
489.53 miles raced in 2007
Race: Steamtown Marathon
Place: Scranton, PA
Miles from home: 246
Course Difficulty: 6.5 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 5 out of 10
Weather: Mid 70s, humid
Finisher's Medal: 6 out of 10

As many of you know, I was able to set a new personal best in this marathon on Sunday. Therefore, my usual suspenseful tale has lost some of its luster. This is fine because I don't feel all that good about the time I ran. This is not the usual grumblings of a runner who wishes this would have gone this way or that had gone that way. Rather, there are two separate things about this race that make me feel I have lots of unfinished business to do.

Let me begin by saying I think the people who put on this marathon are extremely friendly and run an excellent race. They obviously pay attention to the complaints of runners and try to fix things accordingly. On top of that, as you traverse the small towns that dot the route of this point-to-point marathon, there are some exceptional shows of spirit and cheering (Carbondale, I am looking at you). So, it seems quite obvious the community wants you there. This cannot be said about all marathons and it makes you want to come back.

Now, let me get to one of the things that made me unhappy which cannot really be fixed by the race personnel. While at least partially their "fault" is not something I would blame them for. You see, I made a wrong turn.

More accurately, I made NO turn and had to backtrack to actually make the correct turn. Unfortunately, doing so at any point in the race is enough to throw a runner off of his scheme for a bit but worse for me was when I did so at mile 19.5ish. Now, I do not blame the marathon people for this because there were cones delineating where we should turn. However, I and three other runners must have all been in a haze as we rocketed by these cones and only realized our mistake when we ran out of road 20 seconds later. If anything, the Steamtown Marathon people were victims of their own success. How? Well, at every other turn or crook in the road, there had been personnel there to direct you the appropriate way. Ironically, when we doubled back, a chap on a bicycle had appeared and was directing other luckier runners down the correct street. More on this later.

Now, to the thing that CAN, and should, be changed.

The Steamtown Marathon is touted by many, including itself, as being a course where many will set not only Boston Qualifying times but also their personal best as well. With a net decline over nearly 1000 feet, this is a downhill runner's delight! Ever the skeptic, with 70 marathons under my belt, I don't ever take a Race Director or his/her website at face value. I do research. I look around and ask questions. As such, I knew that while there may be a NET decline for this course, there was going to be some uphill as well to contend with. I noticed that some of the biggest blips, and ones I had been warned about, came in the last 3 miles. As I will explain later, I checked these out and saw that they were, in fact, going to be difficult. By knowing this beforehand I removed that late in the race realization that the toughest part was yet to come which, quite frankly, will definitely crush your soul.

What made me so especially skeptical was how I had heard others say that the marathon website's elevation profile is misleading at best. I unfortunately hate to agree with those people, but it is. Let me explain.

Any detailed reading of the course tells you the vast majority of the net downhill is acquired in the first half of the marathon. So let's look at the race site's own version.




Except for the uphill from 1.75 miles to 2.25, you are looking at NOTHING but downhill or flat. Just beautiful, right? Fall of the face off a cliff for 13 miles.

However, this was not the case at all. Using a website which I have found to be just about spot-on perfect (Runningahead.com) I mapped the same first 13.1 miles. Note the differences.



To non-runners this might not seem like much but believe me, everyone of those darn uphills, when none were expected, not only did damage to your legs but also to your mind. Few things are worse in a marathon than uncertainty. It locks up your muscles and it freezes your mind. There is a LOT of time to think over 26.2 miles. When things go differently and continue to go differently than you expected, the consequences are immediate and usually fatal when it comes to the pre-race plans you had.

This may seem a little over-the-top but I assure you it is not. I have laughed out loud when I have heard people state that if you fail in a marathon it is because you were not physically prepared and nothing else. The mental aspect of a marathon is probably 75% of the race, at least.(That last quarter is tied up in athleticism and heart and that is a debate for another day). So when your mind/spirit go, you are more or less cooked.

I could do a similar demonstration for the second half of the race but my intention is not to berate or point out glaring discrepancies. Rather, I think the Steamtown Marathon has earned a name for being basically a step-off-a-cliff-and-fall-down type marathon which I do not think it deserves. I think the race people have to be a little more telling and more accurate in their reporting of how the course actually is. I know from many I spoke to, both before and after this marathon, who would have gladly dealt with the hills presented in the course if they had simply known about them.

Sure, anyone is allowed to drive a course beforehand but this is neither the most accurate way to see what it is like (always easier to miss slight uphills when all you have to do is accelerate with your foot) nor can many travelers from far away places find the time to do so. In this day and age we rely on accurate reporting from afar because we often have not set foot in that part of the country until race day. As such, this puts a great deal of responsibility upon the race's shoulders. I understand that and do indeed think a great deal of criticism on race directors is undeserved. But this correction is necessary

Let me reiterate this so it is crystal clear. I do NOT think the race was not forthright in providing information nor do I think it was not run well: it was. This was just something that really hit home with many runners I spoke with which really needs to be addressed in the future.

My Personal Experience.

My original intention for this race was to pace my sports massage therapist, Terrel Hale to a Boston Qualifying time. However, as luck often has it, Terrel suffered some injury setbacks himself in the latter part of this summer and instead had to pull out of the race. So here I was, signed up for a Marathon that looked tailored to my strengths and ready to set a personal best myself.

Joining me on my trip to the home of fictional Dunder Mifflin was my friend Christine who herself had a not so great summer of training. We were both hoping that Steamtown's big downhills would be kind to us. A rather inauspicious beginning started our stay as we checked into our over-priced hotel (the Radisson) whose "marathon discounted rate" was more expensive than the "wedding-rate" and some other rate we heard from people checking in around us. Furthermore, they charged a $5 parking fee for a lot which was chronically overflowing (and honestly, $5 is just a charge which is more insulting than anything else. Was it in any way necessary?) Throw in a mandatory two-night stay and the Radisson did everything they could to make us feel as unwelcome as possible. Did I forget to mention the open middle atrium section from the first floor to the ceiling of the building allowed every single room to hear piano music, toasts and the revelry of drunken wedding guests until midnight or later? Or how the air-duct embedded in our wall rattled my headboard so much I was forced to shove washcloths behind it to silence it? Way to go Radisson. You have definitely made me 100% sure to never stay within your walls, even if you are only 2 blocks from the finish.

In spite of all of this I was ready to do well. I have never been a fan of point-to-point courses because they always involved a bus ride to the start (or you have to know people who can get you there) which means you have to be up even early than usual. But upon getting to Forest City's elementary school gym and having the temperature, for the moment, slightly cooler than what was predicted, I was feeling good. Running into my friend Keith, who very often wears an entire pink fairy costume during races and still churns out sub 3:20 times, was an added treat. I had not seen him since the end of 2006 and was so happy to cross paths again. (Keith, who is 52 but looks 40, ran a 3:23 and change on this tough day).

I had plans to meet others before the race but unfortunately none of them came to fruition. Before too much longer, we were being moved like cattle to the starting line and, not wanting a repeat of the trepidation before the Erie marathon (where if you didn ot read my previous posting), I made it to the starting line mere seconds before the gun went off), I happily obliged. With the race starting off with a cannon fire which literally shook the bones just a few minutes later, we were off.

Mile 1: 5:57
I knew this one was going to be fast because of the huge first downhill but did not care. A few yards in I saw my friend and fellow Georgetown Running Company runner, Melissa Tanner. Running in only her second marathon ever (with a 2:58 in her first!) Melissa would have a tough go at it and eventually pull out of the race before the finish.

Mile 2: 6:32

As suspected the big hill at 2 slowed me down but I was still below my target goal of 6:40 per mile (a shade under 2:55 for the full marathon.)

Mile 3: 6:37

Another solid mile as I was doing my best to hold myself back but still take advantage of what I was told were the biggest downhills of the entire race. I began running with a man who was running his 7th Steamtown Marathon but couldn't remember if he had run 9 or 10 total in his life (Um, what? Runners make me laugh so hard. They can't even commit to the total of marathons they have run!) He gave me advice on the course and how there were plenty of rollers to contend with where everyone thought it was nothing but downhill.

Mile 4: 6:02

A brisk downhill had me soaring. I remember pulling back and letting two people fly by me as I did not want to build THAT much of a cushion.

Mile 5: 6:24

Still going downhill but being more conservative. Still running with the Steamtown vet who laments about having broken his watch but then angrily grunts at me when I tell him our splits. Kept to myself from there on out, I did!

Mile 6: 6:30 10k: 39:21
Here I am 6.2 miles into this marathon and I am only about 40 seconds off of my 10k Personal best. Man, I cannot WAIT to run a 10k on a decent course.

Mile 7: 6:41

A good 50 foot hill, not on the elevation profile, gives me my first over-pace mile of the race. However, at this time I am still nearly 120 seconds fast! Dang.

Mile 8: 6:29

131 seconds fast.

Mile 9: 6:43 15k: 59:54

We leave Carbondale and their wonderful down-homesy folks cheering and yelling. Just a heartwarming thing to see a community supporting a race. We had heard of the Carbondale faithful and they did not disappoint. A quick steep hill slows this mile down below pace but I still run the fastest 15k I have ever run in my life.

Mile 10: 6:38 1:04:38

This is now the fastest 10 miles I have ever run in my life.

Mile 11: 6:42

I am running alone here having lost the Steamtown vet but am running behind a bunch of college-looking guys who loved the sign I had on my back. (Christine's idea, we both were wearing quotes from NBC's The Office.) They pull me along as we hit another short but steep (and unknown) hill.



Mile 12: 6:44

I am catching a few guys who passed me in the early going but have since steadily slowed. I get a gnat in my eye and spend way too much time trying to get it out. I haven't lowered my sunglasses yet because, thankfully, the sun has not come out. But the cool temperature in Forest City is long gone and the 70s are here to stay (and I am not talking about The Partridge Family).

Mile 13: 6:49 Half 1:25:39

I am running with a guy (Ryan) who just did the Leadville 100 miler a few weeks ago and is trying to set a personal best in the marathon. Traveling from the Denver area, I have a feeling these hills mean nothing to him.

As we pass through the halfway point he declares that is a half-marathon PR for him. I tell him it is the fastest I have ever gone through the first half by over 2.5 minutes. I am still 115 seconds above a 2:54:47 pace and feeling great.

Mile 14: 6:43

Mile 14 is always a milestone for me. Getting to half-way is easy. The first mile afterward tells me a lot about my race. Today, I know I am going to do well. Trying my best not to think about it and just get to the finish.

Mile 15: 7:06

We finally stop running on all these open roads and hit the rails to trails section of the course. I thought there was quite a bit more than just 2.5 miles of this trail running (spaced out throughout the course) but was mistaken. However, I use the brush cover to take a potty break. Even though I wasn't sweating horribly and I had to pee, I can see I am VERY dehydrated. I take the small bottle in my hands and down the whole thing. I am not going to lose this PR.

Mile 16: 6:43

I pass Ryan and never see him again until after the race. (He would end up with a 6 minute PR in 3:04). I also pass Melissa. She is struggling. I offer a quick word of encouragement but am focused on me. Jake Klim, another Georgetown Running Company chap, who I saw earlier in the race, asks me if I need anything. But I am on a mission and say "no, thanks." I think I was polite. Either way, it was really nice to see a familiar face.


Mile 17: 6:46

I am not feeling bad about losing a few seconds here and there. I figure I can lose 10 seconds for the last 9 miles and still crush my PR. I am playing it safe.



Mile 18&19: 13:45

I forget to hit my watch at 18 because I take a small misstep and am rerouted by volunteers. I only lose 3-4 seconds tops but I get a little rattled and forget to hit my watch. I have been running for a few miles with the friend of two people I ran in the first three miles with (the eventual women's winner and her pacer, Creighton). Small world. A woman passes us and we offer words of encouragement and praise. She ignored us. Awesome!

I then watch her pass the former woman in 2nd place and soon thereafter I pass her as well. I think she and Melissa both went out too fast in a deceptively warm and humid day. A little more than a 10k to go and I will have a huge PR.

Mile 20: 7:35

Wait. Why is that women standing there? Why is she running back toward me? CRAP. We made a wrong turn. How did that happen? Crap, crap, crap. People who did not miss the turn argued we only missed a few seconds but the fact remains (from the map) we ran an extra tenth of a mile which is easily 40 seconds at the pace we were going. Crossing mile 20 proves this to me as, even though anger at missing the turn sped me up some, I am nearly 50 seconds off my last mile.
Triple damn.

Mile 21: 6:51

That took more energy than I thought it would to just get a 6:51. I need to get a 6:45 to have a time cushion on the next one before the big hills.

Mile 22: 7:00 Crap. The PR is slipping away.

Mile 23: 7:21 That's it. I am done. I cannot possibly PR. I walk through the aid station, grab a Gatorade in each hand and down them. I look at my watch again and stare. Hold on. Where the hell are my math skills?! I still have a shot! Go, go , go!

Oh damn, you big steep hill.

Mile 24: 7:33 I know there are still big hills to come. But the last hill I went through took a lot out of me. Another woman passes me. Stay with her.

Mile 25: 7:14

We take one of the longest and hardest hills and enjoy a brief downhill. Looking at my watch I am pretty sure I am going to have some leeway to PR. Run smart. Run hard but not really hard. There is still the last hill to conquer.

I take the last turn off the second to last hill (long but not steep) and see the beast ahead beckoning.

Mile 26: 7:30

I put my head down and power up it. I crest the hill expecting to see the downhill finish and see about 2 more blocks of low grade uphill. Damn it. I take a 10 second walk break and then go.

Last .2: 1:24 I finally crest the last hill and the finishline is in sight. Some guy sprinting past me damn near knocks me over. I could pass the last woman who passed me but who cares. I cross the line in 2:58:31. Happy to have set a new best but angry both at the wrong turn and at myself for having given up.



My plan after finishing was to go back on the course and help Christine finish. But my leg would not unlock from the Frankenstein's monster position and I began walking around. I knew I had a little time to kill so I quickly hobbled in for a massage. Finally feeling better, I hop off the table but the top of my foot is killing me. My shoelaces unlaced and then retied lightly give my foot more breathing room. I finally get back out on the course and start to wincing walk up the final stretch. Minutes pass and I am hoping to either see Christine or get some sort of telepathic message that she has finished. Up I go and then back down. I finally see her much later than we both had been hoping for. She says she was on perfect pace until nearly mile 19 or so but then the bottom fell out.

As we jogged toward the finish, she told me she decided it was not her day so she wisely mailed it in at the end. I applauded that decision and we both lamented the hot day and the tougher than expected course. With warm temperatures across the US and many other marathoners suffering as well, I think we had the best of the worst. I will take it and run.

Well, hobble.

Final stats:
36th of of 1582
6th in my age
New PR that will hopefully last 20 days (instead of the 344 the last one did).


Even in my 71st marathon (the RD was kind enough to give me bib number 71 for the race), lessons were learned and will hopefully be applied to my next race in less than 3 weeks at the Marine Corps Marathon.

A few weeks ago, a decision was almost made to do this marathon in a wheelchair but various factors (to which this is entirely diferent blog itself) have kept me from doing so. Now I will simply have to give it my all to not only get faster for the fourth consecutive year but hopefully break into the top 100 for the first time. These are my previous MCM stats:

2004: 3:31:00 527th place
2005: 3:07:25 202nd place
2006: 3:03:56 166th place

Stay tuned!

14 comments:

Yellow Scuba said...

You ran a great race, Dane. I am really happy for you and proud of you, too. Thanks for the support in my last mile.

Here's to great MCM experiences!

Jamie said...

Congrats on a great race and new PR. I don't really understand your criticism of the race directors. They publish stats on their website that suggests that Steamtown is one of the fastest marathons in the country, but warn that, if you're not prepared for hills in the final miles, you may have a tough day despite the fast course. Your experience bears that out exactly--you lost some time on hills at the end but still finished with a substantial PR. Isn't the elevation profile you posted identical to the one they posted? I felt like I was playing that video game at a bar where you look at two identical pictures and have to decide what the five differences are.

CharlieM said...

Wow is all I can say. That is a great time. Given the heat and the mis-routing, it is especially impressive. Awesome job. Congratulations on the P.R.

Your ten-mile split was incredible. I ran a 1:06 at the Army Ten Miler this weekend, and was going at full throttle. So your 1:04 marathon 10mi.split has convinced me that I need to back off my sub-3 goal for this Fall, and instead focus on qualifying for Boston (3:15:59).

Best of luck at Marine Corps!

Charlie M

Dane said...

Jamie,

Thank you.

My compliants were not about the hills in the final miles but the 23 miles of "hidden" hills prior to that.

The elevation profile I made and posted shows a veritable amount of "upticks" from 1-13 that do not even register on their profile. Those upticks look small but were easily 20-50 foot ups every time and in a short distance. None of those are seen in their profile. (E.g., the 50 foot hill about 6.5 miles in).

Yellow Scuba said...

Jamie,

No doubt Dane will respond to your post, but since I ran the course, too, I wanted to simply offer my own. The discrepancy in profile elevation map and reality did not come in the last few hills, but in the miles earlier on, which is what Dane described. There were many more hills than the marathon's site would have indicated. If you are aware of the upcoming hills, it's a big help in the mental race.

I don't see how you can compare the two profiles and see them as identical. Take note that the scale on the runningahead.com profile is big, so the hills don't look like much. I did not run a course that resembled the official elevation profile until I hit mile 23.

Just my two cents.

restlessrunner said...

Dane,
If they accurately depicted all of the "hidden hills" people would be less inclined (no pun intended)to believe that the marathon is one of the fastest in the country. You yourself said that it's 75% mental. If one goes into a race expecting all this secret hills, their time expectations are immediately altered. So, perhaps part of your amazing pr can be attributed to not knowing. Just a thought :)

Jamie said...

Both profiles just look like a free fall, and those splits seem to reflect that. I think I could run that marathon in an hour-and-a-half.

Dane said...

Restless,

That would hold true except for the vast majority of the race I WAS aware that not only was the profile wrong (thanks to the vet who told me so) but now I had the added trepidation of NOT knowing where it was wrong and by how much.

Dane said...

Well then go run it, Jamie and ignore those of us who have. Lord knows we have no idea what we are talking about.

Jamie said...

I'm just saying that, by all objective measures, it sounds like a fast course AND your race seems to confirm that. I'm not saying I wouldn't break a sweat, I'm just saying I would also break the world record on this course.

From the website:

The course features a 955' net elevation drop

From 2002 through 2005, more than 26% of all Steamtown finishers qualified for Boston. In 2006, 28% of all finishers qualified for Boston.

Runner's World has named Steamtown, "One of the nation's 10 fastest U.S. marathons."

Running Times has listed Steamtown as having one of the nation's 10 fastest marathon courses.

According to www.runningusa.org, 26% of all finishers in 2004 marathons ran under 4 hours. In 2004, 56.4% of all Steamtown finishers ran under four hours. In 2005, no other U.S. marathon with at least 750 finishers had a higher percentage of overall finishers under four hours than did Steamtown (54.7%). From 1996 through 2005, 7,409 (57.4%) of Steamtown's 12,910 finishers ran under four hours. In 2006, 57.3% of all finishers posted times under four hours.

According to www.marathonguide.com, 1.6% of all finishers in 2005 marathons ran under three hours. In 2005, 4.2% of all Steamtown finishers ran under three hours. From 1996 through 2005, 4.5% of all Steamtown finishers ran under three hours. According to www.marathonguide.com, Steamtown was one of only nine U.S. marathons with at least 300 finishers to have at least 4% of its finishers run under three hours in 2005. In 2006, 4.3% of all finishers posted times under three hours.

In 2005, Steamtown's median finishing time (using clock time of all finishers) was 3:55:28, the fastest median time of any U.S. marathon with at least 750 finishers. The slowest median clock time in Steamtown's 10 year history was 3:56:03. In 2006, Steamtown's median finishing time was 3:54:27.

According to www.runningusa.org, the median finishing time for all male marathoners in 2004 was 4:23:35. For females, it was 4:55:21. At Steamtown in 2004, the median finishing time for males was 3:45:47 and for females was 4:12:53. In 2005, the times were 3:49:11 and 4:09:04 respectively.

restlessrunner said...

As much as I would love to give you a hard time, it's impressive that 1. you ran your pr, 2. you ran your pr in 85+ degree heat, 3. you ran your pr in 85+ degree heat on a course that deviated from your original comprehension of it.
Jamie, rather than dwelling on what you don't agree with from Dane's blog, perhaps you could focus on all of the positive things he said about the race. It's reasonable/smart to analyze the positives and negatives of any event to be even better prepared for similar situations. Peace.

1L said...

Hey Dane - just wanted you to know that my friends from Cleveland who ran Steamtown agreed with your assessment and sentiments of the course exactly.

That PR of mine was at MCM in 1987 (I placed 14th for women) - I know 20 yrs ago - go break for me please?

Matt said...

Dane - I am reading your 2007 post seven years after your race but wanted to thank you for the detailed information. I really enjoyed reading your comments; they will surely help me prepare. I am hoping to PR on this course; if I do, I will have you to thank in part for your tips about the early inclines and pacing strategies.

Matt said...

Dane - I am reading your 2007 post seven years after your race but wanted to thank you for the detailed information. I really enjoyed reading your comments; they will surely help me prepare. I am hoping to PR on this course; if I do, I will have you to thank in part for your tips about the early inclines and pacing strategies.