Destination – Scranton, PA
Objective – STEAMTOWN Marathon
Goals: Top 5, Sub 2:30
A small bit of backstory:
Two years ago, I was scheduled to run the 2012 edition of this very same marathon. Training was locked in and come race week, I knew I was ready to rip through the course and go sub 2:30. Or at least that was the feeling early in the 2012 race week. At around 1am Friday night (technically Saturday morning), I ended up in the ER due to a violent illness that struck at the wrong time. However, it took such a toll, I had to withdraw from the race less than 24 hours before it started. My friend, Matt Byrne, would go on to win his third Steamtown title that day. It would have been great to run with him but alas…..
Flash forward to 2014:
After my 2:24:55 at Two Rivers in March, I reached out to the race committee requested a comp entry into the 2014 Steamtown Marathon. They honored me with their offer of the comp. Between the end of March and the start of October, I really shifted my running logging in long miles and an average of an ultra a month. After the 100K at Green Lakes at the end of August, I knew I had to kick it into high speed. While I dabbled to keep some sort races for foot speed, I knew the marathon would require loads of it. Marathon distance was not the worry. So for the entire month of September, I raced essentially a 5K each weekend. The first couple felt slower than I would have liked but by the end of the month at the Sloppy Cuckoo races, I felt locked in.
In the final week before the race, I was much more nervous than 2012. I didn’t know my competition like I had a couple years back and my identity as a runner was now as an ultramarathoner on the trails. Plus, throw in what happened with the ER and, yes, nervous. One of the few things I was feeling good about was camping the night before the race. I was going to be saving some cash and thus reducing the pressure to win any. However, Thursday night, my partner asked if we could still do the hotel room as she had a rough work week. Amazingly, I settled down quick and made a deal with her anout the room. So in the end we did stay at the TownePlace Suites in Moosic, PA.
Before leaving on Saturday, I found out who the contenders were. It was here, I felt a bit nervous. I had hoped for a top 5 but I was slated to be 6-7th by a few minutes based on projections. (I projected a 2:27. A split the difference between the Two Rivers time and the sub 2:30)
We drove up from Philly and arrived at packet pick-up at Scranton High around 3. During pick-up I grabbed a few gels that I was short (I had two but I race with four) and met up with Matt who was there with his Scranton Running Company. And I bumped into Mel Lancet who was also doing the marathon. I know Mel from Viaduct. That Viaduct family is a tight community. After pick-up, we headed downtown to see about some food and possible shopping. (Not for me but for her.) Kind of struck out on both accounts. But on the plus side, we got a sense of the finish line set-up and getting in and out of Scranton.
Not finding food was fine as we knew there was a Panera Bread across the street from our lodging. Once we checked into our room, that is where we went. I went simple with a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup. (Additionally, I picked up two slices of pizza from a place a few doors down to take back to the room.) While eating, I told my partner, what happens happens. I cannot worry too much about the race now. This was clearly a bit of lowering expectations and not looking forward to 26.2 miles of hard fast mostly pavement racing. Back at the hotel, we settled in for the night watching a small binge session of Breaking Bad. (We were in the middle of the final season. We have since finished.) After that it was in bed around 11pm for a 5am wake up as I had a 6am elite shuttle bus to catch.
The bus ride from downtown Scranton to Forest City was memorable simply because it was cold on the bus. Not freezing but I felt cold. On this ride, I got to see some of the competition for the first time. (Not everyone took the elite shuttle.) For most of the ride, I listened to In Flames’ Siren Charms and sat with my eyes closed, relaxing. 45 minutes later, we made our destination and were escorted to the classroom set aside for us. On the way into the high school building, I ran into Carl Albright, co-RD at Viaduct. Viaduct again on the weekend. (I would later find out another Viaduct-er, Joey Parente was there honoring his friend, Jim.) I said a quick passing hello before coming out and saying a real hello before I warmed up. After warming-up, I returned to the room to relax and found out there were W-9’s to fill out if we expected to win money. Initially, my thought was not to bother. After the preview, I had thrown out the idea of winning money. But on second thought, why not anyways. So I filled out the W-9.
Around 5 minutes before the start, I left the room to make my way to the line. Good thing I didn’t wait longer (as I was the last out) since I barely made it to the line before they started. (Later found out from the 3rd place female, it was started 3 minutes early.) For the first couple of miles, I was with a small group not far behind the leader, Fred Joslyn. However, around mile 2, this group split. A few dropped back and a few latched onto Joslyn. The lead group became 4 and I was stuck in ‘no-man’s land’ in 5th. At which point, I further expected to not finish top 5. But this did not do anything to get me to go slower. I just kept running. The miles ticked off. I could see the lead group pull farther and farther away. Eventually, I heard before the half, they had 3 minutes on me. A lot of this was after Carbondale, where I had to chop stride to go around a car. (It happens. Thankfully, Carbondale got me locked back in focus quickly with their support.)
For miles 14-20, I mentally wanted it over. My pace was starting to sag some. We were on roads I wanted off, praying for the trail section to come give me some relief. Eventually, they came and I was able to zone out. Around 16.5, I heard Matt cheering me on. It was a great push. I needed it and what better way to get it than from someone I know. In this stretch there is a section on some bike path that gave you a chance to see runners within a few minutes. It was here that I felt the first sense of being caught. 6th and 7th did not appear far off. Maybe 30 and 45 seconds up.
Around mile 20, I got a bit of a second wind in the form of seeing 4th place alone ahead. It was Brian Flynn and he looked like he was hurting. With 6th not far (in my head) behind me, I went for Brian. Not guns all out, catch and die myself but steady freddy style. My thought was I can end up hopefully in 5th still if I grab 4th. It took me a few more miles to catch him. I think it was around mile 22. Around the mile 23 marker, I saw 3rd place! It was Chass Armstrong. For a brief moment, I got excited but calmed down and took the same approach to chasing him. While I did not feel like I was going faster than prior, I was maintaining which was good enough to catch Chass on the downhill coming out of Greenridge past the mile 24 marker. It was here, I felt confident to make top 5. Now, it was to go for the sub 2:30 time. I was hanging on to it by a thread. I couldn’t go much faster and there was the last big climb before the finish still. However, up ahead in the distance, but visible, was Peter Kemboi in 2nd. I knew I didn’t have much real estate left but I was going to try to catch him. With around ¾ to ½ mile left, we hit the uphill. Peter is closer but still out of reach. My stride hits a wall closer to the top. Brian Crispell is there and gives me a verbal push of encouragement. I crest the hill and run down to the finish line. I do not catch Peter who finished 22 seconds ahead of me. Nor do I crack 2:30 as I finish in 2:30:03. (Fred Joslyn would repeat, winning in 2:22:37)
Normally for me, I would be really upset about the time. With the way the race played out I cannot be really since from mile 2 on, I ran by myself. If I was not so seasoned doing that from ultras, I do not think I would have done as well. My plan was to stop putting any emphasis on the marathon if I went under 2:30 for a second time. So I’m not retired from the distance yet. And I’m okay with that. I ran a smart race and managed to move up places in the closing miles.
Eventually, we said goodbye to Scranton as a celebratory meal at Waffle House awaited us. But I hope to be back next year.
Result: 3rd place overall
Up Next: Fire on the Mountain 50K (10/26)