As loyal followers of this blog may know, my race at Stone Cat did not go anywhere near as planned. Thankfully, lots of running and hiking on trails in Maine (particularly on Pleasant Mountain) did a lot to heal. Not to mention that during that span, my legs felt really good.
So it was not out of the question that when I returned to Philadelphia on Friday that I would see if there was a race to do. Oddly enough, this past weekend was light on racing. However, I did notice that up in Washington Crossing, the Bucks County Marathon was taking place on Sunday. I filed that away. Saturday morning, I woke up and did nice quiet 10 miles along the river. Still, I thought about the marathon on Sunday. Normally, a marathon after such a long easy day would be out.
After discussing it with the spouse, I decided I'd figure it out Sunday morning. The 9am start with less than an hour drive, made it easy to sleep in and make the call when I wake up.
I didn't have a great sleep on Saturday due to some tooth discomfort. So I had no problem waking up on Sunday. After mulling it a bit, I decided around 7:15 to go run up in Washington Crossing. (Left at 7:30) At this point, I was more towards the decision to run the marathon. Part of what was holding me back was the race day fee of 125 bucks. I don't normally make snap judgments with high cost like this. My take was if on the way up, I don't want to race, I can run along the towpath on the NJ side. If anything, it would break up some monotony of running the same places near home.
Drive up along I-95 felt good. As I pulled into the parking lot close to 8:15, I was going all in. I was running the marathon. I walk the 1/3 mile to the registration area with my gear bag and register. I hand over my check and get my number. I was not the only person who decided to race a marathon that morning as around 11-12 people signed up race day! Managed to get a small size long sleeve tech-shirt too!
At this point, I find a good spot for my bag near the start/finish and spot Pat McCloskey, the RD. I chat him up a bit and ask who was the guy looking to go fastest. He tells me Brandon Carter, last year's number two was hoping to run 2:37. This was the same time, I jotted down on my entry form for prediction considering the 50 miler a mere week earlier. At this time, I also find out Pat does comps if you ask and provide information to justify it. Did not know this. Once we go off for our respective duties, I hit the line-free port-a-potties. It was great! I should mention that if you are looking for a nice size marathon of 500 people max, this is a great event as the number of potties can handle much more in terms of number, especially with public restrooms nearby!
Anyways, I shake a bit of rust off my legs and line up in the first wave. Before I know it, Pat is giving us the go and we are off. Immediately, I settle in alongside Brandon. Let me say he has a fantastic beard but he was also a Redskins fan wearing an Eagles jersey. We seemed to separate ourselves relatively quickly on the initial paved section before hitting the towpath. The towpath was mainly packed dirt or fine gravel throughout. In all, we might have had 3-4 miles of pavement the whole race. Our first aid station was around mile 2. Brandon grabbed something and dropped back for a moment. I skipped this station. In a bit, Brandon reconnected. A few more miles down the road, same thing happened with my flying by the aid station and Brandon dropped off when he took aid. This time however, he did not come back. Knowing his talent, I moved as steady as I could. I was not really checking my mile splits. Every few miles, I would look. But with the day cool and feeling good, I ran comfortably. My mile times showed I was going under 6 minute pace. With the course out and back, I figured I would likely positive split so go out in whatever and hope to come back in 6 minute pace. I would hope that could be enough. Not until the turnaround, would I know if that was a possible strategy to implement.
In regards to the course, the setting was so beautiful and quiet. All I would see or hear really is the lead cyclist a bit ahead of me and the smattering of spectators.
Eventually, I reached the turnaround in around 1:15:24. At this point, it was look at my watch time and see what my lead is. Less than a few minutes later, I would see Brandon in 2nd. I figured I had 3 1/2 minutes up. Another 2-3 minutes I saw 3rd place. So I felt I had at least 2nd locked up if I was to be caught. However, on the way out, I noticed the course was a tad uphill in spots, so when I saw the first people behind me, I was on a downhill grade so I opened it a bit to keep the tempo up. I felt smooth still. And the best part now was all of the other runners encouraging me as they were headed out! Their support kept me energized more than the occasional gatorade or gels I was consuming. My thoughts turned to running as fast as possible and hope I had 4 minutes up with 10K remaining. There was no longer any desire to settle for second, I wanted to win. I kept pushing. Around the 10K mark, the course circles around giving runners a chance to spot others in the race. Coming out of this little paved loop section, I know I had at least 4 minutes with a little over 5 to go. At this point, I told myself, do not give back more than 15 seconds a mile. Yet, because I was now checking my splits at mile intervals, I was holding just under 6 pace! Not only was I easily going to go under 2:40....I was going to crack 2:35!
With a mile to go, I was now on the 'spiral of death' which is how Pat described the early and last part of the course which make up the majority of the pavement in the race. And after 20+ miles on soft surface, the pavement sucked. So much so, once I knew I had the race victory now, I was like, I'm going to drop a 7 minute mile here and enjoy this. If I run 2:33....awesome. And for much of the spiral I did that, until the last .2. I looked at my watch and saw if I hammered just that bit more, I could crack 2:32. That is exactly what I just did! I ran through the line in 2:31:53. My third fastest marathon just a week after a 50 miler and a month after my 2:30:03 in Steamtown. I was amazed at what I just did.
Heck, I even jokingly looked at Pat and said 'Can I have my race entry back?' Surprisingly, he said yes to it! That was a cherry on top! Especially since I made such a split decision to do the race.
Pat found my drumsticks and gave me a 'what the heck are these for?' We got some nice shots of us with him holding them.
After a bit second place came in but it was not Brandon. It was Brian Cullen in 2:47:02. Brandon held on to third. So I turned a three/four minute lead at the HM into a 15 minute win. Seeing them come in, I walked my gear back to the car while I had energy and to let Peg know how things went. With awards to be done after the third female, I was going to hang out and enjoy some of the delicious food which included handmade veggie burgers! Tasty! I didn't eat much else but I certainly was stuffing my face with one of those burgers when Pat did the awards. It was funny. At least to me because I was so classy looking with a face full of food.
Not long following awards, I said my goodbyes to Washington Crossing and drove home for a lovely evening. All in all a great day!
A few other tidbits:
The course is not entirely flat as many of the junctions where there is a bridge that crosses over the path, the path dips down and up for a few speed bumps.
I've been experiencing some tooth pain since around Thursday. The cold has been good for it so running has not been a problem. (Today, I went to the dentist and there was no signs of anything major so the cause is a bit of a mystery at the moment. Hopefully, some clean up he did will help.)
Raced in my one of my pairs of the Brooks T-7. Knowing the surface I knew I did not need to use the Saucony A3's since they don't have too many big races left. My alternative would have been the Montrail FluidFlex. But once I walked across the field and saw the moisture ice up a bit on my toes, I swapped out for the Brooks. Both the T-7's and the FluidFlex's were considered due to the light weight and race surface.
Now, I know another place where I can go enjoy some easy but scenic running.