I knew going into the Via Lehigh Valley Marathon on Sunday morning that it was going to be a tough day. The forecast, which had been friendly a few days earlier (ie, temperatures in the 50s and 60s, and low humidity) had worsened each day, until I was scheduled to start running at 7:10 am in 75-degree heat with a heat index of about 80. Far from the ideal finish to four months of training, but I got myself into a good place mentally and decided to just do my best.
Good thing, too, because my time goal–a 3:45 marathon, shaving twelve minutes off my prior PR–was torpedoed almost immediately. Yes, the course starts with a few significant downhills, and I managed a great early pace as a result, but as the ground leveled and I settled into a pace I could maintain, it was clear that just breaking the 4-hour mark was going to take hard work.
A few thought about the course: It is definitely a fast course, with an overall downhill and a number of significant downhills within the first two miles. This is one area where so many runners could improve–people instinctively lean back and fight gravity on a hill, when they could pick up time and catch their breath by leaning forward and letting gravity do the work. More on that some other time.
It’s a pretty lonely course. With only about 2500 runners in total, there are long gaps without spectators and not that many people on the course with you. The organizers do a nice job of getting volunteers out to cheer you on, but for those used to the teeming masses at a city marathon, this is very quiet. Other than a brief portion through a less-developed section of Allentown, the course generally follows trails and canal tow-paths for almost its entire duration, which is nice in some ways (it’s shady, for one) but mentally fatiguing and narrow enough that in spots you tend to get jammed up a bit.
Plus, there’s gravel. So much gravel. I really think they should consider advertising this as a trail marathon, even though it’s relatively flat and passes through urban centers. I have to think at least 2/3 of the course was over unpaved trails and gravel roads, which is not my preferred surface. By the end, my legs and feet hurt more than I ever remember them hurting in a marathon.
Speaking of which… About that time. So I ran the first half in about 2 hours, which put me on pace to potentially break the 4-hour mark. Unfortunately, my back half did not go well. I was having significant pain around the joint of my pinky toe on my left foot, and several times stopped to try alternative methods of tying my shoe, to try and relieve it. My legs were also wearing out, and though I tried to tell myself it was my head more than my legs, I hit the wall around mile 22 or so, and wound up walking quite a bit during miles 22, 23, and 24. When I hit the 24-mile mark, I made myself return to a run–albeit a pretty slow jog–for the last 2 full miles of the course.
It’s also a little rough that you can see and hear the finish line for quite some distance before you reach it, owing to the way the finish area is laid out across the river from the last half-mile or so. But as I turned that final corner, more relieved than I’d ever been to know a race would soon be over, I saw that my mother and sister waiting to cheer me on, and that gave me a boost.
I ended up running a 4:24:29, or 10:06 per mile, the slowest of my three marathons. I’m not going to lie, that is very disappointing, but I have to remind myself that weather makes a huge difference. My two other marathons (one of which, my first, was a 4:15) were run in near-ideal conditions. So this shouldn’t be a surprise, and I’m happy just to have finished. I may try another marathon this season, just to see if I can get a time I’m happier with–Philly is about 6-7 weeks away, plenty of time to recover–but I haven’t made up my mind yet. For now, my only plan is to spend the week resting, and hang a new medal on my wall.