To scratch the state of Pennsylvania off my 50 Marathons in 50 States by Age 50 Challenge, I chose the Run for the Red 2018 Marathon. Falling 8 weeks after my previous trial marathon in North Carolina, I thought it would be enough time to rest, recover, and train to beat my long sought after goal of running a sub-4 hour marathon. To work some family-related fun into this marathon trip, we planned to stay at the Kalahari Resort which features the country’s largest indoor water park.
Training Leading Up to the Race
In studying the Boston Marathon qualifying course for this race, the elevation looked to be one that favored me running a marathon PR. Starting at Pocono Mountain West High School in Pocono Summit, PA, the course would begin at an elevation of around 1880 feet and slowly descend all the way down to Stroudsburg High School in Stroudsburg, PA which lies at an elevation of 443 ft. The race would feature several significant descents along with a few smaller ascents which would pale in comparison.
Being that I am always running in the mountains of Winchester, VA, with inclines and declines of all types, I figured my body would be well adapted to this type of course. For my training I followed a 12-week plan found in the Advanced Marathoning book by Pete Pfitzinger, which I adapted to an 8-week timeline. Consisting of tempo runs, interval runs, medium-long runs, and of course long runs, the training would peek around week 5 with 61 total miles for the week…and then begin to taper off.
My training leading up to the race went great in my opinion. I felt strong and energized for most of my runs. With winter weather behind us I ran nearly all of my runs outside, aside from my intervals which I did on my treadmill so I could track my speed and tempo. I also ran my best-ever 20 mile run on what I call my “home course” (leading from my house, through the mountains, into Winchester, and then over to the local Denny’s where I meet Christie for breakfast). For that 20-miler I ran at a pace of 9:48 with a total time of 3:16:29…right about at the pace my training called for during my peak week of 61 miles.
The Run for the Red Marathon would also feature a pacing group (MarathonPacing.com) to pace runners at various times…from a 3 hour 15 minute goal time all the way up to a 5 hour 15 minute goal time. Leading up to the race they continually posted great tips and strategies for this race which was extremely helpful. My strategy would be to stick with the 4 hour pacer at the beginning of the race, and then if I was feeling good…increase slightly around the half-way point.
Feeling completely prepared and perhaps over-confident, I assured my family that this was the marathon where the 4-hour marathon mark would be broken!
Weather Worries and Arriving at Kalahari Resort
The week leading up to the race I was constantly checking the weather. Early reports were calling for Thunderstorms and lighting the morning of the race. I started to worry about what would happen in the case of bad weather. Would they delay the race? Cancel it all together? This has happened at a number of marathons and I began to read horror stories online of races being cancelled at the last minute. I constantly monitored the race website and pages for updates…and thankfully it looked like all the bad weather would come the day before the race. The final race day forecast called for cloudy skies and high humidity…thankfully no thunderstorms.
We left for the Pocono Mountains on the morning of Saturday, May 20. It rained for most of the drive up which made for some pain-in-the-butt traffic to deal with. Hitting Sheetz for both breakfast and lunch and then stopping by Stroudsburg High School to pick up my race packet, we made our way to the Kalahari Resort and checked into our room.
The resort was packed with people when we checked in. We had to wait for our room to be ready, so we killed some time at the huge arcade found on the lower level, in which we spent way to much money to get a stuffed pig out of one of the claw machines (Caitlin was finally successful!). After my dinner (steamed chicken and vegetables from a local Chinese carry-out restaurant), we all took some time to explore the indoor water park which is HUGE. The park has tons of water slides, pools, rivers, games where were way more than I could have imagined. Corinne and Caitlin spent some time having fun while I told them I would watch and rest up for the race in the morning and partake in the waterpark fun the next day.
Race Day Morning with No Coffee
With the race starting at 7 a.m., my plan was to wake up roughly 2.5 hours ahead of time, have a small breakfast with some coffee, and then dress and be ready to leave at 6 a.m. with the family.
What I didn’t realize was that the Kalahari Resort pretty much shuts down until 6 a.m. When I woke up and went down to the lobby (so Christie and the girls could sleep in a bit), there was no one in sight. All the shops were closed and there was no coffee sitting out for guests by the front desk like nearly all regular hotel chains have. Luckily I brought my own breakfast bar as a backup, so I ate that for my pre-race meal and went without any type of caffeinated beverage (I really missed that hot cup of coffee!).
After getting dressed and ready, Christie and the girls chauffeured me over to the race starting point. While there was a cool breeze blowing, the weather did not feel as humid as I expected it to be (at the start anyway). The race had roughly 530 marathon runners and 255 half-marathon runners, so it wasn’t too large of a crowd, but still a good sized group to run with. I warmed up some and placed myself right in front of the 4 hour MarathonPacing.com pace group…telling my family to keep an eye out for the pacer with the 3 hour 50 minute pace group (known as Speedo Mike…who yes, wears a speedo while pacing). After standing around for 5-10 minutes, the sound of an air horn blared and the race was on.
The First 20 Miles of Over-Confidence
For the first few miles of the race I ran right in front of the 4 hour pace group. The pace to me felt a bit on the slower side but I did not want to fall prey to running too fast too soon. However as we moved along into miles 5 and 6 I found my pace gradually increasing until I found myself even with the 3:55 pacing group. The pace of this group felt very nice to me, so I planned to stay with them for the whole race. I knew that if I eventually had to fall back a little I would have plenty of time to cushion me for that sub-4 hour finish.
Running with the 3:55 pace group was very positive and encouraging. Led by pacer Kimberly, she constantly kept the group aware of what was going on, told humorous stories, facts, and all sorts of anecdotes to keep our minds off of the fact we were running a marathon. During this portion of the run the course was mostly downhill, with a few small uphills…and in no time we crossed the half-marathon mark and were into mile 16-17 when I felt my pace increasing a little more. I pulled just ahead of the 3:55 group feeling strong…something that I wish I never would have done.
A Horrible Last Few Miles and Missing My Goal
During miles 18 and 19 came a series of hills. While not too steep, after running mostly downhill for the majority of the race they hit me by surprise. I felt strong running up them, but during the first hill I was suddenly hit with a sharp pain in my lower back. It was a jarring pain I have felt before on a long run which I believe it to be a lower back muscle spasm. While it did not stop me from running, I started to worry if it would sideline me for the rest of the race. I decided to slow down a bit and focus on my running form to prevent that muscle from spasming again, and in doing so the 3:55 pace group had caught up to me. Finding myself running with them as we hit mile 20, I was struggling to keep up with the group. Around this time the sun was starting to peak out and the humidity was beginning to increase significantly.
Eventually the pace group pulled away from me and the 3:55 sign began to grow smaller and smaller in the distance. I knew I still had hope for as long as the 4:00 pace group didn’t paste me I would meet my goal of a sub-4 hour marathon. However the heat and humidity for the last part of the course were really starting to get to me. I felt weak in the legs and was struggling to maintain any type of running pace and began to walk up the slight inclines. At mile 24 I could hear the sound of several runners coming up behind me…and to my disappointment it was the 4:00 pace group. I tried to run with them and did so for a half of a mile (the leader of that group, Pacer Josh, was very encouraging). However my energy was gone and eventually I had to ease up and watched my goal of finishing with the 4 hour group disappear into the distance.
The last two miles were some of the worst I have ever run in a race. I could barely run at this point and walked a majority of the last mile. I still encouraged every runner that passed me and told them great job on finishing. It wasn’t until the Stroudsburg High School’s track was in sight that I picked up the pace to run again. With one “victory lap” around the track, I finished with a time of 4:07:04.
Christie and the girls were there to greet me at the finish. I told them I was sorry I couldn’t beat my goal. They were all so encouraging and told me to be proud just to have finished another marathon and cross another state off my list. After grabbing some gatorade, a sandwich, and snacks, the girls helped me hobble back towards the parking area while Christie went to retrieve the car to pick me up at the curbside. My quads and shoulders were hurting pretty bad, but luckily I avoided cramping up and started to feel better after getting back to the resort and taking a hot bath with Epsom salt (complete with a surprise pig soap sponge my family got me as a small gift).
What Did I Learn?
If I could go back in time to the start of the race I would grab myself, slap myself across the face, and say “STICK WITH THE 4 HOUR PACER NO MATTER WHAT!”. I am sure I would not have broken down if I had done that from the get go.
The confusing part to me is that I have run a half marathon with a time of 1:38:07…so one would think I would have no problem finishing a marathon under 4 hours. I feel as though I fueled property during the race with natural electrolyte fluid and energy chews. Perhaps I need to do longer runs at a quicker pace to get my body used to sustaining that effort for a longer distance? Maybe some of my training runs need to be longer? Maybe I need to fuel earlier in the race and not wait until mile 6 to ingest my first energy chew?
Either way it is back to the drawing board to meet my sub-4 hour goal. I will be honest that I am very disappointed in myself and my performance in this marathon, however I know deep down this was another learning experience. I know in my heart I can run the sub-4 hour marathon and am going to figure out how to achieve that goal while avoiding over-training and injury. While it may not be at my next marathon which is in 3 weeks (Lake Placid, NY), I will accomplish it soon. I just have to keep running and staying positive! 🙂
Finishing Time: 4:07:04
Overall Place: 363 of 527
Male 35-39 Division: 41 of 49 (Ugh!)
Photos from the Trip and Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.