Steamtown Marathon, I Love You!

Just over six months ago I decided I needed to start base training for the Honolulu Marathon that I registered for in January. I told myself I wanted to Boston Qualify this year as well, 3:35:00 or better for my age group. As a reference point, there are lots of people that spend years trying to run a time that qualifies them for Boston. I, on the other hand, hoped to do so on my first try and with one official race completed since my high school track days, a half marathon on mostly treadmill running. This is going to go well, right? Well somewhere over the last six months I found out about this amazingly beautiful race in Scranton, PA. I registered and found myself trying to stick to a schedule I drew up on my own. It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it.

Fast forward to October 13th! Two friends and I parked in a garage around the corner from the bus loading area and got ready to run the Steamtown Marathon. Since this is a point to point race we all get dropped off in Forest City, PA and then run back to Scranton, PA. Sounds like fun? It is! The ride up was pretty calm, the sun had just started to rise and I was able to get a few minutes of sleep in. The men/women bathroom designations at the start worked well, we did have a guy in the women’s line – we let him use the women’s portos even though he somehow didn’t notice he was the only male in the line. It was nice to have an indoor place to wait and the messages from the students were a nice to see. Two bathroom trips later I made it to my corral/area that had a 8min/mi pace sign held up while taking my first gel.

There was a misfire of the traditional cannon start so runners started out with the gun blast. Three seconds later the cannon went off followed by cheers as runners crossed the starting mats. Miles 1-6… From what I recall they were great. The first half mile was pretty flat and the pace moved nicely, the downhill when you turn on Dundaff St. is very steep! I shuffled down it and turned right onto Main St. There are some early birds out there to cheer and it’s nice to know that the residents support 2,000+ runners making their way through the area at 8am. I don’t wear a fancy watch and I tend to forget to hit lap at mile markers, so I just did the math in my head at each mile marker. Thank you to all the runners around me with fancy watches that beeped and rang out as we approached each mile marker. I did use Map My Run on my phone so that I could see my stats later. 7:21 – 8:00 – 7:56 – 7:16 – 7:18 – 7:22

Miles 7-15 were equally as nice. I followed the advice of a friend, almost, and just enjoyed the run. I looked around, read signs, smiled and said ‘Good Morning’ to spectators. I believe I gave out about 12 high-5’s by this point. I made an effort to high-5 anyone the had a hand out or an ‘ Official High-5 Station’ sign, even when it meant darting to the other side of the street. Thank you to everyone lining the streets here: Carondale, Archbald and Jermyn. The scenery was gorgeous!! The support was fantastic and I breezed past the 13.1 mile clock at 1:41:11. At this point I had a few minutes banked, but I was feeling great and the best felt perfect with little effort. I took a gel at mile 8 and just after 13.1. The trails began just before mile 15 and they were lovely. The major elevation drop ends around this point as well. 7:54 – 7:17 – 7:46 – 7:33 – 7:38 – 7:39 7:53 – 7:43 – 7:51

Miles 16-23 included more trains and a loop in the park. I was on cruise control at this point and simply read signs and did pace/goal time math. I began to think that not only would I run a Boston qualifying time, but I may be able to run a sub-3:30. I told myself not to get ahead of myself and reassess my goal. Just as you exit the park there is a little wooden bridge that takes you over to the last of the trail section. Enjoy it!! I personally found it very enjoyable and not hard to manage. I took my final gel around mile 20. I think there was a little hill at mile 23, I’d compare it to one of the lower loop rollers in Central Park. I did the math at mile 23. I had 6.5 minutes banked if I wanted to hit 3:33 . I could run 10 minute mile pace at this point and reach my goal and rather than risk blowing out on the major hill that was yet to come I decided to start pulling back. I was around 2:58 with 5k to go. 7:47 – 7:47 – 7:47 – 7:56 – 7:53 – 7:52 – 8:01 – 8:12

Miles 24-26.2  is where the FUN begins in this race. Yes, they are kind enough to put a couple nice hills at the end of the race. I was very nervous about these hills going into the race and asked a few people at the expo about them. I tend to run Harlem Hill in Central Park and thought they would be a lot worse, thankfully they weren’t for the most part. The major hill is the one around mile 24.3. It’s a bit steep and a has a little curve at the end where it hides a little extra. I simply leaned forward a bit, shortened by stride and powered up the sucker. Sorry for the lack of smiles there, minus a smile and wave at the hospital patients I saw just before the right turn. It reminded me of Cat Hill in Central Park. More running, the support dies out a bit around here, everyone is on the last hill and at the finish minus the beer guy at mile 25, you are awesome, my friend. I told you I was coming back for that beer, I ended up asking a friend to grab one for me! Two ‘hills down’ and one to go is what I thought. I was greeted by my friend shouting at me. I love that kinda stuff!! ‘One little hill after the light, Espinoza, you’re almost done!!’ Trudging up to the top of the hill wasn’t effortless, it was a bit long, but once I reached the stoplight at the top I could see the finish line. YES!!!! I definitely had a sub-3:30 in the bag. I picked up the  pace a little, not a powerful finish by any means, but I was happy. Stopped my watch, 3:28:11! (It matched my chip time perfectly) ::Happy dance commences:: 8:17 – 8:13 – 8:13 – I forgot to stop my phone so it’s a little off, around 8:00

If you are going to run this race, get some hill training in, get some downhill training in and get some off-road running in if you can (nothing too crazy required). There’s no need for gloves, thermals, etc. at the start, IMHO. You’re body should warm up pretty quickly and by the halfway point the temperature should be ideal.

Overall I loved the race. The organization was great. They should definitely host a conference on ‘How to Plan and Execute A Great Marathon.’ The food at the finish was top notch. I love perogies! I love my medal! I was happy with my massage by Grace in the court house lobby. The shirts were a nice touch. The volunteers were very helpful and remembered faces, a great thing! If you are a looking for  a race that makes you feel like an elite and support from perfect strangers then definitely register for the 2014 Steamtown Marathon. I can’t gush about it enough, meaning I’ve probably forgotten about 300 great things I have been thinking about the race over the past 48 hours. I love you, Steamtown Marathon!

Ultramarathon & Marathon Training During Ramadan

It’s not hard. (إن شاء الله) Well I should say it’s not impossible, but it’s certainly not easy. When presented with the most recent heatwave in NYC I was left with to options, run in the heat or not train at all. (I’m not a fan of treadmill running now that I’ve started a serious relationship with outdoor running, so that was not an option.) Over the past couple weeks I have made it a priority to run at least four times a week, even logging over 16 miles on a Sunday run.

Going into this training season I hadn’t planned to run an ultramarathon at the end of August. It just happened. Really. I did know that I would need to log miles during Ramadan in order to hit my marathon training goals. So then this ultra moseys onto my schedule and there’s no turning back. I haven’t even run a marathon yet. I keep telling myself if I can run 30-40 miles a week in the heat and without hydration I can deal with a flat ultramarathon course with a cool start and a couple hours of running in the heat with hydration.

My ultimate goal is to finish the 50k, but I have an ambitious 4:59:59 or better goal time tucked away in the back of my mind. I was under the impression that I could hit my goal time on some of my longer runs, but I’ve found it hard to hold a slow pac, even on long runs. Last weekend I completed my run at a sub-9 min ave pace of 16.55 miles (if you don’t count the 5 minutes of water breaks, traffic lights and figuring out where we were). I believe the cooler, evening conditions aided in keeping a slightly faster, conversational pace with my fellow running buddies. My goal finishing pace is 9:39 or so for the 50k. I’m hoping that I can complete my 20 mile run this weekend at that pace, but if I stay in the low nine minute range I may be in for a surprise on race day.

I feel like I’m in a grove at this point. My weeknight runs have been at 7:50-8:40 mile averages. I don’t feel drained as much, which I can likely attribute to sitting in the air conditioning for a few minutes after runs to lower my core temperature.

Some of the things that have worked for me during Ramadan race training include:

  • Listening to my body instead of trying to hit specific paces
  • Not wasting energy by making unnecessary movements
  • Wearing breathable clothing
  • Not running more than than 6-7 miles (approx. 10-11k)
  • Starting runs within two hours of sunset
  • Having at least a .5 litre bottle of cold water nearby when the sun does set
  • Starting long runs close to sunset

Every mile during my runs I try to do a tune-up check on my body. I think about my form, my breathing, any tension in my body and how my body feels overall. I feel like this has definitely helped keep me on track and keep my mind off of the fact that I cannot rehydrate like many of my fellow runners post-run. Two more weeks to appreciate the simple things like a sip of cold water after putting a hard workout.