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Running A Marathon
In Training for A Marathon

by Val Lalor with Colleen Seise
September 2008

This past weekend (9/7/08), Colleen and I set out to run a small marathon as part of our preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. The logic behind this wild scheme will make itself known shortly. We selected Lehigh Valley Hospital's Marathon for VIA because it met the criteria for this type of endeavor: location, location and, well, location.

Seriously, the marathon itself began in Allentown PA and ended in Easton PA; the drive is just under two hours from Sparta. Second, the route is along the canal by the Lehigh River - the venue is absolutely beautiful and the paths and roads well maintained and easy to run on. And third, the marathon hit on one of our long run weekends - perfectly located mid-training.

When I say the marathon was small, there were only 190 relay teams, 260 runners, 450 5K Walkers, over 350 volunteers. So the volunteer-to-runner ratio was superb. All the small towns along the way came out to volunteer and it was very heartening to see such community support.

Well, let's get on with it - the big question: how did it go? Well, we "rocked the park" as it were. And not by setting any outrageous or record breaking times either. A low finishing time was not one of our goals. Recall, this is for training purposes. But not just physical - mental too. Colleen and I have both only run one marathon - traumatic, emotional, painful experiences for both of us. We wanted to take control and make the run work for us; correct some mistakes we made and maybe try different approaches to working through the mental barriers that pop up.

Our goals were to: 1) have fun, 2) finish strong, 3) stay together, and 4) maintain a steady 10-11 pace. And we accomplished them all. Something is missing, though, from our list - and our experienced runners in the club might see it right away. Shouldn't we simply wish to finish? Isn't that a "given" goal to have? In this case, no. Because goal 3 was to stay together (come hell or high water) we knew that if either of us had problems, they would not be alone. And this came in handy late in the race as we both needed each other's support to go on.

So Colleen and I set out at 1 PM from Sparta to drive to Allentown. What impeccable timing we have: no rain all morning, then when I pull into her driveway - buckets. The trusty Saab took us safety to the hotel and we check in without a hitch. Since we had some time to kill we decide to "take a look around". However, the weather (thank you Hannah) showed no sign of letting us out without a good gallon or two of water dashed over us combined with a slight breeze of 20-30 miles per hour. Nice.

While touring the hotel (which took all of five minutes) we met a friendly bartender who suggested we go to the Shopping Mall; the hotel offers a free shuttle to and from. What a great idea - two women with time to kill in a shopping mall! So we headed over and were dropped off in first class style. After browsing the shops, we found a restaurant that feeds both herbivores and carnivores. Colleen dined on a beautiful salad of her own making and a spinach quiche to die for, and I got my grilled chicken and rice - my favorite pre-run dinner. Our bellies full, we then collected several bags of goodies - various books, a couple aerobic DVDs, aromatherapy socks (yes, they smell), $1.75 slippers, t-shirts, cookies (for post-marathon fuel) and, of course, candied popcorn! Great haul!

The best part of the hotel was that our room overlooked the plaza where the race was to start. So making the start time of 6:45 AM would be no problem. Looking down, the plaza was battered by wind and rain - no signs that a marathon (or any event for that matter) was about to take place the next day. Saturday evening we turned in about 9 PM to read a little bit and unwind. We shut off the lights at about 9:45. Apparently neither of us could get to sleep, but we tried.

The next morning, I watched the clock tick to 5:00 AM: time to get up. Looking down on the plaza, there was a woman sitting at a folding table. It was still dark but the road looked dry. We got dressed and headed down to get our goodie bags and bid numbers. Then back up to the room to wait a bit more - the wind was still circulating in the plaza and we were thankful our room was so close.

The volunteers were even kind enough to exchange my medium shirt for a small one - it's a wicking shirt, folks! And apparently the word "nudge" has not yet that part of PA - so I took it upon myself to provide not just an excellent exhibit of what one was, but assisted in them spelling it. (Is that "nudge", or "noodge"?) Folks, I grew up in PA and the '80's never ended, if you get my meaning.

At 6:30 or so, we all gathered at the start line (honestly, the night before you would have not known a race was going to be held - now there were tables, runners, a stage and police). We met a guy wearing a Marine Corp Marathon shirt and hat and he was so nice and encouraging. We saw him afterward and he was still smiling - finishing

a 3:20 or so. Man, I want to smile after a sub-4 marathon, too! There was a man in a pink tutu* carrying a pink fairy wand. I did  not have to wonder if he was fast: if you wear that outfit, you have to be fast - and strong! We met a lot of first-timers who were shivering from the wind and nerves. We couldn't find anyone who ran this before - this was the second year for this race. 

After the MC thanked the sponsor and reminded us we were running for people with disabilities, they played Our National Anthem. And in the middle of the song, the PA cut out…but the runners kept on singing. There we were standing in the residual Hannah wind, at a chilly 60 degrees, 6:40 AM, on the empty streets of Allentown, singing. It was … beautiful. Then we cheered louder than a thousand voices; the horn blew and we were off - heading WEST. Up the street a quarter mile, then around an orange cone and back past the start (not sure who's idea that was), and the crowd cheered!

The first 3 miles were down hill through the streets of Allentown and onto the canal. We held back and let the faster runners go by. We got a chance to chat with our fellow back-benchers - a colorful crew: A happy guy (didn't get his name) at 55 years old who was running his ump-teenth marathon - his daughter talked him into doing Philly with her a few years ago (by hijacking his VISA) and he was hooked. He wants to do 3 a year until he can't run any more. My kind of runner!

Sergeant Ryan, a brand-new father, was running and knew all the officers on the course. His wife delivered later than expected, a boy, just a few days prior to this run. He was conflicted but she said he had to run and that she'd be fine - we love understanding spouses! He finished at 4:42:58.

And then there was Darlene…this was her first marathon. Her friends said she was crazy to do a marathon. But she told us that she liked the challenge and decided to do it. She was running with no provisions of her own, and said our pace felt great. She had run several 5Ks and even came to NJ to do the Westfield pizza race. We were discussing our 20 mile training runs and the soreness afterward. She volunteered that she just skipped the long runs because she heard they were painful; her longest run ever was 8 miles. … Yes, this is not a typo: 8, eight, 8 miles: tops. We had so many comments on this, we were speechless! She took off on us at mile 6 (I guess our pace was now too slow?) and we met up with her at mile 9. By now, she was dragging and said she would walk at mile 10 for a bit. We never saw her again; but she did finish 5:48:52. Oof!

Colleen and I ran a smart race. Without writing a novel (too late) I will give you the high points:

- I ran in my Brook Adrenalines - great on the cinder paths, not so much on the pavement; I need a bit more cushion. For MCM I will run in my Asics 2130. Only a minor blister to show (and it was gone by Monday morning).

- Colleen ran in her Asics 2120 - only a minor blister, no worries there either. Toes are intact!

- Lemon-lime PowerAde is not so bad and much better than Gatorade (which is too sweet in my opinion).

- The one-way course is lovely and the shuttles at the end a great idea.

- No pace groups - this is more of a relay race. It gets more people running. How much easier is it to find 3-5 people to run 5-6 miles a pop than someone foolish enough to run the whole thing (did I say that?)

- At 5 AM, the plaza had a folding table and one person. At 5:30 there were 3 folding tables for packet pickup and baggage check. It was certainly a small race!

- The full marathon started on the dot at 6:45 - no fooling around. The relay started at 7:00 AM in the same spot, and the 20-miler started 6 miles into the route at Sand Island at 7:15.

- Marathoners had orange bibs, relay-runners were in white and the 20 milers wore light blue.

- Each volunteer on the course had an orange foam finger and used it to direct us around the paths! Plus there was spray paint on the ground: "LVM" with an arrow. Once I saw a finger propped up by a tree - no volunteer in sight (maybe s/he was on a nature-break?)

- 85% of the route was in shade along the canal.

- Val was sight-seeing most of the time.

- Great runner-to-runner support especially from the relay-runners to the marathoners. They would pass us and say "good going" and "way to go" and the like. One gal even passed us saying how when she ran the full last year she hated the relay-runners and apologized profusely.

- The relay transition areas were both exciting and annoying - the spectators insisted on standing in the marathon route. One girl walked out and stopped in front of Colleen, who promptly, and with conviction, elbowed her out. Honey, you shouldn't have been standing there. 'Nuf said. 

- The 15 Water spots throughout the course were evenly placed - no kidding aside - they were there just when we needed them.

- The hill at the end of mile 14 was a challenge - it was steeper than Angelo Drive, like a Mt. Pleasant ascent, and it curved up through the trees. Halfway up there was a boom-box playing the Rocky theme and a water stop. Duh - no one stops for love or money on a hill - at least they handed out water bottles and I grabbed one. We were able to drink a few minutes later when the road leveled off slightly. But the road continued to rise and for about a mile-plus we were moving upward. Then another relay transition point and back down we came. As we drifted down the path we could hear the Rocky theme faintly rising up from the trail below us.

- Occasionally when the talking was light, I'd ask Colleen what she wanted to do today. "How about a 10k followed by a 20 miler; sound doable?" Or she might ask what I did this morning. The answer would come back, "oh, got up, looked out my window, saw people milling about, asked them what's up and then ran a marathon." Or I'd get "Hey, Val. After this 13 miles, want to run another 13 or so?"

- We walked ALL of the water stops - even stopped at one to Gu, breathe and relax; we walked a bit further after the mile-22 water stop, just to take a mini-break.

- At mile 11.5, my Garmin 205 lost satellite and with all the tree coverage; I shut it off. Colleen thankfully had a Garmin 305 which was not such a party pooper as mine. She was free with the relaying of info to me until mile 25 when she simply replied to my incessant inquiry with "I'm not telling." Arg!

- Between miles 22 and 24 each of us felt "it". Not "the wall", but we knew we were getting tired. When one of us said - you go on, the other replied - no, we finish together. :)

- At mile 25 we jumped up onto the bridge to cross the Lehigh River into Easton. Through the town we ran and we started getting very vocal - "Wee-Hoo"s and "Yeah Baby"s were spouting out from both of us. Colleen pointed to a local cop and asked (shouted) "What did you do today? Run a marathon? NO, I don't think so!" Thankfully we were running so fast that before the poor officer could figure out what just happened, we were around the corner and out of sight. Never a dull moment.

- Colleen said at mile 24 that she could not "kick it in". However, who was it that started sprinting at mile 26? I accepted her challenge and kicked it up a gear.

- At mile 26.2 she shouted, "We just ran a fre-ak-ing marathon!" Two-tenths of a mile later we entered the ampetheater - a mini-Olympic stadium, and crossed the line one second apart. Our clock times were 4:22:08 (Colleen - 3rd place in her age group) and 4:22:09 (Val) and the Garmin said we travelled 26.4 miles. So if you take the clock time and their measurement, we did an exact 10 minute pace. If you take their time and our Garmin measurement, we kept a 9:56 pace. Either way - wee-hoo!

- The finishers medals were dinky, about 2-inch square - I guess in a small marathon you get what you can. At least the shirt is wicking.

- Panera Bread provided cinnamon-roll treats afterward - which vanished shortly after we arrived at the finish (No, Colleen and I only took one each!)

- They provided cold towels which we wrapped around our necks and I rubbed on my legs. This was EXCELLENT!

- We each took a cold water bath back at the hotel. Eight minutes does wonders! I rubbed BioFreeze on my quads and calves after my bath - then reclined on my bed for a few minutes - ah, heaven!

- Afterward, we even skipped down the street to the Brew-Pub for lunch!

- On Monday we both went to work and walked like normal human beings - upright and with no problems on stairs. Even going down was normal aside from a little soreness. It really only feels like we did a 20 miler. Now that is smart running!

At the finish we were met by Colleen's running coach, Jack, and his wife Missy. After driving us back to the hotel they treated us to lunch. It was a great day for both of us. 

More was learned than can be relayed to you here. I am confident we are much better prepared for MCM. We set out a plan and followed it: the diligent, disciplined execution on the part of us both worked. Thank you, Colleen - for a great weekend, marathon and all, and especially for taking great notes in the car on the way home!

Run, On

Val

*Editors Note: The man in the pink tutu carrying a pink wand is actually Keith Shaw of Malvern, PA. You can read about him in the latest Runner's World. Imagine my surprise, coming home from the marathon only to open up the October 08 issue to see him there! It's a small, small, running world! - vwl


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