This morning I ran the Harrisburg Marathon in PA. I registered for this race back in July after the Marine Corps Marathon was canceled. This was my goal race for the season and I was hoping to run 3:10 or just under.
This was marathon #27 (28 if you count the virtual Boston, which I do, so okay, 28) but I had never run Harrisburg before. This year, they changed the course to be Covid-friendly. That means no road closures and only paths and sidewalks. It's still unclear why road closures are deemed a Covid hazard, but potentially they didn't want to use police resources. I think cramming runners onto a narrow path seems like it would actually be worse in terms of social distancing, but in many areas of the country, that is all that race directors can get permits for.
In any event, this course was USATF certified as a Boston Qualifier so I was very grateful to have the opportunity to run it. It was well organized and I know the race director went to a great deal of effort to make modifications that would get the race approved. One of those was splitting the race into two days: both Saturday and Sunday. Instead of 600 runners all on one day, 300 runners ran on Saturday and 300 runners ran today. Another was having waves that went off every 10 minutes, and pre-assigning runners to those waves.
|Previewing the start|
Greg and I drove just over two hours to get to Harrisburg and arrived at around noon yesterday. Packet pickup was located on site at the race so I was able to preview the start/finish area. This was also the halfway point as the course was two loops of the same route. It was good to get a sense of how things would work and talk to some of the finishers about their experience.
We then headed to our hotel for lunch. We had lunch with our friend Aaron, who we met just two months ago at the local track. He actually ran the virtual Boston marathon on the track while we were doing a workout and we stayed to watch him finish. A fun way to meet a local runner. I suggested he run Harrisburg and so he signed up a few days later!
Then we walked to the state capital building which was just a few blocks from the hotel. I heard there was a protest going on and I had never been to a protest so this was my chance. I was not going to be a protestor, I simply wanted to observe. There were not many people there (the main event had been two hours earlier) and it seemed like there was an equal amount of supporters for both Trump and Biden. "Stop the Steal" for Trump and "Count Every Vote" for Biden.
On our way back to the hotel, we were approached by a reporter from a prominent news source. The reporter asked us if he could interview us and of course I immediately said "sure!" I love being interviewed for things! And then, after years of being mostly silent on social media about my political views, I just spewed it all to this reporter! I laid it all out there, didn't hold back one bit, and Greg joined in. And then the reporter asked for our names we provided them. So. . . . yeah that was definitely an impulsive move. Now my political views would be published on this prominent news outlet with my first and last name! DOH!
What had I been telling myself the past two months? Do not let election anxiety interfere with your race! And the day before the race, I go to a protest and tell a reporter all my beliefs. Lovely!
I told myself I would not check that news outlet until after the race and I would think no more about it. But then of course I kept replaying over and over what I said. (Note: I found the article after the race and thankfully none of our comments were used. Phew. Life is just easier when you don't discuss politics.)
We had dinner with our friend Aaron at an Italian restaurant and I ordered my standard chicken parm without the parm. Chicken, sauce, and pasta. Very bland, but it works for me. I should also mentioned that I hydrated with UCAN hydrate during the day yesterday, as I always do the day before a race. I am a firm believer that if you pre-hydrate with water and electrolytes, you do not need all that much water during the race.
I did not sleep well last night. I got some quality sleep from 11:00-2:30, but aside from that I was awake for most of the night. This is pretty standard for me, so I wasn't too worried about it. But I did feel shaky and I noticed I truly was a little shaky when I started looking at my phone. Pre-race nerves are a normal thing, and I have had them before.
Before the Race
I ate my typical pre-race bagel with peanut butter and banana. I always have this two hours before race start so there is plenty of time to digest this. I have eaten this same breakfast for every marathon and half marathon I have run since 2006! I've never had a problem with it. I got dressed, put my bib on, applied sunscreen, and mixed my UCAN.
We left the hotel and during our walk to the race start, I sipped my UCAN. The plan was to have this one serving of UCAN pre-race and then use Maurten gels starting at around mile 12. This is what I had done in training and it worked well. (Although in training I didn't also have the bagel and banana with peanut butter). For hydration, I would carry my own bottle of water mixed with UCAN Hydrate and then ditch it about an hour into the race. Again, something I always do on training runs that works well.
|About 15 women in the start corral|
It was about 40 degrees. I had a jacket that I would set aside before starting and that Greg would grab after he took my photo. The forecast was 40 degrees at the start, 59 degrees at the end, sunny skies, no wind. What a big warmup in less than 4 hours! I was somewhat worried about overheating during the last half hour, but I also wasn't TOO worried. By that point, the fate of my race would be decided and a little heat for a few miles shouldn't have a big impact. I definitely would not have wanted to start in the 8:00 wave though. On my weather scale, I give this a 9 out of 10. To get a 10 out of 10 we would have needed some cloud cover, as the sun was blinding in places.
I was the third female to start. I took my mask off as I approached the start line and began running. Greg was there and snapped a few photos. Then it was time to run the first mile around City Island. I was prepared for a lot of turns and uneven pavement. The uneven pavement was particularly challenging because of the shoes I wore.
I failed to establish a rhythm, though, due to all the turns and my cautious approach to any abnormality in the pavement. During that first mile, the two women who started ahead of me stayed ahead of me, and one really speedy woman passed me from behind.
After a mile around the City Island, we ran over a bridge. And then we turned left and ran for a very short while on a path, and then turned again to go onto another bridge. We ran across that bridge, had a few hairpin turns, and then back across the bridge to make an out-and-back. Turning on and off these bridges was definitely momentum stealing, so I still wasn't able to get into a groove during the second mile, which yielded a 7:40. I felt okay, but not great. My UCAN wasn't sitting well and I felt like I needed to keep burping. I didn't judge it though because it was still very early in the race.
Mile 1: 8:03
Mile 2: 7:40
Mile 3: 7:33
Mile 4: 7:22
Mile 5: 7:18
I did feel like I was exerting a little too much effort for still being in the first hour of the race, but I trusted my training. I knew I was fit and I knew I could put out a hard effort for a long time. Once I finally established a rhythm at around mile 5, I stopped looking at the Garmin and just went with it. Miles 5 and 6 felt like they were mostly downhill and there weren't any hairpin turns which was a relief. The pavement was bumpy in some places and I had to weave around runners and walkers who started in the 6:30 wave (those requiring 6-8 hours to finish).
I noticed that my mood was not great. I felt nauseous, like I needed to vomit or burp, and the course was annoying me. So many turns and bumps and I just wanted to cruise on a wide road. I started getting mad at the whole Covid situation and the cancelation or alteration of so many races. I knew that I needed to be positive so I stopped being negative and focused on enjoying the race. Yes, it was annoying, but here I was doing what I loved to do! I had trained hard for the race and I was going to make the best of it. To be clear, the race organizers did a great job and I applaud them for finding a way to make this race possible. But as I was running, I was annoyed at the altered course.
I ditched my gloves somewhere around mile 7, and I ditched my water bottle about five minutes later. As I said earlier, I believe that pre-hydrating and drinking plenty of water early in the race reduces the need for water later in the race. This is important for me because I often have a hard time taking in water after the halfway point. My stomach rejects it.
And now, a shout-out to AID STATION 3! The volunteers cheered for me by name and one of them said they had my book! They were so awesome and it really perked me up to be recognized. They requested the shout-out too, so THANK YOU aid station number three for being so amazing and just what I needed.
|Mile 9.5: my favorite part!|
I saw Greg during the 10th mile, still on that nice stretch of the course. I gave him a big smile! Greg was able to see me many times during this race without having to move around too much. Because of the two-loop and out-and-back nature of this course, we kept running by the same areas.
Mile 6: 7:27
Mile 7: 7:17
Mile 8: 7:18
Mile 9: 7:18
Mile 10: 7:19
I continued on, and I knew to expect a gravel trail coming up. The gravel didn't worry me too much. My marathon PR of 3:15 was set on a course that was about 70% gravel. I wasn't sure how the shoes would fare, but the benefit of having them for the rest of the race outweighed any stability disadvantage they may have been on the gravel. The hardest part of mile 11 was running directly into the sun on the gravel. It was difficult to see and I needed to be able to see my footing.
I had a caffeinated Maruten gel during the 12th mile. I have been using these during training and they have worked well. Even though I was still feeling nauseated, the gel went down well. At this point, I didn't think I could stomach water, but this gel was like swallowing a pill. The 12th mile was probably the hardest of the race because it was mostly gravel and had hills and turns in it. I clocked a 7:51 mile.
For mile 13, we ran over a bridge back to the start/finish area, and then started the next loop. The footing on this bridge was tricky as there were steel plates every 20 feet or so and running over them was not
|Mile 13, two runners gaining on me.|
stable. At this point, I could hear two runners coming up behind me. They were running together and talking to each other. They were getting closer and closer and I could tell they wanted to pass me. But given that we were on a sidewalk next to an open road, they could not pass me and instead came up quite close behind me. One of them was a woman, so I was now in 4th place.
I crossed the halfway mark at 1:39:05. I knew a PR was not in the cards at this point, but I was hopeful that I could maybe beat my 3:22 from CIM. And then it was time to run the entire course again. Mentally that was a scary thought. I already felt worn out and my nausea was getting worse. So around City Island with uneven pavement again, although this time I was more comfortable in the shoes so I was able to run faster.
I entered a negative mind space again and wondered if I should just stop running marathons and be happy with a lifetime PR of 3:15. Would I ever have a marathon go that well for me again? But I always have these thoughts at some point during a marathon when it's not going well. I start feeling defeated and wonder why I even bother with all that hard training.
The nausea was getting bad and I really wanted to vomit. I stopped during the 16th mile and dry heaved. I tried to get the vomit out but it was not coming. I didn't want to stop too long so after about 15 seconds I proceeded over the bridge. This obviously cost me some time and I ran 8:01 for that mile.
Mile 11: 7:37
Mile 12: 7:51
Mile 13: 7:33
Mile 14: 7:31
Mile 15: 7:47
Mile 16: 8:01
This was getting exhausting. I felt like I was running an 8:00 pace, but I was still well under that and I have no idea how. I started thinking about CIM and how things got really tough at mile 17. I remembered that I stayed strong all the way until the end of that race. But then my negative voice chimed in to tell me that CIM was on nice even pavement and had no awkwardness. But then again, the weather today was much better. I had expected to feel warm by mile 17 but I still felt relatively cool. Mile 17 was 7:37 which was a pleasant surprise.
Mile 18: 7:44
Mile 19: 7:43
Mile 20: 7:53
Mile 21: 7:44
I had to dig really deep here. My legs felt really good but it was heating up, the sun was directly in my face and I was still nauseous. I poured some water over my head during the 23rd mile, and that felt great. I wasn't overheating (at least I don't think I was) but I did notice things get warm. I was able to get down about 3/4 of another Maurten gel at this point. I wasn't sure if I needed it or not but I figured if I could get it down it would only help.
I ended up winning second place Master's Female. The first place Master's winner passed me during the 24th mile. So close! I'm not sure what my award will be as they are going to mail them.
Greg and I walked back to the hotel where I sat in a bath for over an hour and drank a coke. I wasn't hungry again for hours. But I felt pretty good, all things considered.
Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This race was bittersweet. It was wonderful to run a live marathon. That's more than most runners get. The weather was pretty good and I was able to push through some pretty bad nausea. A BQ with a cushion of over 16 minutes is pretty good, too. But it's upsetting to have missed my goal by so much, with a PR that is now two years old. I know I have a 3:10 in me and now I have to wait until the spring to try again.
I think my biggest mistake was eating too much. As my friend Gracie pointed out, nutrition needs change over time. That bagel with peanut butter + banana is something I have been doing for 15 years. When I do my long runs I do not eat beforehand, I only take UCAN. And that works. I almost never have GI issues on my long runs. It's been years since I have. I do think that nerves and adrenaline are a factor, and that can never be practiced in training. I was feeling shaky and anxious when I woke up in the morning.
I think that for my next marathon I might cut out the bagel entirely (especially for a 7:00am start) and just do the UCAN. I will take less UCAN and mix it with more water so it digests more easily. I don't plan to change my hydration. Of course, if it were cooler I do think I would have drunk less water and maybe that would have helped. I think I need to fuel and hydrate the same way I do on my long runs because I know that works.
The vomiting has been a thing at most of my marathons and half marathons for the past two years and I think my nutrition needs are changing. I'm running a lot faster which is more strain on my system, but less time on the course so fewer calories are needed.
So, yeah, I am bummed but I guess what I love most about this sport isn't necessarily getting that goal, but chasing it. So there is more chasing to be done.