Sunday, November 8, 2020

Harrisburg Marathon Race Report

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
Saturday Adventures
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
We arrived at the start line at 6:35 for a 7:00am start. I ran around the parking lot a little bit to warm up and used the porta potty.  The "elite" men started at 6:50 and the "elite" women started at 7:00. There were about 12-15 women in the 7:00 wave. Before entering the corral we had to answer a few questions and get our temperature taken.  Masks were required. Once in the corral, they spaced us out and then they sent one runner off every 15 seconds. We were allowed to remove our masks once we approached the start line.

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.

Miles 1-5
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 wore the newly released adidas Adios Pro. This is a fast shoe and I love everything about it but the high stack height and lack of tread on the bottom makes it unstable and slippery. Thus, uneven pavement posed more of a challenge than it would in regular shoes. I am a very cautious runner and I did not want to fall in the first mile. Plus, I had only worn the shoes once before so I wasn't quite used to how they felt in the first mile. All of this caution and uneven pavement resulted in an 8:03 first mile. I had planned for 7:25-7:30, but I wasn't too concerned. The first mile is all about establishing a rhythm and getting the legs moving. 

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 4
Coming back off of the bridge, we turned onto a path. Greg was waiting there for me and took my photo and that perked me up. I was excited to finally have the consistency of a path with no turns and hopefully even pavement. I really needed to find my groove and I had not yet. And my chest still felt tight-- like I needed to burp. At this point, I passed one of the runners who was ahead of me, so now I was the third female. Keeping in mind, though, I was also competing against the elite Saturday runners, whose times were not published.

Mile 1: 8:03
Mile 2: 7:40
Mile 3: 7:33
Mile 4: 7:22
Mile 5: 7:18

Miles 6-10
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!
At around mile marker 8, we ran down a hill onto a lovely stretch of flat, even pavement! I was so excited to be on this even pavement and it was well-shaded as the sun was still low in the sky. I just cruised. I finally felt good. I was optimistic about setting a PR. I finally was having the race I wanted to have. The nausea and chest tightness was still there, but it was manageable now that I could just cruise along. Mile 9 was 7:18 and mile 10 was 7:19. Perfect!

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

Miles 11-16
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

Miles 17-21
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. 

I started to repeat to myself that I was doing what I love most and that I needed to keep doing it. The nausea was so bad and I was working so hard. Finally I reached the turn around and was headed back towards the start. I knew that my favorite flat/smooth pavement was coming up so that motivated me. "Just get to that part and it will be easier" I told myself. It seemed to go on forever, but eventually I reached it. 

During the 21st mile, I caught up with one of the women ahead of me. She had been the first to cross the start line. We ran together for a little bit and encouraged each other. But ultimately I pulled ahead. I really enjoyed having someone to run with for that bit. 

Mile 17: 7:37
Mile 18: 7:44
Mile 19: 7:43
Mile 20: 7:53
Mile 21: 7:44

Mile 22
Miles 22-Finish
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.

That gravel part came and I knew that would slow me down on top of my already slowed pace. Mile 23 was 8:07 and I was starting to bonk, but I knew I could hang in there and finish. I was the third female (at least for the Sunday race) but unfortunately I was overtaken by another woman during the 24th mile. She passed me at a pace that was much faster than what I was doing and she looked so strong. No way would I be able to keep up.  So I was back in 4th. 

The last 5K was all about staying strong and keeping up the effort. I knew it wouldn't be long until the race was over and finally I would be able to vomit. At least my legs felt good!

Mile 25 was the same as mile 12, gravely, hilly, and curvy, but I made it through in 8:29. And then it was over the bridge again and down to the finish!

I finished strong at a pace of 7:11 for the last 0.33 according to my Garmin. This was partially because of the downhill. But it was good to have a final kick. I finished in 3:23:19. Not anything near what I wanted or I had trained for, but that's the marathon for ya. My 4th fastest marathon.

Mile 22: 7:58
Mile 23: 8:07
Mile 24: 8:36
Mile 25: 8:29
Mile 26: 8:09

After the Race
About a minute after crossing the finish line I vomited black vomit. It wasn't all that much and the medical people at the finish line gave me a vomit bag. I didn't think I would need it, but then as soon as I got it I vomited again-- quite a lot! And it was black. According to the Doctors at Google, this was blood and it's an emergency condition. But to me it just felt like normal post-race vomit. I didn't eat anything that was black, but my guess is that probably something was irritated in my GI tract for running so long with all that stuff in there.

I felt SO GOOD after vomiting. I really wish I had been able to do that when I stopped in the 16th mile. It made all the difference and I felt like I could have run more. It was such a huge relief and after that I felt maybe the best I have ever felt post race. I was walking easily and my energy level was good. I even tackled a flight of stairs to get back up to the bridge! This means that my legs certainly had a faster race in them. But my digestive system had other ideas. 

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.


  1. Congrats on your effort today! When we (myself and my fellow aid station #3 crew) saw you during both loops, you were smiling and looked strong! Thanks for visiting Harrisburg and helping us celebrate running this weekend! While the race and course was different from our regular event, seeing runners come from out of town earn their miles was pretty gratifying! We hope to see you again!

    Brad (course aid station set-up/tear down coordinator, aid station #3 volunteer and Harrisburg Beer Runner)

  2. Congrats on pushing through so much discomfort!!! And your friend is right, your nutrition has to change over time. I swear, just when I think I've figured out what I can safely eat, it upsets my system. Nice job and you got another BQ!

    PS you look amazing in the photos.

  3. Great story. Thanks for sharing. Amazing how the mind works during a marathon.

  4. Intriguing story Zebra! Here's some thoughts that jump out based on your recap. First, the race you describe has its advantages of small field and don't have to contend with masses of runners to impede your flow. But the course you describe that winds and loops around on sidewalks and gravel paths can be an impediment when seeking that PR goal of yours, so keep that in mind as you likely would have run far faster on a more traditional road course without lots of turns, and better so maybe a point to point course.

    Second, maybe a little too much thinking while you race. Just check in with yourself at end of each mile and see how you faring and stick to the general plan and not so much specifics with respect to the PR goal.

    Third, your reference to being "bummed-out" intrigues me - you ran a BQ time by -16-min and a 3:23 marathon is very respectable FT. And ya 2nd Masters Female. PR's are not important...grinding out your race as best you can considering the course and the GI issues and finishing in 3:23 something...priceless!

    That's my old marathoner managed to qualify for and run 11 straight Boston Marathons, fastest/PR 3:25 something at Boston...unlikely to ever qualify to get back there, or run a 4-hr or sub 4-hr marathon ever again. When you can race a marathon and post a FT of 3:23 that is -16-min BQ, you jump and dance for joy, do cartwheels...celebrate.

    Congratulations on a very fine and respectably raced marathon!

    1. Thank you as always. My mind is very active always. I cannot turn it off and I am horrible at meditation. I'm never not thinking. That's why I have such a good memory of each mile-- because lots of thoughts go through my mind! I agree with you that 3:23 is a very fast time, but I know I am capable of faster given the right conditions, based on my training!

  5. Congrats on your BQ!!! It's so good to hear about real races again.

  6. I am so happy I stumble on upon this blog. This def gives me hope. I also ran on Sunday. In the Bucks County Marathon. I had trained basically since Covid started and felt real good going in. I my goal time was 4:20. But unfortunlay with the late start of 9am in the weather between 50-70 degrees. It didn't go as plan. I ended up with a time of 5hrs. I caught a bad leg cramp mile 21 that basically left me to walk the last couple of miles. It was very heart breaking. This is my second marathon with leg cramps. Not sure whats going on. After reading your post. I don't believe it the fuel and hydration because I was on point I had a gel/gu/waffer and water with nuun with water in my hydration vest at least every hour. I ate a bagel with 1/2 a banana and PB 3hrs before the race and half a cliff bar with gatorade. Still trying to wrap my head around it. But like you I also felt discouraged. but I bounce back and still plan to tackle my next race. My best time so far is 4hrs 2 min so I know its in me. LOL Hopefully my next marathon has to be in cooler weather. Any suggestions??? Kindly appreciated.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It was unseasonably warm and if I had a later start I am fairly certain I would have run slower. Heat can really break a marathon and I'm to the point where I probably would not start one if it was going to be over 60 degrees. I recommend the Myrtle Beach Marathon in March and the One City Marathon in Newport News. Not sure if One City plans to move forward in 2021, but Myrtle is looking like it has a shot.

    2. Thank you for those suggestions. Already told my husband I plan to run another one, he said I should take a yr off. Obviously he doesn’t understand the marathon big 🤪🤩🤩🤩

  7. Good morning, I have a question can you recommend some running training plans. I just followed the Run Less Run faster plan which only had me reach up to 33 miles a week at its highest peak with cross training two days a week too. I love the program because it allowed me to cross train as well. But I need to increase my mileage in order to get faster in the marathon. When I did my only one marathon in 4hrs and 2min I followed Hal Higdon. Since switching to the Run less plan I've been using that for about 3-4 yrs now. Ive been noticing my times slowing down. Im just noticing which Im mad about. lol. Still trying to figure out my leg cramps but that's another whole issue. But if you can suggestion some plans that would be nice thanks.

  8. This year, man...finally get a real marathon, and then something goes wrong. Marathons are SO tricky that way. You can't just go run another one like it's a 5k! The dark vomit definitely sounds like something didn't digest and mechanically irritated your GI tract. I hope you can figure your nutrition out soon. It's hard to get it just right and I feel like I am still working on it!

  9. You are amazing and I'm so sad I missed out on this because I've been MIA for months on end.

    Of course COVID sucks and finding races is hard. After all my setbacks the past year I finally feel like I'm on the mend and looking forward to getting to 100%. Over this past summer I was thinknig my runnign days were over. Anyone who reads this and in in the NYC area (yes NYC is a cesspool) but if you see this response, check out NY Custom PT. They are phenomenal. I have no doubt I'll be 100% by the end of 2020 and then we just need COVID to end and for me to lose some of this weight I gained during COVID and not running and then I'll feel ok racing again and can share with you.

    I've only vomited after two races in my life and not much came out.. Woodbridge 10K in 2007 after my grandmother with Alzeihmer's recognized me halfway thu on a 2 loop course and I just went insane the 2nd half, but she had gone back to the car when I was finishing... I was hoping to look amazing;y strong for her at the finish. I went so gar I was vomited when I was done.

    The other time was when I finished the Mount Washington Road run in 2019. I wasn't impressed with the time and had a little achilles issue but that 22% grade that comes in towards the end I just attacked it and then when I finished... BLAHHH... I making a sound as I type lol

    Congrats on getting a marathon in... I'm only able to do 4 mile runs with tape on my foot for now but COVID is getting worse and by the spring it hopefully starts to die off again and some races come back and I'll be ready to hopefully run my first master's race since well there's been basically nothing since I turned 40.

    Keep up the good work. I have a few posts to go back too over the next few days!!

  10. Excellent & thorough recap as always! That’s so fun that the one aid station gave you a shout out by name! You did a great job pulling yourself out of the negative mindspace a few times too- I find it hard not to dwell on what’s irritating me when it’s not my day, but the power of positive thinking is so important. Keep chasing👊🏻