Sunday, November 18, 2007

11/11/07 Harrisburg Marathon

Last year, I traveled back east to run the first double after my layoff: the Richmond Marathon on Saturday followed by the Harrisburg Marathon on Sunday. I did indeed run Richmond, but the next morning, the weather in Harrisburg was awful. While I've run quite a few bad weather marathons, I just couldn't do it that morning. I turned in my chip and went back to bed. Skipping any race is a bummer, really, but Harrisburg would have been a new state for me. Double bummer. On the other hand, I reeeeeaaaaallly wasn't in shape to be running a double, and I had run too hard at Richmond the day before. Not running Harrisburg was probably a smart idea.

Fast forward to this year. I signed up to do Richmond/Harrisburg again. Time to rectify this red mark in the books. I've run a few doubles, one triple, and a quadzilla this year. Being ready for a double wasn't a concern. Real life isn't that simple, however, and sure enough, I had to deal with my first over-the-top bad sickness this year. Euphemistically, let's just call it a "stomach thing". I *have* been sick this year, and I've had a few bad races due to in-race health issues (my first 50 miler comes to mind)... but this was several orders of magnitude worse. I spent much of Friday night and early Saturday morning refunding my dinner. And my lunch. And perhaps meals I ate in 5th grade. When "time to get ready"chimed on my watch Saturday morning, there was no waaaay that I was heading to the start at Richmond. Another skip. Big bummer. But unlike some skips where it was "cold" or "wet" or "I was too sleepy", this was obviously a different case.

So I slept in. Then I drove four hours to Harrisburg, making sure to take the leisurely side trip to the Gettysburg area. Did I really think I'd run Harrisburg the next morning? Nope. I picked up my packet just in case, but nope. I felt a little better as Saturday afternoon turned into Saturday evening, but I was still fairly iffy. I ate dinner with a friend... including an accidental eating of bacon (I vehemently do not eat pork, so this was not cool)... and I was no better than "iffy".

Nonetheless, I laid out the pink uniform and pinned on my number.

Sunday. "Time to get ready" chimed on my watch again. I got up and checked in with myself.


"No idea. Could go either way."

"Good enough. Let's do it."

On went the pink... and several other layers. It was going to be a blue sky day, but it was COLD. I set two fairly conservative goals for myself: go out with the intention of 1) finishing "about 4:00", but if I felt ok at the halfway point, 2) "about 3:50". This meant that I'd either be trying for even miles or a slightly negative split. HOWEVER... if at any point I began feeling sick, then both of those time goals would be dumped in favor of survival. I wanted to *finish* so that I could mark off a new state, but I also have lots more races this year. I wasn't about to blow more races just to say I beat an artificial time here.

The Harrisburg Marathon starts and ends on what's known as "City Island". There is a big park as well as the town's minor league baseball stadium. Ooodles of parking, which lowered the stress of race morning. The course is a 6-ish mile loop, followed by a 20-ish mile balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back/loop combo. I had been told that the course would be basically flat... and aside from some lakeside roly polies between M17 and M20, it was.

I was talking to a couple people before the start, and it was suddenly time to go. So off we went. "About 4" meant that my splits for the first half should have been around 9:10-9:15.

My first mile was 8:11. Yikes... I told myself to S L O W D O W N. My second mile was 8:04. Slow down. 8:17. Then 8:21. Well, I did indeed slow a bit, but my body was not wanting to run 9s. Not even close. I was headed for the biggest flame out in a long time. The thing is, I felt good. Putting my body and brain into 'race mode' seemed to make the lingering blahs go away. As long as I wasn't dehydrated, I'd be ok. As long as I wasn't low on glycogen (I lost a lot of food in the Night of a Thousand Vomits), I'd be ok.

So, what to do. I had tried to slow myself down, but I hadn't been successful. I decided to run what my body wanted to run. The 8:0x and 8:1x miles continued. I made it through the six mile loop at 48:50. Still felt good. We headed north for the 20 mile excursion along the river, through the industrial area, by a college, around a lake, and then back.

I hit the halfway mark at 1:47. Still felt good. The 8:1x miles continued until M18... the lake section had some sharp ups. After a few 8:30s through M20, it was time to head towards the finish. This lake section was the most challenging, but it was very pretty. I said my goodbyes and focused on finishing strong. And if not strong, then at least not dead.

Now, I had hit M20 at 2:44:51. Even with the usual slow slog through the final 10k, I had a shot at 3:40.

M21 was 8:25, 22 was 8:22, 23 was 8:29, 24 was 8:42... I was losing it. A bit. During this final stretch home, I noticed that I wasn't being nearly as sociable as I normally am. Hmmm. Hard to say whether this was because I was focused on finishing strong or because I was focused on staying not-sick. Probably both. M25 was back down to 8:04. Aha... my brain was focused on finishing strong. Just after the M25 mark, the course went up a steep hill to the pedestrian bridge that led back to City Island. A course marshal called me by name. My first name is on my pink shirt, but she also used my last name.

As I ran by her, I asked, "How do you know my full name?"

"From the coolrunning website!"

Alrighty, then. That was pretty cool.

Up onto the pedestrian bridge and around the ballpark. M26 was 7:50. It wasn't my fastest mile of the day, but it was my second fastest.

I vaguely recall passing a guy 10 feet before the finish. Ooops. I think I got announced, but I don't really remember.

3:36... of the 55 marathons and ultras I've done this year, this was my 3rd fastest. Of the 145 marathons and ultras I've done since 2001, this was my 3rd fastest. I did it on a day where I had not intended to go out fast, and I did it less than 36 hours after being the sickest I've been in a very long time.


I felt great after the race. It was probably the donuts. Yes, 36 hours after yakking up all the food in my body, I was munching on donuts. Life was good. The Harrisburg Marathon represented my 46th state. Check. Life was good.

In summary... last year, I ran Richmond "ok" and skipped Harrisburg. This year, I skipped Richmond and ran Harrisburg very well. Last year, I felt good but didn't want to risk hurting myself. This year, I felt terrible but running made me feel better.


I'm not sure if I will attempt this particular double again, at least not for awhile. I am very glad, though, that I went out on a high note.

Next up: It has already happened! The Louisiana Trails 50k! Another adventure on trails! My feet hurt!

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