A couple of weekends ago, we took a little road trip down to Pennsylvania with some friends for the Lehigh Valley Via Marathon.
6 of us rented a quaint 1700s farmhouse in the quiet town of Barto for 3 nights and had a really fantastic time. The shenanigans on the road and at our little “home away from home” made for a truly memorable experience, and more than made up for what turned out to be a fairly suck-tastic race for most of us (foreshadowing).
The race is point-to-point with the half starting at the mid-point of the marathon route, so there some logistics involved in getting us all to the right place at the right time on race morning. Thankfully our wonderful friend Ueli was not racing and offered to schlep the rest of us all over the place so we didn’t need to worry about shuttles. We had a bit of a drive to our respective start lines and were on the road dark ‘n early by 5am.
Somehow I managed to tweak my back after climbing out of the van and reaching back in to grab my water bottle. It was so painful that for an instant I thought I was going to have to climb right back in the van and scrap the race. Luckily it felt slightly better after a minute and I decided to at least see how it felt during the hour we had left before the start. My friend Patti massaged it a little and I just tried to stretch it out lightly. It felt kind of okay unless I bent forward at all so I ended up taking an Advil and hoping for the best.
It was still pretty chilly as we waited for the 7:10AM start and felt like a good day for running. We spent most of our time waiting in line over and over again to use the (limited) port-o-potties; there were only 12-15 for the ~900 people running the half and the line was still several blocks long when the fire engine horn blared to signal the start of the race.
And then we were off!
It was very crowded to start so I just tried to relax and settle in without worrying about weaving all over the place. Thankfully my back felt fine once I got going – phew! We started out on the streets of Bethlehem but soon hit the pathway along the Lehigh Canal. One thing I noticed right away was that it was hot – well, muggy. What happened to the nice, cool forecast with no humidity?? I was dripping already.
The crowding was tough when we first entered the trail – there were some puddles and mucky areas from the all-day rain on Saturday and it was hard to see where we were stepping among the masses. We eventually spread out after a couple of miles.
I didn’t love the path and found it difficult to run on. There were long sections of loose stone and also some dirt sections through more wooded areas. It was along one of these stretches between 2 and 3 miles when ZING! I felt a sudden stabbing in my calf. At first I wondered if it was some kind of crazy cramp, until I noticed others around me grabbing their legs. We had been stung by wasps – right through my sock! It hurt like hell but I kept running until the next aid station where I pulled off to have a quick look. It was red and a bit swollen and the medic offered me some ice, saying “That always happens through there.” That really caught me off guard – if wasp stings are so common, a little warning would have been nice. What about people with allergies? Anyway, nothing to do but carry on.
It felt like the pressure from my sock was making the sting feel worse so I ended up running the rest of the race with one sock to my knee and one rolled half way down. It would continue to burn and throb, but I sucked it up and grumbled about it in my head. (Is that still considered sucking it up?)
Eventually we left the path and hopped on the paved bike trail. It was much easier to run on, but I was fading fast already with more than half of the race left. I realize this recap sounds like a big whine-fest so far… I was not having the best time. I was also thinking about hubs and friends running the marathon, worrying about how they were making out on the sketchy footing and with the weather, also hoping none of them got stung! (It turned out that Patti did as well, several minutes ahead of me in the same area.)
By about half way, I knew I had no shot of making my goal time of sub-2:00 and gave myself permission to pull back. I still suffered, but a little less so. Once I stopped worrying about the pace, I tried to zone out, listen to music, enjoy the scenery and make the most of it. Any day that I get to run is a good day, right? Yeah, I wasn’t buying it at that point and it still pretty much sucked. I was hot and sore and tired and uncomfortable and my calf was hurting and I was ready to be done! I slogged through the second half with a lot of walk breaks watching my splits get slower and slower.
The last KM or so of the race was pretty evil. We were forced to run PAST the road toward the finish for a final loop which seemed to take forever, as illustrated in the fancy map below. See the blue location marker? That was a water station about 500m from the finish and I walked through it. That’s how rough this race was for me!
It turned out that hubs and friends running the marathon all had very tough days out there as well. I’m so proud of them all for gutting it out. And maybe I should stop whining so much about the half! I think we all agreed that we would not return to the race, mostly due to the rugged nature of the course.
Shenanigans continued for the remainder of our trip, including a lot of food, a lot of laughs and a champagne toast for our 10th wedding anniversary where I tried to make everyone pick which one of us they like better.
Other than that, what happens in Pennsylvania….