Steamtown Marathon Recap

Date: October 15, 2014 at 9:27 pm- by Ali- Comment(s): 35

In the months, weeks, and days leading up to the Steamtown Marathon, everything was lining up perfectly for me.

I was the healthiest I’ve been in years, I was trying out a high volume training plan that seemed to be working well, and I was kind of successfully balancing work and play. Kind of.

I loved training for this race. I know I’ve shoved that sentiment down the throats of anyone who will listen to me, but it’s true. The Steamtown training process was such a rewarding one for me.

And because I loved every minute of my training — even including the oft-dreaded taper period — I’m actually completely OK with the fact that my race went terribly.

The pictures make it seem SO FUN, but it was kind of actually SO OUCH.

The pictures make it seem SO FUN, but it was kind of actually SO OUCH.

Yeah, man.

The day before the race, I got my stuff from the expo, I chilled out at lunch with friends, I spent some time blogging and reflecting in front of the fake fireplace at the dicey Four Points hotel, and I ate an early dinner at Outback Steakhouse. That warm brown bread and soft butter is my second favorite suburban treat. (Olive Garden breadsticks are first, and I had had those the previous night.) I ate just enough steak (filet, always medium rare), baked potato, and asparagus (why does it make your pee smell? I’m new to asparagus so I haven’t Googled it yet) that I was filled up without being grossly full. Nailed it.

I hate my haircut.

I hate my haircut.

I slept surprisingly well Saturday night, and woke up Sunday excited but not nervous. I just felt ready.

If you don't believe marathon running is sexy, here is a photo of me rubbing Body Glide on my inner thighs so they don't chafe and burn me later in the shower. #proof

If you don’t believe marathon running is sexy, here is a photo of me rubbing Body Glide on my inner thighs so they don’t chafe and burn me later in the shower. #proof

I suited up, bathroomed up, bibbed up, and ate up (plain bagel and, about an hour later, a protein bar), and then Brian drove me to the start line at Forest Hills High School.

All crooked, all the time. Always. Every time.

All crooked, all the time. Always. Every time.

It was the perfect day to run a marathon. The weather couldn’t have been better, and everything about Steamtown was lovely. There was so much support, from the cheerleaders greeting runners at the school to the volunteers all the way to the finish line.

I was able to find Paul without too much trouble (or so I thought — he told me he’d been wandering the high school halls for half an hour trying to find me and starting to panic), checked my bag with my warm clothes in it (I totally forgot I checked a bag, since I never do, and definitely forgot to pick it up at the finish, so I hope someone in Scranton, PA, is enjoying those fleece unicorn pants and hot pink sequined fleece hat), and used the bathrooms a few times.

My stomach felt fine. My head felt clear.

So Paul, have I told you about him? Probably. We work together and he has to hear about my running and my brain thoughts all day every day, because we sit right next to each other. We’ve become great friends, and he offered to pace me for this marathon because he had a bib but “wasn’t in shape” to run it on his own. In other words, he’d go for a nice leisurely jog with me instead of attempting a 2:40 marathon for himself.

We get along great because we both like the shortest shorts.

We get along great because we both like the shortest shorts. We have a lot in common, and the size and shape of our legs is not one of those things.

We did a few workouts together during training, and he thought I could definitely PR at this race. I thought I could, too, but I didn’t necessarily want to put a time goal on the race. So I told him he could run with me under the condition that I don’t wear a watch and I just trust him and try to hang on, and if I can’t, we’ll slow down, and that’s fine. Everything is rainbows. No pressure. Good times.

We lined up at the start, there was a National Anthem, and there was a cannon which scared the Crohn’s out of me. Almost.

And then we were running.

Gray tanks. Black shorts. Paul forgot his hot pink legwarmers, though. Way rude.

Gray tanks. Black shorts. Paul forgot his hot pink legwarmers, though. Way rude.

Steamtown is a downhill course.

They warn you about the course relentlessly.

They tell you that people go out too fast, or that people get trashed on the downhills, or that you should really consider training on downhills to prepare for the race.

All the while I’m thinking running downhill is fun and sometimes I can go fast down Harlem Hill so heyooooo I will rock this race, right?

PROBABLY NOT, ALISON.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN TRAIN ON DOWNHILLS?! No, I actually did try to do that. And I tried to lean into the hills and be perpendicular to the road and all that jazz. Still died.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN TRAIN ON DOWNHILLS?! No, I actually did try to do that. And I tried to lean into the hills and be perpendicular to the road and all that jazz. Still died.

Mile one shoots you out of the high school parking lot and straight downhill. And also it’s very crowded and congested so it’s a bit of a mess.

The first downhill is quite steep, and there’s a sharp right turn at the bottom of the hill, which was kind of scary. But then it’s a more gradual downhill for the next 10 or so miles.

But it’s still downhill.

And it trashed me.

By mile 10, my quads were like, “Game over, cutie pie, we’re done!” Except there was no cutie pie.

The day I ran the Steamtown Marathon was just not my day.

The look on my face pretty much sums it up. Yeeeeeup.

The look on my face pretty much sums it up. Yeeeeeup.

I felt like everything went so perfectly leading up to the race, but then my body and mind decided they were content with the work we’d done and didn’t really feel like making the race come to fruition.

Yes, the downhill course was very difficult for me. But there were so many other elements that came into play and tore me up.

The first four miles flew by. Paul and I were chatting a bit, the course was great, and the foliage was spectacular. I was into it. I loved not wearing a watch and just cruising along with my buddy.

Dear Science/WebMD, Is it normal to have cellulite on my KNEECAP? Please advise. Love, Ali

Dear Science/WebMD, Is it normal to have cellulite on my KNEECAP? Please advise. Love, Ali

I was running with my water bottle in my left hand, which I had done during the New York City Marathon, but it was driving me bonkers crazy. I barely even noticed it during NYC, but for some reason it was irritating the ever-loving hell out of me. I needed it off my hand. I hate water stops — I’m not great at drinking on the run, and I don’t like walking through them because I don’t want to break my rhythm — so a handheld is a great solution to force myself to drink more along the way, and because I can stash my fuely treats in the pocket. But something about that water bottle threw me on this particular day, and I couldn’t shake the irritation.

Around mile eight, Paul needed a bathroom, so he told me to “keep running, and stick close to the girl in the white top and crazy shorts.” Evidently she was going at the pace we were going at, so she was my rabbit while Paul porta-pottied.

Hey go figure, almost immediately after Paul stopped for a bathroom, Crazy Shorts Girl ducked behind a white picket fence on someone’s front lawn and popped a squat of her own. I had no rabbits left!

And that was fine — I was plenty comfortable just running along without needing to know my pace — but I was thrown off my mental game. I don’t know what happened, honestly.

Paul caught up with me around mile 12 or so (he ran sub-6:00 miles to catch back up to me NBDDDDDDD, Paul) and says, “When I got back to you, you were in a dark place.”

My brain was a mess during almost this entire race. I can’t pinpoint it. I never hated running. I never questioned why I do this. I was just very aware that it wasn’t my day, and that I had a very long way to go.

I know I know I know, a stolen race photo. I'm sorry.

I know I know I know, a stolen race photo. I’m sorry.

I’ve often heard people say that the race stops being fun when you start counting down the miles, and that sure is true. I started counting down the miles way too early.

I ate a few Honey Stinger Fruit Smoothie Chews between miles 7 and 8, but I had a hard time tolerating them.

By mile 10, I was desperate for a bathroom of my own, but I couldn’t stop because then Paul and I might never find each other again.

There was also a long stretch without any bathrooms.

I saw my friends, Jill and Carrie, around mile 12, soon after Paul caught up with me, and I was so bummed that I felt so shitty at this point. I wanted to feel amazing when I saw them. But instead I worked up a tiny smile and powered on.

Soon after, I saw Brian, who was on his bike at this point, cheering and taking pictures and I love the guy, but I didn’t have it in me to put on a happy face for him. (Though, maybe I did? It didn’t feel happy.)

Oh clearly just having the BEST time. Look at my "gloves" though! They are from the dollar store or a place called "Five Below" which is like, a fancy more expensive dollar store.

Oh clearly just having the BEST time. Look at my “gloves” though! They are from the dollar store or a place called “Five Below” which is like, a fancy more expensive dollar store.

I had to stop and use a bathroom at the halfway point, which was frustrating, because I had come through the half in about 1:54 (it was the only clock on the course), and I was pumped about that. I knew the bathroom stop wouldn’t really hurt me, but I also knew I had a lot of other factors that kept coming into play and kicking me while I was starting to feel down. Also, I thought we were past this stomach stuff.

I got a killer side-stitch cramp soon after I used the bathroom and hey, this is fun: It never went away. I had that cramp for the rest of the race. Not the running companion I wanted!

I ate a Hammer Gel (chocolate flavor, and I tell myself it’s Nutella) around mile 15, and had a hard time keeping it down. I was nauseated, salty, dizzy, the whole deal. I tried to figure out if I felt dehydrated or under-fueled or on the verge of bonking, but I mostly just felt cranky. It was very out of character, and that was jarring.

All the while, the course was so pretty! And Paul was doing a great job trying to keep me in good spirits. I could tell he was a little worried about me, and I didn’t want to let on about just how badly I was feeling. He repeatedly told me I was tough and that I was doing great, and gave me my music when I told him I just needed to “snap the F out of it.” A little T-Swift helped. Slowing down also helped.

ANOTHER RACE PHOTO I DID NOT PURCHASE, I AM SO SORRY.

ANOTHER RACE PHOTO I DID NOT PURCHASE, I AM SO SORRY.

I don’t remember when we took our first walk break. But I know that there came a point when I told Paul I needed to walk for a second for a few reasons. My legs needed the brief change of pace, I needed to try and work out the cramp situation, and I wanted to pull over for a second to give myself a mental pep talk.

We spent the final seven miles slowed down in a major way. I didn’t care about my time — I just wanted to get through the race. And as much as my legs hurt, as much as the cramp hurt, it was the brain stuff that had me the most out of sorts.

When we got to mile 20, I told Paul that “running six more miles is impossible.” I never actually contemplated not finishing, but I did envision myself crawling for a little while, or maybe finding a child with roller blades and hitching a ride on his or her back.

When I couldn’t find a kid on wheels, I assumed my best course of action was just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And that worked!

Loving life! I look like I'm loving life! But I was hating that damn water bottle. I wanted to throw it in the woods. But it had my gu stash soooooo I kept it. And then Paul carried it for me the rest of the way.

Loving life! I look like I’m loving life! But I was hating that damn water bottle. I wanted to throw it in the woods. But it had my gu stash soooooo I kept it. And then Paul carried it for me the rest of the way.

Each time we got to a new mile marker, I’d want to walk for a minute or two, and then try to keep shuffling forward. Of course, this is where the course changes and you start having to run UPhill. Cute, right?

The hills weren’t bad, but of course to me, a bruised and beaten little runner, they were bitchmountains. I had to walk up most of them, and I wasn’t the only one. Almost everyone around me was walking at this point. It was part reassuring, part hilarious. All these crazy, aching people, doing this for fun. I love it.

I obviously knew a PR wasn’t going to happen, and that was never a problem. I was never overly attached to that idea anyway. I just wanted to have a good race, and that’s what was sad to watch slip away.

MADE IT.

MADE IT.

At one point, I asked Paul, “Are we at least going to come in under four hours?” and his response was, “Do you really want to know?” That was discouraging, too, since I really would have liked to finish in a 3:xx time. That was the only time during the race I got bummed out about the pace or number on the clock. But I knew I couldn’t change it, so I accepted it and got moving.

Once we hit mile 24, I knew I could run the rest of the way to the finish. We ran through a neighborhood that was crazy-packed with spectators out on their front lawns, and that gave me the last boost I needed to push through the pain and get to the party.

GET TO THE PARTY.

GET TO THE PARTY.

The finish line felt years away, but once it was in sight, I found my kick. There was one final hill we had to climb to get there (who designs these courses?! ouch on ouch on ouch!), and Paul just put his hand on my lower back as if to give me a little physical push. Then it was go time.

My face says, "I love you, Brian, but I can't fake a smile for you right now." Paul's face says, "Are my split shorts too short? No?"

My face says, “I love you, Brian, but I can’t fake a smile for you right now.” Paul’s face says, “Are my split shorts too short? No?”

The finish was packed with spectators. It was amazing. I heard Brian screaming on my right, and the girls on my left.

I felt like I was flying, and we picked off a ton of people in the final stretch.

I'M FLYING! I'LL NEVER LET GO, JACK!

I’M FLYING! I’LL NEVER LET GO, JACK!

I may have had a really rough previous 25.5 miles, but if there’s one thing I can almost always do, it’s salvage a strong finish.

I saw 4:08 on the clock and I didn’t care that I ran 20 minutes slower than I felt I was probably capable. I made it. I had felt like shit for almost the entire race, and I powered through. I fought a heck of a mental battle and a bit of a physical one, and I got it done.

See? I was having the best time ever for at least, like, three minutes during the race!

See? I was having the best time ever for at least, like, three minutes during the race!

Paul and I crossed the finish line together (official finish time 4:07:11, a 9:26 pace), and I don’t remember if we hugged or high fived or acknowledged each other. I just wanted to sit down, and I remember finding a chair, and Paul sitting next to me and telling me my face was really salty and that I had a booger sticking out of my nose. I remember wiping my face and asking if I got the salt and the booger, and he said no on both accounts.

This was AFTER I wiped off my face. Check out that sexy salty neck!

This was AFTER I wiped off my face. Check out that sexy salty neck!

We found our loved ones and I think they expected me to be depressed and disappointed and dramatic, but I was actually OK.

Trust me: No one is more surprised by my reaction than I am.

CELEBRATING NO MATTER WHAT.

CELEBRATING NO MATTER WHAT.

I sort of expected to beat myself up, question what I could have done differently, and re-hash every detail leading up to the race.

But instead, I’m completely at peace with not having a great race. I still got to run a dang marathon. That’s pretty sweet.

And you know what? I had the best weekend.

THAT IS A GIANT GIANT WINE GLASS AND IT IS FILLED WITH STRAWBERRY MOJITO.

THAT IS A GIANT GIANT WINE GLASS AND IT IS FILLED WITH STRAWBERRY MOJITO.

Brian went to Rhode Island for a race of his own after my finish (he got second place! someone had to represent, ya know?), and I spent the rest of the day and night with Paul, Jill, and Carrie at Jill’s parent’s house in Scranton.

I have the best friends.

A wine bottle with owls on it (BECAUSE I LOVE OWLS CURRENTLY, and they found this for me at a wine party show expo thing the day before the race), and my race number, carved out of jicama. I mean...come on? How good is that?

A wine bottle with owls on it (BECAUSE I LOVE OWLS CURRENTLY, and they found this for me at a wine party show expo thing the day before the race), and my race number, carved out of jicama. I mean…come on. How good is that?

We went back to Jill’s, and by the time I was showered and sweatpants-ed, I had a strawberry mojito in one hand, a glass of rosé champagne in the other, and chocolate chip pancakes and jicama in front of me. They had all my favorite things ready, and we spent the day eating, drinking, playing games, and watching Mean Girls.

The race may have been a little stressful at times. But the REALLY stressful part of my day was deciding which delicious treat to indulge in first.

The race may have been a little stressful at times. But the REALLY stressful part of my day was deciding which delicious treat to indulge in first.

I even used my mango soap.

35 Responses to "Steamtown Marathon Recap"

Ahhh I ran Steamtown last year and it was my first marathon! Your pictures brought back such feel good memories for me! I mean, I guess those hills didn’t really feel good at the time, but you know… Congrats on finishing, even if you didn’t feel so hot. You’ll get em next time. How about the support on the course though? Awesome! Also, keep writing, because I love reading your blog 🙂

Yes! Those spectators were SO good and so encouraging. They kept me running during those later miles for sure. They wouldn’t let me walk!! (And congrats on running it as your first last year!! It really is a wonderful race. I can’t decide if I want to try again next year/some other year, or if I’m OK with letting the hills win and accepting that a downhill course may not be my strong suit.)

I’m sorry you felt terrible throughout the race but Damn 4:08 is an awesome time! You are amazing for pushing through the pain! This was a very enjoyable recap to read by the way. You may have felt bad but you still sound so chipper!

The mango soap! 🙂 So happy you were able to run and indulged in a much deserved celebration. Congratulations!

Asparagus makes your pee smell bc there is an amino acid in it that does that… wait for it…its called — ASPARGINE!!!

Also, now I want brown bread and butter from Outback Steakhouse. I may run a suburban marathon do just that.

You know, some days just aren’t our days, but a finish considering what you’ve been through over the past year is fantastic.

xoxo

My second marathon was just like that. By mile 8 I was considering ditching out and doing the half. Way to stick with it and finish it! And after the year you’ve had, you deserve to celebrate! Congrats on another finish!

And I hope you drank that entire mojito in that giant wine glass. Gotta get me one of those.

Ali, congrats on getting it done even when it was not your day! The marathon is incredibly humbling, isn’t it….so glad you used the mango soap and even happier that YOU GOT TO RUN A MARATHON!!! Enjoy the recovery mojitos!

Congrats on beating the mental hurdles! I had a similar experience in NYC in 2010. I was ready all was well… except it was not my day. I happens to the best of us! And, you were healthy and happy and you had a great training cycle. I imagine there were many days this year where you could not have imagined that!

I ran Steamtown twice – my first BQ and my PR which I never expect to break. I love love love running downhill. But that course is rough. The hills are 24 and 26 are mountains as far as I am concerned.

My suggestion – try another marathon in a month or so. You did the work 😉

Great job pushing through that race! You still ran a really good time! I actually wrote on my blog today about how it can be so frustrating that we only get one chance at the end of a training cycle to run our goal race. SO many things can go wrong! When I win the lottery I am going to start signing up for all races within a month time frame so if my goal race isn’t going well I can drop out and try again another day:) But seriously, awesome job.

I was signed up and ready to take on Steamtown. Everything was hopefully in place to break the 4 hour barrier. But then the Orioles went on a tear and got to the ALCS and being the die hard baseball fan I couldn’t pass up the chance to go! From your recap I’m actually glad I skipped Steamtown because I don’t think I would have run a smart race on those early hills. You’ll get your PR at NYC in a few weeks.

http://jax-and-jewels.blogspot.com

Love your recaps – you’re hilarious! So upsetting you felt bad for most of the race but you finished strong and with a great time! You know you’re a runner when you read how bad someone felt during a marathon and it makes you excited for your marathon coming up…

I stumbled upon your blog via twitter!! I am so happy I did! It’s a great blog – you are awesome! Congrats on the marathon finish!
You did great – pushing through a tough race takes such heart & mental strength! 🙂

I’m pretty sure this is almost exactly how my Chicago Marathon went down. Bathroom stops, cramping, along with some other digestive issues. I, too wasn’t upset when it was over, it just was what it was! So glad you were able to have such a solid training experience and have been able to run!

I have been there before and it is so hard to push through when its not your day, but you should really be proud that you did. Of course its easy when you feel good- it takes real strength when you don’t.

Steamtown is a challenging course, but GORGEOUS and the spectators are some of the best. Congrats on another marathon finish!

Lori Connors says: October 16, 2014 at 10:48 am

Can you please send Paul down south so he can pace me in my marathon? Seriously…what a wonderful friend to pull you through. You have such a great attitude….I am going to channel it during my upcoming full.

I’ve passed along your request. Stay tuned.

Paul says, “I like the south!” So I guess he’s in.

You busted out a 4:07 on a bad day. Dang!!!
This years NYC half was the first and hopefully last cranky race I will ever run. I remember just being so irritated by everything. The wind, the crowds, my shirt, my numb fingers. I was angry at myself for being so cranky but more than that I was sad and shocked to not be in my usual running happy place. Glad to hear u are fine with your outcome. It’s a good story to look back on. Who knew down hill could suck. Lol. You rock! And paul def needs some pink leg warmers 🙂

Kim from Canada says: October 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

OMG! Finishing in 4:07 is impressive! You go girl!!! Ali, you are an inspiration! I love your recaps (and the “borrowed” photos) and simply being honest about what you went through. You never know what can happen on race day.

I am running the New York City marathon in a couple of weeks!!! I am the healthiest I have been in years, not only with my Crohn’s, but with my running as well. I am hoping for a PB in the race! However, it’s just an accomplishment just to finish, right? Right?

I am excited and nervous about the race. This will be my 5th marathon! Any advice on the course??? I really don’t know what to expect. So many people too!!!

Oh wow, I’ve definitely had one of those races. The kind where you hope you trip and sprain your ankle just so you have a good excuse to end the race?? oh yes, I can relate. Bummer the race didn’t pan out like you had hoped. You really did kick some ass in your training and that is a HUGE accomplishment. I have run with my husband as a pacer and that is a dreaded comment when you ask if you are going to finish “sub 4″… and they give you an honest response. boo on that! But onward to better races in the future!!!

Hey Ali, now that you work for Jack Rabbit, how does your employer feel about you stealing race photos and posting them in your blog? Don’t you think your behavior reflects badly on them?

I certainly understand that using watermarked race photos is bad behavior. I hope it doesn’t make you think poorly of my employer. (Don’t know what else to tell ya. Yeah, you shouldn’t steal race photos, but I screenshot a few and I posted them and that’s lame and probably illegal. I’m sorry. I liked the foliage in them.)

Ali! Wow, I have been secretly lurking on your blog for a little while now and I don’t think I’ve ever commented. But I also think your posts are great (so nice to read a fun running blog that is actually also still so well written and just honest)

ANYWAY THIS POST! Let this go on record for years down the road when we are laughing over mojitos and rose (because I really feel like our friendship is inevitable)…let this go on record that this is the post that coaxed this lurker out of hiding and forced me into writing the longest (creepiest) comment and started our bond.

Ali, this is such an incredible story. You are such an inspiration. I totally get all of your feelings and I think we run pretty similar times and I would be a little discouraged at not “at least coming in under four hours” but you handled it with so, so, so much coolheadness and grace and OMG! I’m basically fan-girling over your race day coolness. You rock girl. And you’re right 26.2 is an elfin long way and grinding it out is in many ways more impressive than having a flawless race with a PR. Keep kicking ass girlfriend.

But you finished!!! Congrats!

Congrats!! You pushed through the mental issues and finished, that deserves celebrating! Hate that it wasn’t your day, but so so so so freaking happy that you are getting healthy and able to run 26.2 miles!!

Lynn Carlson says: October 16, 2014 at 1:45 pm

YAY! The mango soap!

Congrats girl! Rough days make for better comebacks! You are incredible. 🙂

Lauren W. says: October 16, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Dude, congrats!!! I can’t imagine that battle for 26.2 miles…it’s a horrible one, and one I know well and fear. But it’s so amazing that you did it, and had a great weekend! Congrats on all you’ve accomplished to get to the starting line, and completing the race! You rock, girl. xx

OHHHH How I wish I’d seen your blog 11 days ago!! I love your spirit, and I really could have used it the day after a half mara so disappointing that I cried … ok, sobbed…. at the finish line.

Late though I may be to the party, I’m still so grateful for your perspective!! I think I can safely drink the champagne split that came from that event now. 🙂 Thank you!

Great work. The hardest marathons aren’t the PR ones, it’s the ones where you have to fight simply to finish. That shows your true running gusto!

I’m sorry that it wasn’t your day but glad you had an amazing rest of the weekend. You still ran another freaking marathon! The downhills sound crazy. A marathon is a beast because of the long training and then journey of the race. Congrats!

Sorry that your race didn’t go as planned, but I’m glad that you finished! That’s an accomplishment in and of itself! Also, I’m jealous you work with Carrie, I get to, finally, meet her at the Philly Marathon.

Miss your face, lady. Can you get that Runner’s World weekend recap written so I can just link to it from my blog, pleeeeaaassse?!?!:) Then, I don’t have to write one. I have a fun little package for you but need your address and I don’t even have your cell # – the horror! let’s fix that.
XOXO!

Nice job lady. Not everyday can be a PR day, but you have shown that everyday we can run and be thankful that we can. I’m proud of you… and giggled about your picture of Paul’s short “slit”; I was thinking how happy he must be that you shared it on the blog. 🙂 Gotta love the BFFs of life.

Don’t your shins get awfully sweaty running 26.2 in fluffy legwarmers?

Congrats on the finish! Here’s hoping NYCM rocks your world 🙂

Christine says: October 31, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Hi Ali! I discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago and have shamelessly spent (a lot…) of time since then plowing through your archives and following your journey. I am currently training for my first half marathon (Disney World on Jan 10!) and have been so inspired by your amazing races and endless optimism. You are truly a rock star.

PS. I also live in NYC but too far from Central Park to make it my running playground. By the summer I’m hoping to move the the UWS and officially start most of my days breezing through that beauty!