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A half hour prior to this photo, you would have seen a near-broken and defeated man. The Queen City Marathon was a lesson in frustration, humility, acceptance, determination, and discovery. The course was a double out and back, utilizing the joint-friendly sections of the C&O Canal and Great Allegany Passage in and around Cumberland MD. I had committed to this race not long after my first marathon in Baltimore, where I crossed in 4:14:28 and was looking to improve upon that initial performance.
Training was challenging on several levels. I chose to race the Run to Read Half in Fairmont, WV in early January and, in the process overstressed and injured my IT band. I cut back my running for about a month, doing only what I could until it was fully healed. A regular onslaught of snow and ice storms from about Christmas Day until early March had left most of the course unrunnable so our training group was forced to improvise on mostly road loops in and around town that didn’t quite mimic the most significant and challenging aspect of the course – a ten mile stretch of gradual incline from Cumberland to Mount Savage. I was thankful and felt blessed as my strength was recovering well by the end of February and I hadn’t missed any of the longer runs that were part of the program. I had still missed cross training for 3/4 of the cycle, needing the extra rest day each week for recovery.
The day started off dreary, but the forecast called for the rain to hold off until the afternoon. The racetime temperature was in the low 40s and while slightly chilly, was pretty ideal for a Spring marathon. I met with my training group, we shot a few pre-race pics, then lined up for the start. The gun fired at 8:00am almost to the second, signalling the start of the inaugural Queen City Marathon. As a group, we decided to play it conservative the first 5-6 miles of the course, staying together and pacing a little back of our goal paces. Coming off the flat C&O Canal, we were averaging around a 9:22 and ready to ascend the Great Allegany Passage to Mount Savage.
As we ran up the passage, I started to lag behind the rest of the group, losing time to tie my shoelaces a couple of times and taking a little extra time at the aid stations. My IT started to stiffen slightly about 1 mile before I hit Woodcock Hollow Road, which was the last aid station before the turnaround. I still wasn’t too concerned even though I fell off, since I was still holding a 10:10 average pace after running the 10 mile uphill.
After hitting the turnaround, I was relieved to start running downhill. The pressure immediately lifted off the IT band and I started hitting a “groove” in my stride. I stopped to check with Erik Beeman, a fellow runner who ran the Run to Read with me earlier in the year. He had cramped up in his legs badly and couldn’t move. I stayed long enough to make sure he would be ok before moving on. I was so thrilled and relieved to see him cross the finish line a couple hours later. I spent a little extra time at the Woodcock Hollow Rd aid station to hit a gel and catch a quick breather before heading back out on the trail.
It was about mile 18 when I first felt my left inner quadricep aching slightly. It was just a mild, dull soreness at the time and didn’t impede progress. I still chose to play things safe, and start taking walk breaks every other mile to give myself a little extra recovery. I did my last gel at Cash Valley Rd, which was about mile 21 and got an extra walk break on an odd-numbered mile. I figured I was still in great shape to finish under 4:30. With about 5 miles to go, my time on course was 3:36.
I broke at mile 22. The dull ache had crescendoed to a sharper, more crippling pain after taking my scheduled walking break. I stopped running after taking a dozen strides or so and walked for another minute. I tried to start running again with no success, so at that point I just started walking. I had less than four miles to go and it was still before 12:00 noon. I called my wife with about 3 miles to go and informed her I was injured but alright. I continued walking all the way down the trail past Dakota St. and across the Route 40 walking bridge through the narrows. I was determined to finish and play with my band, Simon Sez, who was scheduled to start at 1:00 pm.
Joey Cross came out and met me at the narrows Sunoco station. I’m very thankful and appreciative he came out to see me across the finish. With about a half mile to go, Robbie Jenkins, the winner of the race and my co-worker at The Reeded Edge, joined us. Once we reached the Baltimore St. bridge with Joey on my left and Robbie flanking my right, I started running again and ran the rest of the way to the finish.
I finished in 5:02:23, just a couple minutes after the band had started and by about 1:30 I had joined the bandmates playing on stage. I didn’t PR or even finish when I had hoped, but I discovered that despite the adversity, pain, and discouragement, I still had the determination to finish.
The idea of running a marathon entered my head last year after I had completed my third half marathon and felt the distance wasn’t the challenge that it was at the start of the year. As 2012 was drawing to a close, I wanted to set big, challenging goals for the next year. I wanted to double the number of half marathons I ran, I wanted to be part of a long distance relay team, and I wanted to finish a marathon.
To date, I successfully completed the AOR relay, a 200 mile event from Gettysburg to Washington, D.C. covering some of the most historic areas of PA, MD, WV, and VA during the days of the Civil War. Not only have I completed six half marathons, I’ve finished seven and plan on doing at least one more before the end of the year. After 12:17pm on Saturday, October 12, I completed the Baltimore Marathon.
There was nothing spectacular about my run that day. I didn’t set a record time for the distance or my age group. In fact, according to runningusa.org my time was merely 3 minutes faster than the median finishing time for men in 2012. Only slightly better was the average finish time for men in my age group, 50-54 where I outperformed my peer average by about 14 minutes. What needs to be factored here is the fact that I come from a non-athletic history, was a smoker for 23 years until I quit in 2001, and about two years ago I was confined to a recliner for twenty-four hours after almost every 5K race I ran. Placing my performance in that framework makes it fairly astonishing. I can happily proclaim that the median finish time that day for my age group was 4:51, while I crossed the line more than a half hour sooner at 4:14:28.
I think the success I found training made the race itself very enjoyable. Since I began my program in mid-June, I never encountered any physical or mental challenges. I executed all the runs, had great cross-training and weight sessions, and had fun with and confidence in the people with whom I was training. I may have been a bundle of nerves the night before in my room at the Lord Baltimore Hotel but while on the course that Saturday morning, I was unshakable in my faith and unswerving in my determination. This race was mine to conquer and there would be no shock, no dismay, no shortcoming.
I had been questioned on several occasions if my training would be sufficient. I was doing no specific speedwork – no Yasso 800s, no mile repeats, no Fartleks. While I did some segmented situational training, I did no hill repeats and did most of my long weekend runs on either gentle downhills or flats. Most shocking to a few people, I only ran one 20-miler. Many fellows told me I should be running two or three and I responded my plan only called for one so that’s what I’m doing. One 20-miler was enough in the final analysis.
Miles 1-6: Got off to a good easy start. I was worried about getting out too fast, as that is the way I handle most short races – come out of the blocks like a jackrabbit and try to hold on at the finish. I knew I couldn’t do that for 26 miles. My first three miles were uphill so I maintained a steady 9:30/mile which I picked up on the downhills of the last 3 miles. Overall I was averaging a 9:13 mile over the first 6 right on target for my plan of hitting 4 hours.
Miles 7-12: This section started off with the backend of the downhill coming into the inner harbor and running around the Underarmour Plant. I had a fast first mile at 8:33 but then scaled it back to keep the rest of the miles between 9:00 to 9:30. My goal on these 6 miles was to get into a good rhythm and lock in on a 9:06 pace. I was successful averaging a 9:05 over this quarter of the course and overall by this time I was at a 9:09.
Miles 13-18: This section was the Inner Harbor East (flat) with the ascent into the Northeast section of Baltimore towards Lake Montebello (uphill). I wanted to maintain a steady 9:06 here as best I could. The hills caught into my pacing and I only managed to hold a 9:30 this section of the course. I still felt good and was trying not to work myself too hard so I would have something left for the last quarter of the race. At this junction, I’m still holding a 9:15 average which, while :09 below goal is still respectable.
Miles 19-finish: This is where the wheels fell off the cart so to speak as I ventured into unknown territory. My long run until Saturday was a 20 miler so everytime I rolled over another mile on the watch it was a new longest distance. I wasn’t cramping surprisingly while I saw several other runners grabbing their sides and stopping to stretch calves, etc. My calves were tightening, like they did in Chambersburg earlier this year, but I just shortened my stride a little and focused on driving from the hips. I walked for a minute or so at miles 22 and 25 just to insure that I would run across the finish line instead of walk or limp. While this section of the course was overall downhill, the stretch from E. 33rd St. to N. Howard St. was rolling hills over short sections so just when you thought it was smooth sailing to Ravens Stadium… Surprise! One more hill! This section (8.2 miles) I averaged a 10:43 and really lost my race strategy here but held on to finish for a good first full!
There really is something to be said about having hundreds of people cheering you forward and encouraging you. I lost count of how many little kids I “hi-fived” along the way, how many officers I thanked for traffic duties, how many volunteers I praised for coming out that day. It really does humble you when you look back in retrospect and realize that all those people were out there for you (and the other runners, of course). Knowing that these folks could have easily opted to spend their Saturday morning doing something else really does make that moment in time unique and magnificent.
I sure hope things work out that I can race it again next year. I want to go back and run it again and do better. Maybe add a little more speed work, some pre-fatigued hill runs, oh and maybe one more 20-miler.
God Bless and Namaste,
The Run for Gold 26.2K is a metric marathon that started last year. PHDC’s president, Kevin Spradlin, had read online about a race idea from Shannon Price themed around honoring the men and women participating in the Olympic Marathon event. Word of mouth gathered 13 people last August to race a point to point course from Meyersdale, PA to Frostburg, MD along the Great Allegany Passage. We all dressed in red, white, and blue to honor the occasion. I still have a photo from that day on my “trophy wall” as one of my most memorable moments. Many of the people who ran that day enjoyed themselves and expressed an interest in returning to do it all again in the coming year.
Earlier this year, I approached Kevin about sponsoring the race and the official title became Run for Gold 26.2K Presented by Heavenly Prints Digital Media. In addition to operating capital, I also donated a small PA system and provided music at the finish line. Registrations exploded with the help of Mark Shipley and the SCRR along with Kevin piggybacking promotional efforts for the Run for Gold with PHDC’s other signature race, Fire on the Mountain 50K presented by Sheetz. By August, the field had grown to over 80 strong.
Race day was perfect with temps in the low 60s and a few clouds in sky for contrast. The bus ride was nondescript and uneventful, as I sat beside my running mate, Sharon Ellsworth, and made occasional chatter with her, Connie Milligan, and her husband, Charlie. After we passed Salisbury, PA I became a little concerned with the early morning fog, hoping it would burn off before we got too far into the race.
Arriving at the Meyersdale depot, Sharon introduced me to one of her long time friends, Anton Struntz, who I had already met in Frostburg before the bus ride. Anton is a great guy who has been running since the 70s and he supplied us with lots of interesting anecdotes along the way that day.
After walking a little more than a half mile from the Depot, we arrived at the start. With 60 degrees and sunshine, Noah Spradlin called the runners to set then fired the gun and the odyssey was underway. This year would be different for me since last year I relayed the race and only had to reach the Eastern Continental Divide. Today the end would not come until I reached the Frostburg Depot. Sharon, Anton, and I set off to conquer 26.2 Kilometers, enjoy each other’s company, and hopefully discover some new, amazing, noble things about ourselves.
The miles roll by quickly when you have great company and the beautiful backdrop of the Allegany Mountains to set the scene. The “running” joke, as it was, for the first half of our journey, was me mistakenly remembering a downhill segment before the Eastern Continental Divide. I had told everyone after about 3 or 4 miles that we were going to be getting a break from all the incline work with a short little downhill soon – which never came. After passing the Warren’s Mill intersection and Deal we were at the Eastern Continental Divide for a quick breather and refueling.
We resume our trek continuing along the Great Allegany Passage with Brandon Inglish joining us at the ECD. Brandon ran this last year with his brother, Jason and coaxed his other sibling, Bryan, to join in the fun this year. I don’t know if we ever did, but it would have been cool to get a pic of those three together. As we approach the Big Savage Tunnel, I’m reminded of my failure to bring my headlamp and how challenging that tunnel might be without it. I’m relieved to find the tunnel is lit today! Thank God for favors – both big and small. While it’s not perfectly well lit in the tunnel, the light is sufficient to separate the walls from the floor and whatever might immediately be at your feet. Still, it felt great to get out of that and into the beautiful vista of the Mt. Savage valley. I wished I had my digital SLR with me that day to snap a few pics of that scene to frame up on the wall. It truly is that gorgeous. Even without the camera, it was worth slowing down and pointing it out to my comrades-in-arms.
The further you get away from the ECD and the closer you get to Frostburg the greater the descent you experience at least until you hit the Frosburg/Zihlman section of the trail. The 10-11 minute miles were almost covertly replaced with 9-9 1/2 minute miles minus the two walking breaks that we took. For me, this was a very valuable practice for October – training the earnest mind to willingly start out slow and pick up the pace as the race progresses. It certainly takes some getting used to.
The Borden Tunnel was the last journey into darkness we had to contend with. I wasn’t so concerned with it as much as Big Savage, but without lighting the Borden Tunnel was actually more challenging! While being shorter, my eyes had almost no time to adjust to the darkness after being in the light for so long. In order to maintain a straight line, I simply ran towards the light at the far end and used the lamps from oncoming bicycles to spot check the terrain under my feet.
Just before the Borden Tunnel, Brandon could feel a calf cramp coming on. He had been experiencing them before when he pushed before 14 miles, and today was no exception. We lost him shortly after our walk break on the other side of the Borden Tunnel. He said he’d be fine and urged us on. With less than one mile to go, Sharon kicked the pace up a notch. I matched while Anton backed off. After crossing the last bridge and lower parking lot, only the switch backs remained.
The switch backs are a cantankerous animal. It’s a zig zag path from the lower parking lot near the Great Allegany Passage to the Old Depot Restaurant and the railroad crossing on Old Depot Road. We both start off attacking them in a conservative manner mostly because, no matter how many times you run them, they are always one zig or zag too long. Today was no different and just when I thought we had reached the end, there was one more zig left. My legs felt like I was plodding through mud with Sharon on my shoulder right behind. Digging for that little extra I had tucked away from all those previous easy miles, I push for the final turn and stride for the finish line. Sharon finishes a 16+ mile run just two months following major surgery and I complete my first Run For Gold beginning to end.
It was a great day.
Love this John! Thanks for posting!
It’s an early Saturday morning as I sit at the computer before I get ready for my last long run before Chambersburg. I had a pretty solid February, logging about 114.5 miles and settting a new 10K PR in my first race of the year. I’m a little behind pace for my annual goal of 1500 miles, but that is to be expected this early in the year so I’m not concerned in the least. I know I’ll make up for the lack of miles easily enough in April, May, and June.
I’ve been very pleased with the easy transition to the Brooks PureDrifts. With all the concerns about minimalist shoes, I was worried that as I stretched out the distance, symptoms would begin to appear but 10 miles has been as easy as 4 or 6. I’m pretty confident I’ll be wearing the Drifts next Saturday when I race Chambersburg.
I’m looking ahead to a busy race month in March with three on the schedule. It will be interesting to see how I handle the shorter races, especially the Hagerstown St. Patrick’s Day 5K (which I’ve never run before), and the Great Escape 5K. The Great Escape has always been one of those challenge courses for me. I have ran it 3 times and last year was the first time I actually finished in under 30 minutes. It will be interesting to see how I perform this year, especially on that long hill going up Route 51. You can see what I’m talking about on the course map.
Here’s to a successful and healthy March!
God Bless and Namaste,
We all know proper breathing technique is integral to running form and nothing helps to expand the lungs and improve one’s oxygen intake than…
A GOOD HARD LAUGH! Sometimes you just gotta take a break from all the seriousness and have some fun – enjoy living!
God Bless & Naaaaaaaaa-maste,
Well, I guess I’m finally “official”. My Team Fox jerseys have arrived and they look great! Can’t wait to represent March 9th for the Chambersburg Half Marathon! I’ll also be sporting the orange & red for the St. Patrick’s Day Run for Your Luck 5K in Hagerstown, and The Great Escape 5K in Cumberland, MD.
I finished the Hobo’s Heartbreaker 10K in Stringtown, PA yesterday in 50:38. While I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t hit my goal of getting under 50:00, I was still glad to get a 10K PR out of the race. Funny thing is for the couple training runs I did on it last year, it sure did feel a lot tougher today racing it than what I remembered! The course was a very scenic route through farmland between Ellerslie, MD and Hyndman, PA although this is really not the time of year to appreciate it’s beauty. The best time to be running this is actually in the fall with all the leaves turning, as there are a couple of sections where the road is canopied by tree branches overhead, almost like a natural archway. We had nice weather for the season with temps around 27 at the start and no wind to speak of for most of the race. Miles 2 and 3 featured a couple of hills that really kicked my butt and killed my pace, plus I got a little overzealous and came out of the gate too fast. It was nice that the course was an out and back, because for as slow as it was on the way out, it was just as fast on the way back in.
This was my first race wearing Brooks PureDrift shoes. The shoes gave a good, firm ride and I felt very comfortable and confident running in them. I can safely say that they are good choice for me on at least anything up to a 10K. Hopefully in the coming weeks, I can give them a try on weekends at longer distances. My Garmin Connect activity listing.
My co-worker at The Reeded Edge, Inc., Robbie Jenkins, tore up the course with a 38:11, establishing a new record while Heather Parks, who came down from Bruceton Mills, WV established a new women’s record with 44:09. Read the full report with links to results and photo galleries at phdispatch.com.
While my performance was a little less than what I hoped for, it was still great to make a few new acquaintances and see several familiar faces from the QCS races last year and the Fire on the Mountain 50K. After the awards ceremony, several of us met up at Hobo’s Restaurant on Route 96 for a nice lunch. I give two thumbs up on the Turkey Deluxe sandwich, and from what I gathered, the other menu items were tasty as well!
Better than the new PR or the turkey deluxe sandwich, I was informed by PHDC president, Kevin Spradlin that the racing club will be sponsoring me for my 2013 races at $1/mile for my efforts on behalf of Team Fox. Hopefully this will lead to more sponsors to pledge more money, whether they are individuals, corporations, or organizations. Looks like 2013 is off to a great start, and that counts for something!
God Bless and Namaste,
Even though I still have a full day of work to put in and a gig with my 80s band, Simon Sez, I’m very excited about my first race of the year tomorrow, The Hobo’s Heartbreaker 10K. This will be my first training benchmark for the American Oddysey Relay, a 200-mile relay event spanning Gettysburg, PA to Washington, DC at the end of April. I’ve been blessed with good health, mostly good weather, and good runs over the winter. Now we shall see if I can cash in on all that!