This past training cycle was a challenge. Originally I was planning on running the Wineglass Marathon on October 2, but after encountering a summer injury that set me back three weeks I decided to defer that race and try a November marathon instead. I had always wanted to try Harrisburg, a small marathon that’s only about an hour and forty minutes from where I live.
After my foot injury was healed, however, I developed a knee injury. I found out that what was causing the pain on the inner side of my left knee was pes anserine tendinopathy. It surfaced after an impromptu trail run in late August and was pretty painful to run with. I thought that perhaps my chances of running a fall marathon were gone. I obsessed over how to get over this. I went to my chiropractor who thought it was just a matter of my leg lengths being out of wack. He fixed that, but then the pain still persisted. I started going to a PT and it turned out that I had weak glutes and weak hip stabilizers. I diligently did my exercises and also continued to see my chiropractor for ART and Graston. It got better, but there was still some pain. I ran the Rock n Roll Philly Half Marathon September 18 to see how my knee would react. If felt better afterwards than before the race, surprisingly. Based on that, I decided to go ahead with my Harrisburg marathon training.
My knee was still a bit sore, but definitely better. I was hopeful. Because it seemed better, I stopped my PT. Then after a 10 mile run one day, it came back. And it hurt. UGH! Of course the next day I ran a 16 mile long run, because I’m a genius. It REALLY hurt after that. I found another PT and went back to my chiropractor. My chiropractor scraped the heck out of it using Graston technique. The tendons had developed a lot of scar tissue and were really tight. He really lit it up! My knee started to get better with each run after that session. I continued my exercises and could feel my glutes engaging a lot more when I ran.
I spent my whole training cycle doing rehab, going to PT and my chiropractor, and wondering if I’d make it to the marathon. I missed a couple key runs and cut a few runs short. It wasn’t my strongest training segment, but I had a lot of solid workouts. Quite a few of them left me in substantial pain afterwards.When I look back at my training, I’m amazed at what I could actually do while rehabbing my knee. I use the Hansons marathon method (I have a coach), so I was averaging 60-mile weeks, each with both a speed workout and a long marathon pace run, in addition to the weekend long run. I remember going to my PT and telling him that my knee was still a little sore and that I had just finished a 61 mile week. His eyes kind of popped out.
It was about two weeks prior to the marathon that my knee started to feel back to normal, despite a twinge here and there. I was set to run Harrisburg. Woohoo!!! Wednesday before the race, however, I started to feel off. I had a low grade fever and cut my Thursday run short. I was exhausted and didn’t feel well at all. I tried to sleep as much as I could to get better. Saturday I did a 3 mile shakeout run and it went ok, so I thought things were good. On our way to Harrisburg, I started feeling queasy and developed a pain/malaise in my chest. It worked its way down to my stomach and my GI tract. It wasn’t all that bad though, so I thought maybe it was nerves. But then it started to really hurt around 9 or 10 at night. I tried to relax and managed to fall asleep, but then my stomach hurt so much it woke me up at 1 a.m. It was a pain that kind of went through my system, even around my chest and ribcage, and my heart was really pounding. It was the kind of pounding where you know your body is fighting off some kind of bug or something. I was really nervous now that I was going to end up at the starting line with this nasty stomach bug. UGH!!!! Would I even be able to run the marathon? However, by 4 a.m. it started to subside and I fell back to sleep until 6 a.m. When I woke up it was completely gone. Hallelujah!!
We were staying at the Hilton in Harrisburg, just a little over a half mile to the start and two blocks from the finish line. It was fantastic. It made logistics so easy. The morning of the race my husband walked me to the start. I was nervous. We didn’t leave the hotel until 7:30 and the race started at 8. I forgot to ask him to take a picture and at this point he started to feel the bug as well. Oh well. No pictures here. The race started on City Island, which overlooks the beautiful Susquehanna River. The weather was perfect: clear blue skies, low wind, and temperatures in the upper 30’s (fahrenheit). Ideal for running a race.
I did a little warm up jog and then lined up with the 3:35 pacing group. I was much better trained for Boston than I was for Harrisburg. I had had a perfect training segment for Boston, but I fell apart during that race because of some unexpected factors (70 degree start after training in cold all winter, too much time on my feet the day before, and not adjusting my pace for the warmer temperatures). I ended up running Boston in 3:35, which was about 10 minutes slower than what I felt I was trained for.
Now that I was at the start for the Harrisburg marathon, I wasn’t sure how I’d do. I had a good training segment, but not my best since I had been struggling with injuries. My knee felt good, but I wasn’t sure if it’d flare up during the race and slow me down to a hobbling pace. I had been up most of the previous night with a stomach bug. Still, I told myself to relax and enjoy the race. I decided to stick with the 3:35 pace group for a couple miles and see how I felt.
As we ran the first two miles, the famous Keith Straw paced us in his pink tutu and kept everyone entertained with his British banter. It was a crisp, clear morning and I could feel that my body was responding well. I decided to try to pick it up a little and maintain closer to an 8 minute pace for a while. I settled in with a few other runners who were pacing for a 3:30 marathon and listened to their conversation for a while. My goal was not to bonk and not to feel horrible the whole race like I did at Boston where I was pushed the pace too hard too early in the race. I kept a solid pace here, one that felt comfortably hard and that I was confident I could maintain for the long haul. I’d hold it until mile 18-20 and see how I felt.
The first nine miles or so we ran across a bridge, through parts of the city and then through some gravel trails in a park. After that we ran back across a bridge back onto City Island and did a tour of the island. There were a bunch of turns during this first part of the race. Still it was pretty enjoyable. After we exited City Island and we crossed another bridge where we had to run on the sidewalk because the bridge was made of metal grating. That was odd, but the views were beautiful and there were a lot of spectators here. I was enjoying myself and the course. After this we were then running along the river on a sort of concrete river bank. Around the half marathon mark or so, we turned away from the river and went through parts of a neighborhood and then near the underpass of a noisy highway. We then made another turn and were back along the river, but on a road this time. There was the view of the river behind some trees on one side and on the other side were large stores and restaurant signs like Taco Bell. It was an out and back, so we saw the leaders pass us on their way back. Mile 18 was the turnaround. There was some headwind going out, but nothing major. On the way back there was some tailwind and then some side gusts and again some slight headwind. Still nothing too bad.
At one point a runner who was going the opposite direction yelled out, “Every female you pass here is a Boston Qualifier!” That was pretty cool. We were all running a sub 3:35 at that point. Around mile 19 I tried to pick it up a bit. That’s about when I started passing people. A lot of runners were starting to get tired, with some slowing down. I felt solid. I didn’t slow down, and sped up for one or more of those miles. I was averaging just under an 8:00 pace I guess. My mile splits varied from 7:47 to 8:07, with most around 7:55.
I spend the last 6.2 miles passing a bunch of runners while pretty much running on my own. When we hit the concrete path along the river, I could only maintain around an 8:00 pace. The concrete felt difficult to me. At then end of that path, we had to do a sharp turn and then go up a steep hill to get back to the street level. That was in the last mile and it hurt. My pace slowed, obviously, on that hill, making mile 26 my slowest, an 8:11 pace. The final .29 (my Garmin was over, as usual during races) I averaged a 7:14 pace. I passed another runner, made a right hand turn to the final .1 or .2 stretch to the finish. The young woman who was pacing for a 3:30 (she was very young, around 22, and I believe this was her first marathon) blew past me to finish a few seconds in front of me. A second runner passed me as well, a woman who had also started with the 3:35 group and who I had no idea was behind me. She finished ahead of me, but my net chip time was ahead of her. Ha!
I crossed the finish line with my long awaited sub-3:30 time of 3:28:18. Woooohoooo!!!!! I
had always said I wanted to eventually run an hour faster than my first marathon. My time for my first marathon seven years prior was 4:28:19, so I ran Harrisburg exactly one hour and one second faster than my first marathon. YES!!!!!!
Afterwards, I felt fine. My knee felt a little sore, but I never got ravenously hungry like I usually do. I never felt depleted and I never hit the wall during the race. I think what really helped was that I started to fuel early. Harrisburg had Honey Stinger Gels at EVERY water stop except for the first one. I had a pack of Honey Stinger Chews 15 minutes before the start and then I had a gel at miles 4, 8, 12 and I think 18 or so. Later in the race I had gatorade. It worked like a charm. Usually I’d wait for mile 5 or 7 and I wouldn’t be able to stomach more than 3 gels during the race.
All in all, I loved Harrisburg. I’m gluten free, but if you’re not, they had an amazing spread afterwards: sandwiches, hot mac n cheese, coffee, hot cocoa, bananas, chips etc. I’m never very hungry anyways after a marathon, so I just had a banana and coffee and gave the sandwich and mac n cheese to my husband and our daughter.
After the race we walked a couple minutes back to the hotel, I took a hot shower, and then we walked back to the start for the awards ceremony. I won 2nd in my age group, so I got two medals, which was fun.
Now that I have my PR, I can relax and enjoy my next training segment: Boston Marathon!
Here are my splits for the race: