Note: I’m posting all my old, pre-blog race reports.  Here’s how my second marathon went.

What: Dam Full Marathon
When: Sunday September 15, 2013 – 7am
Where: RB Winter State Park
Time: 5:25:20
Pace: 12:18 min/mile
Place: 21/59
AG Place: 6/12

Pre-Race Activities

My wife and I were staying outside Harrisburg Saturday night so had to get up at 4:15am to drive the 60 miles north to RB Winter State Park. We got there a bit before 6am, which is when the packet pickup opened up. Right before we pulled into the park, my car beeped telling me that it was 37 degrees outside. 37! It was supposed to be 47 as an overnight low, but was a much colder than that. It warmed up a fair bit before the race started though so I wasn’t cold at all during the race itself.


I decided when I signed up for this that I would use it as a long training run. This was largely because it was a trail marathon with 4600 feet of gross elevation gain. Since there’s no way I could run a fast race, I thought I would just head out and enjoy the scenery instead. I was targeting 12 min miles, but wasn’t going to be too upset if I fell short of this. The primary goal was to have fun, which I exceeded and then some.

Miles 1-6.6

Since this was a smallish trail race, they do things a little bit different than the larger road marathons like the one I ran back in May. Difference #1 is the start. The race director gave us some last minute directions by speaking loudly. No speakers, no mega phone, no stage. Just a guy standing in front of people shouting out a couple updates. The most disappointing comment he made was that the kegs chilling over by the pavilion were filled with soda and not beer because the race was being held in a state park. Sigh. So much for that motivation. Then he shouted “go” and we were off. There was no countdown or other preliminaries and I was caught a little off guard.

The first little bit was a loop around the parking lot and then into the woods. I started having problems with my heart rate monitor right off the bat. After fidgeting with it for a little bit I realized that I twisted the strap when I put it on in the dark in my car. So I took it off and futzed with it for about half a mile before giving up and tossing it in my hydration belt. This is the second time in a row I’ve had an issue with technology right at the beginning of a marathon. I hope this isn’t a trend.

After about 1.5 miles of flat to rolling terrain, the real fun began. There was a steep hill (about 300 feet elevation gain) that I power hiked up a bit too fast. I get about 3/4 of the way up and my calves got very tight. This was a bit concerning because I typically don’t have problems with my calves when I run. Hamstrings and glutes almost always to some small degree, but never my calves. Also, I still had over 24 miles left to run. So I dialed it back a little bit, reached the top and took it easy for while. Turns out they got a little tight on all of the really steep hills over the rest of the race, but never quite that bad and never to the extent that I was worried about them again. Lesson learned: take it very easy on the first steep hill until the legs are adequately warmed up.

The first aid station wasn’t until mile 5.2, which is why I decided to wear my hydration belt. It holds two 20oz bottles so I still had plenty of water at this point. I grabbed a shot of Gatorade and kept cruising along. The next aid station was only 1.4 miles further on and located at the halfway point for the half marathon. This is where the marathoners split off for our extra 13.1 mile loop. This aid station was fully stocked. Difference #2 from larger races is the definition of “fully stocked”, which typically only includes water, Gatorade, and maybe 1 type of gel. This had 3 different flavors of gels, M&Ms, gummy bears, bananas, Swedish fish, PBJ sandwiches and there may have been several other things there I didn’t see. I grabbed a gel and a fistful of Swedish fish and was on my way.

Miles 6.6-19.5

At about mile 7, we hit a 1.5 mile uphill stretch on 2 gravel fire roads. It really brought home the difference between running on trails and running on roads as I found myself clocking a sub-10 min/mile pace through here despite it being uphill. It felt easier than the flat trails that I had been running because of Difference #3 with trail races – you have to constantly watch your footing. I swear I’m not a klutz, but I was probably tripped up at least once or twice a mile up until this point. Mostly by rocks in the path. I weebled and wobbled, but did not fall down thank you very much. Without these impediments, I was able to just cruise along.

I was caught and passed by a group of about 5 people before the 2nd aid station. Right towards the end of this uphill section at mile 9 I caught and passed 5 people in about a half mile. An older guy passed me about mile 14 or so and then I passed 5 people from about mile 15-17. I mention this not so much to brag since I was not trying to race this, but more to point out how empty the trails were of people. The vast majority of miles 15-19.5 I spent by myself in the woods (Difference #4). I absolutely love running through the woods by myself. It is for this reason alone that I plan to do more trail races going forward. It is definitely much harder to run trails, however the fun of running next to streams, through meadows, and under tree canopies is just an order of magnitude beyond your normal road race. I won’t go all tree-huggy and tell you what a spiritual awakening it is to run through the woods, but I will say I find the juxtaposition of physical exertion with the tranquil surroundings to be kinda neat.

Right at mile 15 there was a short, steep bolder hill that was infested with bees. One guy in a group of 3 right ahead of me got stung half way up and then another guy got stung about 100 yards further up the trail. The older guy that had passed me and I made it through unscathed, which I am very thankful for.

Miles 19.5-26.44

Right before I hit mile 19 on my watch (I knew it was measuring slow since I hit the 11.3 mile aid station in 10.9 miles), I heard some noise up the trail. As soon as I got to the top of a little hill, I recognized aid station #2. Yippee. This was the most enthusiastic group of volunteers though they all did a great job. Most stations asked to top off my water bottles, which I took advantage of on 2 occasions.

I was now back on the half marathon loop so only 6 miles and change to go. I was still feeling pretty good though my legs were starting to get a bit sore from all the climbing that I had been doing. About half a mile past the aid station, I passed my first half marathoner. They started the half marathon an hour after the marathon so I was catching up to all of those that chose to hike the 13.1 miles. Based on the race results, I probably ended up passing about 40 of them over the next 6 miles. I was running this and everyone was very courteous about moving over as I came through.

Mile 22 was the tripping mile. I swear I must have tripped about 20-25 times. My left foot tripped me up 3 times in about 15 feet at one point. I knew this meant I was getting a little tired, but at least I wasn’t hitting the ground. That would be a little embarrassing since there were actually people around me on the trail at this point.

Right after mile 24 was the final aid station. There was an uphill gravel road that got a little steep towards the top, which I hiked. Or maybe I was just a little tired by this point. This took us to the bottom of the Stairway to Heaven, which is a 700 foot ascension over half a mile. I’m happy I was able to get to the top of this without stopping. This took about the last little bit out of me though as I had a spot of a trouble starting to run the downhill on the other side. It was on the steep side, but my quads were really letting me know that they would prefer a walk at this point. I negotiated a shuffle with them for 20-30 yards and they eventually decided to just shut up and let me run it in the rest of the way.

I got to mile 25 and was having a great time. It was downhill, I still had plenty of energy, and my legs were tired but not too tired. As I was coming in to the finishing area, I saw a bunch of people straight ahead. I was a bit confused at first since I could not find the finish line then noticed it about 100 feet off to my left past the pavilion. As I exited the woods in front of the crowd of people, it finally happened. My left foot trips me up yet again and . . . down I go. In front of everyone. Arrrgghhhhh! I literally had 10 feet of trail left to run before I hit a perfectly smooth gravel road. I performed a quick shoulder roll and popped immediately to my feet not losing any forward momentum. I dashed towards the finish line and away from my dignity that was left on the ground (though no blood) and was able to finish things off in a time of 5 hours and 25 minutes.

This ended up being a harder effort than my normal long training runs, but was not an all out effort. The biggest difference I noticed was my mental state at the end of the race. I was really enjoying the run coming in where other times I’ve literally been counting down the tenths of miles till I’m done. I am amazed by the fact that I can now run for almost 5 and a half hours without stopping. A year ago, I had never run for more than 2 hours and 6 months ago my longest run was 3 hours. I wonder where I’ll be a year from now.

Post Race

We got a cool wooden medal for finishing, which is different than many of the other medals that are handed out at races. I grabbed some root beer, while my wife and I made our way to the car for the drive back. I need to remember to grab food for the ride home after my next race. I never feel like eating after I get done running, but am usually famished about an hour afterward.

Special Mention

A huge shout out to my parents who watched my son this weekend. And my wife who drove me home afterward. Thanks!

Physical Aftermath

My quads are still a little sore today, but that’s it. None of my toenails are the worse for all the pounding on them that I did. Frankly, I’m a little surprised I didn’t fracture a couple toes during this race let alone lose a couple toenails.

Next Up

Bucks County Marathon – 11/17/13 – PR race (No Hills!)