2018 Run for the Red Marathon – A Pennsylvania Redemption Run

I want to start off this blog post a little differently than I usually do. I want to talk about my experience at a different marathon first, the 2016 Lehigh Valley Via Marathon, a race that has plagued me for almost two years. After running 2:53:16 in only my second Marathon at age 18 at the 2015 Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte, NC, I decided I still had better times in me. I signed up for the 2016 Lehigh Valley Marathon held the first weekend in September in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Then, I went to work. During the Summer before the race, I put in an average of 85 miles a week over a 10-week period, with two weeks at 100 Miles. I was in the best shape of my life, having run 16:35 for the 5K in high 80 temperatures, and a solo 14 Mile Marathon Pace Tempo in the middle of July at 6:14 Pace. I was ready to run a huge PR.

2016 Lehigh Valley Marathon - 10K Split
Unfortunately, the weather had other plans for me. The weather that day was already 72 degrees by the start at 8am, and only climbed from there. The humidity was also in the high 80s to low 90s. Obviously, not ideal marathon temperatures, but I was so steadfast on my goal of 2:45 that I didn’t even consider adjusting. I hit the first mile in 5:58, still my fastest split at any point in any marathon to this day, and kept going from there. I hit the 10K in 39:20, about a 6:17 Pace. I still felt great at Mile 11, but then I took a Gu, missed the water stop right after that, and everything went crashing downhill from there. Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that Mile 11 is not where you want to be really hurting. By Mile 13, I had slowed considerable, by Mile 17, I was walking and running. At Mile 22, I passed a medical tent and an aid station. I ran about 100 meters past it before I threw up, and then promptly turned around back to the tent. I sat in the back of a stationary ambulance for about 10 minutes while I had my vitals and my personal information being taken. Afterwards, they asked me if I wanted a ride back to the finish and I briefly contemplated taking my first DNF ever, before saying I wanted to go back out. The last 3.6 miles of the race, after the 22.6 Mile checkpoint, took me over 56 minutes to finish. I finally crossed the finish line in 3:42:31, almost 50 minutes slower than I had run about 10 months before.

Finished! (Medical Tent Time)
I didn’t post about this marathon afterward, and I didn’t put it on Strava. I had worked the hardest I ever had to get myself into the best shape of my life, and everything collapsed. In the 20 months since this race, I have run 4 more marathons (3:01:34, 2:56:30, 3:03:03, 2:58:21) and two ultras, a 50K, and a 40 Mile race, but even completing these races I still feel as if I haven’t really put my best effort forward. I got away with training for all these races on literally no long runs over 10 Miles, and weekly mileage of 20-40 miles a week. Back in February, my Mom and I signed up for the 2018 Run for the Red Marathon, and I was nervous about going back to race in Pennsylvania, considering how poorly things had gone the last time. After running 3:03:03 in the Milan Marathon on April 8th, technically a Boston qualifying time, but definitely not enough under the standard to get in, I knew I had some work to do. After taking about a week of recovery, I put in weeks of 60, 65, 70, 40, and 50 in the five weeks leading up to and including the marathon. While I didn’t have any long runs over 10 Miles I had days where I sometimes ran 3 times a day for a total of 15 Miles.

Fast-forward to May, and I find myself, my Mom, and my girlfriend pulling into the middle of nowhere Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania at Stroudsburg High School for the race expo. The weather had been nonstop rain for the past two days and it looked as if that may continue into the race tomorrow. The race had even issued a special email stating that the weather for early that morning included lightning, and if the lighting was spotted prior to the start of the race, the race would have to be called off. After leaving to the packet pickup, we drove to our hotel near the start, lounged around quite a bit, ate dinner at one of the only Italian restaurants we could find, and then went to bed early.

My goal for this race was, hopefully, to run around 2:55, but more importantly to run under three hours and give myself more breathing room on my Boston qualifying time. When we woke up the next morning, we found the weather less than ideal, although we were anticipating this. The good news was that there was no longer lightning, or even rain, in the forecast. However, near 100% humidity promised to make it an interesting morning. We arrived at Pocono Mountain High School at around 6:20am, about 40 minutes before the start. Usually, the half an hour leading up to a race moves fairly quickly for me, and this race was no exception. It was already 6:55 by the time I decided to do a quick two-minute shakeout and head to the starting line. A quick rendition of the National Anthem, and few words, and then we were off!

Game-Face On Always. 
The Run for the Red Marathon was a little bit different from others that I have run in the past, as it features about a 1400-foot elevation drop over the course of the race, with the vast majority coming between Miles 6-11. I was interested to see how my quads and my hips would react to Miles 7-8 specifically, which dropped over 550 feet. What I wasn’t interested to see was the last eight miles of the course which featured significant rolling hills from Mile 18 all the way to the finish. For this race, I had ordered a Marathon Pace Band with the goal of a 2:55 finish time. I had selected the splits to be based on the course profile, with a negative split, increased effort in the second half, and boy was this a mistake. I don’t think I hit a single split within 5 seconds of the band all race. The first five miles of the race is fairly rolling, and I focused on settling into a rhythm and feeling strong with controlled breathing by the time I reached the downhills at Mile 5.5. I hit Mile 1 in 6:40, only a mere 22 seconds faster than my pace band.  Shortly afterward, and much to my surprise, I literally “ran” into another runner I knew from Charlotte, Andrew Charters. We had raced against each other quite a few times at the U.S National Whitewater Center. He told me was going for under three hours, so I had somebody to work with.

The first few miles of the race were largely uneventful, but try as I might, I couldn’t reign in my pace and put 45 seconds on my band by the time we hit the downhills. I consider myself a fairly strong downhill runner, but much to my surprise, I was already developing some pretty strong tightening in my hips by Mile 6. I’m not entirely sure if this was due to my shoe choice or not. I ran in a fairly new pair of HOKA Clifton 4s, with only about 8 Miles and a bit of walking on them. I had not anticipated wearing them, because the weather did not seem like it was going to cooperate, so I did not break them in that much. It was either these shoes or a pair I have been wearing the last few months with over 550 Miles and at least 150 more walking.

Moms 6th Marathon Finish!
My favorite part of this race was definitely Mile 7 & 8. It was absolutely, totally, and 100% downhill. I just let my legs fly, even faster than I had anticipated. Nothing feels better than a 6:08 at Mile 7 and a 6:00 at Mile 8 with minimal effort. However, after the race leveled out the next mile, I could really feel the effort of running on rolling hills versus running downhill. I hit Mile 9 in a time of 58:50, about a 6:34 Pace Overall, and 1:29 ahead of my pace band. By this time, Andrew had been running a great race and he pulled away from me as well so I was working with a few other guys for these middle miles. It was shortly after around Mile 11 or so where I just felt off. I’m not sure if I worked it too hard on the downhills, or if the humidity was getting to me, but I lost almost 40 seconds on my pace band in just 3 miles. Once I took my second Gu at Mile 12 I started to feel a bit better, then earlier and picked it up to hit halfway at 1:27:07, still 43 seconds ahead of the band, and only 29 seconds behind my PR pace. For the next several miles I ran with only one other person, working together to try and close the gap on a group of runners up ahead. Even after the half marathon split off and finished I found that we lost very little people, as most ahead of me were in the Marathon.

Overall, I would say my largest gripe with this race was that the road was not closed off from traffic at all the second half. The course was completely open and we had cars going by us constantly. We were relegated to the left of the white line, only about two feet at a time and slightly cantered to run on. I understand it may not be entirely possible to shut down the whole course, but there were not even cones or markings blocking the runners from passing cars. Regardless, I was willing to put up with it for a downhill course and the beautiful scenery of the Poconos.

Obligatory Post-Race Medal Pic
Shortly after Mile 16, I lost contact with the guy I had been running with the past few miles. This was definitely a rough stretch for me for whatever reason. I did not feel like I was slowing down a ton, but I still had about 5-6 people pass by me. I was worried that the last 8 Miles would be a nightmare if I was not feeling great already. At Mile 18, to quote numerous people, the “party is over”. Unrelenting hills awaited us. I hit Mile 18 in 1:59:50, about a 6:39 Pace, and only 7 seconds ahead of my pace band. I had run the Miles from 9-18 in about a 6:45 Pace. At this point I was already calculating the pace I needed to hold to the finish, about 7:20 per Mile, in order to finish under three hours. I decided I needed a “reset”. I needed to take a Gu, get my breathing under control and focus on my arm movement. It actually helped tremendously, at least for a little while. I thought I could ride my second wave of energy all the way to the finish, but alas it was only until Mile 21. The last split I remember hitting was a 6:45 at Mile 20 before I stopped looking at my watch. The good news was that even though I was slowing down, so was most everyone else. In fact, looking at the results after the race, I went back to look at the top 75 finishers and only two negative split, or even managed to positive split within a minute. Going up the largest hill of the race at Mile 21 I managed to gain ground and eventually passed back 4 of the people that passed me earlier.

The Best Support Crew!
The last few miles of the marathon for me are always the same, a painful fight to the finish. The only race I can say this wasn’t true was the Vermont City Marathon last year, the only marathon I have ever negative split. Maybe I should try that strategy more often… The last few miles I was running entirely by myself without a person in sight on either end, or so I thought. Right before Mile 25, I had another young guy, who had asked to look at my pace band while we were waiting in line at the bathroom before the race, blow right by me. I hit Mile 25 in 2:49:50 overall, so I knew a sub-three-hour finish and a BQ were within reach as long as something drastic did not happen. The last bit of the race, as we entered Stroudsburg High School seemed to last forever. Even though you “enter” the grounds of the high school, the last 300 meters on the track where we finished is still a good half mile away. I managed to pass one person during this last part before entering the track and another runner on the backstretch before finishing on the straightaway in a time of 2:58:21! I finished in 21st Overall for a pace of 6:48 per mile. The eight miles, despite the hills, didn’t cost me too much time as I averaged about a 7:08 Pace. I also want to give a congratulation to my fellow Charlotte runner, Andrew, who finished in 2:57:11 for 16th place overall!

As far as my racing plans go for the future, I have a busy schedule. I can confirm I will be running the Boston Marathon in 2019 so I am very excited about that. This summer I will be training for two very important races: the Kodiak 50 Mile in Big Bear Lake, California, and the Ghost Train 100, in New Hampshire. Finally, I will also be racing the Drummer Hill 50K in New Hampshire, and the TARC Fall Classic 50 Mile as tune-ups!

Race Finish!

2018 EA7 Milan Marathon Race Recap

Over the past year, I have grown accustomed to racing long distances on little training, a strategy I don’t necessarily recommend. April 2017, I gritted my way to a Boston finish in 3:01:34 off of about an average of 26.5 Miles the preceding 12 weeks, and with no run over 12 miles. Six weeks later I ran a 2:56:35 at the Vermont City Marathon off of an average of 29.5 Miles the preceding 12 weeks with one long run of 18 miles.

For the 2018 EA7 Milan Marathon I ran an average of 22.5 Miles the preceding 12 weeks with one long run of 17 miles… Certainly not ideal by any standard, and even lower than I had previously calculated.

Race Expo!
For the past 3 months, I have been studying abroad in Milan, Italy and have been fortunate enough to travel around Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, just to name a few. While it hasn’t been the easiest to balance running, traveling, classes, and being in a foreign environment, I decided there was no way I was leaving Europe without running an International Marathon, and what better place to do it than my home city.

During this blog post, I am going to try and highlight some of the differences between racing in the United States vs. racing in Italy. For starters, you don’t necessarily have the “right to race” in Italy, i.e. you can’t just sign up for any race and run it like you can in the United States. Every runner who signed up for the marathon had to either have a sixty-euro medical exam done, clearing them as physically able to run, or be a member of their IAAF country affiliate. For Italy, that would be FIDAL, and for the United States, it is USATF! This meant that I had to renew my long dormant USATF membership from 2011 in order to race. Another difference was that my race bib was made of some strange printed fabric paper, instead of the traditional paper bibs I am used to. Finally, running in Europe, for whatever reason, is an incredibly male “dominated” sport. When I looked at the results for last year’s race, only 15% of the finishers were women, and this year it was only slightly higher at 16.5%!

Course Map 
On Sunday morning, I arrived at the starting area around 7:30 am with my girlfriend, Charlotte. This was usually earlier than I would have arrived for a 9:00 am start time, but we were told if we did not arrive before 7:45 am there was a possibility we would not get through the metal detectors and security in time. The line moved much quicker than I had planned on and I was through at around 7:50 am. The only problem was I had chosen not to use my race bag which I could store and pick up after the race as I did not want to risk any of my valuables. As a result, I was left without my phone or jacket for over an hour before the race. To pass the time I did some light stretching, ran about a mile warm-up and ran to the bathroom. . In Italy, or at least this race, the portable toilets are only stocked with one roll of toilet paper each for all the thousands of participants, and they aren’t replenished when they run out… Moving on… Overall, the layout of the pre-race activities was extremely hectic to me. I did not figure out exactly where to go for the start line until 15 minutes beforehand.

For this race, I was in the first wave of runners who had previously run sub-three hour marathons, so I was right behind the elite runners. My goal for this race was to run even splits and stick with the 3:00 pace group, three runners with yellow balloons attached to them, for as long as possible.


10KM Split!
We were off! On a side note, numbers one through ten basically covers the extent of what I have learned studying the Italian language this semester… Sorry, Mom. I tried to settle into a rhythm from the gun but it was difficult due to the sheer volume of runners, much like at the Boston Marathon. I was ahead of the 3:00 pace group for just a few minutes before I relaxed and allowed them to pass by me. I had decided to use my Garmin for this race as in Europe the markers would be in kilometers instead of miles and I didn’t feel like doing mental math at “Kilometer 32” trying to convert my total time to my average mile pace. I instantly regretted this as my Garmin did not sync up with the GPS satellites properly and the first few miles were dreadfully off, I had already decided by 5K that I would only be looking at it for the total time in order to calculate my 5K splits, which I knew I could do pretty easily.

One thing about the Milan Marathon is that it has a huge amount of turns and I constantly felt like I was turning, making U-turn’s or looping back towards the same area we had previously been. Our 3:00 pace group was incredibly massive, probably over 100 runners, which made every water stop hectic, to say the least. At our first water stop, I nearly did not grab a bottle in time. You read that right. At every water stop, the table was lined with hundreds of 0.5L, 16.9-ounce plastic water bottles, something I found extremely wasteful and unnecessary as runners would drink maybe a fifth of the bottle and then throw it to the side. There were some friendly runners who did hold these bottles and yell “Aqua!” and pass them around to those who needed them before throwing them. I hit 5K in about 21:35, a few seconds off of sub-three-hour pace.

Milan, like most Italian cities, has its fair share of cobblestone streets and as a result, we were forced to run on cobblestone and rail tracks for about 2-3 miles throughout the race. While I’m not sure this necessarily slowed me down, I definitely did not like the feeling under my feet, especially later on in the race. At around 10K, we passed by Milan’s most famous landmark: the Duomo! For some reason, Italians love shouting out landmarks as they run by them, so all I heard for about a minute as we passed by was “Duomo! Duomo! Duomo!”. I’m not sure I would ever shout “Citgo Sign! Citgo Sign!” while running the Boston Marathon, but to each their own. I hit the 10K split in 42:52, pretty much perfectly on pace. It was here that I took my first Gu; a Strawberry-Banana PowerGel. I’m going to come straight out and say I do not recommend these at all. They taste much worse than other Gu brands and they did not sit well with me. However, as I did not have many options for nutrition, I was stuck with them.

Near Mile 20...
We continued to wind through the outskirts of the city during the next few miles (I will include a course map in this post to highlight all of the turns) as the sun steadily began to rise and the race started to heat up. I had not been used to running in hotter temperatures as Milan, and Europe, in general, has been experiencing a particularly cold winter. The late start now meant that the temperature was beginning to reach the 60s, which is not awful for a marathon, however, it felt much hotter with minimal shade and the sun beating down on us. I hit about 1:04:08 or so for the 15K, still with the pace group, and feeling strong. It seemed that everyone in the 2:58-3:05 marathon vicinity had decided to stick with this pace group as there was literally no one in front of the pace group and no one behind it.

I started to feel the first bit of fatigue around the 20Km mark. Nothing detrimental, however, I was now aware of how my legs were feeling after the initial excitement had worn off, i.e. I was racing a marathon. We hit the halfway mark, 21.1Km, slightly ahead of pace in 1:29:41 for about a 6:50 Pace. Shortly after we passed the halfway I made the conscious decision to run behind the pace group by about 10-15 seconds. This wasn’t because I couldn’t keep up with them at this point, but because I had grown tired of running in this massive pack and competing for water positioning at every stop. Moving back caused me to feel the best I had all race from about 22Km to 30Km. My breathing was smoother and I also felt less hot outside of the large group. I stayed where I was positioned until we started making our way back towards the finish. I hit 30Km in 2:07:43, still about 20 seconds ahead of schedule!

Almost Done!
At this point, I was really starting to feel the fatigue and could tell I was slowing down for the first time. Another note, the EA7 Milan Marathon is marked solely in kilometers except for one spot… Thank you for reminding me, Milan Marathon, that I was passing Mile 20. Hitting “The Wall” definitely still exists in Italy. I started to lose contact with the pace group and I decided to fall back and pace myself rather than blow up the final 2-3 miles sticking with them. Surprisingly, or rather, not surprisingly, my legs were the part of my body giving me issues, not my breathing or my heart rate. My breathing was akin to easy pace running, I just could not get my legs to turn over faster. I guess I kind of deserved to suffer a bit at the end because of my (lack of) training. After a rough stretch from 35km to 39km, I could feel my leg turnover improving a little bit. I wasn’t necessarily picking people off, but I wasn’t getting passed very much either. I hit 41Km and could really start to feel the pain in my legs. I refused to glance down at my watch time as I believed that it would already be in the 3:00:00+ range. One thing that I learned in this marathon is that regardless of whether it is in kilometers or miles, the last marker in a marathon feels equally as long. I rounded the final corner and had only about 200m to go. I was surprised to see the clock ticking in the 3:02:XX range! While I want to say that I then powered it home with an all-out 200m sprint to finish under 3:03:00, that was not the case. I crossed the line in a chip time of 3:03:03, a 6:59 Pace, and good for 271st place in a highly competitive field. I’m sure there was only a handful of us, but at least now I can check “1st Overall American at an International Marathon” off the top of my bucket list.

I had an interesting post-race experience, to say the least. After taking the metro to the Duomo and getting my favorite vegan chocolate gelato at Venchi, I retreated back to my room. Just a few short hours later I would find myself tripping into our glass living room table and cutting open the direct bottom of my foot on broken glass. As if running a marathon was not exciting enough, to top it off my body decided I needed a bruised bloody foot and a limp. I am currently on Day 169 of a run streak and boy was it fun running a 9:36 Mile last night.

While I technically qualified for the 2019 Boston Marathon at this race, I know for a fact that it is not going to be enough. I was 1:57 under my cutoff time, however, last year you had to be 3:24 under the cutoff to even get in. Before this race, I was already registered for the Run for the Red Marathon on Sunday, May 20th so I wasn’t super worried about qualifying here. I am going to give my body about a week to recover, which will give me five weeks to train for this marathon! As far as future races and plans go, I am excited to say that I have a full schedule coming up! This summer I will be staying in Boston, MA and interning at Bank of America. I will also be finishing up a semester early and graduating from Bentley University in December! For races, I am currently registered for the Run for the Red Marathon (Pennsylvania) in May, the Kodiak 50 Miler (California) in August, the TARC Fall Classic 50 (Massachusetts) in September, and the Ghost Train 100 Miler (New Hampshire) in October!

I hope to have a lot more to post about in the future, and as always, thank you to everyone for giving this a read!