Three weeks post-marathon, and everything is back to normal. I’ve started a new on-going blog about running and writing and everything else at called “Keep on Going,” so this is the final post in this blog. Here’s a link to the interactive Number Concentration Table game (as recommended in The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer for learning focus), because that’s a small but I hope lasting contribution to the online running community.

I have one more marathon-related anecdote (it’s gross if you’re not a runner, so consider yourself warned). The week after the marathon we visited my family in New York. I did quite a bit of walking in my everyday shoes and must have irritated the middle black toe on my left foot. It started to feel warm and sore the day after we got back. That night I couldn’t get to sleep because it was hurting so badly. I saw that behind the blackened area, there was an inflammation with pus building up under the nail and causing the pain. I didn’t want to have to go to the emergency room (especially because the nearest one is still half-an-hour away) for something so trivial, and anyway I knew they’d prescribe antibiotics which I try to avoid whenever possible. (Please, let’s save them for when we NEED them & not help generate resistant bacteria by overprescribing antibiotics for minor ailments! Don’t get me started on antibiotics in animal feed–how could that EVER be considered a good idea…) I remembered someone saying he drills a hole (!) through the top of the nail to relieve the pressure, but that sounded a little too drastic. I soaked my foot in hot water for 10 minutes, then sterilized a sewing needle and pushed it in just under the nail–to my surprise, it didn’t even hurt because of course the black area was dead anyway. Some pus flowed out, I worked on it a little more, and soon it felt much better and I was able to go to sleep. The toe feels completely normal now. All four black toes have kept their nails so far and the color has faded a little bit.

Happy running, all!


There were 1755 Steamtown registrants, but only 1490 finishers. Once my actual chip time came through (4:50:20), I moved up one rank to #1317. 86th out of 96 women 35-40.

Splits: 1-10:18, 2-10:41, 3-11:13, 4-9:56, 5-10:35, 6-10:24, 7-11:33, 8-10:37, 9-11:39, 10-10:32, 11-11:03, 12-10:56, 13-10:41, 14-11:27, 15-10:58, 16-11:46, 17-10:50, 18-11:53, 19-11:28, 20-11:35, 21-15:10 (changing socks!), 22-9:58, 23-11:07, 24-11:06, 25-10:04, 26-10:42, 26.2-2:23. Average 11:08 pace.

Thanks to a combination of the bib number list, the finishing list, and the race photos, I’ve found everybody I remember from the run except the Gallowalkers. Emmy, my neighbor at the start, finished in 4:41:57; the loud young teacher in 5:19:55. Donald Teague did 5:05:58 and didn’t even place! He’s placed in his two previous Steamtowns because there were no more than 3 in the men 70 & up. The oldest woman was 65. I definitely want to run a marathon when I’m in my 70s so I can finally get a win. But by the time I’m that age, many more older women will be running and I’ll still get shut out…


When we got home, I took a shower and examined my feet. Not too bad! No blisters, just a little chafing on one foot. My 4 black toenails definitely looked like I’d pushed them a little further over the edge, and the end of both next-to-smallest toes are rubbed a little raw. Other than that, no problems. I certainly felt somewhat sore and stiff, but not on the verge of collapse or anything. I made celebratory phone calls & otherwise just relaxed and basked in the joy of accomplishment.

The best thing that happened Saturday, which I didn’t even mention yet, was related to the champagne I asked Jonathan to get for our Sunday celebration. When I got home from the expo, he said it was chilling and said “I hope you’ll like the brand.” I didn’t think much of it–we like the same stuff, I was sure it would be good–but he repeated it a little later and finally said I should look at it. So here’s what I saw:

[that’s a custom label he made with my “running puppy” logo (itself a Jonathan drawing from two decades ago)] It made me cry then and it made me smile extra on Sunday night! And here’s the “I did it!” photo:

It was an evening of perfect happiness.

I had to take some ibuprofen to get through the night comfortably, and on Monday I definitely felt more sore than after my long training runs. But I went for a nice long hike in the woods to keep myself stretched out, and that was great. I feel almost back to normal today (Wednesday).

I wore my medal to work Tuesday and Wednesday, but I’ll stop now. My co-worker Betty and her husband Bob (a surfer) gave me this great cheesy surfing trophy:

It says “Steamtown Marathon/Hilary/’Placed Good'”!

The photos are finally up today! They’re at There are 9 and most are OK, but the prices are so high that I’ll probably just get one or maybe two. It is great that there were so many photographers out there & so much to choose from, but I wish there was some kind of discount package…


What went right?

  • Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer is the greatest!
  • I followed the schedule to the letter.
  • The weather was absolutely perfect.
  • Training on the hills around here paid off big-time. In fact, the Montrose 5K is much harder, in terms of terrain, than Steamtown–it’s got worse downhills and uphills.
  • The way I broke the race down psychologically worked like a charm for me.
  • My hydration schedule was fine.
  • The superb organization & crowd support really helped.

What would I have done differently?

  • Don’t risk missing a water stop!
  • Just my name on both front & back of the shirt.
  • Put on fresh socks w/blister power right before the race starts.
  • Use the lace tabs on the tongue of my shoes!
  • I probably wouldn’t bother to change socks next time; it wasn’t worth 4 minutes.

Was it worth it, all the time and energy and money? Absolutely. It was a peak experience, just like I wanted. I have to say that I don’t feel like it’s changed my life, though. Maybe it’s partly because my race went so perfectly that I didn’t ever “go to my very limits and beyond.” Jonathan thinks that’s a silly thing to regret, and it’s not exactly that I regret it; I just wonder, when I read about Mark‘s heroic struggle, would I have be able to do that? And I tell myself, YES, I am a marathoner!…but it’s not quite the same as having experienced that dark place and come through it. “OK, so just run another one!” Although I have some marathon goals for the future–I’d like to run New York with my brother some day, if he ever seriously wants to, and if I ever got fast enough to have a shot at qualifying for Boston, I certainly would want to do that–I can’t see doing it again soon. Maybe before I turn 50. Just too time-consuming. But I will certainly keep running! It would be cool to be able to do an 8-12 mile long run every week, but it’s going to be hard to get any more than 2 miles in on a normal weekday. I’ll try, though. I want to run a 10K for the first time, and eventually beat 1 hour if I can. I’d love to break 28 minutes for a 5K. I’ll be into running more shorter races. And biking–I’ll do more biking.

I will get faster if I work at it. I didn’t do any speed training; I also could lose some more weight without becoming emaciated–not entirely sure it’s worth the effort, but it would help my speed. I didn’t take the time to seriously get into the ChiRunning principles, and I think that could help.

What’s next?

I am flirting with the idea of doing National Novel Writing Month as a crazy follow-up project to this one. There are so many things that appeal: the logo is a marathoner carrying a giant pencil! the guy who started it suggests wearing a special piece of clothing to help you be in the frame of mind to write, and I can wear my medal! this is supposed to have taught me that I can do anything if I set my mind to it! (and Jonathan told me very seriously that if I want to, he has perfect faith that I will) I’ve written more than the word goal per day (1,667) in this blog since the marathon! But I haven’t decided yet. I don’t want to commit myself if there’s a chance I’m just setting mysef up for failure.

At any rate, I don’t know how much longer/what I’ll write in this blog. But I’ll leave it up and hope that it helps one other person the way Hollie‘s helped me. It’s been great–and I’m telling you, if I could do this, ANYBODY can!

Marathon Day continued

The end of the “training run”

A few other things that happened before mile 20: the clock at mile 18 showed 3:18-ish, which was great as my fastest 18-miler in training was 3:22:22 (and chip time would be even a little better). Somewhere along the trails there was a particularly enthusiastic spectator, a boy about 12 in a slate-blue sweatshirt who yelled “Here comes Hilary! Go Hilary” or whatever & really made me feel good. Wearing my name on my shirt was the BEST–I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do that (I’d say no more than 15% of the runners wore their name). It is such a boost to have people call you by name. I smiled every time–in fact, I pretty much had a huge grin on my face for the whole race. When the photos are finally up they will all look identical!

Speaking of crowd support (which was excellent), there are tons of good things to say to a runner. “Looking good,” “You can do it,” “Way to go,” all great. But I did notice a few things NOT to say to a runner….

  • Please do not say “You’re almost there” before mile 14! In fact, don’t say that until mile 25. At least.
  • Similarly, “It’s all downhill from here” when it’s NOT is less than helpful.
  • Finally, please don’t clap your hands and say “Let’s go!” I am going, as you can plainly see, and you are standing still. I’m not going to break into a sprint and wreck my race plan just to satisfy your need for speed.

I planned on taking my first gel at mile 20 or when I hit the wall, whichever came first. But I remembered from the expo talk that the aid station was at mile 19 1/2, so when my Forerunner had beeped for what it thought was 19 1/2 I started looking. An EMT on a bike passed me (Steamtown is GREAT with safety, there were 30+ EMTs patrolling the course & 4 “sag wagons”) and I asked when the next aid station was. He immediately looked concerned & asked me what I needed, then said the water was right around the corner. I pulled out my tangerine PowerGel and started sucking it down–and boy, did it taste good. My body was more than ready to soak up the calories. On to mile 20 and my big change of strategy!

Miles 20-26.2

At the first high curb after the 20-mile sign (the signs were VERY visible and reassuring), I sat down to change my socks and fix my laces. Socks were definitely a production but the laces were even more so. I’d never used the little tab on the tongue which presumably is supposed to have the laces threaded through it to keep it in place, and this wasn’t the greatest time to start. The left shoe was OK but I misthreaded the laces every possible way on the right shoe. Argh! I couldn’t believe how long this was taking. People were streaming past me. Finally finally I was done–it must have taken about 4 minutes–and I got back up, fumbling with the moist towlette to wipe my face. That did feel good and I got underway. At first my feet didn’t feel any better, but quickly I was back in the groove and ready to start turning up the heat just a tiny bit. I felt good! Now to launch the next step of my strategy. I looked at my left wrist and saw G for Grit and imagined a storage tank in my left shoulder, full of stored energy from all of my training. I started thinking about “grit” and visualized little bits of granite. Pressure and friction breaks down what’s soft and the grit is left, impervious. It will not break down, it will not go away. That carried me through mile 20.

The next word was Perseverance and I thought about a stubborn bull, lowering its head and digging in its hooves and not yielding an inch. I saw it pressing its head against the obstacle and gaining just a fraction of an inch at a time, but not letting up. Not giving in. Zoom, mile 21 is gone. I feel great! I don’t even notice the stiffness and aches any more. The killer combination of gel (with double caffeine!), the ibuprofen kicking in, positive thoughts, and the finish line drawing closer is working like a charm. That’s when I started to notice that I was catching up to all the people who had passed me while I was changing my socks, and that no one was passing me. And boy did THAT feel good! Somewhere in here I saw the family with the boy in the blue sweatshirt again (they were driving from point to point to support someone), and he greeted me like a long-lost friend.

Mile 22, Endurance. (I quickly dropped the storage tank idea, just thinking about the noun was enough). Lasting it out, in it for the long haul. Letting ups and downs wash over me, sticking it out. It really helped to focus on the images because the surroundings were dull–we were running through industrial parks and closed-up warehouses.

The next-to-last aid stop was a little after mile 23 and I took my second gel. I offered my spare to the people around me and got a taker, a woman who said she hadn’t had breakfast. She looked pretty exhausted. Lots of people were walking. I got passed by a few people while I ate my gel and drank my water, but once I got going again I’m 99% sure I passed them all again. What was my word? Oh yeah, Determination. That means choosing my own course, controlling my destiny, picking a goal and heading for it no matter what. Keeping my eye on the target. My mind and heart in sync. Here was the first hill, only about a block, not too bad. I’m waiting for the big, awful, 3-block hill around mile 24.

And here it is, Electric St. Yeah, ok, it’s a steep hill, but it’s not really *that* bad. Crowd support is great here, it’s a nice residential neighborhood and everyone is having parties out on the lawn. There are signs and balloons. Very soon I recognize the spot I walked back to from the finish line last year when I was scoping out the race. Is this–this can’t be the top? I asked some guys and they said it was, but there was another hill coming up on Washington Ave. (which I knew). But that was it, that was the big hairy deal hill? Pshaw! And now we’re going down again. “Will” is the word for mile 24, and I visualize a steady flame. But I’m not spending too much time with the mental imagery any more because I’m ALMOST THERE! Once I was past the Electric St hill, I knew I would beat 5 hours, I knew I woudn’t have to walk, I could feel the reality of the finish line drawing me like a magnet. And whenever I thought about it I started to choke up a little bit. I hit the lap button when I passed the Mile 25 marker–10:04! I couldn’t believe it!

Up a gradual hill and around the corner (“This is the last turn” say the traffic volunteers, “straight on from here to the finish”) onto Washington Ave. I can see the crest of the last hill. Here’s the last water stop–I don’t need it, but I figure some Gatorade now might speed my recovery later, so I take one cup. Not too many people ahead of me. At the dip where it starts to slope upwards, there are two big burly guys, one in a kilt, and they simultaneously high-five me as I run between them. Here’s the last hill. I start seeing the beautiful buildings of downtown Scranton–the old high school which is now the junior college, and right across the street is the library. I pass Cooper’s, the goofy seafood restaurant that has a huge wrecked pirate ship and bigger-than-life octopus on the roof, and I know I’m past the steepest part. I cross Mulberry and there’s the finish line, 2 blocks away. I hear the announcer for the prizes (the awards started at 12:30–I thought they’d be long over by the time I got to the finish!) There’s blue-sweatshirt boy again–I dash over to the left and high-five him. Last block. The barricades are packed with people!

My brain knew Jonathan was going to be on the left, but there’s not much conscious thought going on at this point. I see my co-worker Shannon, her husband Charley, and their daughter Lauren on the right, waving and clapping and shouting, and I zoom over there and high-five the 3 of them. Then my legs bypassed my brain entirely and TOOK OFF in the sprint of my life. Part of me scanned the crowd on the left but I was heading towards the chute like a maniac (and why? for 5 seconds off 5 hours? but there is NOTHING like the adrenaline of the finish line. I have only felt it in the 3 previous races of my life, and it’s an amazing experience). My feet barely touched the ground and there I was, over the mat, wrapped in a mylar blanket, and realizing I had to take my hat off for the volunteer to put my medal over my head. Someone handed me a water bottle, I quickly grabbed some food, and headed out of the recovery area to find Jonathan. There he was, he hugged me and I burst into tears, incoherently gabbling “I did it and I feel great!”


I knew I’d cry, but it didn’t last long because I just felt so FANTASTIC! Shannon, Charley and Lauren joined me, I hugged them all and starting babbling about how great I felt and how amazed I was that I hadn’t hit the wall. I saw Geri and Al and hugged them, & then saw blue-sweatshirt-boy and mortified him by hugging him as well. I tried to focus on eating some pizza and drinking my water, and Jonathan reminded me a few times I had to turn in my chip. (“How could you forget to turn in your chip?” I had wondered before the race. Very, very easily!)

Eventually I went to pick up my bag–and ran into Chris the racewalker (he finished under 5 hours!) & had to hug him too (he would have rather shaken my hand but I was already committed to the hug by then!) I decided not to try and shower. Instead I went to the massage room. That was pretty cool–dozens of massage therapists and tables set up in the Federal Building, a lovely art-deco palace. I waited about 10 minutes, gobbling down a yogurt and realizing how amazing those mylar blankets are–they really keep you warm. Kelly was my massage person and she complimented me on how loose my muscles felt–“you must have really trained,” she said. She just lightly worked over my legs, but it felt good. On the way out I put on my T-shirt–yay!–and posed for an after-race photo. Then I walked a few blocks to the mall & met J in the foodcourt, and we headed to the car. On the way out of town we grabbed a bag of ice and I put it on my knees. We also stopped at Krispy Kreme!

It was a long ride home but I was just basking in the good feelings. One of the best things about the marathon, I was thinking, is that it’s DONE–it’s not like most other projects where there are further things to do, loose ends to tidy up, next steps to take, etc. I did it and it’s OVER and no-one can ever take it away from me! I am a marathoner!

OK, enough for today. Celebration, afterthoughts, statistics tomorrow. Thank you all for reading this interminable saga!


(As you’ll quickly see, this is very very very long. Unbearably dull to most normal folks, probably, but I’m writing for people like me who want to hear every detail!)

Waking up

The alarm went off at 4:30 and I got right up. Not a great night’s sleep, but I did get some, and felt a little bleary but not too bad. I dawdled over go-juice (cold J coffee with lots of milk) and email–encouraging notes from my dad and brother, which felt great to read as a day-starter. I need some time for my eyes to unstick before I can put in my contacts, so dawdling was both calming and productive. No shower–to save time and because it would be pointless, I’m going to be dirty and sweaty by 8:30am. I Blister-Shielded *everything* (I keep writing BodyGlide when it’s Two Toms Blister Shield I’m using and am very pleased with), dressed carefully with lots of seam adjusting, slathered on sunscreen. Last-minute checks–SHOOT! I had this strategy worked out where in the last six miles I was going to imagine six untapped storage tanks in my body, full of things like “grit” and “determination.” I knew I needed a visual reminder, but I forgot to put it on my pacecard. First I tried writing on my palms, but they were greasy from sunscreen and I knew that would wear off. I ended up writing the initals on my wrists–G/E/W and P/D/C (more on that later). And I had wanted to carefully choose what music to listen to in the car; I quickly scanned my CDs and picked Elvis Costello Get Happy, The Damned Strawberries, and Simple Minds Sons and Fascination. Made a piece of toast with honey and peanut butter, and I was ready to go. J woke up enough to wish me luck and tell me I could do it.

The drive

A beautiful pre-dawn morning, with a crescent moon high in the sky and a very bright planet near it; lots of visible stars, including my favorite constellation, Orion. Get Happy was a great soundtrack. As I drove, faint light started to break in front of me. There was some mist in the lower areas, but nothing that slowed me down. I stopped in Lenox to use the Pump’n’Pantry bathroom; I didn’t bring any water with me because I was plenty hydrated & didn’t want to overdo it. My goal was not to have to make a bathroom stop for the entire race; I’d successfully balanced out hydration/sweat on all my long runs so it seemed feasible. (One of the questions at the race talk was how to avoid bathroom stops; Jon Sinclair had said to stop drinking about 2 hours before and to only eat lightly, but then the discussion went on to cover the hardcore guys who pee on the run & then toss a cup of water over themselves, and the lumber yard in Simpson whose owners have complained that runners urinate on the stacks of wood and make it warp & smell. Blech. No peeing on the run for me, thank you very much.) Get Happy finished and I put on Strawberries, singing along to “Generals” at the top of my lungs. It was a great drive.

At the start

There wasn’t any traffic in Forest City yet, but when I got to the high school it was bustling. As promised, teenagers greeted me, gave me a purple ribbon with the date of the marathon & offered a bottle of water. The halls and gym were full of runners stretching, chatting, relaxing, sorting gear. I did some stretches, got a garbage bag for the bag check, and tried to stay calm. On my way out to let my Forerunner catch some satellites, I saw Mary Garm, whom I’ve known as long as I’ve worked at the library (she’s now in charge of the Scranton area system) and who was in charge of the bag arrangements. She gave me a hug and wished me luck. It was great to see a familiar face!

I ran very slow laps in the parking lot to warm up. A radio station was set up and the Channel 16 helicopter was flying overhead. I used a port-a-potty one last time (NO LINES for the women’s, although the men were about 12 deep!), stowed my warm gear and put on my garbage bag, and brought my bag to check in. Another hug from an old friend, Donna Melvin, who used to work at the Forest City Library. Although one of the emails from the race committee had listed pace groups and the slowest was for an expected 4:30 finish, I was delighted to see kids holding up signs for 11 minute and 12 minute mile groups. I positioned myself between the two signs. The sun was up and you could feel the excitement building.

Near the 10 minute pace sign I saw Donald Teague, my elderly buddy who’d been at the “information booth” the day before. I’d asked him if he was going to run this year, and he’d said he was registered but hadn’t made up his mind yet, as he hadn’t trained very much. So I was thrilled to see him getting ready. He still didn’t seem very psyched but he said he’d give it a shot. I headed back to my spot & chatted with the person next to me. Her name was Emmy, she was another first-timer and had no idea what her time would be. I didn’t see her after the start–hope she did OK.

We’re off!

I couldn’t hear much of what was being said but the masses of people ahead started cheering and then there was the loud boom of the cannon. Gradually we started walking towards the start. I hit the button on my Forerunner as we crossed the mat–it wasn’t that long after the cannon, under 2 minutes certainly. Within a block it was clearing out enough to break into a slow jog. Bobbing heads filled the street as far as I could see, an amazing sight.

I passed 3 people in bright yellow shirts that said “THE ABOMINABLE SLOW MEN” on the back (one had “AND WOMEN” written in). We turned the corner onto Dundaff Street, the steepest downhill. It wasn’t that bad–the Montrose 5K has one that’s much steeper and longer, as do many of my training runs. We turned again onto Main St/Rt 171, where most of the spectators were lined up. I spotted a sweet-looking German Shepard and realized it was a dog I knew–it was the Juniors (Diana, the Forest City librarian, her husband Andy and Honey) and they cheered me on. (Well, Honey didn’t cheer.)

I kept telling myself to take it easy, but it wasn’t that hard–although there was plenty of start adrenaline, at the rear of the pack no one was jackrabbiting, and the magnitude of 26 miles helped me stay slow. I had read over this great article about the 3 phases of the marathon several times and told myself I had 7 miles to warm up. I heard my name and it was Andrea Demianovich, the assistant librarian from Forest City, in front of her house. Everyone was out on their lawns supporting us.

Miles 2-7

The second mile started slanting uphill. A guy in an orangey-brown windbreaker came up behind me, commented on my shirt & asked me who I was going to vote for. I said Kerry and he asked why, which started a political argument which continued for several blocks. I realized that I was having trouble breathing and talking at the same time, that he was running slightly too fast for me, and that he was the kind of guy who would just keep steamrolling and would be happy to argue for the whole run–a scene I wanted no part of. Besides, I needed postive focus and talking about politics was bringing me way down (it’s not a topic I enjoy at all). When I told him that I didn’t have the breath for the discussion, he said “You breathe and I’ll talk,” which was not what I had in mind at all! So I told myself “you have to assert yourself and cut this short, you are an adult and a marathoner and you can do it!” I cut him short and said “Is there anything I could say that would change any of your opinions?” and he said yes, if I had the facts. (He probably believes that’s true, although I have my doubts). So I got his email address & said we could continue via email (I’ll do that after finishing this entry), and he pulled ahead, saying I would probably pass him later. (I didn’t, but I almost caught back up to him–he finished less than 2 minutes before me.) Oh, and he didn’t realize my *name* was Hilary, he thought it was a reference to Hillary Clinton (nobody ever notices I have ONE L!) even though it was clearly a hand-drawn name–J had worried that that might happen because the lettering ended up looking a little like a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker which I’ve never seen, but I thought that was unlikely. So it was kind of a negative experience and almost made me regret not just putting my name on the back of the shirt–but I was proud of myself for asserting myself & handling it well, and it sure got my blood stirred up and through mile 2 without even noticing the hills.

After the second mile marker, someone said “Only 24 more!” and a woman next to me mimed putting her hands over her ears in shock. I said “Hey, it’s not *that* many!” and she said she had a strained calf muscle so it sounded like a lot to her. Her husband was ahead & she was just trying to finish. I told her about Kara & wished her luck. Turned out she’s from Wilmington, North Carolina, where my mother was born and my aunt still lives, so that was a neat coincidence.

My first splits were ahead of my optimistic pace, but I knew I wasn’t going too fast so that was OK. First aid station–I just took one cup of water since it was still very chilly and I wasn’t sweating much yet. I had thought that it would be quicker to drink from a cup than from the Camelbak, but it isn’t. I walked and drank as quickly as I could, but it still took me probably 30-60 seconds per stop. As we thinned out, I started to pick out the people running the same pace as me. There were a group of about 4 women who were together, with a leader who called out time for them to walk periodically, so they must have been doing some version of Gallowalking. They would drop behind when they walked but then catch up again. I was interested to see who pulled ahead in the long run, but I eventually lost track.

The foliage was gorgeous and there were lovely views of the hills at certain points. The ridge parallel to 171 has windmills on it now and they were beautiful against the sky. The inhabited sections were kind of dull, even ugly in parts, but it was nice to have people along the road cheering and playing their stereos.

The aid stations were not evenly spaced and I couldn’t remember exactly where Bill King had said they were–he was vague on some of them. I took water at the second, but soon thereafter my stomach was growling and I realized how hungry I was. I should have had more than one slice of toast! Where was that next station so I could get some Gatorade?

I think it was when we were entering Simpson that I recognized Mary Barna, a librarian from our district. It was cool to see so many librarians, and we also passed many library buildings.

I don’t remember now whether it was the 3rd or 4th station that was staffed by people in togas, but that was fun. Posters ahead of time advertised jello shots, which I later wished I had tried, but I was wary of untested food. I did take a banana chunk. The Gatorade helped and hunger didn’t bother me so much.

Miles 8-19

This section is a blur–I remember pieces but not necessarily the order in which they happened. I was in a good groove, booking along, not too fast, not too slow. All a training run until mile 20.

I had lost track of the Gallowalking group (we hadn’t talked to each other anyway), but I picked up some new acquaintances. I kept passing or being passed by Geri and Al, who seemed to be having a great day. Geri had orange shorts with yellow circles that were easy to pick out at a distance, and Al joked with all the volunteers and spectators. (They finished about 5 minutes ahead of me). Around mile 12 I first saw Chris, who was racewalking. I was amazed that a racewalker would be participating since the course closes in 6 hours. I asked what his expected time was & he said 5:15, but that he had gone out faster than that & hoped he wouldn’t regret it. He told me we were right at 11 minutes per mile (my Forerunner was consistently shorting me, beeping for the mile about a hundred yards before the mile markers, so I wasn’t sure exactly where I was at.) He said he was usually in a good mood until mile 18. A very nice guy, and we kept seeing each other also. A little while after that I met a very loud-voiced outgoing young guy (never caught his name) who was the second and only person to mention my shirt. He said he was a Republican but didn’t know who he would vote for; he said he must be one of the only Republicans in the national teacher’s union. “Make up your own mind and just make sure to vote!” I said. It was his first marathon also, and a slightly older guy who was sweating a lot and looked tired chimed in and said “he was a virgin too.” We didn’t stick together very long, though.

I could feel my joints stiffening up once we got into the double-digit miles, and the bottoms of my feet were getting hot. I realized I should have worn regular socks when I got up and changed into my blister powdered socks in the gym, because most of the blister powder had probably been worn away by the time we started. I was really glad I’d be changing socks at mile 20.

One thing I forgot to mention about the night before was my difficulty pinning on my bib number. I’m very shortwaisted, and since I’m small there’s just not a lot of room anywhere for a bib. Where it ended up not only looked dorky but also was making an awful noise rubbing against my waistpack and I was afraid it would drive me crazy. Luckily, folding up the tear-off portion seemed to help, so periodically during the race I would start hearing/feeling scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch and fold up the tab again.

Mile 13, and then the halfway mark! There was no mat, although we were supposed to get a split there, but there was a clock: about 2:22, so to get a negative split I’d have to finish in under 4:44. (Not that I was realistically aiming for a negative split with the course weighted towards down at the beginning and up at the end.) I was feeling pretty good despite stiffness & hurting feet. Soon after that we passed a tent with a band playing Sousa marches; they had a sign up and I wish I could remember the name–it was something like “The Merry Old Men” or “The Jolly Old Group.”

The course turned onto the Rails-to-Trails path near mile 15, and that was *great*. The path was crushed stone, very nice to run on, and the woods and stream were lovely. A photographer was set up along a little footbridge (there had been another one earlier, along an empty stretch of road)–they sure picked good backdrops. I can’t wait until the photos are posted! They’re supposed to be at within a week. There was an aid station in one of the residential neighborhoods the trail wound through, and I got an orange section to boost the carbs. (A nice family was handing out lemon slice candies earlier and I got one of those too.)

I planned to take ibuprofen at the first aid station after mile 16, but I missed it. It seemed like there was one table with water and there would be another with Gatorade a little further, but the whole station was very small and by the time I realized they must have had Gatorade too, I was past it. (I had asked a couple offering me water “Where’s Gatorade?” but they looked at me blankly–I don’t think they heard what I was saying). Note to self and others who might benefit: DON’T ASSUME! I should have slowed down enough to find out for sure. So I was a little worried, but it was OK–there was a family with water within another mile so I could take the ibuprofen, and another aid station not too far away where they had Fig Newtons too, so I made up for the lost carbs.

Right before mile 18 we made a loop through a little park, and there was the second mat–a good place for it, because it would be easy to cheat by cutting through the neck of the loop. (Bill King had said at the Expo that last year there was a cheater and so they wouldn’t tell us where the other mat was (after the one that was supposed to be at 13.1). He said “If you’re going to cheat, and you weigh over 300 pounds, don’t finish under 3 hours and look like you’re in good shape!” Apparently this guy got out of a car in front of Cooper’s, which is less than a mile from the finish…) There was a big stereo system set up and “Surfin’ USA” came on. That’s when I realized how good I still felt. I started singing along and felt that I was still full of energy and even my feet didn’t hurt as much as they had been. (Ibuprofen is a great thing!)

The one problem that cropped up towards the end of “the training run” was that the tongue of my left shoe kept creeping to one side and then the shoelace knot would dig into the top of my foot and hurt. I would stop and move it over and then it would creep back. If I can just hold on until I change my socks, I thought, I’ll fix it then.

The sun was gone at that point–there were dark clouds gathering over Scranton and a chilly wind was starting to blow. Bill King had said the day before that there would be a tailwind, but this was blowing the wrong direction for that. The wind was a little annoying but the weather was absolutely the perfect temperature and the lack of sunlight helped.

OK, I’ll have to put off the next part until tomorrow! It’s taking longer to write it than it did to run it…

OK, before I get to the big day itself I have more Expo Day to write about. Stuff I forgot in what I already wrote: I also stopped at Helmut Kunst’s gallery in Clifford in my way to Forest City, & bought 2 paintings, a tiny oil of a bridge and a larger one of birches in spring. I vacillated about actually making the purchase but asked the test question, “If I saw this hanging in a museum, would it be one of the paintings I kept returning to before leaving?” Helmut and his wife were really nice and when I mentioned I was going to scope out the marathon course, he said he had run in college. His wife asked the common question, “What kind of marathon is it?” Tons of people don’t really know what a marathon is; they think it’s any long race, like you could do a 10 mile or 15 mile marathon. Maybe it’s the concept of half-marathons that confuse them? Or ultras? Anyway, in my experience, when you tell them it’s 26.2 miles, their eyes bug out!

A part of Jay Sochoka’s talk I forgot to mention was his poem “‘Twas the Night Before Steamtown,” which was pretty funny and true (even though it didn’t scan–hardly any amateur poetry does…) He lies awake worrying “maybe I’d forgotten how to run” because of taper brain (yes! exactly), and then Steve Prefontaine appears and takes him to a stadium where Jay beats Pre because he has an unexpected kick left at the end.

In the course discussion, the main emphasis was on going out slowly. Bill King made the point that doing this wrong was a double whammy, because not only would you be dying at mile 20, but psychologically you’d be getting hammered because everyone would pass you. And vice-versa, if you started conservatively enough, you’d get the boost not only of still feeling good in the last section, but also passing people like crazy (which proved to be prophetic!)

The Scranton paper was being handed out for free, and you could sign up to have Sunday and Monday’s editions mailed to you (which I have–it’ll be time to check the mail later this afternoon!) The entire list of entrants is printed in the Saturday edition by bib number, so that spectators can look up your name. Alas, they only printed my last name! “270–Caws-Elwitt, Friendsville, 39.” Everyone else had a first name listed–it must be the hyphen that threw them off. (J & I have to be alert for getting filed under E instead of C, not being able to do things like get online boarding passes because of poor programming that thinks hyphen is an illegal character, etc.) It made me extra-glad that I had decided to put my name on my shirt.

There was a huge poster of the course map and elevation, which I didn’t get a chance to examine at leisure because there were always clusters of people in front of it. Various money sinks for the proud finisher were also on display–a wooden stand to hang your medal and a zillion different fancy frames/plaques/presentations for your run pictures. There was a posterboard of information and photos from St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, the beneficiary of Steamtown. (Bill King said at the course talk that by the end of this, the 9th marathon, they will have raised $165,000 for St. Joe’s, which is pretty great.) Many people mentioned that the residents of St. Joe’s cheer on the runners at the top of one of the last hills and what a difference that makes–you think you can’t go on, and then you see a child who will never walk and it puts your own temporary pain in perspective.

It was past 3 by the time I left the Expo, and I had really wanted to drive the rest of the course. Instead I picked up the last section, from about mile 20 on, and couldn’t even drive the whole thing because of one-way streets and block parties. But I got a good sense of it and told myself that the unknown sections would be an adventure for Sunday, something to keep the middle miles interesting.

I got home after 5 with a whole list of things to do–make dinner, blog about the day, figure out parking/meeting with J., pin on my bib number, decide what to put on my shirt, etc.

The shirt thing–I’d been thinking about this a long time. More than a year ago, my brother Matthew and Jonathan and I were on the phone talking about the New York Marathon (which goes right past Matthew’s windows on Bedford Ave in Brooklyn). Matthew talked about how people yell “Go, Joe!” if the shirt says JOE, and how you could put things like FOR IT on a shirt. We started brainstorming things that start with “go,” like “gophers,” “goal oriented,” etc. So in the back of my mind was tucked this idea of having my name & then FOR IT, -PHERS, or whatever. (I even thought about (BUSH MUST) but decided I didn’t want to stir up any potential negative vibes from spectators, as true and important a statement as I believe that is–this area is heavily Republican.) The idea of a shirt that might make someone smile when they got it appealed to me. But I was concerned that people *wouldn’t* get it (there’s not a lot of room on a shirt and you don’t see it for that long if you’re a spectator), and Jonathan agreed. So it was just going to be “Hilary” (lettering by J. who is a talented graphic artist).

But then I thought, well, I could put a non-political message about voting. I think the low voter turnout in this country is embarrassing–no matter what your beliefs or political inclination, please make up your own mind on the issues and at least VOTE! It’s a right and responsibility we are lucky to have–it’s pathetic that so many people aren’t even registered, or are registered but don’t bother to come to the polls. If ONE person saw a pro-vote message & decided to turn out on November 2nd, that would make it totally worth it. J’s designed some neat voting buttons that we’ve been wearing. My favorite one says “VOTE–Get in the driver’s seat” and I wanted something like that related to running. Something that indicated, “hey, you may not be running a marathon, but you can do something just as empowering and cool by voting.” We talked about something concise enough to fit on a shirt, and J came up with “Vote! Democracy is run by you,” which I thought was perfect.

J reminded me that I’d be wearing my waistpack, which cut down on the available area even further, so I decided to ditch the name on the back & just go with the message. J drew the outlines on the shirt in Sharpie while I was wearing it and then I filled them in, giving me a solvent fume OD. I chose this shirt because it’s the one I’ve worn in all my long runs and it’s breaking down where the Camelback rubbed on it. Technical fabrics definitely seem more fragile than cotton!

I finished up my pace card. On one side it has the miles, my conservative pace for that mile (depending on the slope), running total of conservative time, and running total of optimistic/don’t-exceed time (30 seconds less than conservative pace). On the other is a list of family, friends & co-workers to think about when I need inspiration, and 4 inspirational quotes:

  • “something so remarkable, difficult, and inspiring that i can carry it with me as long as i’m alive to remember it.” —Hollie
  • “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”–Confucius
  • “I have met my hero, and [s]he is me.” — George Sheehan

For dinner we had yummy pasta with Lombard sauce (cubed boiled potatoes, garlic, and crushed red pepper sauteed in a mix of olive oil & butter)–“carbolicious,” as J said. My goal was to get to bed by 10pm, which I didn’t quite make, and of course I had trouble getting to sleep!

Next: the Big Day itself.

I did it, and it was GREAT!

Raw time 4:51:49, standing 1318 out of 1755 starters! I never hit the wall, I never “suffered,” I felt better at miles 21 & 22 than I did at 11& 12…and after mile 20, nobody passed me and I passed everyone I saw! Oh, and I LAUGHED at their puny hills! I eat those for breakfast!

I have stories & pictures & lots more to blog…tomorrow. Tonight is for resting & celebrating. I’m going to be wearing a huge grin (and my medal) for the next few days!

Mark, Dianna, Marshall, Mike, I hope all your races were terrific!

Expo day!

I wanted to get as much sleep as possible but didn’t go to bed early enough the night before; I think I’m fine, though. (I don’t normally let myself carry too much sleep debt, since reading the fantastic The Promise of Sleep by William Dement, the guy who discovered REM sleep). It’s Artist’s Open House Weekend and I wanted to catch some studios on my way down to Forest City. I got a late start, partly because I had to dig through the piles to find my Steamtown map (grrr….). I toted water (of course) and a PBJ sandwich.

My first stop was at the library to use the bathroom(!), then Joe Welden’s studio. His art is amazing–playful, strange, very accessible–and also incredibly cheap (huge canvases top out under $200, and there are lots of little sketches for $2-$25). The canvases are usually all red-dotted within the first 10 minutes of the 3-day sale, which is wonderful and exciting in itself. I usually buy a bunch of sketches, but even those were mostly cleaned out by the time I got there. Off to Forest City High School, where the “information booth” turned out to be a red SUV manned by my old buddy Donald Teague (ran the marathon for the first time at 72–he’s a character and a half!) and Fran Graytock, running coach at the school and who must be related to Carly Graytock (her father, maybe?) He was really nice and told me I could leave my car at his house! Also at the information booth was a nice old female beagle, so that made me happy.

I drove along the course, getting lost at least once (the street names weren’t marked), but then realized at a certain point that it was getting very close to 1pm, start time of the “Running Changed My Life” talk at the Expo. I ditched the course and headed for Scranton High School, but I wasn’t sure exactly where I was and traffic was painfully slow. By the time I got to the Expo I had to use the bathroom again but the talk was still going, so I ducked into the auditorium, which had a scattering of people. The speaker was Jay Sochoka, who was a 306-lb couch potato who’s now 185 and will be running his 6th marathon tomorrow. He was very enthusiastic, but not very well organized or practised, and the technical end was terrible. He was on the stage, which was dark; he wore a headset mike which was turned up too loud, feeding into a crappy sound system with a really loud hum; he had transparencies which weren’t centered on the screen, weren’t clear, & which he seemed to randomly flip up and down. He seemed like somebody who could be a really inspiring speaker someday, but maybe this was his first speech ever. He was clearly nervous, used a lot of “you know”s & other phatic tics, & didn’t have the audience with him. It was ironic that he was warning us not to go out too fast when that’s exactly what he was doing! But nonetheless, when he spoke about the rush of the marathon, it was great. He said “To finish is to win,” and I’ve added that to my pace card.

Next stop was to pick up my T-shirt and number–270! I though it would be a 4-digit for sure. Then the chip, which I had been imagining as a cylinder; instead it’s a button with arms. Here’s a photo of my shoes:

Then the talk about the course, given by race director Bill King and famous runner Jon Sinclair (I didn’t know who he was; he looked like an ordinary skinny 30s-ish guy with a shaved head, but when Bill started telling us who he was, we were duly impressed). Lots of nerdy detail and stories; I loved it. I bought a sky-blue Steamtown narrow T at the souvenir booth, & some winter gear at the National Running Center tables.

And now I have to cut this short because I have to go to bed! Self-discipline! But here I am all dressed in my gear. I’m ready!

Thursday Oct. 7
Short run, 3 miles, 31:12; splits 10:20, 10:55, 9:57

Yep, the Forerunner’s back–I had to remind myself how to set it for my preferences, but I did. (and right this sec I’m going to turn off auto-pause for the marathon, and turn off auto lap trigger–should I? yes, that way if the Forerunner’s measure is off, my times will still be OK; but I set it to alert every 1/2 mile) A good run, my last!!!! until Sunday. Foggy but not frosty, another in an unbroken series of beautiful fall days. It’s like the weather is trying to make up for summer.

Today (Friday Oct 8)
Walked 3 miles

Walking sure seems slow! If I’d thought more about it, I wouldn’t have just dumbly followed my normal 3-mile route–I could have gone for a proper hike. Oh well. The boxer and lab at the top of Schoolbus Hill barked but didn’t make it all the way down the driveway by the time I’d passed by, even at walking pace, same on the way back; they are old & tired I guess, but I was sorry not to actually get to greet them. I brought my camera and tried to capture some fall foliage–haven’t downloaded the photos yet to see if I succeeded.

It’s really close now! I still have quite a few preparations to make: packing the big bag, making my pace card, having J. write my name on my shirt. (more on that tomorrow!) Bag pack list:

  • Towel, soap, shampoo, conditioner (showers are available at a high school after the race, which is really nice–but only if I finish with enough margin)
  • Warm clothing (long-sleeve T, hoodie, maybe gloves)
  • Body glide
  • Garbage bag
  • Sunscreen
  • Stretching rope
  • Granola bars (for 7am snack; real energy bars might be better but I haven’t been too impressed by the ones I’ve tried)

I’ve laid out my clothes & Forerunner, but will still need to pin on my bib number, tie on the chip, and put blister powder in the socks.

Thanks everybody for all the nice comments!

Monday morning was my massage, and it really seems to have helped. The massage therapist (Therese Rood, Professional Massage Services, Great Bend PA, highly recommended!) focused on my right thigh & left knee since I told her those were the most troublesome spots. But she worked me all over too and it alternately felt great and hurt in a good way. Surprising things: how many painful knots were in my forearm near the elbow; my calves didn’t seem to have any knots or tightness at all; my left side was more ticklish.

Unfortunately I didn’t sleep well at all Sunday night and my throat started feeling a little funny. By Monday afternoon I could feel some kind of cold or virus coming on. I tried to head it off by taking it easy that night and asking Jonathan to bring home some grapefruits (they are like a magic potion for me when I’m getting sick). I was just reading somewhere (Hal Higdon’s site, maybe?) how many marathoners get a cold the week before the race. I can see after, but why before? Argh! I can’t be sick now!

Tuesday, October 5
Short run, 3 miles; about 30 minutes

I felt somewhat better in the morning. My right thigh did not hurt AT ALL, so clearly the massage helped. A hard frost and the sun was still below the horizon–brrr! I wore a long-sleeve cotton T because I don’t have anything technical that’s longsleeved. But for only 3 miles, big deal! (I guess that’s something to look for at the Expo on Saturday, though.) I warmed up quickly and the run felt good, although plenty of nose running. (J said “You’re training so hard for the marathon, even your nose is running.”)

I’ve continued to fend the cold off and I think/hope the worst is over. If I catch that feeling of getting sick quickly enough, and I rest and do the Vitamin C thing, I often do seem to be able to nip it in the bud. Not that a cold’s going to stop me now anyway, but it would sure be a bummer.

The weather’s shaping up well for Sunday; right now they’re saying low 42 high 59, mostly clear.

I’ve packed my waistpouch:

  • gels
  • ibuprofen
  • tissues
  • moist towlettes
  • a pair of socks (complete with Two Toms blister powder) to change into at mile 20–the yellow ones because the are the most energizing!
  • bandaids
  • $20 bill

I’ll add my credit card and driver’s license Sunday morning, and a laminated card I’m going to work on with my goal splits etc. Phone card info too. I’ll pack my big bag before the weekend too, so there’s less to do Saturday.

I am so excited and nervous!

Oh, and I got a brand-new Forerunner in a box complete with all the accessories that I didn’t send back (I just sent the unit), so now I have doubles. I’ll email Garmin and see if they want them back… otherwise it’s nice to have spares in case something breaks.

“Long” run, 8 miles, 1:32 or so
Miles for the week: 19 (3/5/3/8) WEEK 15
Weight: 113

A week from now I’ll be a real marathoner!!!!!

An amazingly gorgeous, halcyon day–a perfect day to run. I saved my run for the afternoon because Jonathan was out rehearsing, but it wasn’t too hot. The foliage is just about at peak and the sky was deep perfect blue.

I saw a hen pheasant cross to the pond at the corner of Canada Road. Supposedly pheasants are not really a native species here–they don’t make it through the winter–but they are released by the Game Commission every year. Your tax dollars at work! I believe it because they seem incredibly dumb, not like a real wild animal. But that may just be the way they act–they always look like they have no clue what they’re doing or where they are. On the far side of Stanley Lake, there was a chipmunk in the road and as it ran to the shoulder I heard a loud metallic chirp. It was a familiar noise from the woods, but I had always thought it was a bird–it’s a chipmunk squeak!

I asked myself at the end if I thought I could do the loop twice more…I *think* I could. I don’t exactly have “taper brain” like Dianna has been talking about, but I have a little amnesia about what it’s like to run the long distances. I did 18 twice, I keep telling myself, but when 9 and 8 feel not-dead-easy I start to wonder how I did that. But I did it and I can do it again, even though the difference between 18 and 26.2 is starting to loom larger. I will be rested, I will be motivated, it will be an adventure, it will be hard, I will do it!

I finally sat down with the marathon profile and figured out reasonable paces based on the one 18-miler I have Forerunner data for. (Oh, DHL tried to deliver my Forerunner on Friday! So I’ll have it back tomorrow! Yay!) Estimating conservatively, I should finish in just over 5 hours (that’s 10:30 on the steep downs, 11:00 on the gradual downs & flat, up to to 13:00 on the hills), but running up to 30 seconds faster per mile should be just fine too. I’ll pace myself more by how I feel, taking it easy & slow, but it’s good to have an idea of what “too fast” would be. I am determined to run smart and not get carried away by the downhills, and not to even try speeding up until mile 20–if I don’t hit the wall by then.

Lots more little plans & preparations to make. That will keep me busy this week. ONLY 2 MORE 3-MILE RUNS! (and one 3-mile walk). Wow.