Pre-race I wake up in Harrisburg where the temperature is in the mid 40s. The forecasters have it going up to the 60s by mid day. I have two shirts with me; a singlet and a short sleeve shirt. Now, one thing you have to know about me. I am THE master of over-dressing for a run. My approach is to avoid shorts and a t-shirt when a parka and snow pants are available. I wear balaclavas in the summer. Naturally, I put the singlet back in my bag. I eat a couple of skinless potatoes (breakfast of champions) and head to the starting area.
After waiting on the most important line several dozen times, and meeting a few people,, including one guy who is running his 100th marathon, I line up towards the front waiting for the gun to go off. Then without any Sinatra, or any other music or even warning, the gun goes off. So much for having time to worry. My goal is to run 7:30 per mile for the entire race.
Mile 1- We ahead across the bridge over the scenic Susquehanna River for a little tour around Harrisburg. Basically, it's a short circle around the downtown area, of what is the capital of Pennsylvania, despite being its 9th largest city.
Mile 2 Back to the path along the river. I try and fall into a rhythm as I imagine myself running on a treadmill next to my friend Shelly. I am starting to get warm and going a bit too fast.
Mile 3 Boy, I bet that singlet would feel really good right now. We turn onto a gravel path which is scenic and makes my knees smile. Ok, not really. Still, I start thinking about my next race being a trail race instead of one on pavement. Then back onto the path by the river back towards the bridge. The cheering is good and I'm feeling pretty good.
Mile 4 I almost offer encouragement to a runner before realizing that she is doing the marathon as part of a relay team. Ech. I can't stand those guys. They are always so perky. I'd be smiling too, if I knew I only had to run 6 miles and change.
Mile 5 Back across the bridge. Right back towards the baseball stadium where we started. Well that was a lot of effort to go nowhere. We go a little further and then... you guessed it, back across a bridge. It is this bridge which the website describes as offering “a break from typical solid ground, the closely spaced iron grid work of the Walnut Street Bridge is a welcome running experience (runners may also choose to run on the concrete sidewalk on the south side of the bridge)”. A break from solid ground? Iron grid bridge? Perhaps I should consider toilet water as a welcome break from sports drink.
Mile 7 Speaking of sports drink, the drink they are using is not certified as kosher, so I am stuck with water with sports beans. Have I mentioned that it's hot? Being a small town race, the water stops are not that frequent. This is going to be a challenge.
Mile 8 We pass the governors mansion as we run along the river. There are all sorts of signs with historical markers, but now is not the time to read. I see signs for the Civil War Museum and think of my friend, Rabbi Karp, a fellow civil war buff. There are some interesting statues include one of a soldier with a bayonet. I am reminded that today is Veteran's Day and that running a race is not what makes someone heroic. I pass a little girl doing cartwheels and think of my daughter, Maayan, who loves to do them as well. My family is not with me today, but they are still with me, if you know what I mean.
Mile 9 As with every race, there are spectators with signs. One guy has a sign that says “my father can run faster than yours”. I wonder how awkward it would be if I told him that my father is dead. I decide not to find out.
Mile 10 Than I meet Dennis. I've been looking for someone who is running the same pace so that I have some company. He is shooting for 3:18 while I am shooting for 3:17, which is good enough for me. I don't know it at the time, but we will stick together for the next 15+ miles.
Half way- I am not measuring my overall time and there are no clocks but I am right on pace with what be a PR in the half of around 1:38. I am relieved. Ed Whitlock, recently set the record for 80 year-olds in the half. I might not be fast, but at least my time would be a PR for some age group. Hmm, I wonder what the 5K record is for 90 year-olds.
Miles 14-17 Dennis and I continue to chat and run. I remind him to run the tangents, and to slow down, partially to stay on pace, partially because I am struggling. We are at the part of the course they don't talk about on the website. It is an industrial part of town with traffic open in both directions, with a requirement to get across the road. It's kind of like Frogger without the background music.
Miles 18- 20 Hills. Really tough hills. There are three of them in a park that is quite picturesque. We attack them, but they fight back. The ¼ mile with rocks underfoot that are big enough that I can feel through my shoes, doesn't help. We struggle a bit up a somewhat steep overpass. I am not feeling good at all.
Mile 22 I am ready to give up. There's no way I can keep this pace. I tell Dennis to go on without me. It feels like a scene in the movies where the soldier tells his friend to tell his family he loves them. Dennis plays his role perfectly and tells me to hang on until the next mile marker. This is the turning point in my race. If he's not there I give up on the spot and run easy for the rest of the race. Instead I make it to mile 23.
Miles 23-25 Somehow I get a second wind. We are really pushing and passing people. Dennis, who has to be the nicest guy I've ever met, offers encouragement to every person we pass. I can barely talk. Somehow, we are running between 7:10-7:20 a mile. Dennis asks me my PR and when I tell him, he tells me to get ready to break it. I want to ask him our time, but I am too tired to speak. Up ahead is the finish line. Only problem is it's up on the bridge. To get there I have to run underneath the bridge, practically make a U-turn and go UP a sharp hill. That is just cruel.
Mile 26 People are cheering for me using my race number. I am trying to figure out how I am at mile 26 with the finish line still being 100 miles away. It's also moving away from me. Somehow I catch it. 3:16:25. PR by 2:15. 7:30 per mile. I literally feel like I am going to pass out. I have visible dried salt all over my face. 364 days a year I live by the mantra that “food is fuel, not fun”. Not today though. Over the next 10 hours, I eat two bags of chips, two power bars, a banana, two chocolate bars, a bottle of chocolate milk and about 12 servings of chinese food.
My three fastest marathons have all been run at small races in Pennsylvania. Some people try to run in all the famous races. Others try for a marathon in every state. Me? I think I am the king of smalltown, Pennsylvania races, with solid color, long sleeve running shirts. Allentown, I'm coming. Bethlehem Running Festival, piece of cake. Reading Marathon, you are mine!