Sunday, November 16, 2014

Molly Strong

I spent 22 weeks training for the Harrisburg Marathon, which was Nov. 9. That's 154 days of running, foam-rolling, biking, swimming, weightlifting, yoga-ing and thinking about the fifth 26.2-miler I have taken on. That's 42% of a year, a long time!

While race day didn't go quite as those 22 weeks prepared me for, I did finish the race, we did travel to another city (always a plus) and I was able to take in the sights (some nice, some not so nice) of the capital of Pennsylvania.

As with any big race, you learn many things about yourself and about your training--improving is a never-ending quest. If we were perfect, what would be the point? And life sure would be dull. Lingering health issues manifested themselves yet again this year and I have committed to working on those in the off-season.

Arthritis flare-ups (left ankle and second toe on the right foot). The latter can't be fixed without another surgery, and I'm not sure I'm up for that, or if the insurance company would pay for a fourth. My podiatrist told me they now harvest cushioning pads from cadavers and one could be inserted between that joint, bone-on-bone, no cartilage in sight. Cortisone shots become less and less effective, so I've likely tapped those out. The doc did have me fitted for another pair of orthotics, meant to take pressure off the aching joint. I'm still breaking those in.

As for the ankle. . .I just started taking a glucosamine sulfate tablet every day in the hopes of forestalling further erosion of the cartilage in that joint. Studies aren't conclusive about the efficacy of glucosamine, but I'm willing to try. The pain became so intense around mile 19 in Harrisburg that I stopped and sobbed for a bit. But I kept moving forward.

Glute weakness. It may seem counterintuitive, but running actually atrophies your glutes, rather than strengthens them. As the quads get stronger (which will happen with running and biking), the back of the legs--hamstring to glutes--get weaker. That's a reason I had an issue with patellar tendonitis over the summer. My PT showed me some exercises, which mitigated that pain, but I admit I neglected those toward the end of marathon training. Time to get back to the weights, with focus on my butt (Kim K is not the goal here; think Jackie Joyner instead).

I am grateful to my Super Masters body that endurance was not an issue this training season, nor was speedwork. I completed enough of those workouts to my satisfaction for Harrisburg. I can't really train to avoid arthritis.

Now, to my thoughts about the race itself.

I really enjoyed the size of the field--about 800. The race director didn't have to employ pacers for a group of this size, but he did and for that I am thankful. I was able to hang with the 10:18/mile pacer (for a 4:30 finish) until about mile 16 (when Arthur showed up). It's really helpful to have a group to run with and at a pace you prefer.

Around mile 5. It was a surprise seeing my personal photographer here.
The start and finish on City Island, located in the Susquehanna River and large enough for a minor-league ballpark and other attractions, were delightful. Crossing both bridges a few times meant plenty of crowd support, especially from your personal cheerleader. That's always fun. The portion of the course along the river was quite pretty, flat and fast, providing plenty of spots for spectators. We spent about 3 miles running out on that and then coming back.

I liked the tour of downtown the first five miles afforded us, but I wonder why the course didn't take us past the attractive state Capitol. The band at the northern end of the Walnut Street bridge kept spirits high--too bad there weren't more musicians along the way. That said, the volunteer support for this race puts many other, larger, races to shame. People at every water stop were enthusiastic, helpful and encouraging. How I wish they could map a course that didn't take runners on the same roadway as 18-wheelers. Not only was it ugly, it was a bit intimidating running so close to these monsters. I didn't like miles 12-16 at all because of that--starting to feel pain in the ankle around 16 didn't help either.

The college students at mile 16 really stood out, even though the DJ played some obnoxious music (ick to Robin Thicke). Thanks to the woman at mile 17 handing out Twizzlers--a pleasant and tasty surprise. The next few miles through the nature preserve broke up the urban landscape, but that hill! It never seemed to end.

By far, however, my biggest gripes have to do with the finish line. Some idiot parent allowed their young child (3, maybe) inside the chute (see photo at left). He ran back and forth as we finished, putting himself and exhausted runners at risk of injury. I'm still trying to figure out why a race official didn't halt that nonsense immediately. Also, I realize I didn't finish this race in record time, but I did finish the race. I paid my entry fee just like a 3-hour marathoner did. So......where was the food? I had my choice of dry slice of ham-and-cheese sub and dry slice of ham-and-cheese sub. And bagel halves. And that was it! No bananas, no orange slices, no brownies, no cookies. Not happy. I heard a few days from a Syracuse friend who ran a leg of the relay that they had an "incredible" fruit salad, including fresh pineapple, for runners. Gone; all gone! Even more not happy.

I don't get that part at all. If you see non-runners taking food, ask them to stop. If you see you are running short, set some aside for the late-finishers. Surely you had radio contact out there on the course and you knew a good 50 people had yet to finish. There really is no excuse.

So I would rate Harrisburg a good, not great, marathon. It had so much right going for it, but my experience at the finish line left me disheartened. We won't be back. If I race another marathon next fall, it'll likely be Mohawk-Hudson, my first, run way back in 2006. We'll see if the off-season strength training and glucosamine help with my weaknesses. If not, I'll drop back to half-marathons. Since arthritis seems to flare at mile 16 (as it has the last two marathons I attempted), running 13.1 miles will be a breeze!