Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon 2016

A month after running the OC Marathon I decided that it was time to pick another race for later in the year. I looked at different fall races in October and November but for some reason I wanted something earlier in the year. That’s why I picked the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon in Pennsylvania.

This race is promoted as being fast. I thought that September up north would be cooler than Savannah so it seemed like a good option.

Since I qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2011 I’ve been following the exact same plan because I felt it worked but it took me five years to realize that I’ve been stuck. After running Boston in 2013 my average marathon finishing time has been around 3:45 so I felt it was time to break this pattern.

I decided to do a different plan and I went with the Runner’s World break 3:30. In general, this plan did seem harder than the previous one I was following, especially the speed workouts.

Summer training in Savannah is no joke. Think of temperatures anywhere between 90 and 110 degrees with 100% humidity. It doesn’t matter if you go at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m., down here is always hot and humid.

I trained for 13 weeks and the days leading up to the race I was feeling pretty strong and confident. I had no interest in qualifying for Boston again. I feel that there’re so many races that even if I qualified I wouldn’t run it because I’d spend my time and money going somewhere I’ve never been before. I wasn’t looking to PR either (although it’d have been nice). I just wanted to break 3:39, my second fastest marathon time that I set at the Marine Corps Marathon last year.

Race weekend came around and I flew into Allentown on Friday. To my surprise it was as hot as Savannah: 94 degrees with 84% humidity. I don’t even have words to describe my frustration. I thought that I was going to train in a miserable weather to get strong and perform my best in a nice cool place. Also, I realized really fast that there were killer hills everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE. At this point I just kept repeating to myself to not get overwhelmed by the things I could not control.

I stayed at Lafayette Inn, a beautiful bed & breakfast in Easton because it was only a mile from the finish line where I’d also be taking a shuttle to the start (more details on my travel post soon). On Saturday I went for my 3-mile shakeout run around Lafayette College and it was my slowest run of the training… Frustration stroke again! As soon as I finished the run and walked back to the hotel my left shin started hurting, a pain that didn’t disappeared until after the race.

In the afternoon I went to the expo. Even though it was the smallest race expo I’ve ever been to (maybe 10 vendors) I was blown away by the location: SteelStacks. This used to be the old Bethlehem Steel plant and now is an event venue. It was so beautiful and just something completely different from anything that I’ve seen before. After getting my bib I walked around the plant, then headed for lunch and back to the hotel.

Later that day I was waiting on my Uber to go to church (something I do the day before any marathon) and I saw a couple walking into the Inn, he was wearing a Boston Marathon shirt. I asked if they were running the marathon, they said yes and kindly offered to give me a ride to the starting line… Another example of how friendly the running community is!

Race day finally arrived. I changed, drank some black coffee, packed a bagel with almond butter and a banana and met my new friends at the lobby at 4:45 am. They were from Boston and they drove to Pennsylvania because she wanted to qualify for next year’s marathon. As soon as we walked out we all went: “ughhhh”. It was so humid!!! Around 80 degrees and 200% humidity… You know what I mean. Again, don’t go crazy over the things you can’t control Claudia.

I jumped in the shuttle and hit the porta-potty as soon as I got to the starting line… SUCCESS! I talked to a couple of people including a very joyful man from India who was running his third marathon and didn’t care about pace or anything else, he was in for the fun. 

The race started at 7:10 a.m. and I was feeling good. The first few miles where mostly downhill and on pavement. When I hit the 6 mile point I was in for a PR. I didn’t start too fast at all; I was just very comfortable holding a 7:57 min./mile pace.

When I got to mile 8 everything changed. I knew a PR was not going to happen but I could still meet my A goal. I felt my legs slowing down a bit because we got on a trail. It was a beautiful and peaceful place. We had a river next to us and all you could hear was our feet hitting the dirt over and over again… And then mile 9 happened. This is when everything started going downhill.

I felt a strong stitch on my left rib area. I rarely get this when running because I feel that I have a good breathing pattern and when a stitch starts I know how to get rid of it. I tried every single technique I knew but the pain was still there. I was able to deal with it for like a mile but it was hurting so bad that I had to stop. Completely. I couldn’t even walk so I just stretched, breathe, etc. Then I started walking and eventually jogging but the pain came again.

I did this around 5 times until I had a mental breakdown and tears started rolling down my eyes. I trained so hard all summer long for this moment, this goal that I knew I was not going to be able to achieve. I struggled for about 10 miles. I really wanted to stop at mile 13 and just finish the half marathon but the race was point to point and the half course didn't start until mile 13.

When I got to the half way mark I saw a porta potty and I stopped to see if I could throw up. I was feeling weak and frustrated but when I started walking towards it I realized that I’d never in a million years throw up there so I jogged back to the trail.

At mile 21 all of the sudden I started feeling good again so I decided to set a B goal: to finish under 3:50. This was less than ideal but at least at this point I knew I was going to be able to finish. I held an average of 8:45 min. mile for the last 10k until I crossed the finish line. Official time: 3:51:15

I’ve never been so happy of crossing the finish line of a marathon and eating my traditional veggie burger. I still feel a bit frustrated because I only trained for 3 weeks for my last minute spring marathon and I finished it only a minute slower… It doesn’t make much sense, right?

The race was 80% on a trail and 90% of this trail wasn't paved . There were a few short hills but it was pretty much flat. What I believe got me was the heat and humidity. I’m used to training in these conditions but I’ve never pushed myself for so many miles in a hot weather like that. At each water station I found myself drinking 3 full cups of water. This wasn’t good because then I felt full and sluggish so it was hard to run fast but if I didn’t I was running the risk of passing out.

At mile 23 I saw a woman on the floor surrounded by paramedics. That’s when I realized that I should be thankful to finish the race without any major injuries. The shin didn’t bother me but I definitely got a bit of a kneed pain after mile 15.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and the bad experiences usually come with the biggest lessons. I know I can’t perform at my best in every single race so definitely this was not a good day for me.

The race itself was great for those who enjoy trail running and it was very well organized. Now, what’s next? Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll! If you’re thinking about entering any of the races during that weekend use promo code TRENDYSMOOTHIE at checkout to get $15 off your registration!