Steamtown Marathon Diary: Getting to Know the Course

This week presented a number of challenges and hardships, but all in all I’d rate it a major success. First off, the mercury climbed into the mid 90s on Wednesday and Thursday, getting close to the point where running becomes outright dangerous. While consistency in training is important and sometimes you really do have to just run in spite of unfavorable conditions, if you’re particularly susceptible to heat or the only time you can run is around midday, with the sun at its most intense, few fellow runners would fault you for taking such days off.

I had to cut back my mileage by a bit, but fortunately nothing too severe. Before the weather kicked up, I did a 5K tempo at Dunmore track on Tuesday. Dunmore Track is the only rubberized track open to the public in the area, and I’ll make sure to do a full feature in a later blog. Tracks are great for speed work and they do lend themselves to very fast times; however, given my issues with my left groin, I think I’m going to have to stay off the track for a while. Every time I do a number of laps on a track, my groin flares up. My best guess is that it’s the frequent hard left turns over and over again. The good news is that they’re are plenty of other places to do tempos besides tracks, some of which I’m sure I’ll cover later.

But more than the heat and the tempo workout, the real crown jewel of this week was the 20 miler on Sunday. My previous longest run was 15 miles, so this was quite a jump for me. However, a few other runners I know who are also preparing for Steamtown were planning on running the first 20 miles of the course, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity. After all, the first 12 or 13 miles of the course have long been a mystery to me. Well, after going through that, let me tell you, people are not kidding when they all the downhills in the early miles do a number on your quads.

I started feeling it in my legs about 12 or 13 miles in, and by 20, I could tell I would be sore later on in the day. And, frankly, the thought of another 10K on top of those 20 miles sounds daunting, to put it mildly. On the bright side, though, I survived my first 20 miler, and at just over 7 minute per mile pace too. If I can stay healthy and get in a few more solid long runs, and especially practice more downhill running, going under 2:50 for the marathon doesn’t seem so impossible.

However, Sunday’s long run taught me the importance of really making sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, as far as courses are concerned. You cannot get ready for Steamtown by running mostly flat ground. It’s pivotal to study the course and make sure you’re ready for what it will throw at you. If you come prepared for the downhills, and manage to resist the urge to fly down them at the beginning of the race, I imagine the patience will pay dividends when later on you’re passing lots of people who took it out too fast. So this week’s lesson is simple. Get to know any course for an upcoming race, particularly when it comes to marathons, and make sure to train accordingly.

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