Guest Blog: Poconos Marathon Recap
This weeks blog post comes from Wendy Simas. She ran the Pocono Marathon a few weeks back and wanted to share her experience with our readers. She was shooting for a BQ and well…you’ll have to read on to see if she got it!
Written by Wendy Simas
I once came across a quote that read, “Never trust the first and last miles of a marathon, because they are liars.” This rings true for me in every marathon I have ever ran. The first miles feel so easy, even when you run a pace that is too fast and the last miles feel like you have nothing left to keep going but somehow you still do. Having some help with pacing can make all the difference and that is one of the things that made the Pocono Mountain Marathon different than other marathons I have experienced. Many marathons have pacers but the Pocono Mountain Marathon has a pacing team of experienced runners who are motivated by the desire to help other runners reach their goals. Their bios can be found on the marathon website. I looked forward to running with pacer Mike because I had been in touch with him through Facebook and he struck me as a solid runner with extensive knowledge who really enjoys helping other runners. He also seemed like a fun person to spend time with. There was a lot of concern about the weather the day before the race. Humidity, thunderstorms, and rising temperatures were in the forecast. The pacer line-up was changed up as a result and it turned out that I would be running with pacer Josh.
Pocono Mountain Marathon is a point to point race with the start at Pocono Mt West High School in Pocono Summit. Parking was quick and easy with just enough people directing traffic. It had been a cold wet day the day before and as I got out of the car I noticed the humidity and the warmer air. The temperature had risen overnight but it was still misting and I could feel a bit of a breeze. I decided to stay with my plan to run with the four hour pacer and move ahead at some point if the opportunity came along. It was a large high school and it was open so there was plenty of bathrooms and places to stretch out while we were waiting for the start. The start was about a quarter of a mile away from the school and I set out with the other runners as the time got close. When I got to the start I noticed that the pacers were set back from the start and they were easy to find not being lost in the crowd. I found pacer Josh and introduced myself and our group made small talk as we waited for the gun. Josh was a very experienced runner having ran countless marathons and ultras. He also had that calm, quiet confidence that natural leaders possess. I trusted him immediately.
The national anthem must have been played but because we were set so far back we did not hear it and the before we knew it the gun went off. This being a small marathon it did not take long for the runners to get through the start and crowding was not an issue. The first few miles went slow and steady and mostly silent. Everyone seemed to be focusing on settling into an even pace. This was much different from my previous marathons. I would always get caught up in the thrill of the start which has always been my favorite part of the race. As we finished up our third mile it seemed as though we had moved into a slightly faster pace. The views were beautiful and the rain stopped and the sky looked like it might be clearing up. I worried about that because I knew if the sun came out it would really warm up fast. I made it a point to stop at each water station to take in a few gulps. The order of each water station was Gatorade first and water second. This gave you just enough time to open up and take in a gel when you arrived at the station and wash it down as water was handed out. This was my routine every four miles or so. I started to make conversation with Josh and he told me that he paces marathons as part of his training and paces three or four before running his best in the fall. I can’t think of anything better than to be able help out other runners while getting in your training miles at the same time. What a great way to stay motivated while enjoying the company of fellow runners.
As we got into the later miles of the first half we came along some sharp hills. I felt myself working hard to get up the hills to keep up with Josh. This was a little discouraging so early in the race and I was looking forward to the long stretch of down hills that I knew would be coming up. Just as I started to feel heated, the sky clouded up again and it started to drizzle. The rain was refreshing and lasted just long enough to cool us off. Just before the halfway mark Josh told me that we would probably be a few minutes ahead because the course is a bit easier overall in the first half and gets much more difficult in the last miles. After the first half I told Josh that I was hoping to finish in less than four hours for my first BQ. I hadn’t thought much about a buffer. I asked him when I should try to run ahead because I was afraid if I went too early I would fizzle out before the finish but I also wanted to get the best time I could. He said each person was different and I should move forward when the time felt right and that I should try to keep relaxed and sort of glide through to the end. Those words would help me later on when things got tough as they do during the last miles of a marathon. After the half we had a few miles of down hills and I was feeling pretty good.
Around mile 14 or 15, without really thinking about it I started to move ahead of Josh. There were a few more easy downhill miles after that and I really opened up on them. I didn’t know how long this good feeling would last so I tried to take advantage of it the best I could. The downhill course really helped too and the next thing I knew there was another pacer in front of me. I could not see the sign and started to worry that my mind was playing tricks on me and that I had really fallen behind Josh instead of moving ahead. I had to get closer just to be sure. Lucky for me my eyesight is really bad so I had to get very close to see it and the need to see it helped push me forward. I finally caught up enough to see it was the 3:55 pacer! This was the most exciting and the most pivotal point in the race for me. I had caught up somewhere around mile 19 and was still feeling good. I knew if I could keep her in my sight to the end I would have a good chance of a solid BQ. This kept me motivated through the most difficult parts of the course.
Soon after that the course changed and the narrow road was opened up to two-way traffic. This was my least favorite part of the course. The cars were zooming by only a few inches from the runners. The road was beat up from the winter and my legs were feeling wobbly. The thought of tripping and falling in front of a car forced me to stay focused. I was relieved when this part of the course ended.
Fatigue was settling in and the next miles included some rolling hills that were challenging being so late in the race. The distance between me and the 3:55 pacer grew but I could still see her. I remembered what Josh had said about relaxing and gliding and following his advice seemed to help. The course started to run through the neighborhoods that surrounded East Stroudsburg High School.
The finish was to be at the schools track with one lap around to the finish. I was excited to hear the crowd and pushed hard to keep going. The course then ran through the center of town and it got a bit confusing with pedestrians and road construction. The course was lined off with orange flags but it sort of zigzagged and it felt something of an obstacle course as I jumped on and off high sidewalks. I was annoyed to have lost my momentum. People were walking around shopping and seemed to hardly notice the runners going by.
I thought about my family being at the finish line. My daughter had promised to get everyone there at a designated time and I knew at that point she was probably yelling at her father to hurry so they would not miss my finish. As I ran through the school parking lot I could hear the crowd getting louder. Just as I got close to the track I could hear the announcer report that the 3:55 pacer was coming across the finish line. The track felt soft and cushy after so many miles on a hard road. I took care not to trip and looked ahead to the finish line and ran across thrilled to see the clock at 3:57.06. I did it! My family greeted me and after I caught my breath I asked them if they knew where the food, bag pick up, and most importantly, the massage tables were. My daughter said, “We just got here a few minutes ago, I was yelling at Dad to hurry up and we almost missed it.” Do I know my family well or what?
I took little time getting my food and headed over to the massage table. I liked how everything was set up. Everything a finisher would need was right there and I found everything without any trouble. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no line at the massage tent and was able to hop right on to a table right away. After the massage I walked back over to the finish line and watched and cheered as runners crossed the finish line. I ran into pacer Josh and told him my good news and thanked him for his help. I also thanked some of the nearby volunteers as I stiffly walked back to my car.
There were many things about the Pocono Mountain Marathon that I really liked and some I didn’t. The size was just small enough to avoid overcrowding and just large enough so you never felt alone on the course. The course had some nice views, especially in the higher elevations, and there were plenty of water stations, porta-johns, police, and enthusiastic spectators. I really liked the finish line set up as well. The part of the course where it was opened up to two-way traffic seemed awfully risky to me considering it was at a point where many runners, myself included, are feeling weak from fatigue both physically and mentally. The part of the course that ran through the town center was a bit confusing and felt like it took some extra effort to navigate. I am sure some it slowed me down somewhat and I had to work hard to get my momentum going again.
All the photos that were taken on race day can be downloaded from the website for free and the photographers did an amazing job. As I was going through the photos I noticed the pacers and the time clock as they passed the finish line. Amazing how accurate their times were. Overall I enjoyed this race very much and would recommend it to anyone trying to PR. If you plan to run this race, be sure to check out the excellent pacers that helped make this day such a success for me and for many other runners. They may be just what you need to achieve your very best finish time.
Written by Boston Qualifier Wendy Simas
If you have any comments or questions for Wendy write them below and I’ll make sure she gets them!