Category Archives: Running

The GAP Trestles Marathon – The story of my first 26.2

I started running in 2016.  It was a desperate attempt to get into shape, and I expected to hate every step.  But, as I explained in my Office Chair to Half Marathon post, things changed after I had run regularly for about a month.  Running became something I enjoyed and looked forward to, but I didn’t really plan to take it any further than short races like 5ks and 10ks.

Then, later in 2016, I watched a movie called Spirit of the Marathon, which is a story of six different people as they prepare for the Chicago Marathon. If you’re a runner and don’t want to run a Marathon, don’t watch that movie, because it might just change your mind.  When the movie was over, I knew I had to run a marathon.  And so the journey began.

I originally hoped to run a marathon in the spring of 2017 with my brother Ty from Kentucky.  However, he had signed up for a 50k trail run in the spring, so we couldn’t find a suitable marathon that worked for both of our schedules. I was tentatively planning to just run by myself at the Garden Spot Village Marathon in New Holland, PA. It was fairly close to home, and looked like a nice run.  I would ramp up training throughout the winter, run the Chambersburg Half in March as a training run, and then be ready to go for the marathon in April. Things were going well until I misstepped during a snowy run in December and injured my knee. As a result, I was not able to run during the Month of January, and I knew it was foolish to ramp up my training in time for a spring marathon.  I did run the Chambersburg Half, but then I concentrated on the local 5ks for the summer.

Around mid-summer, my brother and I began searching, and we found the GAP Trestles Marathon, a small marathon in Meyersdale, PA.  There was a lot to like about the marathon.  It suited both of our schedules, it was about an hour and half from my house, and it looked like a scenic run.  We signed up and started to ramp up the training.

My training was going well until July.  My long runs each week were up to 15 miles. I was planning to drive over to Meyersdale and scout out the course, which is a bike trail, and put in a 17 mile run in the process.  But the day before, I manage to stub my toe on a piece of furniture in my living room.  I ended up taking the family and scouting the marathon course by bike. An x-ray the following week confirmed my fears:  the toe was fractured and I would not be able to run for three weeks. By August I was back into the training, but I had to ramp it up slow to be sure I didn’t re-injure my toe.  When it was said and done, I had lost a month of training that I could ill-afford to do without.

There was no turning back now.  I was able to work up to a single 18 mile run and another of 20 miles three weeks before race day.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was going to have to work.

I went into race-day with three goals.  In order of importance, they were:

  1. To finish the race
  2. To run the whole way (no stopping or walk breaks)
  3. To finish in under 4 hours.

I knew the last one was a bit ambitious, but a few of the race calculators out there said I could do it.  I would need to run at a pace of 9:09 a mile or less.  I had run the half marathon at exactly 9 minutes per mile, so I told myself that with the additional fitness I gained over the summer, I could do a marathon at that pace.

The starting line of the race was the Meyersdale Area Historical Society, a historic train station. The runners would head east on the Great Allegheny Passage for about 2 miles.  The trail had a hardly noticeable downgrade in this direction.  After crossing the 1900 foot Salisbury Viaduct, the runners would turn around and head west on the GAP for a slightly uphill 6.55 miles, passing the starting area and crossing two other trestle bridges before again turning around and going back to the starting area for a total of 13.1 miles.  For the half marathon runners, the journey would end there.  Those running the full marathon would repeat the course to get to 26.2 miles.

A nice feature of the course was that we would pass the starting area three times during the race, at miles 4, 13, and 17.  This allowed my family to supply me with fuel on the way through.  I supplied them with three bottles of water mixed with TailWind Endurance powder, and also three small bags, each containing a few pretzels and half a banana.  Each time through, I would take one of the drinks and one of the bags of food.

Ty and I started the race running at an 8:50 pace.  We felt great and everything went well for a time.  Kelsey and Cole, Ty’s children who were running the half, fell behind us slightly over the first few miles. The downhill grade was hardly noticeable, but when we made the turn-around 2 miles out, we could tell it got a bit harder for the 6.55 mile uphill stretch.

My Garmin Forerunner 15 can display only average pace or current pace, but not both.  On longer races, I typically set it to show average pace. By the half way point, it showed we were averaging 8:52 per mile.  I was still feeling great and optimistic that I’d meet our four-hour goal. After the turn-around at mile 15, we slowed a bit as we headed east on the final uphill stretch. By the time we passed the start/finish area at mile 17, our average pace was showing about 8:55, but we were still ahead of the game.

At that point, things started to get rough.  My appetite was gone, and I didn’t think my stomach could take any more pretzels.  I nibbled on the banana for a mile or two, and finally discarded the last bite.   My last bottle of tailwind drink was about gone, and I was glad because I was having trouble taking that as well.  Now I was craving water, and that was all my stomach would handle.

Ty started to move away from me a bit as our average pace started creeping up.  By mile 19 it was about 9:05, which meant our current pace had slowed considerably,  and I knew I was in trouble. Ty was about 150 feet ahead of me and I yelled to him to go on without me. I hoped that somehow I would be able to keep my average below the target 9:09 until the turn around at mile 21.5, and then I’d have the downhill grade to help me. But it wasn’t going to happen.

I had heard that late in a marathon, the challenge is more mental than physical, and now I was experiencing that firsthand.  My heart rate seemed fine.  I wasn’t out of breath.  There really wasn’t anything physically holding me back from keeping the pace except the severe pain in my legs. My body was screaming at me to slow down or stop, and my mind was starting to give in.

At mile 20 I let go of my goal of finishing in under four hours. Meeting two of three goals wasn’t too bad, I told myself, and I could be satisfied with that.  As I approached the turn around, I met Ty coming back the other way.  I glanced at my watch. “You’re in good shape for a 4 hour finish”, I said as he passed.  It read 9:12 average pace, and he was well ahead of me.  “They have Coke at the next aid station”, he called over his shoulder.

The downhill grade after the turnaround was too little, too late.  My current pace picked up slightly, but my average kept slipping. Ty had told me that Coke was “rocket fuel” late in the race, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I grabbed one on the way through next aid station, but could only drink about two swallows.  My stomach was in no shape for rocket fuel.

I was all alone now, except for occasionally passing runners going the other direction.  Somewhere along the way I passed a small group of people running together.  One of them had the name “Larry” printed on his shirt, and the words “1900 marathons and counting”.  I later learned he was the famous “Larry the Marathon Maniac“, who has indeed completed almost 2000 marathons and has been featured by ESPN  and several times in Runner’s World.

At the next water station I grabbed two cups of water.  I guzzled most of both, and then poured the rest over my head in effort to stay cool. I was suffering now, and the mental battle was getting worse. Why was I stupid enough to sign up for this? What’s the point of running 26.2 miles, anyway?  I wanted so badly to walk a few steps, but my stubbornness would not allow it.  I had suffered this far, and I wasn’t going to give up on the second of my three goals.

I started to mumble a hymn to myself as I ran, something that has helped me through some hard patches during training runs. Somehow the hymns that came to mind seemed to fit well with my situation:

O land of rest for thee I sigh!
When will the moment come
When I shall lay my armor by
And dwell in peace at home?

I had lost track of the miles now.  I knew my watch could tell me if I pressed the button on the side to flip to the next screen of data, but I didn’t want to know. All I could do is just continue to put one foot in front of the other.

I knew there was one more water station, and I desperately needed water.  But there was a slight dilemma:  the last water station was unmanned, meaning that if I wanted water I’d have to stop and fill up my cup myself.   To this point, I had never stopped.  I had always grabbed what I needed on the run.  I would either have to finish without more water, or let go of goal #2, which was to run all the way.

As it turned out, there was a third option: as I approached the water station, a familiar figure was there, pouring water over his head. Ty had been well ahead of me, so he must have ran into trouble.  “Hey, pour me two cups of water”, I yelled ahead.  “I am going to die!”, I shouted, jokingly referring to stage 5 of the 8 Stages of Marathon Running. I swiped the water off the table as I ran past, and asked him if he was OK.  “Got some severe cramps, but I’ll finish”, he said.

My watch beeped, and this time I allowed myself to look down. Mile 25. I was going to make it.  I kept looking back, thinking Ty was surely going to overtake me, but he was nowhere to be seen. He must be hurting bad, I thought. If it was humanly possible, he would be giving me some competition. It’s not often his office-dwelling brother has an opportunity to beat him at a sporting event.

My watched beeped again and the finish line came into view. A much-needed surge of adrenaline allowed me to break into a sprint for the last 50 yards. The time was 4 hours, 12 minutes and 45 seconds.  Ten minutes later, Ty walked gingerly across the finish line as well. The year-long journey was over.

Final Notes & related links

In addition to Larry the Marathon Maniac, we also shared the course with a woman who is attempting to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 52 states/districts/territories.

GAP Trestles Marathon Info
GAP Trestles Marathon 2017 results
Meyersdale Area Historical Society
Great Allegheny Passage

Scouting the Gap Trestles Marathon Course

Two Saturdays ago my family and I paid a visit to the location of the Gap Trestles Marathon to scout out the course.  The race starts and ends at the Meyersdale Area Historical Society, an old train station that has been made into a museum.  If you like to walk, run or bike; or if you are a railroad enthusiast, it is definitely worth a visit!  Below are some photos and videos I took while I was there.

Here are some video clips of the course that I recorded during my bike ride:

Altra Instinct 3.0 vs One 2.5

When I first considered purchasing a pair of Altra running shoes, I was pretty confused over all of the different styles and versions available.  After some head scratching, I eventually purchased a pair of Instinct 3.0s, and a few months later, added a pair of One 2.5s.  I still do not have a complete knowledge of the entire Altra product line, but now that I have a couple hundred miles in each of these shoes, it is time to share what I know so far.

You can think of this as two reviews in one. I will take look at what both shoes have in common, what differences they have, and then share my final thoughts.

Commonalities

Zero heal-to-toe drop

Altra Instinct 3.0

There are two things that all Altra shoes have in common.  First, they no heel-to-toe drop.  Altra calls this common feature “zero-drop”.  The vast majority of shoes on the market have a heel that is quit a bit higher than the forefoot, or toe, area.  I don’t know all the reasons why shoes are made this way.  There has been a consensus for a long time amount health professionals that high-heeled shoes typically worn by women aren’t good for you.  Yet almost every shoe on the planet has a heel at least a little higher than the two. Altra’s philosophy is that the foot works best when it is in it’s natural position, which is flat.  For that reason, all of Altra’s shoe are “zero-drop”.

Wide toe box

The second feature in common amount all Altra shoes is what they call the “foot-shape toe box”.  Basically, its a wide, roomy space at the front of your foot so your toes don’t get squeezed.   It gives the shoes a boxy look that some people criticize as being kind of ugly. The shoes aren’t sleek and pointed.  They are basically shaped like feet, which is a good thing even if it means they are not pretty.

Neutral

The other thing the Instinct and the One have in common is that they are both neutral shoes.  They have cushioning, but arch support is fairly minimal, which is right for most runners out there.

Differences

Cushioning

Altra One 2.5

Altra has several cushioning levels: light, moderate, high and max. The Instinct has moderate cushioning, and the One has light cushioning.  The difference is enough that you notice it, but my legs and feet typically don’t feel any different after running with these shoes.  I’ve run a half marathon in the Ones and wouldn’t be afraid to run a full marathon in them.

Weight

The first things you’ll notice about the Ones is that they are very light.  They weigh in at 6.6 ounces, where the Instincts come in at 8.1 ounces.  The fabric on the top of Ones is also very thin – there is no insulation whatsoever, in case that matters to you.

Other differences

The One has a wider toe box than the Instinct.  My Instincts felt roomy until I starting use the Ones.  Now the Instincts feel a bit cramp.  The One is also a more flexible shoe than Instinct, giving you a better feel for the ground.  I like that feeling on the road, but if I’m on a trail where there might be some large pebbles, I’d rather be running in Instincts.  Of course, for trail running, neither of these shoes are the best choice because neither have a large amount of tread.  One of Altra’s Trail running shoes would be a better choice for that.

The One has one design flaw: the grooves in the sole pick up pebbles. This happens in almost every run I do with them.  This really doesn’t cause any issues at all when I’m running.  But I always be careful when I’m finished to make sure there are not stuck pebbles before I go indoors.  I don’t like to leave pebbles laying around in the house or scratch the floor.

Final Thoughts

I like both pairs of shoes, but if I had to chose one or the other, I would pick the Ones.  They are the most comfortable shoe I’ve every put my foot into.  They are my favorite shoe for road running and my favorite for everyday use and walking.  But I like to change things up so I don’t run in the same shoe every day.  I still wear my Instincts from time to time, especially if my feet are feeling a bit sore from the previous one.

Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll be getting Altra’s zero drop, wide toe box goodness; both of which I find it very uncomfortable to do without.

 

 

From Office Chair to Half Marathon

Staying in shape was not a problem in my growing up years. Between working on the farm and playing with my friends at school, I did a good job of staying on the move.  But when I reached the age of 20, things started to change.  I started a business of fixing computers, something that soon was keeping me busy for long hours. Still, I found time to play softball one or two nights a week, plus some volleyball now and then.

By the time I hit 30, there were more changes.  I was a husband and a father, and other priorities had crowded out my playing of sports. Now it was just time at work and time with the family.  I got more into hunting and fishing, but that doesn’t add up to a whole lot when it comes to building physical fitness.  Life was great, but physically some undesirable things were happening.  By the time I was approaching 40, my waistline was steadily growing.  I could not run more than 50 feet or climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath.  It was time to take action.

In April of 2016, at age 39, I signed up for a local 5k, the Strawberry Stampede 5k.  I didn’t like running, but I had to do something.  And I still had enough of a competitive spirit that having the race on the calendar would keep me running even though I would hate it.  I used my vehicle to measure out a roughly 3.1 mile section of roadway, and I started to train.  At first, it was mostly walking, with a little running mixed in. It was brutal.  Before long, I started getting a variety of running aliments.  Sore calves.  Shin splints.  Runner’s diarrhea.  It seemed my whole body was unhappy with my decision to run.

Landry crosses the finish line

By the time race day arrived, I had worked through most of those ailments.  The race was brutal, like my training.  I pushed myself as hard as I could, but still had to walk much of the way.  I finished in about 30 minutes – right in the middle of the pack. I was delighted to get an award  for finishing second in my age group.  Then I realized that I was one of only two 30-39 year old males in the race, so the medal was basically a finisher’s medal.  My 9-year-old son Landry finished in around 27 minutes, good enough for first male under 12.

I still didn’t like running, but crossing that finish line was rewarding, and my competitive spirit kept me running for a few more weeks. I rewarded myself by purchasing a pair of Altra Instinct running shoes. Soon I found I could “run” the whole 3.1 mile distance.  It was quite slow, more like a jog, but nobody wants  to be a jogger, so I called it running.

And then the unthinkable happened:  I started to enjoy it. Running was still hard, but physically it started to pay off.  I had more energy. I didn’t need as much sleep. In fact, the amount of time I spent running was more than made up for by the extra time I was awake. I could actually sing in church without running out of breath or getting light-headed. Over time, running became easier and my speed increased.   In July I ran the Shippensburg Fair 5k and finished in 25:45.  In August I ran the Bremenfest 5k and finished in 24:45.

When Crystal turned 40, she and I had taken an overnight trip to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to celebrate.  With my 40th birthday looming, it was my turn to decide on a destination.  When I stumbled on the Runner’s World Half and Festival in Bethlehem, PA, I knew that was the place.

Crystal ran the 5k and I ran the 10k.  I had set a goal of finishing it in under 50, and it took everything I had to finish in 49:48. It was probably a bit too ambitious of a goal, because within a few minutes after crossing the finish line, I had a severe case of IT band syndrome that left me hobbling for a day or two and then fighting with it during my runs for several weeks.

On thanksgiving day Crystal, Landry and I all ran the Greencastle Turkey trot.

Then I took the plunge and signed up for the Chambersburg Half Marathon, which was scheduled for March 11, 2017.  My plan was to train for distance and use the Chambersburg Half as a training run to prepare for the Garden Spot Village Marathon in April.  But my plans took a turn for the worse in December when I rolled my ankle during a run and pain shot through my knee.  I suspect I had a mild LCL sprain.  I never got it diagnosed, but it made running more than a mile impossible for about a month.  It was February before I could start building mileage again.  I still wanted to run the half, but I knew it was foolish to plan for a full marathon in April.

I had to ramp up my mileage rather quickly in order to be ready for race day.  I did weekly long runs of 6, 8, and 10 miles in the weeks leading up to the half marathon in addition to my usual two 3-mile runs each of those weeks.  Somehow, I made it to race day without any further problems.  I knew better than to set an ambitious goal this time, so I decided to shoot for a 9 minute mile pace, which would put me at the finish line in just under two hours.

Race day turned out to be cold.  At the starting line, it was about 18 degrees F and 10 degrees with the wild-chill factored in.  I had never run a race in this kind of weather but somehow I ended up wearing just the right amount of clothing.  Once I started running, I was comfortable. The easier pace made it a very enjoyable race.  I felt great until about mile 12.  At that point, my legs started telling me it was time to stop.  But I kept them moving and crossed the finish line in 1:57:54.  My family was cheering me on as I approached the finish line.  By the time I had collected my finisher’s medal, they had escaped to the vehicle to warm up.  Landry collected a few video clips and put together a nice highlight reel of the race.

Running has been a life-changing experience for me. It has become a form of therapy.  My weekend long run is something I look forward to all week. Running is a time to enjoy nature, to reflect, and even to worship.  And in the process of doing something I enjoy, I’ve lost 25 pounds and feel about as good physically as anytime I can remember.

This Saturday, I plan to once again run the Strawberry Stampede 5K, the race that started it all a year ago.   My goal will be the same as it was a year ago, to cross the finish line.


Note: Because running is a bit off-topic for my Great Cove Adventures YouTube Channel, I have started separate channel for my running-related videos.  To visit and subscribe, click here