In the context of a marathon the word usually means there’s dust collectors for you to take home (a towel, a mug, a pint glass, a water bottle, a sweatshirt, whatever). The Steamtown marathon has swag in the urban dictionary sense of the word. They’ve got confidence, swagger, and they punch above their weight. It’s a mid-size marathon in a mid-size city that gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop in pop culture (Hello, “The Office”) but the people are proud of their community, and they come out in a big way to support its marathon. At 5 am I arrived on my shuttle bus to the start greeted by teenage cheerleaders (actual cheerleaders) cheering for us. An army of volunteers took the arriving runners to the gear check, to pick up your bib, to portapotties, to the gym. The whole thing works like clockwork. It was amazing.
The gym where we waited for the start had signs above the bleachers with goal finish times so you could (1) find your friends, and meet new people you will probably be spending the next few hours with. As a result I sat in the 4:30+ section since in my previous day I was 4:50 and today was probably going to be worse, and started talking to a group of runners. I met Larry and Brad, from New York. They know Karen, of Karen and Glenn fame, and for the first 15ish miles I stayed with them chatting about races, bad jokes, and the like. It was a great time, and the segregated bleachers idea I’ve never seen that. Of course you don’t have to sit in your area, but I think it was a good idea.
I was trying to keep my eyes peeled, for Joe who I had met with his lovely wife Yvone at White Continent but I wasn’t able to find him in the gym. I did however run into Fort Lauderdale amigo Sal, who was running his first marathon and trying to stay warm in the Pennsylvania autumn. I pre-congratulated him on his PR before we had to head out to the start.
As I said I spent the first 15 miles with Brad and Larry, doing a run walk strategy. Their run was just a bit too strong for me so I fell back about 15 and just tried to hold on. As I fell further back I saw Kate, who lives in Connecticut. She said she’d done this race several times and loved it, and I can easily see why. Once I had stopped talking I was able to enjoy the sights of the fall colors along the bike path that much of the race used. We wended our way through several small towns where total strangers were handing out candy, water, beer, you name it.
We were warned about the hills in the last 3 miles. Truth be told, for a Floridian there were more than just those hills, but none were particularly difficult, but in the last 3 miles I can see some folks feeling like they were climbing Kilimanjaro. I’m sure I crested them slower than I imagine in my mind’s eye, but they weren’t bad at all. Ultimately as we came into the finisher chute I heard John (a part time Pennsylvanian who also runs with us in Fort Lauderdale) and Sal who had completed his marathon an hour ago. I was touched that they waited for me that long on a cold day. Running isn’t a very exciting spectator sport, and when you’re done I can totally understand the instinct to want to be out of there as soon as possible so it was great to see them, and I was able to hang out for an hour or so before having to return to Hartford to fly home.
I really can’t say enough good things about this race. One of my long range goals is to complete a marathon in all 50 states five times. This race was my 5th Pennsylvania, so there’s really no need for me to do another Pennsylvania race again. And yet, I’d like to do Philly, and I plan to repeat this race and spend a bit more time in the city, which I think is actually pretty cool, no matter what the Office wants you to think.