When Bess and I lined up at the start of the Steamtown Marathon yesterday, we had one goal in mind: to enjoy the ride. Sure, we had some abstract thoughts about pace and finish time, but when it came down to it, we simply wanted to clear the air after Jersey last May.
At 8:00 AM on the dot, the race director fired off a Civil War cannon, and we were on our way. The course began at Forrest City High School, and took runners on a scenic point-to-point route back to the lovely town of Scranton, PA. We ran down small town main streets, across playground-laden neighborhood parks, along desolate coal town roads, and through hard-packed dirt riverside trails, all the while taking in the glorious fall foliage.
We had been told that the course started off with 8 solid downhill miles, before leveling off for the middle 12 and rolling the final 6 to the finish. While there was certainly a negative elevation gain over the first half of the course, there were also a handful of sharp ascents that left most runners around us looking around at each other for confirmation that they weren’t going crazy. Still, for the first 14 miles, I felt fantastic, finding my rhythm early, settling into a quick pace, and enjoying the energy of the crowds and the snippets of conversation with fellow participants.
Somewhere between mile 14 and 15, my body started to give way. Maybe it was the lack of consistent training, or the fact that I had been sick for the week leading up to the race, but all of a sudden, I became light-headed and nauseous, my legs cramped up and my back tightened. As I said to Bess, even my kidneys hurt. My pace slowed dramatically as I tried to get a handle on things, but even though I struggled physically through the remaining 12 miles, mentally, I was able to stick with it. Sure, there were moments when I questioned whether I could finish, times when I contemplated stopping on the side of the ride. But then someone would blast Eye of the Tiger or Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch from their car radio, or a man with a prosthetic leg would tell me I was looking strong, or an entire street of spectators would break out into the Macarena, and I couldn’t help but smile and keep moving.
Bess and I ran the entire race together. We laughed. We sang. We danced. We chatted with other racers, plotted our next adventures, smiled with mouths full of oranges, and took in the day. And when we crossed the finish line in downtown Scranton, our hands high in the air, she yelled triumphantly, “redemption.”