After eight straight years of doing the Philly Marathon, which I love and is pretty much the perfect setting for a 26.2-mile race, I decided to do something different this fall. Looking into various October and November races in the area, I chose the Bucks County Marathon because it was a smaller race—okay, very small, capped at 500 runners—and most importantly, it would be a new experience for me.
There were also two other small considerations for this grumpy old runner:
1. It was one week earlier than Philly. This meant the race might not be as cold, and I might not be as tired from training (one less week means a lot to old legs).
2. It was a 9:00 am start and you could park 50 yards from the starting line (crazy, right?). There would be no standing/hopping around for an hour after parking a half-mile away, battling bathroom lines, and waiting for all of the corrals to start.
This sounded great. I signed up in June and was very excited to begin my training cycle.
Sadly, your training does not always go as planned, especially when you’re a spaz and fall off a ladder trying to clean out your gutters in early August. I got two bad contusions on my left shin and took a direct hit to my knee. I kept training though, not as hard, and the pain persisted. I finally wised up and visited my doctor in October. He said to shut it down. No race. Rest up. I took his advice to heart but I really wanted to run the race because I paid for it, and I ran a couple of 18-milers during training and the pain was bearable.
I started physical therapy three weeks ago and my therapist Justin was great. He showed me some good, practical exercises that would strengthen my knee and stretched/massaged the hell out the area a few times to get the blood flowing. It helped. My knee felt better. I decided I would indeed run/jog through my 21st marathon since 2009.
The morning did not start out great. It was 29 degrees when arrived at the parking lot at 8:00 pm. I had trouble willing my body to get out of the car. It was freezing but thankfully, there was no wind. Adding to the pre-race anxiety, my new wireless headphones did not fire up because they were not charged properly. So no tunes during the race. “No big deal,” I thought. I can run without my finely curated list of motivational jams , but in hindsight, they would have helped greatly in the last 6 miles.
I finally got out of the car, stretched a bit, downed another banana and Powerade, and visited a nice uncrowded, non-port-o-john, indoor bathroom. Twice (it’s important, you don’t want to make a pit stop during the race).
It was now 9:00 am and 32 degrees and time to run.
The course was lovely, rustic and mostly flat. It was a straight 13-mile shot up from Washington Crossing Historic Park to somewhere past New Hope and back. We ran along the Canal towpath. The path was cozy, about five feet across at its widest and in some stretches, it closed in to about two feet across. It was most gravel and dirt, a nice change from the blacktops of city marathons. At some points in the race, you had the canal on one side and the river on the other. Very majestic. There were also numerous giant homes to gawk at. Sadly, no dogs were romping around in the yards.
Despite the frigid start, it was decent running weather. Like I mentioned before, no wind. The temperature eventually rose to about 45 degrees by the end of the race. I wore shorts with a built-in compression liner, a cotton blend undershirt and an old Marathon long sleeve to let everyone know I have slogged through one of these bad boys before.
The key to surviving a cold race is simple: hat, gloves and Vaseline on the face. I had them all, and for the first time ever I did not remove my gloves. Cheap mesh gloves like the ones I wear ($2 at running expos) are also great for wiping your nose.
There was very little crowd support and that was fine for the first 13 miles but after you turn around and have to experience the same course again with no new distractions or scenery, it gets a little lonely. The race was well organized and there were the proper amount of hydration stations with extremely nice volunteers offering encouragement. Sometimes, near the end of a race, you want to hug every volunteer. Make sure your thank them all.
I don’t run with any fluids, just 4 GU packs—two with caffeine and two without—so having the stations at the right mile markers is extremely helpful.
My dumb knee held up okay for the first 20 miles. I changed my stride over the past couple months to help with the pain. I ran taller with less bend in the knee. It also made me a bit slower, which was fine with me. I am in my late 40s and I know my 3:36 PR was never going to happen again. Being around the 4-hour mark is my new norm/goal. With the bum knee, I was hoping for around 4:20.
I was shooting for a 9:20/pace for the first 20, knowing the last 6.2 would be much much slower but when Mile 21 hit, oh boy, my knee got angry and very week and I began a very laborious 5-mile shuffle homeward. I had to stop a couple times to stretch and give it a rest. Knowing this knee problem would probably happen helped deflect the usual despair of running into an unexpected wall or injury. I was okay with it and honestly, the only thing that kept me going was knowing I had a 20-ounce bottle of Coke in my car.
Yes, soda. After every long run, I gulp down 20 ounces of a refreshing carbonated mixture of sugar, carbs and caffeine like a greedy child at a 7-11 soda fountain. For some reason, this beverage helps my short-term recovery tremendously. Thank you, Coke! Or Pepsi! Whatever is cheaper.
I did a recent podcast interview with Philly running coach Gerard Pescatore and we talked about the sometimes lonely and always emotional aspect of distance running. Even with people running near you, it can feel like a solitary endeavor. This race was small and there were stretches when I was actually alone. It was good and bad. I did think about falling in the canal a few times and if anyone would notice or see me floating by. Is it cheating if I float for part of the race?
I usually tear up a bit at the end of every distance race due to exhaustion and mostly the joy of finishing and accomplishing a goal. I was a bit emotional at the end of this one. With about a quarter mile to go, a boy who looked about 18, passed me. His dad rolled up on a bike.
“Hey buddy. Almost there.”
“I’m going to ride to the finish line so I can take your photo.”
I pretty much lost it. It was a quick yet cathartic cry filled with good thoughts about my Dad and all the people who support you in all the weird and hard-to-explain things you do/try in life.
I sprinted the last 30 yards (in better days it would have been the last 100 yards), crossed the finished, said “Hell yeah” to myself, and walked straight to my car, congratulating other runners along the way.
I fished at 4:17:16 (106 out of 191 entrants). I was happy with the time and despite the setback, I enjoyed the experience.
Verdict: The Bucks County Marathon is a small, well-organized race for those who want to get away from all the hoopla and crowds of a big city marathon and spend some quality time with nature and your own deep (Why do I do this?) and not-so-deep (I have so much laundry to fold when I get home.) thoughts.
Despite my bad knee, chilly temps and numerous YOU CAN’T DO IT JEFF LYONS signs, I just finished my 21st marathon since 2009 (19 – 26.2s, 2 – 50 milers). pic.twitter.com/qNICNSPnhf
— Jeff Lyons (@usedwigs) November 12, 2017
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