Race Recap: The Lehigh Valley Marathon

Greetings from the city so nice, they named it twice—it’s been awhile. (Jesus, it appears that I say that often.) There’s a lot going on over here, so let’s get right down to business.

So You Ran Another Marathon: Hold Up, Wait a Minute

Earlier this spring, I finally qualified for Boston at the Eugene Marathon—but only by 28 seconds.

In the weeks that followed, I contemplated what my next steps would be. One morning, I (literally) ran into my gal pal, Sophie. She had a terrible Boston experience this April as she had the flu (this is what we call foreshadowing), and asked me if I would sign up for the Lehigh Valley Marathon with her for redemption purposes.

Knowing what I was enduring in my personal life, I acquiesced. (I mean…I had nothing but time on my hands.)

I contacted my coach and told her to kick my ass. After all, I knew I needed a serious distraction—a healthy one at that—and who better to give me one than my bad ass lady friend?

And boy, did she hand it to me. I was given an aggressive 12-week training plan where I was performing workouts that I have never done before. I channeled everything—my aggression, my sadness, my depression, my rage—into my running. Let me be clear, I can typically zone out while I’m running, especially during a workout, but this new level of stress, anxiety, and aggression made me drop the hammer. I became extremely good at going out for a bottle of rosé at night and then nailing mile repeats at a 7:00 pace the morning immediately following.

See? Let it be known that I fueled on nachos, natch. #portraitofhealth #donottrythisathome

During the first week of New York City’s famed Summer Streets in which you see everyone and their mother, I felt like I was flying—and I was. At one point, Susan asked me why were sprinting. I told her I felt good. It was the first time in my life that I dropped a sub-7:00 pace over the course of several miles, something I’ve never even done in a 5K.

I had now become one of the “fast” friends of the group. I was continually hearing how I was going to “crush” my race. If anything at all, this new found speed was giving me a confidence boost that I so needed while everything else was going to shit.

The Lone Taper On The Lone Island & Also Raleigh-Durham

Needing a serious respite and to catch up on my mountain of work—in case you missed it, we launched the first statewide Michelin guide for the U.S. back in June—I took the final two weeks of August to taper in North Carolina, my personal place of solitude.

And while I was able to relax a bit, focus on my job, and enjoy so much quality time with my tribe, the running part grew arduous…not exacltly a shock given that North Carolina in August feels like hell’s front porch. Between the heat and what was happening internally, my head was unraveling. Long runs were cut short due to fatigue. My diet was now completely out the window. And, for whatever reason, I was waking up at 5:48 a.m. every single day, regardless of what time I went to bed. (Even after an adult Field Day birthday party, in which I stayed up well past my bedtime, and then ran in the summer sun at high noon. My mom offered me Bojangle’s, it’s fine.) My confidence was now shifting into fear and dread.

Happiness is working on the beach with one of your besties…and salty legs. (While simultaneously killing 17 horseflies. #everythingisfine)

Planning For Battle & Execution

The days leading up to race weekend weren’t any better. I was now back in New York, gearing up for my work’s busy season, and the only thing I truly wanted to do was run every day, whether it be a hard track workout or long distance. (But I couldn’t because of that aforementioned fucking taper.)

By 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning I was wide awake. (And subsequently, a zombie at work.) I tried to keep my diet on point, but my stress was rejecting food. I was now forcing calories.

I tossed and turned all Friday night, too, and was wide awake by 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning—not exactly ideal two nights prior to 26.2. So, I decided to take my sweet ass time getting ready for the weekend, packing and showering before I leisurely made my way over to NYRR for Ali’s live podcast with Nikki Hiltz and Allie Ostrander, and finally to lunch with my comrade and travel partner, Sophie.

At this point, my entire being was filled with every single emotion. I went over my plan with my coach: run the first 5K at 8:00, drop to a 7:50 until 16, reassess, and either stay at 7:50 or drop it down. “Keep channeling that aggression—it’s done well for you.” I was ready. My Irish temper and rage was sky-high. I wanted to execute.

I Wish I Was a Baller

As it was early Saturday afternoon in the Tri-state, driving to Lehigh Valley went off without a hitch—I was in charge of tunes and driving, while Sophie “navigated.” (Spoiler alert: I did that, too.) We descended upon the “expo” (I use this term lightly as it was…quite small) around 3:00 p.m., grabbed our bibs/swag, and made our way to the Holiday Inn Express in Easton, aka destination finish line and our humble abode for evening.

We toured all that Easton, Pennsylvania has to offer, including the Crayola Experience, which I had actually heard about from Walsh prior to our arrival. Being kids at heart, we checked it out—and 10 minutes in, I immediately regretted our decision. (Who the actual fuck decides to jump into a cesspool of germs hours before running a marathon? These jokers, that’s who.)

Regardless of (more) bad decisions being made, dinner proved to be a delight, as Sophie and I actually got to catch up about real life events and not just running. (Side note: kind staff of Sette Luna restaurant, traditional Bolognese does not include cream.)

Back at the hotel, we did all the pre-race events: lay out le bib person, hydrate, ask for a late checkout, go over race strategy and exit plan yet again, and lights out by 10:00 p.m.

Excuse me, kind sir, can you please escort me to the finish? Please and thanks.

Race Day

I woke up at 4:50 a.m. feeling 70%.

Something was off. My throat was scratchy—even though I strategically took my allergy pill the night before—and I was really tired, regardless of sleeping for almost seven hours straight. I had been receiving well wishes from friends and family, and that I was supposedly going to “crush it,” or something. But due to how I was feeling, I was beginning to doubt myself.

Sophie and I departed for the start line at 6:00 a.m. sharp, we listened to all the necessary pre-race jams including the intro to Dave Matthews Band’s “Two Step” à la Listener Supported approximately 12 times, and were sitting next to the start line by 6:30 a.m.

The Lehigh Valley Marathon start is both small and uneventful. “Corrals” consist of the following: 10:00 pace; 8:00 pace; 6:00 pace. No tape. No pace groups. No national anthem. Just a gun.

And away you go.

The Front Half: Oh, So It’s Actually a Trail Run

I crossed the start mat at exactly 7:10 a.m., which is race start time, which probably never happens to me, ever. The first mile was by and large downhill, and runners were flying out the gate. Not a beginner to the net downhill course, I told myself to relax and execute the plan accordingly, pumping the breaks and hovering around an 8:00 pace. The weather, though cool, was fairly humid.

Through the first five miles, I desparately tried to avoid whatever it was that I was feeling (did I get the flu in the crayon factory?), and focused on pace while taking in the scenic parks I was running through. (And not barfing on the v large hill at mile 4. Who put that there?)

I was now dropping down to a 7:50, except really, it was more around 7:45. Just like training, it felt easier to go faster than slower. (Also, #netdownhill.) I was manually lapping every mile, except for mile 6 because I somehow missed it, and my sore throat be damned, I was elated to see that I was practically metronoming. I had my pace locked in and noticed that I was running with a group of bad ass women who all looked like they had come to qualify for Boston.

Then, we were on a trail. Specifically, on a stretch with two single-file trails complete with a grassy median. I was now cruising with two ladies from Memphis, as well as some douchebag who—shocker!—wouldn’t let us pass him. (This occurence happens to me at least once a week. I beg of you, all men, everywhere, STOP IT.)

Somewhere around mile 8, I started to actually feel sick. Did I need to go to a med tent? How was this even possible? I wanted Gatorade, but there wasn’t an aid station in sight. (Reminder: we were in the woods.) In fact, I wouldn’t see one until shortly after 11.5. I pulled over, filled up my handheld, and chugged a cup of Gatorade, all the while telling the volunteer that it was both “hot” and that “the back half would be miz.”

Two very accurate statements.

Shortly after mile 12, I pulled over and called the one person whom I knew would get my shit together: Bojo.

“Hey.”

“Where are you?”

“Mile 12. I feel like I’m going to pass out.”

(Bojana, however, was in Barcelona, and not about to pass out.)

“Is this your head?”

“No, I really don’t feel well. I feel like I could literally lay down and go to sleep for awhile.”

“Abbs, forget the race, there will be others. Take a walk. Get yourself to an aid station. Pump yourself with liquids.”

“Okay. Stay tuned.”

I walked-ran between 12 and 13, and reached another aid station where I would slam three more cups of Gatorade.

Onward.

Splits:

Mile 1: 7:58
Mile 2: 8:03
Mile 3: 8:04
Mile 4: 7:49
Mile 5: 7:57 (hill!)
Mile 6 & 7: 15:38 (7:46 avg. pace)
Mile 8: 7:47
Mile 9: 7:48
Mile 10: 8:00
Mile 11: 7:49
Mile 12: 9:14
Mile 13: 9:20

The Back Half: We Out Here

I came through the half split around 1:45, knowing full well that I would certainly not have the same back half split. Though I started to feel better, I grew angry that I had trained so damn hard and was practically already throwing in the towel. I had gone through so much this year. I earned this. I tried channeling that aggression into my legs—which still felt solid, mind you—but my heart was overwhelmed with sadness.

Somewhere around 15, I saw a familiar face—one of the aforementioned pack of women I was with at mile 5. She had now slowed to a walk. I pulled up beside her and said, “Oooooh HAIL no, you’re a bad ass and a hero, and now you’re going to plod along with me.” She thanked me, and I got to know a bit about my new friend out here on this D&L Trail here in sunny Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her name was Ally, a Pennsylvania native who was also vying for a 3:27 finish time.

For the next few miles, Ally and I would play a game of cat-and-mouse. She was aiding a stitch, and I was still trying to make sure I wouldn’t pass out.

Around 18, I felt blisters forming on my feet, fairly early in the game for me, but nothing I couldn’t shake at that point.

More miles, more trail. The sun was now high above my head and I felt like I was running through the canopy of a rainforest…but in Pennsylvania. I kept eyeing the adjacent Lehigh River, wanting to stop and jump in—after all, my tank, which is the lightest I own, had been hanging off of me like a wet rag since mile 3.

My mile 20, my quads were fading. I was now walking any and all uphills for the final 10K, which ended up being quite a few because, again, who designed this course?

I don’t remember much else in the final 10K. I remember several personal thoughts swimming through my head. I remember hanging with an older gentleman around 23. I remember crossing a bridge, which is where the road finally went from trail to paved, a beacon of hope and good fortune.

Then, as I was walking up the last hill on the last bridge, as I approached the mile 26 marker, a beautiful thing happened: “NOW IS NOT THE TIME, ABBE!” It was Ally, who had caught up to me, again, because she’s a bad ass and true hero. “We’re finishing this together.”

We rounded the corner onto Larry Holmes Drive (act like you know it) and spotted the finish line. She gave me the kick I needed, and we were both now moving at a 7:00 pace. Generally speaking, I usually tear up as I approach the finish line. Not today—all of the rage and sadness had turned into complete and utter glee, and I couldn’t contain the smile on my face.

“Hands up!,” Ally said as we approached the finish line. We high fived, crossed the finish at 3:43, and hugged and thanked each other.

Splits:

Mile 14: 8:58
Mile 15: 8:23
Mile 16: 8:23
Mile 17: 8:36
Mile 18: 9:19
Mile 19: 8:41
Mile 20: 8:32
Mile 21: 9:38
Mile 22: 9:05
Mile 23: 8:43
Mile 24: 9:31
Mile 25: 8:51
Mile 26: 9:04
.25: 1:42 (6:58 pace)

Le Finale:
26.47 miles (yeeeesh, #ultra)
3:43:05

The Aftermath

I met up with Sophie, who achieved her Boston redemption with a solid 3:26, and we went to retrieve our free post-race beers.

Our exit strategy was simple: get the fuck out. Shower wine was had (probably should have investigated for ticks, but, whatever), and we were on the road.

And then I fell silent.

I was now fielding congratulatory texts from friends and family. And when I would get the, “how are you feeling?” text, my response was consistently the following: “TBD.”

Truthfully, I didn’t know how to feel. I felt both physically and emotionally destroyed and hollow. My personal life has taken such a large dip and I was banking on this being a huge high for me. Instead, it was like the universe said, “nope!” and slapped me in the face.

But after much thought, this was a high for me. In fact, it was a win. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to get inside my head. I know I’m my own worst enemy. I somehow managed to pull myself together very early on in a marathon and finish with my second best time in the eight years I’ve been doing this masochistic shit.

On top of that, I made a friend. Sophie asked me how I always manage to meet people in races, and I told her it’s just something I do—it’s one of the many reasons I fucking love this sport. (Ask Sophie or myself how we met each other. It’s a fun story.)

I don’t know if I’ll be able to toe the line in Boston next spring with my 3:34:32. And that’s okay. I’ve pushed myself hard this year—harder than I ever thought possible—and I’ve come out stronger because of it.


To my tribe, thank you. I fucking love you.

And to my coach, this one’s for you.

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