Picking My Best Race
When thinking about my best race, my mind immediately traveled back to my marathons. I’ve run 148 races, 40 of which were marathons, and despite not running a marathon in ten years, I skim over all the other races and land on the 1999 Steamtown Marathon as my best race. What’s not to love about your PR race, the race you talked your friends into running with you after reading that Runner’s World ranked it as one of the nation’s top ten fastest marathons.
The Steamtown Marathon could have gone so very differently… just two weeks prior to race day I slept funny on my knee which resulted in a painful limp and not being able to run for several days. Race day brought torrential rain from the moment we started until after the last runner crossed the finish line and all that rain made me have to stop to pee costing at least a minute. And even though I knew the race course had a steep downhill start and grueling uphills near the finish, I hadn’t added hill repeats to my training.
Luckily, my knee wasn’t an issue at all, but I quickly learned that I could have trained smarter. With only four marathons and one ultra under my belt on race morning, I learned six memorable lessons that I carried forward when running future races.
Six Lessons Learned at the 1999 Steamtown Marathon
1. Train on terrain similar to the race course – Having not trained with any hill repeats, I learned to train for the type of course I’d be racing. The first seven miles of the course are straight downhill and after about 15 miles of gently rolling hills and flat sections, the course, at the time, finished with a few very steep uphills. Adding hill repeats, both up and down, would have been very beneficial and might have helped me shave a minute or two off of my race time.
2. Don’t stress over uncontrollable factors – I learned that I had no control over external factors such as weather, and to stay focused while blocking out any ill effects those elements might be causing.
3. Pick a race with crowd support – Considering I never listened to music when I ran, cheering crowds made a difference in keeping me motivated. I was impressed with the number of people out cheering us on, despite the dismal weather. The local newspaper ran a list of all runners and their numbers, so as we approached, spectators would look up our number and cheer us on by name. It was both impressive and very motivating.
4. Trust the experts – Trust the experts when they recommend a race, but do your research first. In 1999 I could only trust Runner’s World ranking since I didn’t know anyone else who had run the race. Today, though, a quick internet search of blog recaps, articles, etc. can solidify the accuracy of such a statement.
5. Gliding works – I’d just read a short article in Runner’s World by Jeff Galloway about gliding where he recommended resting your running muscles on downhill parts of the race course by relaxing and allowing gravity to pull you down the hill. Once hitting the bottom of the hill, he instructed that you should let momentum continue and to not engage the running muscles until necessary. Since this course had a lot of downhill sections, I used this strategy for the first time and I’m glad I did.
6. Join forces with fellow runners – Around mile 20 I started running with a younger guy – pacing him and him pacing me. We hardly talked, but did acknowledge that we both wanted to run a sub 3:30 race. We motivated each other, not letting the other slow on the final long climb to the finish line. Immediately after crossing the finish line, we embraced in a huge hug, both relieved for the race to be over and thrilled that we had broken 3:30.
Yes, things could have gone south quickly during my 1999 Steamtown Marathon, but luck was with me and I had a fantastic race. I also learned six valuable lessons along the way that served me well in future races.
- • What lessons have you learned at a race?
- • Which was your favorite race?
- • Have you run the Steamtown Marathon?