Saturday, September 21, 2013

Lehigh Valley Via Marathon, Small Town Special With a Side of BQ's

As my one and only attempt to qualify for the Boston 2014 Marathon, I decided to run the Lehigh Valley Via Marathon. It was held on Sunday Sep 8th, the day before registration would open for Boston 2014. Cutting it that close was somewhat risky and quite exhilarating. The race brags that greater than 24% of their finishers achieve a BQ, placing the LVVM in the top 5 of races for BQ percentages. Would conditions be right for me or would they run out of BQ supplies before my order was filled?

LVVM has a small town feel, allowing only 2500 runners for the marathon. It runs through much of the old eastern Pennsylvania steel belt, starting in Allentown, winding through Bethlehem and finishing in Easton. Much of it is along a shaded tow path next to the Lehigh River. A half marathon starts in Bethlehem, at the same time as the marathon, meaning no mix of full and half marathoners. The course is a net downhill of over 200 feet, with no real hills to mention (yes a disappointment for me, still found reason to J ), though there was some small rises over the many bridge crossed on the run. Bart Yasso aided in designing the course, and the tag line “a course designed by a runner for a runner” is advertised.

Net Downhill GOOD!

The expo set the tone, as it was held at “Steel Stacks” in Bethlehem, an iconic row of rusted 4 story steel furnaces and equipment used in processing ore into steel. Bethlehem, proud of its heritage, has converted this site into a cultural center, with an Arts building, upscale shopping, an outdoor performance venue and a local TV station. The contrast between the “Stacks” and the modern design of the Arts Center was striking and just made me smile. 

Steel Stacks, a tribute to the proud heritage of Bethlehem Steel

The Art Center. Modern blended with the past
Bart Yasso was at the expo, providing info on the Runner’s World Half Marathon, as well as posing for pictures.

Getting tips from the course designer, Bart Yasso
The night before the race I decided to forgo the traditional carbo-loading and had a burger and fries at Bethlehem Brew Works. I was so tempted to indulge in their brews, but I held off (mostly) and ordered a sampler, taking only a sip or two from each. The Devious Imperial Pumpkin Ale was outstanding.

The race start was well organized and had plenty of parking, being in a hospital parking lot in Allentown. The mid 60s to low 70s projected temperatures and overcast skies were not much of a concern, being that most of my training was executed in 85-90 degrees and high humidity.  

25% of them may BQ.

Bart Yasso was there to rev us up and send us off.

Are You Reaadddyyyy to RRRUUUNNN?!?

The Sun came out to start the race for us. 
Almost immediately after the start I had my first panic. My camera started to jostle out of the back pocket in my shorts, forgetting to zip the pocket. Just as it fell out I was able to reach back and catch it. Unfortunately, my license popped out with the camera. It took me a few strides to realize it was gone. After looping back to kick it to the curb, I must have looked absurd trying to grab it up as hundreds of runners trampled by. Luckily all my fingers are still with me. I had to fight hard not to sprint to make up the lost time.
After a loop through local streets, mile 2 brought a 130 ft sharp downhill with some rolling bumps to follow.

Down we go!
Then a little up, then down again
Mile 3 produced a covered bridge and some paved road alone the water, followed by some small foot bridge crossings.
The first of many water crossings.

Rambling over the water

Mile 4 – 7 were on streets, then up, over and down along the Lehigh river. Soon the tow path started, dirt and crushed gravel, sandwiched between the river and a canal. The next 5 miles were under the shade on the path, allowing you to easily find your pace and hold it. 

A nice tow path for crusing along

Dirt and crushed gravel, easy on the legs

At mile 12 the course detours off the path and does a 1 mile loop in Bethlehem. Included with the loud crowd was a high school cheerleading squad, waving their pom-poms high in the air. Then it was back onto the tow paw. 


Somewhere about mile 16 the path became a bit monotonous, having me longing for some hills or dips. The miles were clocking off quickly though. Most of my training I had used a combo of heart rate and pace gauges. This race I was focusing mainly on pace, trying to keep each mile within a 10 sec window.

At the 20 mile mark a much desired brief incline appeared as we came off the path, up and onto a gravel road. The next few miles were on a mix of dirt, gravel, and paved path. By this time the traffic of the sometimes narrow tow path had given way to a much more spread out field. Maintaining pace in the last 3-4  was getting difficult, as the legs were getting tight and some muscles fell asleep on the flats. After a slight slow down during miles 23 -24, an effort was made to get 25 and 26 back in line. Still along the river, the course comes up and over the water one last time and into downtown Easton for the finish. 

Bridging to the finish

My official time was 3:27:23, 2 & ½ minutes faster than the needed BQ! More exciting to me was this was my best marathon time in 9 years and my first even split race. (First ½ vs second ½ was only off by about 30 sec.)

YES, BQ!!!

The finish area was a party zone with bands playing and a Travelers Beer for each marathon finisher. I tried my first Shandy, a beer with lime citrus flavoring.

Rocking the finish in Easton PA

Melissa's new way to Rock & Roll

Traveler Beer traveled from Vermont

Shandy: Light, Crisp and Strong Citrus Influences

Waiting on the line for the bus back to the start, it was good to trade stories with the running brethren who traveled from Maryland and Vermont to attempt BQs.

As I write this I am waiting to learn if my BQ was good enough to get me into Boston 2014. The first week of registration, for those 20, 10 and 5 minutes faster than BQs, consumed 17K of the 22K spots allotted for qualified runners. The remaining 5K allowed me to register this week (signed up 10 am Monday morn). All of the week 2 entrants will have to wait until next Wednesday for entry results. The BAA will rank order all their qualifying times and take the fastest. There is already over 8000 this week who have placed a bit for the remaining 5K spots.

Its up to the numbers now. Still hopeful, still smiling at the thought of saying hello to Heartbreak Hill again.

Remember our Past, Eyes to the Future. Boston 2014

Epilogue. On Wednesday, September 25, the Boston Athletic Association informed me that my registration for the the Boston 2014 Marathon had been accepted. See you in Boston in April.

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