Report from Steamtown, USA

We made our way up the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, often a difficult drive, with tractor-trailer trucks being driven like Miatas, and never ending construction zones.  This Friday evening, though, it wasn’t so bad, and my wife and I made good time.  We were heading up to Kingston, to spend a night with friends, and to shorten the trip to Scranton the next morning.  I sent a “Glympse” email to my friend, Ivan, with whom we’d be staying.  This clever app allows your host to follow your progress in real time along the road, know how fast you are going, whether you’ve made a wrong turn, and know when you will arrive.  It was nice to spend the evening enjoying a delicious spinach quiche made by Ivan’s wife Cheri, have a beer, and sit outside with an outdoor fireplace going in complete relaxation mode.

The next morning, I went for a really slow 3 mile run with Ivan, which was a good way to keep the muscles warm and working.  The weather, which had been predicted to be rain the whole weekend, was starting to look less monsoon-like, and more like scattered showers, especially on Sunday.  After some pancakes, we left and headed up the last half hour of driving to Scranton, and to the pre-race expo.  This is held in the Scranton High School gym.  For a small marathon, which is capped at 3000 entries, the expo was well organized, and had all the necessary elements:  a line to pick up your number and T-shirt, commemorative shirts, hats and other Steamtown branded items for sale, vendors for gels, sports drinks, and accessories, and a nice wall-sized map of the course.  I got the feeling this was a “runners” marathon, since I saw an awful lot of Boston Marathon jackets on the people picking up numbers, and no-one looked like they were just there to take an easy jog from Forest City to Scranton.

After buying a couple of T’s, some gels for me, a hat, and, oh yes, picking up my number, we left and headed up to Clarks Summit, about five miles north of Scranton, and checked into our hotel.

Tony, Frank and Lisa

Tony, Frank and Lisa, outside the Hampton Inn, Clarks Summit, with the fall colors in the background.

We took some time to relax in the hotel, then headed out to dinner, at Bellissimo Pizzeria and Ristorante, with the others in our group.

Welcome to Marathoners

Bellissimo Sign welcoming the runners.

At the restaurant, we had a large group, Lisa, Tony Brian, his wife Sarah and their two kids, Dan and his girlfriend Ashley, Steve and his wife Caren, and my wife Kathleen and me.

Lisa, Tony, Carin, Brian, and his daughter.

One half of the table, Lisa, Tony Caren and Brian with daughter.

Frank, Steve and Dan

The other half of the table, Frank, Steve and Dan.

Pretty much everyone stuck to the rule of pasta before the race.  There was ziti, ravioli, penne, spaghetti, and a few others which I don’t recall.  Tony drank a Bud, and Lisa had a Yuengling.  It seems that’s a sure way to do well in a marathon the next day.

We called it a night pretty early and headed back to the hotel.  The staff at the hotel was very accommodating, and told us they would have breakfast ready to go at five AM the next morning, so we would be well fed heading our for our race.  True to their word, the waffle maker, and the whole rest of the breakfast buffet, was ready to go when we came down the next morning.  Thank you, staff at the Clarks Summit Hampton Inn!

Brian and Frank at Breakfast

Frank and Brian at Breakfast

It took some work, a degree in logical thinking would have come in handy, in order to figure out the car arrangements for getting to the start of the race in Forest City.  Our final plan was for Caren, Steve’s wife to drive Steve, Tony, and me to Forest City, then Caren would head to the first support zone.  Lisa would drive Brian and Dan to Scranton and then they would take the bus up to Forest City.  Sarah, Ashley, and Brian’s kids would arrive in Scranton in time for the finish, and Kathleen, likewise would drive to Scranton and find her way to the finish line.  On the way to Forest City, we got to see the starting gun being towed to the start, the “gun” being a civil war canon.

Starting "gun".

The Starting “Gun”. It really sends out a shock wave when fired.

In the gym at the Forest City High School, we took care of last minute details, including, of course, a trip or two to the porta-john.  Interestingly, they had separate units for men and women, which, I’m sure, made the women very happy, since we guys are not exactly neat and tidy.  The runners were filing in, past the cheerleader brigade out front, the friendly students handing out coffee and hot chocolate, and the busy looking officials.  For a smaller marathon, they do know how to make us comfortable.  My impression at the expo was again confirmed, that everyone of the assembling runners looked like they were fit and ready.

Gym at Forest City H.S.

The gym at Forest City H.S. starts to fill up.

Steve came up with the idea of writing our names on our bodies, so the fans would know who to yell for.

Steve gets a name.

Let’s see, that’s S…..T….E…, don’t want to make a mistake!


Nailed it! STEVE : )

Frank and the magic marker.

They’ll need to look at my legs to see my name. I wonder if that will work.

And here’s the group all together, getting a bit nervous, and wanting to get the show on the road.

The group from SJAC

SJAC Marathoners wait in the gym at Forest City, H.S. Dan, Brian, Steve, Lisa, Frank and Tony.

The race started off close to the planned start of 8 AM.  Fortunately for us all, the rain stayed away for the entire race.  The temperature at the start was about 40 deg., and it warmed up to about 50 by the end.  True to all the stories we had heard from former runners, the start is a very steep drop down hill.  The net drop in the first 10 miles is about 900 feet, and one really gets sucked in to the speed one gets from letting it rip down hill.  I noticed that at the halfway mark, while I was still hanging with Tony, my half marathon time was faster than any half marathon I’ve run, just under 1:45.  Ed, from SJAC, warned us about going out too fast.  My feeling was that to slow down also takes a big toll on the muscles, from the braking action, so you are damned either way.  Just past the half marathon mark, the run gets into a rolling hill, up and down, mode.  It heads into the woods over graveled trails, which I found hurt my feet.  By sixteen miles, I had given up all my time savings and started to really slow down.  My legs were in pain, and I was starting to get some twitches  in my calf muscles.  Between the pain building in my muscles and the twitches turning in to real cramps, I could see my time goal not just slipping away, but having left the station a long time ago.  So, what to salvage?  By the way, Tony had steadily moved forward at the halfway mark and it was the last I saw of him until the finish line.  Leaving the last of the trails in the woods, we continued on rolling roads as we headed toward Scranton.  I had the honor of running beside  “Hizzoner” Mayor Chris and his wife Donna, of Scranton, who were both looking very good over the last several miles.  As we ran along, the crowds grew large, and their support for their mayor was tremendous.  I got energized by their loud cheers for their mayor, pretending it was for me, which really helped drive me to the finish.  Over the last two miles I was getting some very strange cramps in my left leg causing my foot to twist almost sideways.  I’m sure I had a bit of a Quasimodo look as I headed up the remaining climb to the finish line.  Crossing the finish line, I was barely able to lift my arms to shoulder height, trying unsuccessfully to look good for the camera.  I finished in 3 hours, 57 minutes and 11 seconds.  My personal best is 3:44:14, so I didn’t make a PR, and I certainly didn’t make my Boston Qualifier.  But, I finished under four hours, and I was happy to have done so.  Tony was brilliant, finishing in 3:39:06, under the Boston standard of 3:40 for his (and my) age group.  He was very depleted at the end of the race, as were we all, although I think he was worse off than the rest of us.  Steve finished in a very respectable 3:45:34, not what he wanted, but then, it’s a tough race.

Tony at the finish.

Tony, wearing the smile of his best marathon ever, and a Boston Qualifier!

Steve, at the finish

Steve, happy to be finished.

Frank, in front of the Scranton court house.

Frank, glad to have warm clothing on, and happy to have survived.

Caren and Kathleen

Caren, Steve’s wife, and Kathleen, my wife, provided invaluable support and cheer in our efforts to prove ourselves on the marathon course, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

After we had a chance to warm up, replenish some fluids and let the muscles stop twitching, Tony, Steve, Lisa, and I, along with our support crew of Caren and Kathleen, headed back up to Clarks Summit for lunch.  We ate at a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant across the street from our hotel, called La Tonalteca, a chain, but with very authentic food.  Poor Tony found it hard to face eating anything at this point, leaving a beautiful bowl of tortilla soup untouched, but the rest of us found it in ourselves to chow down.

I find each marathon I run to be tremendously challenging, often painful, and mostly discouraging.  As soon as I’m done, why am I thinking about the next one?  I think I really love this sport, greatly respect the runners who run with me, and want to keep pushing to get better.


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  1. Dan Bikel

     /  October 10, 2012

    What a great write-up, Frank! Congratulations, again, on enduring such a difficult event. You are also lucky to have a such a great set of running buddies, as well as a crackerjack support squad!

    Your account here is inspiring! As I write this, I am in Mountain View, CA, on business, and am about to go out for a short, 5-mile run along Stevens Creek Trail, which is half a mile from my hotel.

    • Thanks, Dan. A lot rides on the company you keep. Enjoy your five miler. I’m guessing hills will play a role. It is Mountain View, after all.

  2. Hey Frank like a kid waiting for his favorite Sports Illustrated magazine in the mail, I couldn’t wait to see your write-up of the steamtown marathon. As usual, this summary exceeded expectations. Readking it I felt as if I was there (actually I was but you get the point). And great pictures too!!! What a fun…er no I’ll say memorable weekend and what made the journey special and one I’ll never forget was travelling with my running buddies. We all did great and should be proud. I’m like you sometimes I wonder with all the pain and effort what is the point. But after a few days I’m always thinking of the next challange. It does keep us young.

  3. hi Frank. I’ve been looking forward to your write-up of the Steamtown run. As usual, you did a great job describing the event. I think it makes your readers feel as if they were there. It was a great journey with the steamtown crew. I will probably never forget it. Thanks a lot for helping make it so fun and while right now I am enjoying the time off from running, I know I’ll be itching to get out there soon enough. It is funny how much of a challange a marathon is and how we really struggle to achieve these runs…and yet we always come back. I believe it keeps us young.

  4. Michele S.

     /  October 10, 2012

    Great race report. I love the idea of writing your name on your body – I will keep this in mind if my next big race does not supply the name on the bib. Also, I think it is really cool that the mayor ran the marathon. I have enjoyed reading your training reports these last few months, and it definitely has me looking forward to training.

    So…. when is the next one? ;o)

  5. Michelle, I learned it’s better to write your name on your arms. Only a couple of people yelled my name out with it written on my legs. Thanks for following, and I’ll keep going with the blog as long as I’m running! Next up, Philly. Frank

  6. walterplods2012

     /  October 12, 2012

    Frank, I may have snuck into Boston for 2013. I’m waiting for confirmation but assuming I didn’t lie to them on my time, then I should be in. I applied on Monday and then it closed on Thursday. I wish we were all going it would be funner.

  7. Tony, I think that’s great! This is the holy grail of marathon runners. It’s smart to take advantage of the opportunity, even though you would be eligible for 2014, since who knows if they might fill up early. Did you call Marathon Tours to get a hotel?

  8. Michele S.

     /  October 12, 2012

    That’s awesome, Tony. I’m sure there will be a handfull of other SJAC members there, so you’ll have some company. And the best part is that there’s no pressure to qualify – you can just enjoy the experience!

  9. Ed

     /  October 16, 2012

    Frank, nice writeup…….and marathon race! It’s a tough one and the absence of anything here in South Jersey like the Steamtown hills makes it tough to prepare.
    Tony, congratulations on the pR and qualifying for Boston!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Dan, congrats on your first marathon!
    Steve and Brian, congratulations on completing another marathon on a tough course!
    Lisa, congratulations! You know, you are allowed to take a couple of days off before your next marathon…it’s not until Nov. 18!


    • Thanks for the kind words, Ed. It was certainly tougher than I imagined. It was a good experience, though, and I’d like to do it again, now that I know what it is like.


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