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Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

The Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon

After three lackluster performances in a row, I thought I was about due for a good marathon but I had to make it through THE WEEK FROM HELL before I could even start the trivial business of running 26.2 miles.

It seems that, several months ago, Lisa's landlord decided to stop, well, you know…paying the mortgage on her property. This revolutionary strategy in cost-saving worked fine until the bank, living up to the spoilsport reputation that banks so deservedly maintain, decided to foreclose and put an end to the party. The new owner, the bank, was then faced with a choice: continue renting the apartment and get a little income so as to reduce their losses, or kick out the tenant so as to lose as much money as possible. To the bank, this was a no-brainer. That is to say, they used no brains when making their decision. Thus last Thursday found Lisa and myself spending the whole day with a U-Haul truck packing, lifting, loading and unloading.

Some time during the middle of this procedure Lisa's car died.

We finished moving everything into her new apartment late Thursday night, nursed her barely-running car over to the repair shop, got dinner at a restaurant--I'd hardly eaten all day even though I should have been heavily into carbo-loading at that point--and tried to figure out what we were going to do for the weekend. I was waiting for an opportunity to replace a bad brake caliper on my truck so we had no vehicle capable of making a long road trip. We also had several rooms full of cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked.

Lisa decided she really needed to stay and get her apartment sorted out on the weekend because of a heavy work schedule for the coming week and I started trying to find a ride to the marathon. I made a scouting trip to Bushnells Basin on Saturday to inquire amongst the Oven Door Runners and Fearless Leader Bill Hearne suggested I call Russ McKnight, who was also running Mohawk-Hudson.

This proved to be the breakthrough. Russ and his wife Janie agreed to give me a ride and just a few hours later we were on our way to Albany. Couldn't have cut it much closer.

After picking up our race packets we tried and failed to find a good restaurant where we could get food without a hour wait so we went to the hotel for the official pre-race pasta dinner. This fabulous banquet consisted of salad (comprised of lettuce, lettuce and lettuce), spaghetti with generic sauce-from-a-50-gallon-industrial-drum and apple pie (one slice only, please). At least the apple pie was OK. Russ and Janie gave me a ride back to my hotel and we stopped at a slightly scary little grocery in a scary section of town where I bought a quart of orange juice, a muffin and two bananas to supplement a Power Bar for breakfast (strangely enough, the Ramada Inn which served as race headquarters was in a much sleazier part of town that the $31.95 per night place I was staying). On his way back Russ stopped at the same place and bought their last two bananas. The puzzled owner reported he'd had quite a run on bananas that day.

After an extra hour's sleep due to the switch onto Daylight Wasting Time, I got up, had my Power Bar/banana/muffin/OJ breakfast and stepped outside to find the most perfect marathon weather I have ever seen and ever expect to see. Clear blue skies, temperature in the 30s and not even the slightest trace of wind: much of the fall foliage was at peak color and the few leaves that were falling just dropped straight down through the still air.

Russ and Janie picked me up at 6:30 and we arrived at the race start just minutes before the official busses. I was actually just stepping out of a porta-john when the hoards arrived. What timing! Apparently this fall's Montreal marathon had been cancelled and a massive Canadian exodus to the next closest marathon had resulted in a near-record field. About 150 out of the 650 or so runners entered were from Canada and they seemed to represent a disproportionate number of the award winners. (We really gotta tighten up those border controls, don't ya think? Perhaps a 24 hour waiting period for all visitors with lower than 10% body fat is in order.) There were lots of runners chatting to each other in French, lending a nice international atmospherel to the event.

Run largely on paved bike paths, there aren't a lot of places where this course gives you much in the way of scenery but somewhere around three miles is a truly spectacular exception. You turn a corner and come upon a truly breathtaking panorama over the Mohawk river. The clear skies and fall foliage just added to the effect.

I handed off my long-sleeved shirt to Janie around six miles (she managed to get to at least two different points on the course during the race) as I was feeling warm enough to run in just my singlet even though the temperature was still probably only in the 30s. The lack of wind and bright sun made it pretty comfortable except for in long shaded stretches. I passed 10k around 39 minutes and felt very relaxed. I started passing runners regularly (about 1 per mile or so) at the nine mile mark. Once I passed someone I recalled speaking in French at the start of the race. "Bonne chance" I said as I went by, utilizing a full 25% of my French vocabulary in doing so.

I sucked down a pack of Gu at ten miles. My experience has been that Gu takes about 3 miles to have any effect and this certainly proved true on this day. After checking my time between the 13 and 14 mile markers I had to deliberately slow my pace.

Somewhere around 17 miles the lead wheelchair racer (out of 2) crashed out of the race. There were lots of wet leaves on the bike path at this point and I suspect these might have been a factor.

Since this is a relatively small marathon and is run mostly on bike paths along the rivers, there are very few spectators. You end up running alone for long stretches. Those who thrive on crowd support might not like this kind of race but more meditative type runners, like myself, will probably appreciate the lack of distraction and the opportunity to concentrate more easily.

Around the 20 mile mark, as is traditional, things started to get tough, but no tougher than usual for a marathon. I was on pace for a 2:48-49 and a big time P.R. After 21 miles, though, my condition began to deteriorate much more rapidly than usual. I felt as if all the energy had been suddenly drained from my body and for the last 4 miles I was actually hallucinating. My friend John Prohira once described the last 10 miles of an ultra by saying "I was passing rocks and trees as if they were standing still". Well from mile 22 onward I was passing rocks, trees and buildings which weren't standing still! Some of them were doing the glycogen-depletion mambo in quite an alarming fashion. I don't know what pace I was running but I'm sure it dropped off greatly. There was no dramatic "hitting the wall" just a rapid tapering-off of my energy level down to just about zero by the finish.

Strangely enough I was still passing runners. I passed three in the last 5 miles, two of whom stopped and walked even though they looked to be in much better condition than I was (perhaps they thought the same thing of me, although I find that difficult to believe--I can't conceive of anyone feeling or looking worse than I did). I could barely stay on the bike path. I knew approximately where the 26 mile mark was, having jogged the last couple of miles of the course the night before, but I had no idea where the finish line was and was in no condition to visually estimate two tenths of a mile at that point. After turning a right hand corner I saw the finish line banner about 100 yards ahead, got passed back by one of the guys I had passed earlier and staggered across the finish line in 2:51:00. They had to hold me up and were surprised that they had to remove my number tag for me. (Hadn't these people ever worked a marathon finish before???)

After a few minutes of rest I felt surprisingly good. I was less stiff and tired than after Boston or Columbus and MUCH less battered than after Boston. Since my muscles seemed to be in pretty good shape I think I can attribute my burnout to the disruptive preceding week and poor diet in the last few days rather than any deficiency in my training. Mental note: Carboloading IS important, it DOES make a BIG difference!

They didn't seem to have any finisher's medals and, since the entry form hadn't mentioned any, I went up to the hotel room to shower and change. After this brief respite I made my way back toward the finish area to see if Russ had come in yet. Imagine my surprise to see groups of runners coming toward me with finisher's medals around their necks! It turned out that someone had left the medals in a box somewhere and they hadn't gotten them to the finish line until after the first few runners had finished. A brief word with a race official was all that was needed to get my treasured medal. (Hey, this was a P.R. you know!) Russ had an even tougher day than I did, finishing in around 4 hours but coming through the ordeal relatively unscathed (for a marathon).

The entry forms had said that medals would be awarded for the top 3 USATF finishers in various age groups but it seemed that quite a few Canadians got awards so I expect that was a misprint and they were covering all finishers, which is only fair. They did give overall awards to the top 10 men and they may have taken these out of the age group awards. Either way, in spite of finishing, by my count, 7th in the 35-39 age group (18th overall), I got a medal for 3rd in age group. I suppose that kind of makes up for missing my sub-2:50 goal.

It would be hard to find more supportive and enjoyable travelling companions than Russ and Janie McKnight. They gave me a ride on short notice, shuttled me all over Albany and Schnectady and let my use their hotel room to clean up after the race. Then they refused to accept any compensation for gas and thruway tolls. That I did as well as I did after The Week From Hell is largely due to their kindness and generosity.

Copyright © 1997 Mark Roberts

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