Low Key Event
For my Spring 2011 marathon, I wasn’t concerned about finding a fast course, since I hadn’t been running fast
lately. Barely finishing under 3:30 on the fast Wineglass course in October 2010 was disappointing, even
though my training was effected by Achilles Tendonitis. A low key, local race would be fine and once I finally
looked at the calendar, I had just enough time to prepare for Garden Spot Village Marathon.
This would be the 3rd year for that race and several friends had run the full or half last year. It was
hilly and small, but close enough that I’d be able to sleep in my own bed the night before for the very first
time – and this was my 19th marathon!
I jumped into “official training” about 16 weeks out and avoided injury and even major soreness. But I wasn’t
getting in those extra few miles to attempt improvement and felt sluggish much of the time. Long runs were
more of a problem than I’d ever had. I ended up only running a complete 20+ miles just once, with 2 other attempts
reduced to walking several miles each. This lowered my expectations, but also allowed me to go into race day
without any pressure. I’d try to start at an 8 minute pace, hoping to finish in under 3:40, not sure if I
could even accomplish that due to the hills.
My Rebel Runner friend Chris brought me on a good training run several weeks before the race on the slightly
challenging Wilmington Greenway trail, similar to the race course since there’s little level ground. He’s
the singer in a rock band and they played at a local bar two nights before the race, so I thanked him for
“arranging” the send-off concert, especially since he’d be running also. Meanwhile, my friend Lenora baked
some magic cupcakes and brought them to our typical Thursday evening send-off dinner. (I knew they were
magic right away.)
It was nice to have some friends to do the event with. Chris James was training for Big Sur (although
that course was changed drastically due to mudslides) and registered for Garden Spot as a “supported
long run” of 22 miles. Dirk Sweitgart would drive both of us out since his parents live in the retirement
community hosting the race. Dirk did the Half last year, winning his age group, and was running the Half
again. On our 50 minute drive that morning, he pointed out various sites along the way and drove parts
of the course for some last minute strategy. Parking was plentiful, just steps from the start/finish.
The temperature was a near perfect mid-40s, the sky was overcast, and there was only a hint of a breeze.
This lifted our spirits as we checked in for our bibs & shirts. A marathon without chip timing? It makes
sense to go “old school” when you’re in Amish Country! We lined up for an on-time start in the center of
the Garden Spot community. 240 of us were doing the Full, and would be joined for the first 7 miles by 500
Half Marathoners and a number of relay runners.
I seeded myself at the right place near the front of the pack and had very little jockeying to do. Right
from the start, the entire course is rolling so I had already decided not to concentrate on any particular
pace. But a 7:25 first mile was a little too aggressive and I tried to ease off a bit. I would have
panicked if I was shooting for a PR. Even with a fast start, Chris and Dirk were out of sight ahead of
my by mile 3.
Cows, Horses and Buggies
The entire course runs through farmland, and by the time I was done, I’d never seen so much livestock in my life.
It was very calming to constantly be looking left and right to see cows and horses looking back at us from
their pastures. Goats, sheep, chickens (and one monster-size turkey), were also enjoying the peaceful
morning. Cute little Amish children posted themselves in front of their mailboxes to watch the runners
go by. All of it was on country roads with virtually no shoulders, so there were occasional cars and
quite a few Amish buggies. They gave us plenty of room although a couple places got congested enough
to make things interesting.
When much of the race is run on roads like “Hill Road”, “Ridge Rd.” and “Scenic Rd.”, you know what you’re
in for. The elevation chart had me a little nervous about a significant up and down hill in the early miles
and then again towards the finish, but because we were constantly going up and down anyway, the long grades
were less noticeable. It helped that the hills afforded pleasant views to help take our minds off of the
road. It’s never fun to “lose” those who are just doing 13.1, especially when they’re a majority of the
participants. They had a button-hook turnaround soon after we descended the steepest grade on the course.
That would not be something to look forward to on the way back.
Comfortable and Controlled
I was able to slow my pace at a fairly steady rate after that fast first mile, but was still banking some time.
My half split of around 1:41 felt about right and the runners within sight all seemed to be maintaining their
positions. Sometimes I’d pass someone on a downhill, only to be passed by them on the way back up. The sun
never really broke through the clouds, but wind didn’t pick up either. Water stations were well manned and
they offered gels at several of them.
After the half, I rarely looked at my watch. When I didn’t feel myself slowing much over miles 15, 16 and 17,
I grew more optimistic about a achieving my goal – as close to 3:30 as possible. After a 3 mile loop on the
western part of the course, it was nice to turn for home, seeing still headed out there. More farm animals,
more cute Amish children, more horse-and-buggy traffic. This was the perfect way to tour Pennsylvania
Other than Gatorade and water, I fueled up with gels at mile 11 and mile 20. My gloves couldn’t keep my hands
warm enough to rip them open without a bit of a struggle, but I didn’t panic. Seeing the sights kept my mind
from dreading those final miles, but with a long approach to the nasty little hill near 20, I had time to plan
on definitely walking the most difficult portion of it. Many others did the same. I was pleasantly surprised
how easily I regained my running stride after that eighth mile or so.
I Feel Great
My confidence increased with each milemarker and by 22, I was surprised that my legs were only starting to get
slightly heavy. Around 23, I came up behind Chris, who was walking after shutting it down as planned. I got
a little carried away and in the midst of a few runners said one of the stupidest things a runner could say
out loud, “I feel great!” Quickly realizing that the wheels could come off at any point, I actually laughed
to myself how idiotic it was to tempt fate like that. But since I was having a good day, that ended up
relaxing me even more!
At mile 24, I was now passing half-marathoners and realized that I’d finish under 3:30. The hills were over,
so I just put things on auto-pilot and continued to enjoy the scenery. No leg cramps at all, and only very
slight right Achilles soreness. The final turns into Garden Spot were like a victory lap, and I even caught
a couple guys down the stretch. My 3:25:19 time was 4 minutes faster than my Wineglass time had been and I
Stretch, Food, Photos
I happily grabbed my medal and turned down a foil blanket, then stretched before heading over to see what
goodies they were serving. Oranges, bananas, chocolate milk, bars, and chocolaty trail mix were all
delicious. I found Dirk with a trophy in his hand for finishing “3rd Place Grandmaster” in the Half.
As we waited for Chris (who likely would have won his age group) to walk in, I found out that I took
2nd in my age group, so I was now on even more of a high.
Chatted with some of the guys who’d been around my time and got my camera from Dirk’s car.
Don Ropp and his friend Denise joined us for some group photos in front of a giant cow on wheels.
Ron Horne of Pretzel City Sports did his usual humorous awards ceremony at 1pm and then it was time
to head back to Delaware. 240 finished in the full, with over 500 in half.
Marathon passes Amish farms
Runners & cow
Amish horse & buggy
Amish farms with plenty of cows
Pike Creek Valley Running Club
Marathon finisher medal
Ray's Gun time: 3:25:19
Top 8% overall - 20 of 240 finishers
Top 11% Male (45-49) - 2 of 19 finishers
Rays 2nd place age group award