Friday, December 6, 2019

Race Report: Two Rivers Half Marathon, Day 1 and 2

Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania is roughly two hours away from New York City; it's not very easy to get to unless you have a car, and the closest you can get with public transportation is via the Port Jervis Line of the Metro-North Railroad/New Jersey Transit.  When I first ran a race at Two Rivers Marathon weekend, it was 2016 (I ran the half), and I took the New Jersey Transit train out to Dover, New Jersey, where my cousin picked me up and I stayed with them for the weekend, borrowing their car for the seventy-two minute long journey from their house in Jefferson to the finish line. I fell ill and couldn't make it in 2017, but returned in 2018 to run the full marathon. I took the trip to Port Jervis then, and got picked up by friends at that station, who then drove the half hour to Lackawaxen.  This year, my friend Seth was flying up from Fort Lauderdale to LaGuardia the night before the race, so I agreed to meet him at the airport, and we drove together the one hour and forty five minutes to a hotel he had booked in Matamoras, Pennsylvania, the city just across the river from Port Jervis.
Morning in Matamoras
Parked in Lackawaxen, fog rolling in
Seth's flight arrived at 11pm, so it wasn't until midnight when we finally were on the road. We arrived in Matamoras to the Hampton Inn at 1:45am, and promptly went to bed. While the race the next morning wasn't starting until 9am, we still had a half hour to drive to the finish line, then take the shuttle up to the startline at the Woodloch Resort. So the alarm went off at 6:30, and we were out the door by 7am.  We arrived in Lackawaxen, which has a pretty straightforward "Main Street" near the confluence of the Delaware Water Gap and the Lackawaxen River - but this time, our normal parking area at the Fire Department building was barricaded off; cars were turning right, past Two Rivers Junction and to the large parking lot for the Zane Grey Museum and Zane Grey Public Access Boat Launch. When we got there, it was pretty full, and a line was forming to board the school buses to head up the mountain.  I spotted a few friends in line - namely Glen, Karen, Cade, and Danielle - but didn't make it on the next bus that went up full. After waiting a little bit, another bus came by, and I boarded along with Seth, Louise and Ralph.
JC, with his "whatever" pace sign.
The Saturday crew about to start
We were up at the top of the mountain at Woodloch Resort by about 8:15, with many runners milling about the nightclub where packet pickup was held and outside the building, preparing for the start.  New at this year's race were pacers, who would runners reach their goals at with the marathon! The race was going to start roughly 15 minutes late, since it seemed that there were still folks at the bottom of the mountain waiting to board a shuttle.  After Maniacs and Fanatics took a quick photo, we headed out to the startline on Welcome Lake Road, and Mark and JC began some opening remarks before handing the microphone to runner Tony Ochoa for a benediction, and finally to me to sing the national anthem.  It was a beautiful morning, with temps in the mid 40s, sunny and rising.  Soon, we were off!
Barreling down the mountain

The first half mile of this race is a downhill, some 68 feet. It rolled gently over the next half mile (with mostly a climb) before we got to the screaming downhill section, dropping us 350 feet over the next mile.  It amounted to giving me a blazing fast 8:15 and 8:03 split over the first two miles.  The road is pockmarked with potholes, so not only are we barreling down the downhill sections, we have to be very cognizant of our footing.  About 1.8 miles in, we make the slight right turn onto Masthope Plank Road, which we follow for the next 9.6 miles.

Staying in the middle, with less potholes
Mark puts out aid stations every two miles along the route, so I quickly grabbed a sip of water before continuing on, trying to maintain my speed.  The course flattens out with some small hills over the next two miles, while we run by the Masthope Creek that meanders to our left. I'd end up running the next couple miles with Karen and Jeanette for a little bit, as they helped to push my pace - but eventually, I ended up getting behind them.  My third and fourth miles were a little slower - just over the 9 minute mark - making me reach the 5K point in roughly 26 minutes, while mile 5 popped up to 9 1/2 minute mile, featuring the largest elevation gain so far on the course.  The 3:50 pacer Yoshiko passed me by, and I tried my hardest to stay at least within view of her over the next few miles. Mile 6 featured a nice steady downhill, dropping 186 feet, and after clocking an 8:20 mile, I reached the 10K point in a staggering 54 minutes, one of my fastest 10Ks to date.  At roughly the 10K mark, we passed by RD Mark's house. This was also where we began to see homes along the route.  I happened upon Nora around this time and gave her a quick hug before I was back on my way.

A slight incline...
Over the next few miles, we hugged the shore of the Delaware Water Gap, where on the other side of the river was New York.  The course rolled slightly, and with the 3:50 pacer long gone, I knew I had to deal with two particularly steep ascents along the way - a short one at roughly the 7.6 mile mark that happened right after a longer flat section, and then one roughly a mile later, as we passed underneath the railroad overpass.  This was actually where we had one of the largest ascents through the entire race, which reduced my mile split at the 9 mile mark to a staggering 11 minute pace.  But what goes up must come down, and I used the downhill to my advantage, logging in a 9:19 at mile 10 with only 5K to go. In my head, I knew there was a slight possibility I could still go under 2 hours if I ran a particularly strong last 5K, but knowing how tired my legs were already starting to feel and the fact that despite these last few miles being flat - the short out-and-back along route 590 was mentally demoralizing - it was more likely that I would be just over. So while I maintained a sub 10 pace on these last few miles, it was just short of what was needed to stay under 2.

Passing by the ski lift
I knew a sub-2 was gone for sure right after the 11 mile mark when we made the right turn under the second railroad overpass, to where Masthope Plank Road ended and the right turn to Route 590 began.  Based on just completing a 9:41 mile at mile 11, and my watch at 1:44 to go and just under two miles of running left, I knew getting anywhere under 9 minute pace was going to be impossible with the fatigue I was feeling. So I did my best, and made the turn, first seeing my friend Cade on his run back to the finish.  He was having a tough morning dealing with an injury, and he decided to drop down to the half.  Mile 12 came along, and I posted a 9:40 pace, running to the turnaround point at roughly 12.2, then pushing as best as I could out to the finish.  I spotted a few other friends as they made their way out for the first time on 590, while I did my best to maintain pace across the bridge over the Lackawaxen River to the finish.  I crossed the finish line in 2:02:31, my fourth fastest half time ever, and enough to snag 3rd in my age group.  The 2nd placer in the men's 35-39 group was literally 19 seconds right in front of me, running with his wife - if only I could've gunned it a bit more!  Nonetheless, this was my first age group placement in a distance race, and I couldn't have been more thrilled.
My first ever age group award!
Me with the Gastons!
The temps had soared over the course of the last two hours, easily in the mid 50s by the time I finished.  After replenishing my stores and grabbing some food, I waited at the entrance of the park area as more half marathon runner friends Louise, Danielle, and Nora came through the finish line. I eventually stayed for the remainder of the afternoon as the marathoners, including my friends Sam, Ralph, Jeanette, Glen, Karen, Dave, Jun, JC, Seth, and Larry continued to trickle in, celebrating each ones' finish with gusto.  The temps definitely soared even more, hitting the 60s by mid afternoon - but with some strong gusts of wind pushing by - one even blowing away the inflatable arch that was part of the finish line, which would eventually get dismantled for safety's sake.

Matamoras at sunset... spectacular!
By the time we left, the temps had hit a high of 70 (at least, that's what it said on the rental car's dashboard thermometer), and we made our way back to the hotel in Matamoras to clean up.  Friends Andrew and Joseph, who had drove in from two hours away in upstate New York for the race, had come in earlier that afternoon - they were slated to run the half on Sunday morning - and Seth and I met up with them for dinner at an Italian spot near our hotel.  Seth, having struggled through some injuries in the last few weeks, wasn't completely sure if he'd be running the next morning and decided he'd make a decision in the morning if he was going to make the drive out for day 2.  We both fell asleep relatively early around 8pm, tired from a whole day of activities with little sleep the night before.

My alarm woke me up at the same 6:30am alarm on Sunday morning, and I got dressed, wearing a long sleeve shirt as I anticipated colder weather as the forecast showed rain and dropping temps for the morning.  Seth decided to stay behind, so I got out on the road, driving to Lackawaxen as the skies opened up with some light drizzle, reaching the parking lot (relatively deserted compared to the day before) at about 7:40am. I got on the next shuttle heading up the mountain, reaching Woodloch Resort with comparatively fewer runners milling around the nightclub.  We got out to an ontime start for the race, as the skies stayed dry when opening remarks and my national anthem was sung.  But barely five minutes into the race, it began to rain, and it would rain on and off over the next two hours.

Creeks flow after it rains...
The temperature was 52 at the start, and you knew with the impending rain it was not going to feel like 52 for long.  While I ran a faster first two miles than the day before (an 8:08 and 8:02, respectively), the rest of the race would be just slightly slower, having faster mile splits on day 1.  Chalk it up to more tired legs, the cold, what have you... but despite virtually identical first 5K times, I was 30 seconds behind by the 10K mark, and over a minute off at 15K (9.3 miles) The wind picked up significantly around the 10 mile mark of the race, and there was a bit of a downpour then, as well, which had a part in hampering my speed for the last 5K of my race.  I hit each of the last three mile marker nearly a minute slower than the day before, and crossed the finish line in 2:07:00, roughly 4 1/2 minutes slower than the day before.  And there were faster people in my age group this time - my time was only enough for 5th place that day.  Still, I was not discouraged - I managed two VERY strong half marathon times, and it made me feel good in my lead up to South Africa less than three weeks away.

Wet roads, but finishing up half #2
The temps had dropped significantly to somewhere in the mid 40s, and being wet, I was beginnign to shiver.  My fingers were visibly numb by the time I finished.  I stuck around to watch Andrew and Joseph finish, before heading off to the rental car to warm up and then have them help me with taking my headstand photo.  I left Lackawaxen just after the 12 o'clock hour, and got back to the hotel for a quick shower before Seth and I checked out and headed back to NYC.  With quite a bit of time before Seth needed to return the rental car and get back to the airport for his flight, we decided to make a stop for dinner at Sammy's Fish Box, one of my favorite seafood restaurants in the city, on City Island in the Bronx.  After a humongous and delicious swordfish meal (which I had leftovers of, and packed up for dinner later that night), we drove over to the Bronx's Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, to have some coffee/espresso and dessert.  We then refilled the car up with gas, Seth dropped me back to my apartment, and he headed off to the airport for his 8pm flight.  And my half marathon count grew to 96, matching squarely with my 96 full marathons, ready to begin April, and the next two months of extensive international travel.
Victory Headstand to represent two halves completed!

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