5 Lessons from the 2019 Harrisburg Marathon

A white number five painted on a concrete road.

~ By Coach Lindsay Leigh

The great thing about endurance sports is they teach us lessons, sometimes hard ones, whether it’s our first attempt at a distance or 20th. In this respect, the Harrisburg Marathon was a great teacher!

The 2019 Harrisburg Marathon was my 8th stand alone marathon (20th if you include Ironman marathons). Spoiler Alert: I dropped from this race. It was the first time for a marathon, and only the second race ever that I’ve had to drop.

I battled injuries through the summer, including a chronically unstable ankle, and a strained calf. But, as the Harrisburg Marathon approached, I was finally feeling healthy this fall and getting in some consistent run training, which felt so good!

Coach Maria and I were slowly clawing back some speed, and marathon training was the perfect base work to get me ready for 100 mile training for Rocky Raccoon, coming up on February 1. In the weeks before the Harrisburg Marathon, I had a nice fitness boost and was running 20-30 seconds faster at my zone 2 pace. All of the sudden, a 3:35ish marathon seemed within my grasp, so that was the goal.

In a few of my long training runs during the month or so before the marathon, I noticed my left hamstring getting tight in the later miles. It didn’t seem painful enough for me to worry much about it, and I’d be sure to stretch and foam roll after runs.

Lesson #1: Pay attention to these niggles. They will likely become big niggles or injuries if you do not.

The day of the marathon began with great promise. The weather was in the mid 30’s with a little wind at the start, and was forecasted to warm into the upper 40’s by the time we finished. That’s pretty perfect running weather! My plan was to hang with the 3:35 pace group for as long as possible while keeping an eye on my heart rate and paying attention to my rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

The race starts on the Market Street bridge above City Island on a slight downhill onto Front Street, where we run north to the Harvey Taylor bridge. The beginning miles are flat and quick, so I wasn’t too concerned when I saw that our first few miles were 8:00/mile or just under (3:35 marathon pace is 8:11/mile).

The pacer will slow down once we get settled into the course, I thought.

We continued on through the Capitol District, then onto the Greenbelt path through Shipoke. By mile 5, we were still running ~8:00/mile pace, so I decided to drop back and run my own pace because there’s a big difference between 8:11-8:15/mile and 8:00/mile pace for me. That can be the difference between a strong finish or a fade into the end.

Running hard, into zone 4, during the first half of a marathon does not set one up for a strong finish, and I do not need help starting out too quickly. I’ve often been a “fly and dyer.”

Lesson 2: Run your own race at your own pace.

Image result for harrisburg marathon
Photo credit: The Marathon Lady, https://themarathonlady.com/index.php/2017/11/14/2017-harrisburg-marathon-race-review/

I ran a few miles on the Greenbelt path with 2 guys and a nice woman, who was also shooting for ~3:35 and going for a BQ so it was nice chatting and sharing some miles with her. I was feeling good, staying on my water and clif bloks and feeling comfortable running ~8:10/mile pace. We turned and headed back north towards City Island, did a loop around the island, then headed north for the next 8 miles along the river.

Running north along the river is typically my favorite section of the course and in training runs because I like looking for birds, and when I’m hurting, I like gazing out into the water of the Susquehanna.

But around mile 10 I began feeling my left hamstring tighten up and I thought, “hmmm this is awfully early to be feeling this, but hopefully it’ll loosen up and be fine.

I am an optimist if nothing else!

I continued on, and it stayed tight, and at mile 15, I realized the discomfort was affecting my stride. Ever the optimist, I wasn’t too worried as long as it didn’t get any worse.

I convinced my husband, James, to come out and cheer with our two young sons, and he planned to be at Fort Hunter near the turn around at mile 18, so I was really looking forward to seeing them.

Lesson 3: A strong support system is a big boost – no matter how your day is going!

As I came to this point, I slowed a bit because of my hamstring and heavy legs. But, I remained focused on a sub-3:40 finish. I saw James and our boys which gave me a nice boost, then shortly after that around mile 17.5 my hamstring cramped and strained and brought me to a quick halt.

Yikes. That’s not right. 

I walked a few steps, and then stopped to stretch it. I didn’t have salt with me but I’m pretty sure it was past the point of salt helping.

I walked some more, then tried to trot which caused sharp pain. So, I continued walking, hit the turnaround, then tried running once more but had the same sharp pain. I knew my hamstring was strained (this happened to me at a half ironman during the run in 2017). I knew that if I pushed it I would cause a more severe strain or tear.

So, I continued walking until I met back with James and the kids and told him I was dropping. James has never known me to drop from a race, so I saw the confusion on his face. He asked me if I wanted to walk it in (for 8 more miles), I said no. I’ve finished plenty of marathons, and this finish just wasn’t worth risking a more severe injury that would cause me to take months off running and jeopardize my training for Rocky Raccoon. So, I made the hard, but wise, decision to drop.

Lesson #4 – Dropping out sucks. But sometimes it’s the best and wisest decision in the long run.

We headed back to the finish line to cheer on our friends, and I felt confident that I’d made the right decision as I hobbled around on my sore hamstring. I learned that one of my training partners also dropped out because of a sore heel caused by plantar fasciitis, so we will heal and get stronger together!

I will now take a week or two off running to reflect on my season, to let this hamstring heal, and then ease back into training for Rocky Raccoon 100 mile. I plan to increase both strength and range of motion in my posterior chain through strength training and more consistent yoga practice. Recovery will be my focus!

Lesson 5: Recovery is at the center of our progress. Don’t skip it!

I plan to be invincible for Rocky Raccoon training and race day, stay tuned!

5 Lessons from the 2019 Harrisburg Marathon
Scroll to top

Accessibility Toolbar