On October 9th I participated in my 16th marathon, the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in Albany, NY.
Earlier in the year I had entered the TCS New York City Marathon lottery with my wife. She got in, I didn’t. That left me looking for another fall marathon just so it would not drive me crazy not having a race during that time. With family located in Albany, NY and the reputation for this being a fast course I did some research into this race. There was also the Hannaford Half Marathon running concurrent to the marathon (essentially the last 13.1 miles of the marathon course) and this distance slotted in nicely with my wife’s NYC training plan. This helped seal the deal and so I signed us up for our respective races.
I knew this was not going to be a big city marathon but I knew there would be a lot of serious runners taking part so I thought this would be a good race for me to attempt and conquer that sub 3:50 marathon that has so far remained elusive to me. With the date set and the training complete we planned our weekend.
We picked up the boys from school and packed our car. The drive to Albany was 180 miles at the end of a long week. The boys were pretty good (i.e. we fed them so they would be quiet) along the route. We stopped just once along the route and as it was a Friday evening we battled some weekend traffic so we didn’t get into Albany until close to 11pm that night. The boys went to bed quickly and we took the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep as we didn’t plan on heading to the expo until late morning.
The expo was being held at the Hilton Albany, NY which was just over a mile from our hotel. Parking nearby was easy and free at weekends. Good to know as I would need to drive to the same location the next morning.
Once inside the expo we headed first to pick up our bib and race packets. It wasn’t a huge room nor was it a huge expo but there was plenty to look at and the race merchandise area itself was plentiful and very reasonably priced. We were probably in and out of the expo within 30-40 minutes which included shopping and chatting with the vendors there.
After the expo we headed over to visit family for the day. The plan was for us to spend the day with them and the boys would be sleeping over at their house so we would have someone to look after them in the morning. Both races were point to point races ending in downtown Albany which was about 10 miles or so from where the family is located so it was convenient from them to come out and cheer the next day.
We spent that afternoon at a farm in Esparance NY picking pumpkins, walking through a corn maze, doing a scavenger hunt and eating warm apple cider donuts (that was my favorite part). From there we headed back towards home and had an early dinner at a local Italian eatery, where I proceeded to eat the bread basket. After dinner we took the boys over to a local trampoline park to get out whatever energy they had left and then after saying our goodbyes we left them with family and headed back to our hotel to get everything ready for the next day.
I didn’t forget my usual pre-Marathon tradition of a cookie the night before the marathon. There was a Starbucks in the hotel for my convenience.
We woke up early on Sunday morning. As we were planning to head over to meet up with family after the race we planned to shower there after the race so we checked out of our hotel early and headed over to the where the buses would be shuttling us over to our respective start lines. The hotel seemed to be popular with other runners and we all pretty much departed at the same time. My wife always thinks I make her get up and leave too early. Having other people leaving the same time as me is my only defense to that argument.
It was a 10 minute drive to the center of Albany (if that) and we parked very close to the host hotel. From there we walked down the hill to the bus staging areas. The buses for the full and half marathons were parked on opposite sides of the street and volunteers made sure we got on the correct buses. I said goodbye to Shari and we headed off to grab a seat on our bus.
The drive from downtown Albany to the start of the race in Central Park Schenectady took about 40 minutes. It was dark when we left but by the time we arrived at the Park it was daylight. I was sitting next to someone running their first marathon. Judging by how he was talking to me about his pacing he was probably a sub 3 hour guy. Not much I could say to him in advice other than to enjoy his first race…he would be done sooner than me.
It was a small race in comparison to most of my other marathons. There were just over 1,000 runners according to the final results. There was plenty of space at the starting area and plenty of port-a-potties for all the runners. Lines were not too long. They were definitely prepared for runners.
As the time got closer to the start I checked my gear bag and put on my large plastic trash bag to keep me warm. I just wish I had cut a larger hole in it to get my head through. I needed a little assistance getting through. Oops. Once appropriately bagged I went over to the start line and waited with my fellow runners. That was until they told us we were standing on the wrong side of the start line.
There were no corrals as this was a self-seeded race by the honor system. I lined up between the 3:45 and 3:55 pacers. My goal was to go sub 3:50 (my elusive goal time) and I figured if I could keep the 3:45 guy in my sight for most of the race I would come in close. Once the National Anthem had been sung and final instructions given I waited for the word to go.
I had a plan to set off steady with a run/walk ratio of 4:30/0:30 and set off pretty comfortably. I was within sight of the 3:45 pacer the whole time I was running through the first few miles. These took us around the local neighborhoods until we reached the banks of the Hudson River where we ran on along the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail.
The race is a net downhill and the view from the very high point before we headed towards the river was breathtaking. It was a beautiful day, perfect conditions and the colors of the trees were amazing. I was told it was the prime weekend to see the Adirondacks in the fall. It was amazing.
We ran down towards the river past the large General Electric plant and I still had the pacer in sight. In fact although I wasn’t running with the pace group I was running with an informal group of runners who I would keep in touch with between walk breaks. The path was wide enough for 2 to 3 people to run side by side comfortably.
Finally, at around mile 9 as we encountered a slight upgrade a fellow runner came by alongside me and remarked that she was impressed that I was using the Galloway method (she was familiar with it). She said that was running a very good pace and was looking good. That was the worst thing she could have said at that particular moment. I wasn’t thinking about pace, I was just going with the flow. I knew I was maintaining my goal pace but didn’t want to think about it too much. Marathon math is no good to me.
I soon began to fall back from the pace group ahead. I was still in touch with the small group I was running with but with every walk break it was taking me longer and longer to catch up. By the time we reached mile 12 and had to run up the hill to start the second half of the course I was no longer able to see the 3:45 pace group and the small group of runners I had been running with for the last 12 miles were out of my range.
The next few miles were not my happiest but I plodded along. I had developed a side stitch running up the hill which is quite unusual for me and I could feel my heart rate had become elevated. It wouldn’t come down so quickly during walk breaks. I hit the half marathon point at 1:56:32. Still on target for sub 4 hours.
On the second half of the course you encounter a couple of small but steep downhills and also a set of railway tracks. They have timing mats set up around the tracks in case you have to stop for a train. Luckily I was able to avoid any stops. The downhills allowed you to pick up a few seconds here or there but I would soon find that a net downhill does impact your legs more than you would think.
I settled in with another group of runners. I will still on pace for a sub 4 hour marathon but I wasn’t able to maintain a steady pace per mile.
We were away from the bike trail for the next 6 miles as we ran along the highway. It was tight at the side of the road as the race organizers had set the traffic cones on the inside of the lane. The traffic was fairly heavy on the other side of the road as they were open during the time we were running. It was however perfectly safe to run. I tried to stay on the road vs the sidewalk as it was much smoother than the sidewalk which was pretty much concrete slabs which were not always even.
We ran through the small town of Watervliet for a short time. I noticed that there were banners all along the route to commemorate fallen soldiers from the town from World War II. Wow, so many. I could only imagine that this community would have been deeply affected by that time. It was a nice tribute. You had to look up to see the names, battalions and dates of each person but it kept my mind off my running for a while.
As we were close to exiting the town, which was around mile 19, I was passed by the 3:55 pacer. Looking back at my stats, I was holding my own through mile 18. My slowest mile up until that point had been just over 9 minutes per mile. But by mile 19 I started to drop 30 seconds per mile. I wasn’t quite toast…I must have hit the wall but it wasn’t a total collapse.
Just after mile 20 we hit the Bike-Hike trail again. Just as we did that I was passed by the 4 hour pacer. I was determined no other pacers were going to pass me. Although I was now posting miles in the mid 10 minutes per mile I persisted along the path until I was near the finish. Around the last mile I saw an unfortunate runner on the back of an emergency vehicle. He was obviously in a lot of discomfort but he made sure he gave every runner he passed a thumbs up while he was being driven away.
Once I hit the last mile I could begin to hear the crowds at the finish. I could see downtown Albany rise above the trees. I looked at my watch. A sub 4 hour race was now out of the question but I knew I could get close to 4 hours. I buckled down and headed into the finish chute determined to cross the finish line.
I crossed the line in 4:04:46. Not my fastest but not my slowest. It is actually my 3rd fastest marathon (I do have two sub 4 hour races). At least I beat out the next pace group.
The crowds were great. The Bike-Hike trail is narrow so the crowds were close on both sides which was great as you were bearing down on the finish.
Beyond the finish line I was given my medal, a mylar blanket and a bottle of water. Beyond that there was Gatorade and chocolate milk (yeah for chocolate milk). A few steps beyond was the runners village. There they had plenty of food and refreshments. Chips, bagels, water, Gatorade, bars, bananas and more chocolate milk. The Half Marathon (which my wife had run) was sponsored by Hannaford Supermarkets so I’m sure they were the provider for the post-race area.
There was also a tent where you could go in with your bib and get an instant race result. This was a big Boston qualifier race (for those who could). They were also selling race merchandise too.
What was great was that when I got to the bag check they handed me my bag without me even asking. They must have had a system when they saw someone cross the line the information (bib number) was fed to the bag check people who got the bag out the truck and ready for pickup. Genius!!!
My wife had a great race. She ran 1:53:53 for the half. Close to her PR. She had the advantage of finishing a couple of hours earlier. Both races started at the same time (8am). Our family had brought the boys to the finish line and they were there to cheer her on and see her finish. They were long gone by the time I finished the race. She went back to the house with them and she was ready and showered by the time I got there.
Getting back to my car was quite the challenge. I now had to walk back up the hill to my car but first I had to cross the highway back into downtown Albany. While there was a ramp up the bridge there were steps down. Yup. Steps. I’d only run a marathon!!!
I’d cooled down quickly by then and the breeze had picked up. By the time I got back to the car I was cold and more than grateful for the fact that my car has heated seats. Once in the car I made the 20 minute drive back to the house where I took a quick shower and changed into some warm dry clothes for the journey home.
As our family had plans that afternoon (they were attending a wedding) we didn’t stay too long. We stopped at a local diner to refuel before heading back home for what turned out to be a 4 hour drive.
I was a little stiff the next day but I put that down to sitting in the car for such a long time so soon after the race. While I have returned home from marathons on the same day before and sat for many hours in a car to do so in the past, for those races I had spent time walking around and sightseeing before jumping into the car. Sitting still is not the best way to recover from a marathon. I think that required me to have an extra couple of days extra rest.
Overall I really enjoyed the race. The course was scenic (for the most part) and the community did come out to cheer us on. I think I have to figure out my own game plan for running a marathon as this was a perfect day to run and the course was set up for a fast race. In fact, the winner broke the course record that day. My wife had also had a great race. I was for the most part having a good run until around mile 16-18 when I tired.
I would recommend the race especially if you are after a BQ. It isn’t too crowded and there are not many turns. It is a fast course. I’d wished we had spent a little extra time there after the race but we all had to get back to work and school the next day. Either way, marathon number 16 was complete and I was very happy.
Thank you for reading.
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