Race Recap: 2016 Harrisburg Marathon

by: Kelly Leighton
November 16, 2016

They say it takes a village.

I’m not sure if “they” were referring to a marathon, but in this case, it took a village to get me to the finish line of the Harrisburg Marathon Sunday.

I’ve often talked about how much I love the local running community, and Sunday just made my heart grow even bigger, even though I had a rough race.

When I arrived at the starting line Sunday, I was already in a bad place mentally. I tried a new-to-me training plan, the Hanson’s Marathon Method (which I will share my thoughts on in an upcoming post), and I think I was ultimately extremely burned out.

Kelly marathon

Instead of being excited and nervous, I was filled with dread. I had no desire to run a marathon, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I told myself it was just nerves and to fake a positive attitude. At 7:55, I stripped down to my singlet and started near the 3:25 pace group. I was gunning for a PR (sub-3:26:40), and I had put a lot of time and effort into my training.

I kept the pace for the first few miles, but I still couldn’t shake my bad mood.

It was a beautiful, cool fall morning, and there were lots of people I knew cheering, running and volunteering, but it didn’t help. I started playing mental games pretty early on. At mile 4, I thought, “just get to mile 5.” This is a game I usually play after 20 miles, not 4. I was still smiling and waving at people I knew, but I was gritting my teeth. Around the ninth mile, I started to entertain the idea of dropping out. I was still on pace, but I just didn’t want to be running. I wish I could explain it better, but my head was in a very bad place.

I hit mile 10 – still on pace – and soon saw Tim and my friend Amanda, who were cheering together. I just shook my head and gave a thumbs down. Around mile 12, I thought I would make it to the half and then drop out. I just didn’t want to run anymore. I was so mentally defeated. Around this point, my friend Gary was running the opposite way, looking for people he knew on the course. I yelled hello to him, and he asked me if I wanted company. I told him yes, but that I was in a very, very bad place mentally and was most likely going to drop.

He suggested I slow down and take a walk break. I think I growled at him in response.

He kept running with me and talking, and I just grunted in return. Right before the halfway point, I stopped to a walk. “I can’t do this. I am dropping.” I started crying pretty hard. I was so disappointed, so upset, and felt like I was letting everyone, especially myself, down. I was physically fine, my mental state was just terrible. I called Tim sobbing and told him to come pick me up. At this point, my friend Katy, who had run the first leg of the relay, saw Gary and I walking, and she jogged across the street. She asked what was wrong and I told her, and she and Gary encouraged me to run a little, walk a little until Tim got there.

They distracted me enough that we ran an entire mile without me noticing (as my poor husband drove around looking for me), and we then dropped Katy off at the relay exchange. Gary and I soldiered on, and I still wasn’t convinced I was going to finish, as there were 12 miles to go. At this point, we saw Amanda, and I started crying again, and she jumped in and ran/walked with us, and gave me a really good pep talk about getting out of my head and running MY race.

That was when I knew I was going to finish.

Gary and I spent the next eight miles doing a run/walk. Physically, I was still mostly fine, my hamstrings were tight, and my hips were achy, but my head was just so dark. I must have said “I can’t believe this is happening,” a hundred times. Gary entertained me the whole time, telling stories, encouraging me to run when our walk breaks had gone on too long, and asking me to tell him about my dog (my favorite topic). He told me he could hang with me until mile 22, so I texted Tim and told him he was on deck to run me in at that point.

We hit the JCC, and I said goodbye to Gary, and Tim and I began the journey down Front Street. We were walking a lot. I had long stopped caring. However, before we hit mile 23, I realized we could spend the next hour walking, or we could run it in and come in under 4 hours. Once a new goal was set, my mental state started to brighten. We only walked once in the last 3+ miles, up the hill near the Walnut Street Bridge, which we had agreed upon previously. We were easily running low-8 minute miles. It was all in my head.

We hit mile 26, and Tim told me the finish line was mine, and he peeled off. I crossed in 3:55:09, a far cry from what I had hoped and trained for.

On one hand, I am filled with disappointment and frustration. On the other hand, I honestly cannot believe I crossed that finish line. I have never hit rock bottom like this, not even in Boston 2014.

tim kelly marathon

I am eternally grateful to Gary, Katy, Amanda, Tim and all the people who cheered for me and yelled encouraging things at me for being there for me at my worst. There is NO way I would have finished without them. And, ultimately, any day you can run (or run/walk/cry) 26.2 miles is a good day, even if it’s not on the terms you anticipated or wanted.

Categories: Running

9 thoughts on “Race Recap: 2016 Harrisburg Marathon

  1. Rory Ritrievi on said:

    Failing to reach a goal is tough on a pure competitor. Having the strength to then publish an article about it takes real courage. I suspect any person who has attempted multiple marathons has had a day like you and I did Sunday. That does not make it any easier, just maybe more understandable? Congratulations on finishing a tough marathon Kelly, your 7th. And thank you for sharing your story. You are awesome.

    • Kelly on said:

      Thanks Rory. I really appreciate your kind words and loved seeing you out there. Maybe we are just saving it all up for Boston? 😉 See you on the road!

  2. Brian Polensky on said:

    You rocked it and had a good time. Kudos for defeating your race demons. Great seeing you out there.

    • Kelly on said:

      Thanks Brian. Congrats on your first marathon!

  3. Nancy Corrigan on said:

    Congrats Kelly ! Great story and greater sccomplishment!

  4. Scott on said:

    So sorry to hear you had a tough day. When I started to see the returning runners I looked for you but never saw you.

    This was my first marathon and I finished, I was hoping to finish around the time you actually finished but I had terrible quad cramping just after 20 miles, I guess I need to do more long runs. I fell out of the 4 hour pace group I was running with and had to run walk the final 6 miles. It was tough but there was no way I was not finishing. I ended up finishing in 4 hours and 23 minutes, but I was so happy and proud when I turned that corner and saw the finish and any time was a PR for me so this just gives me something to try and better next go around.

    Great to hear you finished!

    • Kelly on said:

      Congrats on becoming a marathoner, Scott! I think a lot of people struggled with the last few miles, if you look at the results, most people slowed significantly after the turnaround on Front Street. That is an awesome time for a first marathon, and I know you have a sub-4 in you!

  5. Mary Lou Harris on said:

    Kelly, when we said hello at the pavilion before the start, I noticed you looked pensive and a little pale. Who knows what secrets our body and brain have stored up to surprise us with when we most need their cooperation. What an awesome team of friends you had out there.

    • Kelly on said:

      It’s funny, you aren’t the only person to tell me I looked “off” from the start. I feel so lucky to be a part of this running community, we really pick each other up when we fall.

      Congratulations to you on a great race! You are such an inspiration.

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