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Health & Exercise Forum

Reflections from a First-time Steamtown Marathoner

Oct 21, 2013
Gina Tomaine

Gina Tomaine

Guest Columnist: Gina Tomaine

I decided to train for my first marathon shortly after running a ten-mile road race in Washington D.C. in spring of 2013. I had been running 5Ks for about a year at that point, and my overall health and fitness was at an all-time high. Not only was my fitness commitment strong, but I also was looking for a goal to build towards to motivate me mentally and physically to improve. I had been living in Boston for three years, and cheering for runners at the Boston Marathon each year made me fall in love with the marathon distance. After the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, I only wanted to run more. I wanted to honor the legacy of so many that had run that marathon, by continuing that spirit of determination, strength, and joy.

I chose the Steamtown Marathon because it was an ideal fall marathon. I loved the linear nature of the race, and also, that it was a hometown race. It seemed positive and symbolic to be able to literally run home. My training plan consisted of short to mid-length runs during the week and a long-run every weekend, usually every Sunday. I started building up from my ten-mile run back in the spring by adding 1-2 miles each weekend. I would run 10 miles one weekend, the following weekend 13, and the following weekend 15, and so on, ending at around 20 or 22 miles at three weeks before the marathon.

In addition to my long runs every weekend and short runs during the week, I cross-trained heavily to work on different muscle groups and stay balanced. I practiced Vinyasa and Bikram yoga 1-2 times a week. For a different cardio workout, I substituted a short run with Zumba, Kickboxing, and the elliptical. The yoga always made me feel more limber and at ease with my running, the different cardio routines kept my body adaptable and in shape, and the elliptical was a big help to my knees and feet when I needed a lower-impact workout. I also made sure to incorporate strength and resistance training with some lightweight (5 pound) weights, squats, lunges, as well as regular planks, sit-ups and abs workouts.

In August and September of my training, I started to feel pain in my knees and hips, as well as my foot. I started incorporating physical therapy into my routine with exercises given to me by my local physical therapist, Dr. Mackarey. These exercises helped to strengthen my knees and hips to handle the intense strain put on them by all the mileage I was putting in. With regular exercise, therapy, heat, ice, stretching, foam-rolling, and continuing to include yoga in my weekly routine, my knees held up.

On race day I was terrified and excited, and made sure to do everything I had normally done during my race routine. The cannon blasted, and I started out pacing myself with the hills in Forest City. It was difficult to hold back with all the adrenaline, but my training reminded me to save my energy for the end of the race. All the support from family and friends, clever and encouraging signs (“I’m proud of you, perfect stranger!”), and free distribution of orange slices and bananas throughout the valley were nonstop encouragement as I made my way towards Scranton. I felt strong and sure that I could complete the race, and my goal as a first-timer was simply to finish under 5 hours.

At around mile 20 I started to lose heart. The pain of repetitive exercise in my joints was starting to overwhelm my mental drive to finish, and it was difficult, most of all, to keep focus. I knew I couldn’t stop, with all the crowds and the other runners there. I knew I had to finish, and that instinct took over. With encouragement from friends, I kept going, and kept a steady running pace up the hills of both the Boulevard and Electric St. The shouts and music blasting in Green Ridge were a huge mental pick-me-up, and also meant the race was almost finished.

Even at mile 25, I felt like I didn’t know how I was going to make it down the final stretch. But that drive, that willpower, and that joy of the race prevailed, and I kept moving past Cooper’s, down North Washington, and towards Courthouse Square. When I saw the bright finish line sign, my heart filled up. I sprinted the last two blocks with a burst of energy I didn’t know I had. I raised my arms in the air as I crossed the tape of the finish line, received a medal around my neck, a Mylar blanket around my shoulders. I was a marathoner.

Guest Columnist: Gina Tomaine, MFA Emerson College 2013, is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Boston Globe, and Boston Magazine. She is a Dickson City native and avid runner.

Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – Every Monday in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.