Lehigh Valley ViaMarathon Race Report

Previously on Phil’s Blog: 

Hot weather, poor training, and 10 extra pounds all contributed to me not BQing at the Paris Marathon in early April. Meanwhile my friend Kevin’s training was on track to BQ at the Eugene Marathon at the end of April. With peer pressure mounting, I toed up to the line at Boston three weeks after running Paris with every intention of BQing so I could join Kevin in 2017. But the factors that led to my demise in Paris — hot weather, poor training, and 10 extra pounds — were still in play at Boston and I didn’t BQ there either.

Kevin did BQ at Eugene. (Of course.) I was on the hook to register for yet another marathon.

I had already signed up for the Lake Placid Ironman in July and Peak2Brew, a 238 mile relay race, in August. That left a small window in early September for one last attempt to BQ for 2017.

Google “best marathon to BQ in September” and you’ll find the following list from the DailyBurn. Fourth on the list is the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon. It’s a point-to-point, net downhill race course designed by Bart Yasso. Fall in Pennsylvania is typically cool, too. In fact, the average temperature for Allentown on race day is 66F — perfect running weather. So it’s no surprise that 24% of the ~2,000 participants BQed in 2014. 

It’s also about an hour from my sister’s house which makes it an especially good destination marathon for me. :-) So I signed up for it. This one’s for you, Kevin.

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Race packet pickup was held at the ArtQuest Center at the old Bethlehem Steel factory foundry. The foundry is kinda like a train wreck. It so huge, so ugly, and so bewildering that it’s actually kind of interesting to look at.

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The old Bethlehem Steel foundry

The expo was surprisingly small and informal and the race swag had a dollar store feel to it. 

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The Expo — charmingly simple

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Some of my favorites from my race swag bag :-)

I’m not complaining in the least. I typically come home from an expo and toss most of the free swag in the garbage. (There’s only a limited number of variations of pomegranate-themed running bars/gels/drinks that I can stomach.) The ViaMarathon raises money for a local charity and I suspect that the race organizers are quite frugal so that they can make a large and meaningful donation. More power to them.

(Note: They weren’t stingy on the race course at all. There was gatorade at each water station, energy gels/bars at at least 4 of them, tubs of ice at one, and wet cloth towels given away at another.)

I hung around for a bit to watch the tail end of the 5K walk/run and then moseyed home to Sis’s.

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Sadly, I didn’t have time to form a meaningful friendship with the shoe-guy

The marathon started at 7:10 AM. School buses were available before the race to ferry runners from Easton (the end point) to the start. Or, you could catch a bus from Easton after the race was over to bring you back to the start in Allentown. I opted for catching the bus to the start. That way I could hop in my car to go home as soon as I finished the race and not have to A) wait for the bus to leave and B) jam my tired legs into a space designed for grade-school kids after running a marathon for 30 minutes.

That meant I got up at 4 AM to make it to the buses by 6 AM  the cut-off time. I drove to Easton, parked on the street, and found the buses easily. I got to the race start around 6:30  plenty of time for one last porto-potty stop. Then I lined up and waited for the gun. 

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7AM. Ten minutes before the race start

The race announcer was clearly audible and informative (when was the last time you could actually hear what the pre-race announcer was saying — or cared to?) and the national anthem was surprisingly well sung. And then the race started. There was no gun, no air horn… The people in front just started running. I’m guessing someone told them to go. :-)

Philosophical question: Is it possible to jump the gun when there is no gun and you’re chip-timed anyway?

Saturday, the day before the race, it was uncharacteristically warm: in the upper 80’s/low 90’s. Race day on Sunday was thankfully cooler, but still warm with mid-to-high 70’s.

The race starts on typical asphalt roads for about 7 miles and then switches to packed gravel trails. There is a surprisingly steep downhill around the first mile mark, some rolling hills after that, but the course is mostly flat. The trail parallels the Lehigh River and a lot of those trails are shaded by a tree canopy. It’s really a beautiful marathon.

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Occasionally leaves would fall on the path as we ran underneath

My legs felt heavy right from the start and I knew between my tiredness and the warmth that I was going to be in for a tough run. I was able to maintain my pace (8:15 min/mile) for the first 8 miles but then the wheels came off the bus. I wolfed down a caffeinated gel and slowed down to a pace I could maintain until it kicked in. Lo and behold, I did feel re-energized in about 20 minutes, but all that meant was that I could hold that pace without slowing down even more. By the half-marathon, it had become mathematically impossible for me to BQ and I started run/walking.

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Around mile 15

(And taking pictures for this blog. :-) At that point, why not, right?)

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View of the Lehigh River from the running path

By mile 18, I gave up trying for a sub-4 hour marathon. 

I was wearing my Lucy & Bob’s Bakery Bistro shirt and a couple of people (who passed me) commented on it. Old Forge, NY is not completely unknown in Pennsylvania it seems. Later I met a fellow Texan in the second half of the race who was also struggling. (His "Texins Triathlon Club" shirt was the give away.) He too had given up hopes for a BQ and a sub-4 hour marathon. His wife was running the race and she was looking strong when he last saw her — around mile 5. She was trying for her own BQ. At the next water stop we both said a silent prayer for her… and then threw water over our heads.

Eventually, the finish line came in sight. The marathon finishes in Easton, PA (home of Crayola Crayons and Lafayette College). There was a band playing at the finish doing surprisingly good cover songs of some 80’s classics, but I had a flight to catch and wandered back to my car as soon as I cooled off a bit. There was supposed to be post-race food, but I didn’t see any right at the finish and I didn’t bother looking around.

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Some welcome shade


So the bottom line: I won’t be joining Kevin in Boston next year. But I am going to come back to run the ViaMarathon next year. It was simply the most beautiful marathon I’ve run and it was very well organized. It’s truly a runner’s marathon.

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Dusty trails + sweaty legs = grimy ankles





 © Phil Miller 2014, 2015, 2016