Bucks County Marathon: Frosty Fun

The Bucks County Marathon was the coldest marathon I’ve run so far, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable race! Not severe cold — low 30s to start and barely 40 to finish, and it didn’t start raining until after I drove away, thank goodness! It was a small field of a little more than 300 finishers — a far cry from the 30,000 I ran with three weeks ago at the Marine Corps Marathon, but I loved the low key vibe and the absolutely delightful Delaware Canal Towpath. I would definitely recommend the runBucks Series to fellow runners.

Unique medal, but not my first incorporating a bottle opener!

This wasn’t a milestone race for me — just a last-minute addition for fun since I felt pretty good after Marine Corps and realized that the Bucks County Marathon wasn’t the same day as the Philly Marathon like it has been in the past. I’m not running Philly, but I am volunteering with my club, Fast Tracks, at the Mile 10 water stop so I was surprised and delighted to discover that I could add Bucks for one more race this year — my 16th overall marathon/ultra on November 16, and my 5th this year.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Washington Crossing Historical Park in Washington Crossing, PA, where the race began and finished. I grew up in Bucks County, but I was a lot younger when I was last there and on the towpath so this was almost like visiting for the first time. The park itself is quite small and unremarkable (especially compared to Valley Forge National Historical Park where I do a lot of training runs). The course begins and ends with about a mile loop around the perimeter of the park on an asphalt road.

Some of the Marathon Maniacs participating just before the start of the race


At every race, I enjoy meeting new Marathon Maniac friends before the start. It was special to meet the youngest Marathon Maniac Nikolas Toocheck and his dad, Dan (second and third from the right in the photo above). At 11-years-old Nik is the youngest to complete all a marathon on all 7 continents and raising money and awareness for children living in poverty through his website, Running the World for Children.

I was a little surprised that they had nine waves to start the race given the small field size, but once I was on the towpath, it made a lot of sense. The initial loop in the park allowed the field to spread out a bit, and on many sections of the towpath there was only enough room for two abreast in either direction — often when passing under one of the 15 camelback bridges along the course.

The course itself is really pretty — even on a cold, gray day. In addition to the bridges, we had views of the Delaware Canal and River and many stretches of beautiful woods. Somewhere near mile 2 or 3 there was a magnificent white swan in the canal, and it was still in the same spot when I got back. Of course there were ducks and geese, and one very loud gaggle of geese flying north over the river as I was running back south. The course included a brief run through New Hope with one road crossing and a very brief flight of easy steps. Some of the homes along the canal and the river are also quite magnificent — especially along the stretch just north of New Hope.

I wasn’t sure what the conditions of the towpath would be, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in excellent shape for running. It was mostly hard-pack dirt and/or very small gravel that wasn’t loose so footing was quite stable. I worry a bit about running on newly fallen leaves that might hid stones or twigs potentially twisting an ankle, but there were only a couple of spots with leaves — probably due to recent windy weather. In general the path was an excellent surface to run on. There were only 2 or 3 muddy spots that were quite easily avoided, and it was pretty easy to pass or be passed in spite of the relatively narrow towpath. The size of the field of runners was very good for the venue, and I believe it can easily accommodate its stated cap of 500.

The Runners’ Guide gave us a heads up about low clearances at some of the 15 camelback bridge underpasses along the course, and I wrote a quick parody of the Erie Canal lyrics for the occasion in my last blog post. Most of them had plenty of head room, but there were a couple that actually made me feel like ducking although I don’t think it was really necessary (for me). In some cases the underpass included a bit of a dip in the towpath and many of them were only wide enough for two abreast, but they provided a nice scenic element and a perfect perch to race spectators.

Low Bridge
Low Bridge: I took the time for a selfie at an underpass on the way back


I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself since this was my first marathon that wasn’t entirely on asphalt, and I was primarily doing it for fun. Since Marine Corps I had eliminated walking intervals in my training runs of up to 15 miles long so I decided to start out without them as long as it felt comfortable, and I did that for the first 10 miles. At that point I was averaging about an 11:15 pace. I felt pretty good decided to switch to 1:45/40 intervals then to see if I could conserve something for the end of the race. For the next 5 miles I actually maintained close to that pace in spite of the intervals and I was still passing other runners, but I slowed  to around 12-minute pacing for miles 15 and 16. I’m not sure why because I was back down in the mid-11 pacing for miles 17 and 18. Mile 19 was another slow one — 13:12 pace — but I picked it back up to close to 12-minute miles for the next 2 miles. I think that was the stretch that I had a companion runner. Once he ran ahead, I slowed to about a 13-minute pace for mile 22. By the end of the next mile, I switched my intervals to 1/1 since I was not even close to finishing around 5 hours. At that point, I figured I’d keep it comfortable to the end and even stopped to take the selfie photo above.

Some complained about the loop inside, especially at the end when you have to pass alongside the finish chute as you begin that last loop, but that didn’t bother me at all. Once I actually see the finish line in a race it gives me a boost — no matter how far away it is — and you can see the finish all around that loop. My only complaint with the loop was the condition of the asphalt in spots — you had to be alert for an occasional pothole or worn section, especially at the end when your focus is not quite as sharp.

I actually finished with my best time for the year — 5:20:48 — so I was happy with that even though I think I should be closer to finishing in 5 hours. Still, it is a far cry from my worst time of 7:28 in January at Disney World on my plantar fasciitis-ravaged foot. Running the first 10 miles as fast as I did in this race without any walk intervals wasn’t a great strategic decision, but I still had a blast. It’s always fun to beat the beast no matter how you do it!

Race Director, Pat McCloskey, greeted the finishers — even those of us at the back of the pack — one of the nice advantages of running a small event like this. And the post race food was great! They had hot dogs, hamburgers, meatballs, chili, and beans for refueling along with more typical fare. I enjoyed some chili, but I didn’t eat too much since I was going to meet my family for dinner after I got cleaned up and changed. But you could certainly get your fill if you wanted or needed to.

If you are a runner and get a chance, consider doing one of the runBucks series. I will definitely consider doing this one again and other of the series in the future.

Now, it’s time for me to rest briefly before I begin training in earnest for the Dust Bowl Series in March, 2015. Doing 5 marathons in 5 consecutive days will be a major new challenge for me as well as making significant progress on my quest for all 50 states.

Relentless Forward Progress…