Friday, November 25, 2011

Run For the Diamonds Race Report

The Run For the Diamonds is a Thanksgiving morning 9 mile race in Berwick, PA that started in 1908. It draws an incredibly elite field (top 8 in both genders get a diamond, the next 8 get a beautiful plaque). I have been wanting to do this race since about 2007, but there was always some conflict: work, the Philadelphia Marathon, being too out of shape, etc. This year I was determined to make it happen, and ran *just* enough this off-season (i.e. probably not enough to sufficiently train for a 9 mile race) to be sure I would do ok and not die.

I made plans to carpool the 1.5 hours to Berwick with my high school cross country coach, Mike, and his wife, Rachel, who are both talented runners and have both *just* missed out on top 16 awards at this race. (Also, these two are both registered for Mooseman 70.3 and Ironman Lake Placid for 2012)! It was ~27 degrees when I woke up on race morning, but it was supposed to warm up to mid-50s during the day, so I wore shorts and brought a bunch of different running tops along, just in case.

hilariously awful race shirt!
I showed up at their house promptly at 7:45, and we arrived in Berwick at around 9:15. The car ride was full of stories of other races, tales from High School, and Mike scaring me to death with a description of the terrain of this race. We picked up our race packets, warmed up, hit the portapotties, got race-ready, and headed to the start which was set to go off at 10:30 am. I decided to run in shorts, a short sleeved tech shirt, arm warmers, and gloves. I started at the front of the middle.. in the midst of maybe 1500 runners? The gun went off and it took me about 12 seconds to cross the start line, which is when I started my Garmin. Rachel had asked me my goal for this race, and I said that I was shooting for 8 min/mile pace, which, once I heard of the terrain (after 2 miles, you run up a non-stop hill for at least a mile), thought that might be a little fast. An 8:00 min/mile pace would put me across the finish line at 1:12, so I tentatively aimed for that as a ballpark finish time.

Unsure of my fitness, and how fast I might actually be able to run a 9 mile race right now regardless of the hills, I took it out at 8 min/mile pace for the first 2 flat-ish miles. This race is a huge party in Berwick - tons of people were out on their porches and lining the streets - drinking beers, smoking cigarettes, etc. Gotta love Pennsylvania!

The first 2 miles felt a little fast and I was cramping a little and wondering how I was going to run 7 more miles at this pace (and 8 min/mile pace is not super intense fast for me.. it should be doable!). It's a testament to how of shape I really am right now. But once we hit the big uphill, I settled into a decent rhythm. It was slow going, but I actually felt better running up the hill than I did for the first 2 miles of that race. I ran up, up, up for what seemed like forever, and then it turned into a steep downhill, and then went back up! Once the downhills started was where I started to have some problems. I am not a great downhill runner, but I knew that if I wanted to make up the time I lost on the slow uphill sections, I would have to push it, so I was basically running as fast as I could down this huge, unrelenting hill. My right knee and leg seemed stiff but I didn't want to stop and stretch it so I just ignored it. It didn't hurt.. just felt weird and a little uncomfortable.

I hit the halfway point at about 38:45 (which was ok, both Mike and Rachel had assured me that it is impossible not to negative split this race, even if you started out like a maniac), rounded a hairpin turn, and saw some young guy puking on the side of the rode. Lovely. I continued to run downhill for most of the rest of the race (mixed in with some quick uphills). It finally flattened out as we started to approach the town, but after running downhill for so long, it actually felt like I was going uphill! I passed the 8 mile clock in about 1:06:xx and knew that there was no way I was going to run a 1:12, so just started hoping I could finish in less than 1:15. At about 8.2 miles, I ran out of steam (funny, this is about the length of all of the "long runs I have done since Ironman Wisconsin). The last mile of this race was the worst part.. it's the same as the first mile (more or less) and is a straight shot down a divided "boulevard" with grass in the middle, which I am assuming is one of the main drags in Berwick. It just kept going on, and on, and on at what felt like a slight uphill grade. I finally saw the finish line, crossed, and was DONE! My legs were jello from those hills and my right knee was bothering me. I tried to stretch it out and then found Mike and Rachel. We went over to where there was food so they could check results, unfortunately, neither of them had super great races so we left without waiting for the awards ceremony.

I ended up finishing in 1:14:36 (8:18 pace), 13 out of 83 in my age group, and 605 overall, out of 1579 total runners.

Garmin data.. at least I kept my heart rate stimulated!

mile splits

We headed out of town, hit up a Sheetz for some MTOs (LOVE SHEETZ!!) And then started the 90 min drive home. Mike decided to take a different route home than we took to the race, and we ended up driving over this mountain and in the "town" of Lopez in Sullivan County. Remember all of that terrible flooding that happened in PA in September? Well, the area that my parents live and the surrounding counties were hit hard. There are bridges closed all over the place. We got to Lopez, and the bridge we needed to take to get home was closed. So instead of turning around, we went straight (the bridge was to the right of us) into the PA State Gamelands hoping that we could go through them and emerge on the other side. 20 minutes later, we were driving up huge rocky ATV trails in a Subaru Outback, splashing through giant mud puddles, and Mike was getting frustrated. Meanwhile, Rachel and I were giggling because in reality, the situation was pretty hilarious. Mike was worried that we were going to pop a tire and be stranded miles into the wilderness with only some water and a Clif Bar. Rachel and I were facebooking back and forth in our iPhones (her in the front seat, me in the back).

the "A" marks Lopez, the green area is where we were driving around lost!
We finally just had to turn around and backtrack because we weren't finding any other way out. 40 minutes after we first entered the Gamelands, we exited in the same place we started, laughing about how there was probably mud all over the side of the car with branches sticking out of the roof rack. There was an older couple walking down the road just past the closed bridge, so Rachel asked them how to get to Wyalusing (which is where they live) and they gave us directions, with the warning that it was 10 - 12 miles and "part of it is a dirt road." Umm.. did you folks NOT see where we just emerged from? Dirt road is fine.

We made the turn onto the detour road, which eventually turned into the widest dirt road we had ever seen, complete with "do not pass" signs. Seriously, I can't believe that a dirt road in freakin' Lopez, PA gets enough traffic to warrant a "do not pass" sign! 20 minutes later, we turned onto a real road. Comments from the car included: "LOOK! a real road!" "it even has a painted line!" and "CIVILIZATION!!" We arrived back at Mike and Rachel's not long after our return to paved roads, and I thanked them for driving and headed home for Thanksgiving dinner with my family!

en-route Facebook conversation between the passengers
Unfortunately, after racing a hard, hilly 9 miles and then sitting in a car for over 2 hours, my right knee was not happy with me. It was stiff and painful to walk. Since the race, I have been taking ibuprofen and icing religiously in hopes that I didn't do any serious damages. Fingers are crossed!

I will DEFINITELY be returning to this race in future years - it was a blast!

Hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving!


  1. Congrats on an awesome race!!!

    UGH. Hope that knee is OK!!

  2. You know you are in trouble when the Google Map picture has more blue (rivers) than yellow (roads).

    Great work on the run! Hope your knee recovers quickly. Do you think the road was crowned at all? I have my worst knee issues when running on a crowned road without realizing it.

  3. Funny!! Hope that knee heals fast!! Downhill running takes a toll on those knees! How do you post all these data ,and pics on your blog??!

  4. Do you wish that there were some hills in this race? BTW—that race t-shirt is AWESOME!


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