Nostalgic Marathon - by Al Casey after his 103rd Marathon

Nostalgic Marathon
[By Al Casey, a Loper since 1978]

Runners arrived before sunrise on 12 October 2008, at Forest City High School for the start of the Steamtown Marathon. All receive a unique greeting by the high school students who, despite the early hour (6 AM and on) are there to offer a bottle of water, pin a small ribbon on your shirt for good luck and advise the runners on food snacks, lavatories, and places to warm up aside from the 50 degree weather outside.

Inside the gym I looked over the gathering athletes and noted the Naval Academy Marathon Team who come every second year to make this event. I chatted briefly with their coach after I told him I was a graduate of the academy he introduced me to a few nearby. The young athletes were characteristically courteous but I noted their eyes roll a bit when I said I was from the Class of 1954. As I thought about it later, when I was a Midshipman in 1954, had I been introduced to a former graduate who was from a class 54 years earlier, my eyes would also roll in surprise. After all he would have been in the class of 1900, not far from the era some old Salts referred to as the days of “Wooden Ships and Iron Men!”

After checking in my bag of sweat clothes to be carried to the finish line I moved outside toward the start area. There I saw the Channel 16 TV crew with Ryan Leckey, a reporter who had interviewed me four years ago at this same event. He called me over for a short on air interview where I told him it would be my 103rd Marathon if I finished and that I was shooting for a 4:45 since that is the Boston qualifying time for my elderly age. The race committee had been kind enough to give me my age, 76, as my number. This is one more distinct advantage of running a hometown marathon.

Precisely at 8 AM a local Civil War History group fired a Civil War cannon to start the race. The first mile is a rather steep downhill so the trick is to descend to the downtown Forest City streets without crashing. Soon you are in a small village, Vandling, and hitting the first water station. There is a beautiful wooded section for the next five miles with the trees in glorious color as you descend gradually along the Lackawanna River. About mile 7 you enter Carbondale, where I grew up and attended St. Rose High School, class of 1949. Running downhill into town I can see my old home and at the next intersection, my niece, Mary Kay Bifano and her dog Rusty, greeted me. Carbondale is a particularly enjoyable place on the route because of the lively crowds, delightful cheerleaders, and boisterous bands.

In south Carbondale at about mile 9 we ran past the house where my dad was raised back in the early 20th century before he went off to WW1. The old two family residence is still occupied but I’m sure much renovation was done to make it livable to our current standards. This area was known as “The Bush” when I lived in Carbondale and one of the local women along the course confirmed that that name is still used for their area.

The small town of Mayfield and Jermyn are next leading on to the halfway point just before we entered Archbald. This is a special place for me since it is the town where my mother was born and raised and now is where my son Patrick and his wife Nancy live with their five children. Chelsea, Rosie, Dylan, Tara and Eileen greeted me at mile 15 not far from their home where they had a warm half bagel for me as well as a hug for their grandfather. What could be better than that!

Next we covered the 2.2 miles of Rails-to-Trails section of the course where the surface is packed gravel and the trees are at arms length on either side. The soft surface is not a favorite of the elite runners as it slows you a bit but the scenery is great and the average runner appreciates the respite from pavement. Next there is a loop around Mellow Park with a long stretch along the Lackawanna riverbank.

As you close out the trail section you approach the town of Olyphant where a large Golden Anchor marks that you are beyond the 20 mile point and taking on the final 10K to the finish. Here, it helps me to recall the final section on the Loma Linda Loper’s course that I run most Sundays in California. I usually get to it after a long training run and can visualize the end of that run as my joints are beginning to feel less flexible.

At mile 23 I see my sister Anne and her husband Dr. Gene Roe as they observe the runners passing the home of their daughter Janet and her husband Joe Murray. The Roe’s and Murray’s always give me a boost before the final climb at mile 24. The top of that climb is also a place to renew your spirit as the children of St. Joseph’s Center greet you. They are disabled children cared for at St. Josephs by the IHM Sisters and it is to their benefit that the proceeds of the Marathon are dedicated. Many of the kids are severely disabled mentally or physically and are mostly in wheel chairs. Their spirit and joy at the runner’s direct attention is inspiring.
The final stretch down Washington Avenue in Scranton takes you to the finish line at the beautiful Courthouse that dominates this part of the city. A few blocks away is the Steamtown Museum with old steam locomotives on display. I was gratified to cross the line at 4:35, within my target of 4:45 for a Boston qualification.

The winner’s of the marathon were both locals, Kevin Borrelli led the men with a 2:22:41 and Heidi Wolfsberger with a 2:44:27 for the women. Twenty eight percent of the finishers qualified for Boston so there are some advantages of a 955 feet net downhill course and the pleasure of a well-run marathon.

A 20-minute video of the 2008 Steamtown Marathon is now posted on the Channel 16 web site [http://www.wnep.com/]

1 comment:

Wally Anderson said...

Al, it was great to read your marathon story. I'd say you are
in a class by yourself. A 103 races
has got to be a record for all
service academy graduates.

You are a much admired classmate.

Your friend,