Pocono Marathon Review (5/12)

Written by Kalin Vasilev and edited by Kate Pendlebury

I have run marathons with fields of 2-3000 that supplied impressive expos. The Pocono Marathon, meanwhile, provided a single box of gels.

On race day, the provision of porter-potties was adequate, the start area well-managed, and the small-town atmosphere cozy and charming. It was immediately clear that it was going to be a hot day, despite the forecast of 55'F: by the end of the race the temperature was approaching 80', with zero shade and zero cloud-cover.

The first 18 miles were shaded on one side of the road, but it required constant lane-shifting to get the benefit of the cover. This was difficult, because of the heavily cambered roads: to avoid injury – or, at least, an unpleasantly lopsided run – I had to stick to the center line, and the heat.

The Pocono Marathon is advertised as a fast course. Until the sixth mile, however, the route was neither flat nor downhill, but rather gently rolling, with a challenging climb between miles five and six. The downhill portion began at mile six. However, far from the even downhill course I had been lead to expect (like the Wineglass Marathon, perhaps), Pocono included three or four steep descents of approximately half a mile each, interspersed with rolling hills. The drops propelled me into three minute episodes of 5:20 galloping that were brought to an exhausting halt on the subsequent hills, some of which were pretty sharp. Imagine driving along a country road that gives you butterflies over its humps – that’s what the Pocono course was like. And miles 18 to 23 were a total disaster: not only because of the heat and the sun, but because three aggressive hills killed any possibility of a finishing kick.

The most upsetting thing about the Pocono Marathon, however, was that the route organization was a complete fiasco. I’ll start at the end. The final mile begins in the Pocono Main street, with traffic running in both lanes and only a tiny corridor on the right for the runners. On top of this, there were several intersections with traffic lights that forced runners to stop: a lapse that I found extremely odd. In the last half-mile, runners enter a school stadium that appeared to be a construction site, where we were frustrated by dirt, junk, and pedestrians.

Between miles 10 and 19, cars appeared on the small rural roads without any warning, and volunteers did little to bring motorists’ attention to the race. I was almost knocked down turning a corner where a large bush obstructed my view of the traffic. There was no volunteer present at the mile 11 turn, but instead a group of people chanting and blocking what I later learned was the route. I was running in a group of five, and there were approximately 15 runners ahead of us. All of us ended up off-course, on a local highway open to traffic. A mile after the correct turn a policeman informed us that we had lost the race and, happily, redirected us (via an additional hill…). We merged with the race at the 13 mile mark; the top 20 runners had dropped into the top 200.

The organizers were very apologetic and refunded the 20 lost runners, promised us free entry to next year’s race, and have proposed to alter our times by four minutes.

My recommendation: stick with the Steel-Town Marathon.