Mount Nittany Marathon

The beautiful sun and breezes of summertime are here, and it has me thinking back on my first experience running the Mount Nittany Marathon a few years ago. The marathon went for three years, but I think it’s now a thing of the past. In memory of it, I’m sharing something I wrote after running it Labor Day 2013 and enjoying the experience:

The Mount Nittany Conservancy, which owns/preserves 800+ acres of iconic Mount Nittany in Central Pennsylvania, hosted the Mount Nittany Marathon yesterday. It’s the first marathon in the Nittany Valley in, I think, nearly a quarter century. Since learning about the Mount Nittany Marathon last year I had resolved to run it.

Other than the Sloppy Cuckoo Trail Half Marathon in Philadelphia in 2011, I hadn’t run anything like this. In fact, the longest distance I had run prior to yesterday was 13.5 miles, most recently in February in Ave Maria, FL. In other words, I wasn’t sure I would finish, and mentally set the goal of “Lets give it a shot!” rather than “I must compete and finish with great performance.”

Starting the run from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park was perfect. It was my first time inside the park and with its sweeping view of Mount Nittany, there couldn’t have been a better way to start the Mount Nittany Marathon. (I should start going to State College Spikes games next year.)

The route turned out to be tremendous, offering an experience of the Nittany Valley unlike anything I had known before.

Experiences: Running through campus and hearing the Alma Mater and fight songs playing across early morning fields, passing through covered wooden bridges, streams, and surreal looking woodlands throughout Millbrook Marsh, seeing people throughout Lemont and Oak Hall with their distinguished architecture, passing through neighborhoods both large and small and seeing the most beautiful backyards and walkable pathways, hearing the cows mooing so loudly as we passed that it seemed they were cheering us on, experiencing increasing heat and fatigue after the first 1.5 hours as the morning gave way to day, and returning to campus for the close to the bustle of Labor Day weekend life. It was a joy, even as it became a blur.

I ended up syncing my pace with a Penn State sophomore who was also running his first marathon. We ran the last mile pretty hard and it was helpful having a “teammate” to come through the finish line with. The result was a finish in 4h:36m:57s, putting me 87th of 138 finishers.

Mount Nittany Marathon map.png

What were some lessons from the run? First, take everything offered at every watering station. I can’t stress this enough. On shorter runs I routinely wave off water/gatorade stations, but for a marathon I was ready to take almost anything I could along the way—cups of water/gatorade, bits of watermelon, sprinkler showers, etc.

I also tried my first energy gel, Hammer’s Montana Huckleberry. A Ragnar teammate became nauseous and vomited during a stretch of January’s Miami to Key West relay after taking Gu gels, so I was a bit trepidacious about trying the Hammer gel—but I rationalized that I couldn’t afford not to, and am glad I tried it.

Another thing: I doubt I would ever have finished if not for a child-helper at the Mile 7 watering station who offered me an entire, freezing-cold bottle of Aquafina. It wasn’t clear to me that entire bottles were an option—typically only cups of water are offered as you pass. I carried this bottle for the next few miles and it turned out to be critical—I went through six more during the rest of the race and felt like I was burning fluids fast. I’m sure I would’ve faced serious hydration problems without those full bottles. So, thanks kid!

As mentioned, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to complete the entire marathon. Along the way, a critical aid in completing the run was a lack of visible mile markers between Miles 11 and 19. It was a major mental aid, reminding me to just keep running. Even though I could guess roughly how far along I was, it would’ve been pretty burdensome to be told every mile that there were still many more left to run. Also: Vaseline at Mile 19 was extremely helpful, for reasons that should be pretty clear.

I also broke with my customary practice of running with my iPhone for RunKeeper and music—partly because the battery would not have lasted for the entire 26.2 miles, and partly because I didn’t think I would want to be carrying the iPhone the entire time. This turned out to be the right call, at least for me. I only noticed a few of the ~150 runners with devices/earbuds.

Running the Marathon (University Drive)

The Mount Nittany Marathon was a really first-class event, with superb volunteers all along the way from the Nittany Valley Running Club, Penn State sports teams, families, and others.

A great branding effort was obvious throughout, with the logo even appearing on the sneaker tracker visible on my right shoe. I was surprised not to find a brochure touting the Mount Nittany Conservancy in the runner packet, but if you’ve registered for the run maybe it’s assumed you know about their great work. Seeing the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s John Hook and Vince Verbeke, two friends over the years, was surprisingly energizing. John and Vince are the two signers of my Mount Nittany Life Estate Deed, so it was special for me to see them both along the way. I can see why so many runners have their families cheer them on.

It’s safe to say that the Mount Nittany Conservancy really succeeded with the Mount Nittany Marathon, bringing people together from across the community to put on a great new event. A takeaway from Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism is that this is the epitome of the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s founding mission—it’s meant not only to steward the Mountain, but also to create cultural experiences that enhance through first-person experience the magic of the Mountain.

I’m not sure if or when I might run another marathon, but I’m thrilled to have been a part of the Mount Nittany Marathon and hope it becomes an annual part of the Nittany Valley’s cultural environment.