I ran The 2011 Drake Well Marathon in Titusville, PA.
BACKDROP AT THE TIME: Some may want the CONTEXT of my comments. I train on hills, and had reasonable training up to April 2011, then from May to this marathon had exceptional training (Pfitzinger schedule in Advanced Marathoning). This is my 5th marathon (1 in Nashville 2008 and 3 in Boston 2009-11). My history has been about 3:30:00 with a prior best of 3:28:11 (Boston 2010). I believe this PR at Drake Well is because of my training before this marathon rather than any lower level of course difficulty; Drake Well is more difficult. The Drake Well hills are clearly more intense, yet they are at the start (for some that's better).
This somewhat of a redemption run because of hitting the wall in the 2011 Boston Marathon. I needed a fall race in which I could qualify. We were coming to the area and this was a great option for my friend also. The problem with it was the two ~300 foot hills, making a Boston qualification more difficult. But it fit what we were doing so I registered.
This had about 120 runners, so it was very small. The personal attention, friendliness and helpfulness of all involved were just fantastic, even though the number of spectators was low - that didn't bother me. The course is well organized and reasonably well marked. If you run this, be sure to drive the first 8-9 miles in advance though, so you are not surprised (there were some sections that you will NOT expect to be in a marathon because of gravel/grade/narrow path, etc., and you don't want to be questioning that during the race). For those who want the context of my comments, see section called BACKDROP.
NOTE: For 2011 anyway, the posted course was slightly different from the actual. See the USATF certification map (better yet, find the current one)... The out & back is not to scale, but the map is accurate.
OVERALL COMMENTS: Much of the course is shady, which was great. Even when the sun was out it rarely hit us for any length of time. This is a tough course. This course strikes me as a little tougher than Boston. The water stops were reasonable (~every 2 miles), but I prefer them to be slightly more frequent. In response, I took 2 cups at most stations and walked while drinking (which may not have hurt my time because it was refreshing to my muscles).
PROS: I met family RIGHT AT THE FINISH LINE; Staff allowed my 5-YEAR OLD DAUGHTER to put the medal over my head!! Try that at other marathons! I treasure those pictures! At Boston, family can't even see you cross the finish line! Family met me at spots along the course; we got plenty of our own photos. Most of the course is very shady! VERY helpful staff before, during and after the race. Most of the course was absolutely beautiful and to me, encouraged one to just Zen out while running at a consistent effort. Expenses can be kept very low if one is careful (e.g. Super 8 in Franklin, PA.. breakfast not so great, but nice people and less expensive than others). This is timed very well for Boston qualification.
CONS: Gravel (but it didn't seem to affect performance - further, I was wearing very light 8 oz Asics DS and the gravel still didn't hurt as I had expected), cars were on some parts of the course (but they were very aware of runners and crawled by cautiously).
GOOD OR BAD DEPENDING ON YOU: Tough yet rewarding course, can recover after first 7 miles, lots of solo running, friendly small-town feel.
THE FIRST 7 MILES include two long stretches of gravel and choppy pavement, including the steepest downgrades. I was able to make good time down these (I do downhill well) but had to be more focused than usual to avoid any slips/ruts, etc. The first uphill (miles 0.5-1.5) was gradual. The related downhill is gravely and steep. The second uphill (~mile 3.5) is very steep (pavement), but only 0.3 miles long& after that, it's very gradual and I could make good time. There is a second short uphill (~mile 5.5) that is steep (paved) and then a paved steep downhill (ending around mile 6), followed by a dark gravel (or chopped asphalt) downhill (a little steep). After some smaller ups and downs, you hit a very short VERY steep downhill (0.10 of a mile or less?). I'm glad it was short because I was in survival mode there (to prevent out of control downhill running). After this, you can recover while progressing in the flat streets of the town.
MILES 8-25 are relatively flat, but make no mistake, the run out to the mile 17.5 turnaround is slightly downhill overall, and the return (to mile 24.5 or so) is slightly uphill. By that time, the slight incline was quite noticeable. The shade here is FANTASTIC! And the gentle grades and beauty made it a great run. I usually train alone so the solitude did not bother me. If a person relies on crowds or other runners for motivation, this section will be lonely. I loved it here.
MILE 26 and the 0.2 were mostly level, but had some uphill grades (I wouldn't normally think of them as uphill, but after 25 miles of my best running, even level seemed uphill). The run across the grass, while not long, was really irritating because it was uneven and I was so tired that watching my step was a slowdown. I liked finishing on the track, but would like a way to remove the grass part.
RESULT: 3:26:06... a PR and a good BQ (Boston Qualification). I was one happy man!