26.2 Miles of Solace: The Philadelphia Marathon Race Report
With this report taking seven days, you may have thought I did the marathon while doing a handstand. No relax; I did it on my feet. I couldn’t do a handstand even if I was on a keg of Pliny the Elder.
Coming into the race, I felt both totally unprepared but also completely confident. For the first time ever, I actually ran 26 miles prior to the race. Usually I just get up to 21; that hasn’t worked to well for me in the past. At the same time, other than a weekly tempo run and the long run, I wasn’t doing any quality training. Just running marathon pace with spin ups; about 30 miles per week.
With that, my only goal for the race was pretty much the same goal I have every Monday: just show up. Like Justin Bieber in the back of a police car, I ran through pretty much every excuse I could think of. Too busy. Too tired. Shoes worn down. But thanks to some deliberate ignorance, I found myself taking a cab to the packet pick up two days prior to the race. It wasn’t until I finally got the bib and felt the energy of the expo that I committed myself to running.
After an intense week of lectures in Philly, I got in a good 12 hours of sleep right before the race. Nothing better than some good old vitamin S. With this in my system, it was no problem hopping out of bed at 0530 and donning my party clothes. Despite the warning from the front desk clerk, I decided to take a cab from the Inn at Penn to the race start. For ten bucks, I got within about two blocks of the start in less than five minutes. Not to shabby for an event with 30K participants. By the way, I highly recommend the Inn for any visitors to Philly needing to do business near University City. I’ve stayed there several times over the past year, and each time has been wonderful. They also offered me a late check out on race day without a charge.
After finding the shortest porta potty line I could get to, it was time for the worst part of the marathon: standing around and waiting. And thanks to my early arrival, the wait was excruciating. To add insult, my wave didn’t hit the start line until ten minutes after the gun went off. At least it gave me time to pick between Bette Midler or Elton John on Spotify.
1-7: The Early Miles
So, the last race marathon I did was Seattle. That experience was something akin to running through Pike’s Place Market and then through a concrete desert. Philly was more like being in a free running mosh pit for seven miles. I was darting left and right, onto sidewalks, and off trees like I was running from Agent Smith. It has been forever since I was in a race as big as this, and I was surprised how tight the space was and how dangerous the roads could be when you couldn’t see in front of you. Some poor lady in front of me tripped over a train track and ended doing a good face down skid; fortunately she wasn’t trampled like a soccer fan.
In regards to pacing, I knew I wanted to keep somewhere between 8:20-8:30. This was difficult not only because of the crowds, but also because I didn’t have a watch. Yep. You heard me right. Remember that fancy Garmin 920 XT I ordered and was salivating over? Well, I need to get some lemon drops because I’m still salivating. Last email I got said it should be in my hands by mid December…if I have been nice. Anyway, I digress. Fortunately, I was able to replace a watch with the balloon laden stick of terror, aka the 3:45 pacer. I just focused on keeping him behind me at all costs.
The first couple of miles wrap through the east side of Philly. I love touring a city with a marathon and the sights didn’t disappoint. Went by Independence Hall, got to see the river, and some of the old streets. The terrain was pretty flat overall, with only some false flats here and there. After about seven miles, it was back to the familiar territory in University City, where I was of course greeted by cheerleaders…and a Wawa.
7-13: Getting to Business
After crossing into University City, it was time for some hills to start. Nothing like the atrocity to mankind that are the last six miles of Seattle, but still the real deal. It was actually a welcome sight because it allowed me to stretch the legs out a little. Sight wise, we got to go by the zoo, which oddly enough smelled like poop even though we were on the street. It made me wonder if they put some poop out for effect or if someone had a major GI disaster ahead of me. After the longest hill on the course, it was to the Schulykill River. For me, this was actually the most challenging part of the day for me. The scenery was relatively featureless, I had the opportunity to cut the day short for a half marathon, and the 3:45 pacer had caught back up with me. Again, I followed my principle of tactical ignorance; I just didn’t think about making any changes and I ran by the 13.1 chute toward the rest of the day.
13.1-20 Test of Patience
For me, this is where the true test of the marathon comes. I am usually feeling pretty nice and loose but not yet too tired after the first half. That feeling, plus the huge crowds and the pacer nipping at my heels, made me want to rocket off and chase some crazy pace. One thing I have figured out in life is that much can be learned from mistakes: I wanted to avoid the experience I had at the end of Seattle as much as possible. So, I kept me pace even and slow, keeping just ever slightly faster than the pacer.
A few miles in, we got to see the leaders heading home; very inspiring. This was followed by a run though Manayunk. I had never been in this area before, and it was charming. The crowds were great too. Unfortunately, this is where I also had to focus my concentration like a Jedi master as they were handing out beer. Patience. (PS, saw the Manayunk Brewery during my run through….I definitely will have to check that out next time I’m in town.)
As I rounded my 20, my legs were still with me, and I allowed myself to crack a smile; already an improvement over Seattle.
20-26: Eye of the Tiger
As 21 kicked over, I was on cloud nine and I let myself finally race. I seemed to be moving along better than most of my immediate group, and passing people at 23 was an extra nice feeling. Mile 24 and the requisite pain started up. While I had done well for most of the race, I was actually surprised how quickly the pain escalated. As I finally reached mile 25, my hopes of huge crowds spiriting me along with Eye of the Tiger playing in my head were frankly replaced with “oh shit this hurts!” To make matters worse, there is slight rise in the road all the way to the art museum. It wasn’t until I was cruising downhill on the other side towards the finish line where hell was replaced with happiness.
Synopsis: 3:43, 6 min PR.
I must say, Philly was a great venue and a great race day for me. I went in with minimal focused training, but despite that I was able to get a 6 min PR. More importantly, I was able to pace the race evenly, with only 14 seconds positive for the second half. It was just a pleasant experience all the way around. Plus, with how crazy life has been lately, it was great to get away from email, texts, and phone calls for four hours. I highly recommend this race to anyone looking for lots of crowd support, a fun course, and great sights.
I can’t end this report without mentioning the rest of my day. Thanks to my crazy schedule, I had to fly back to Montana in the same day. So, I finished the race around 11:00. I was out of my hotel room around 12:20. I was on the airplane to Denver by 3 ish. Let me tell, the true agony of the day was the long walk across Denver International to my connecting flight after sitting for 3.5 hours.
Recovery wise, things are going great. I retired my running shoes (literally as I put something like 1000 miles on my Newton Gravities) and replacements are on order. In the meantime, I got some swimming in and three rides. Per today’s foray, it looks like I am ready to start cranking the watts again.
Time to get 2015 started and breaking into 3:30s for the next marathon.