Friday, November 27, 2015

Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

I went into this race undertrained, and completely relying on my base. And I knew in my mind that it was going to be tough. I expected it to be.

The training cycle I had for Chicago was in many ways, perfect. I had a complete handle on my nutrition, my cross training was on point, and I attacked almost all of my training runs with vigor. I lost those last 5lbs, and peaked just at the right time, proving to the skeptics that it was possible to drop an insane amount of time off my PR...

But that was one year ago, and a lot changed. Life changed, and there was no way around a lot of those personal curve balls that where thrown this way.

I am not going to say I am disappointed at my outcome for Philly, because there is no reason to be. I ended up running my second fastest time ever in a full. It was a tough course with a lot of turnaround, out and back points that are mentally challenging. And throw in the perfect storm of my cycle hitting, I managed to keep realistic expectations and not let my ego get in the way. 

Took a 2-hour bus into town and arrived at noon. The only thing on the agenda was bib pick up, hotel check in, and locate bagel/banana/PB for the morning. Everything was centrally located. Bus dropped me off across the street from the hotel. I was able to check in early and drop my stuff off. Met up with M and S, and had a fantastic lunch at Good Dog Bar, this really quaint and cozy pub place that was a five minute walk from the hotel. Afterwards, we headed to the convention center for packet pick up. (Expo was one block away from the hotel.) We went in, took a few pics, grabbed my bib and free tee and goodie bag, and left. This is the first time I didn't do a walk through of the expo, but the usual suspects were there selling the usual gear with the usual discounts. I'm sure I didn't miss anything.

After the expo, we headed back up to my room where we chilled for a bit before heading back out in search of bananas and PB. S lead the way to Reading Terminal, (which was on the same block as the hotel). Got a couple of bananas, a bagel, and declined waiting on line for Beiler's Donuts, (a decision that I would end up regretting because the place is closed on Sundays). Then headed out in search of PB packets, and walked a bit to see the Liberty bell before dinner. 

Dinner was at a BBQ joint called Smoking Bettys. I had a Turducken burger of all things, and half a glass of beer. After dinner,  we walked back to the hotel, exchanged hugs  and parted ways. Set my alarm clocks, laid out my gear and went to sleep.

It's almost a given that sleep is fleeting on race day. I had an anxiety dream of being in a cab and getting stuck in traffic on the way to the start and didn't make it by the 7an start. Woke up with one minute to spare before the two alarms went off. Turned on the light and made coffee. Got dressed, forced down the now hard bagel and a glob of PB and took a banana with me. Walked out the hotel, and just followed the steady stream of runners heading in one direction. (This is one thing I love about bigger races. Just follow the crowd!)

The first security check point was insanely long, but after the cops pointed out several check points a bit further, I was able to get through fairly quickly by walking a bit longer. What I didn't find very efficient was that they let in spectators in the start, so runners were on line alongside family members carrying all sorts of stuff like blankets, bikes, and chairs. Also, the signage wasn't very clear. In Chicago they had huge letter signs to let you know where the corrals were, and in NYC they had tons of volunteers and signage to point you in the direction of your wave/corral start. Philly's corral markers were these banners that flapped in the wind. It had arrows, so it was a bit confusing when the wind kicked up. Pre-race water was offered, but there were no signs pointing to where it was, so I felt like there was a lot of wandering right before lining up in the corrals. The race started late due to a vehicle accident along the course, but once it was cleared up, the race started without incident.

The first several miles were pretty nice albeit I was too cold for comfort. I enjoyed the crowds, and going through familiar parts of the city, but I was kicking myself for not bringing my windbreaker and gloves, because even though it was in the low 50s, the wind was a bit much. I probably spent the first half thinking of whether or not to pick up gloves that were ditched by other runners.

The first 6 miles were going well.  I gauged myself and felt good even though I knew I was going faster than I liked just to try and keep warm. But just after the 10k mark, the perfect storm hit to derail the run. The wind coming off the bridge, the first major hill near Drexel University, and my period hitting with full force, pretty much knocked whatever momentum I had been building. I can feel the energy drain out, and struggled from that point on. Popped a couple of Tylenol to keep the cramps at bay.

By mile 9 I knew I was in serious trouble. I had left the downtown area to wide open park space. The wind kept blowing, and I kept looking from side to side to see if anyone dropped a windbreaker type shell that I could pick up. I knew I was spending a lot of energy trying to stay warm, and I couldn't put down enough fuel to offset that energy drain. Mile 11 to 13 I diverted my attention to other runners on the road, knowing a good number of them were almost done. I knew the hardest part of the race would come once all the half-marathoners left the course, and I turned left to continue on.

The halfway point was a bit of a welcome with all the spectators back at the art museum. But heading into mile 15 was quiet, which I didn't mind. I did mind that headwind coming off the river, and continued once again to scan the sides for dropped gloves and a light shirt, but no such luck. Interestingly though, there were a lot of discarded fuel belts. But by this time, I was doing a lot of walking and shuffling, and I was feeling very lightheaded.

At mile 16.5ish, my friend H (whom I had the pleasure of running Chicago with) comes out of nowhere and got me out of the head fog I was experiencing. She pulled me back into the present by her surprise visit, and pointed to a couple of other NYers that ran Chicago. Familiar faces were much welcomed at that point. She ran a few steps with me and gave me half a banana and some words of encouragement. I asked her if that bridge up ahead was the turnaround point, knowing full well it wasn't, and she lied to me gently telling me yes, it was right up ahead. (I don't know who decided the layout of this particular part of the course, but it was the most hated portion with a bridge crossing, and then this weird L loop thing.) At mile 18, I knew I had hit the proverbial wall. And even with my mind screaming at me to just put down some calories, my body was revolting against it. I just kept drinking water and Gatorade. (Last time I drank this much Gatorade on a course was my first marathon!)

From the several 20 mile runs I did over the summer, I knew if I hit that point in 4 hours, I would be in good shape. I crossed the 20 mile mark a minute and change slower, and allowed myself to relax because I knew at that point, no matter what, I would reach my B goal. When I saw the Manayunk turn around, (the very last turn around point), I had a moment. My stores were depleted, and I was overcome with emotion, and fought back tears because I knew I was going to finish my 7th full no matter what.

Miles 20 to 25 was a slow, quiet and windy march back to the art museum. So unfair that the headwind wasn't a tailwind on the way back. There were a few pockets of spectators, and a few aid stations, but mostly it was a silent, existential journey to the finish. I enjoyed the simultaneous moments of solitude, coupled with the sounds of heavy treading and breathing of those around me. At some point I saw runners who had already completed their races, and realized that the medals around their necks made noises! The bell rang! That gave me a bit of mental energy, and I was able to smile my way to the finish. The very last person I interacted with was the photographer at mile 25. And I thought at first, wow that's messed up that they would put them there. But then I realized, it was mile 25! This is it! I tried to straighten up and shuffled my way and mugged for the camera, and thanked the photog as I passed. He said good job, and gave me a high five.

I tried to run as much as possible for the last mile. The park view became familiar again as the art museum came into view. I knew from my corral start where the 26 mile marker was, and booked it as much as I could to the finish. My garmin died with a mile to go, so I'm not really sure what that last split was, but I know from all my previous finishes that I tend to drop a fast last split from a last kick. (Of course, fast is a relative term at this point. Probably was doing 12min/mi for that last mile.)

As I crossed the finish line, I high fived the mayor, and let out a huge cry of relief. I don't ever want this feeling to go away, being able to set a goal and reach it. It was strangely satisfying knowing that I was able to tough it out under less than optimal conditions. I walked towards a volunteer who put a medal around my neck, then skipped all the post race refreshments save a couple cups of Gatorade. Then walked another mile or so back to the hotel where I had to pack and shower quickly to make the late check out.

H offered me a ride back to NYC, for which I was grateful. I stopped by the Reading Terminal before meeting up with her in hopes of a celebratory donut, which didn't happen. I was so hungry I just got on the first line I saw, and ordered what was there. (It happened to be a delicious Jambalaya bowl with spicy chicken and andouille sausage gumbo.) Met up with her and the NYC crew, and hung out a bit while they grabbed Jim's cheesesteaks. (They were nice enough to grab me one for the road as well...)

I think if my monthly visitor didn't show up, and I had a better second half of training, I would've been able to come close to my A Goal of PRing. But given all the challenges from late October on, I am quite content with the sub 5:30 outcome. All in all, it was a fantastic race weekend, and despite the training and race itself, everything was perfect. Philly definitely showed its brotherly love to this runner!

Official Time

Splits from the Garmin before it died

Mile 25

Mayoral High Five

All for this medal!

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