This marathon was, as expected, like no other I have run before. I guess I have gotten to the point where I expect a new experience each time (and admittedly I was very nervous this would be the one I experienced the last minute bonk or cramp that had me hobbling to the line). This was the first marathon for me in the past few years at a new locale and I can honestly say I was more excited to race this marathon than I have been to race anything this year. I knew looking at the profile that this may not be "my" sort of course but I was hopeful my hodge podge hill workouts the past few weeks combined with some decent mileage would allow me to punish my body in new ways and get to that finish line as close to as fast as I ever have as possible!
I was extremely inspired by Camille Herron's recent New York Marathon run and I really took to heart that she goes into each marathon only with the goal of racing her best. No time goals at all, doesn't even know her splits. I'm a bit too OCD for that I think, but it really was my goal to race myself into the ground on Sunday regardless of the clock. I wanted to leave nothing out there and wanted to run the best possible race my legs would give me. And I hoped the field would be such that I could be actively racing to the finish.
I'll save all the pre race crazy for another post (One exception, I forgot my Garmin at home and had no watch, but decided to buy a Timex Saturday night to make sure I got to the start on time), but it is safe to say the weekend was not one of those ones where you arrived to the line thinking, yes, I am stress free and ready. It was one of those ones where you say, thank goodness I made it to the line, fingers crossed this goes better than the last 48 hours!
Thanks to my awesome roomies I was in bed and relaxed the evening before despite dinner insanity. I was super grateful to AH and BH for running a hot bath for me while I scammed some peanut butter from the hotel and after an epsom salt bath and some chatting we were fast asleep. I was up at 4:00am and the usual coffee, bagel, and shower ensued. I had to alter my outfit choice last minute thanks to fun female stuff. I decided on wearing my new butterfly buns from Salty to keep it fun. We checked the weather and it was going to be warm. I decided to wait for BH before heading over to the start. In the meantime I borrowed one of her markers and wrote on my hand this races motto "Fast and Fun" which had been suggested to me by one of my SERC buddies. I also wrote down 5 mile and 10 mile splits for reference.
Around 6:20, we headed out and started jogging over. BH had put on her headphones and was jogging a little fast. So AH and I had to scream at her to slow down. They decided to let me go ahead and despite one angry cop directing me around a block, I made it to the start relatively issue free (I turned my ankle a half-mile from the start, but thankfully it never bothered me after that).
I managed to find the elite tent and my friends, SF and MR, with about 10 minutes to spare. I stripped down to my buns and singlet and headed to the elite POP’s for one last pit-stop. I made it into the starting corrals and wished my buddy, RK, good luck in his OTQ half attempt. SF and I did a few strides before I reluctantly headed to the left side of the street, where the marathoners were supposed to line up.
About 5 minutes to the start, an announcer said something about the race probably being delayed. I chatted with a few marathon girls who were shivering (I noted that I was not). About 2 minutes before the gun, a gentleman came over and announced that there was a 2:19 rabbit and two 2:46 rabbits. I listened to the 2:46 rabbit, who planned to run even to negative splits. He mentioned that there would a be a few slow miles in the first half, near the zoo. I made the executive decision to try to go out with the group and see how I felt. I realized this was likely not the pace I would hold but reasoned it was not nearly as stupid fast as I went out at Boston and Indy so it wouldn't be a race ruin-er unless I tried to hold it for too long if it wasn't in the cards.
With the delayed start, the race officials were clearly worried about the excited elites accidentally taking off with the wheelchair start. Several runners repeatedly got ready to go, only to realize that we still had a minute to go before the start. I was excited to see one of my friends from Boston, who also planned to run with the 2:46 group.
Finally, we were off and I did my best to settle in behind the pack. The half-marathoners had started on the right side of the road and in about a quarter mile, we would veer in opposite directions around a circle before merging back onto the same course. I sat back behind the 2:46 group and did my best to relax. Somehow I missed my parents at the mile marker, but I was encouraged that I did not go out too fast by the first mile split: around 6:26.For the next few miles I followed the large pack of girls with the 2:46 rabbit and assessed whether the pace was too fast. I laughed with a couple of guys who had made questionable dinner choices the night before and chatted briefly with a few fast ladies about goal times. My friend BS caught me around 5k and asked what my goal was. I got the hint that I was perhaps going out a bit aggressively and joked that at this point 2:46 looked like the goal. I wished him well and at the next water stop backed the effort off slightly and watched the 2:46 group slowly pull away.
I just ran by feel after 5k. It was fun to start with the 2:46 group and see a whole pack of women working together for the goal! But it was clear 2:46 was not within my power on the day. The next 3 or 4 miles I did my best to settle in and try to enjoy the early miles. It was all city miles and other then some sketchy footing which aggravated my foot a bit it was nice, there were plenty of spectators and other than a few small inquiries to my goal time I ran solo trying to tuck in behind guys when it was windy.
I missed a few mile markers and hit a 3 mile split in 19:50. I was through the 10km in under 40 and knew I was ahead of PR pace by a bit. I planned to take a gel at 6, 12, and 18. I should have looked closer at the course map ahead of time as there was no water at these miles and I made do taking my first gel closer to mile 7. I was certainly not cold and had been sweating since at least the 5k. Each aid station was a welcome chance to cool down a bit.
The next 6 miles had some rolling uphills, a few serious uphills, and two steep downhills. Despite backing off the pace around 5k I had yet to have any girls catch me though plenty of guys did. I had noticed a girl in blue early in the race and coming up a hill around 7 or 8 miles she caught me. We ran together for about a mile and I encouraged her to go ahead as I could tell she wanted to run the hills a bit faster than I did. I was thankful the 2:46 rabbit had let us know that the zoo mile would be really slow as I saw a few high 6:40 splits through the 10th mile. I looked at my 10 mile split and my splits on my hand and couldn't remember if I had written down splits for 2:50 or 2:52. I was behind whatever I had written and was hopeful the uphills were mostly done. It was good to hear others around me noting how slow the past few miles were. And I remembered to be grateful as just a few years ago this was my 10 mile PR.
After mile 10 there was a steep downhill section before a short out and back. I was excited to see some of my friends in the half here and cheered for them. There was a DJ here in some jazzy clothes that made me smile. While I noted a few girls ahead on my way out I noted many more right behind on the way towards mile 11. The next two miles I struggled a bit, the pace came down a bit but I was working a little harder than I would have liked for it. I caught a few females who had gone out too fast here, but shortly after 12 two females caught and passed me. I reminded myself it was early, but I couldn't help but be a little stressed that I was working so hard before I had even hit the half.
I knew my parents would be around mile 12 and looked forward to seeing them and to getting in another gel hoping I would rally a bit. I saw them and heard my friend AH cheering just before 13. I knew the back half of the course would be more to my liking and was grateful to find I was right as we crossed 13 in 1:25:04 and I realized the last few miles must have been a false flat up. Again there was no aid at 12 and I waited until 13 to take my second gel.
I recognized this part of the course from watching video of the Philadelphia half last year, it was winding and mostly flat along the river. There was little crowd support and I reminded myself that just two weeks ago I had run an entire half with next to no spectators with no issues. I focused in and started to work on reeling in the two women who had passed me at 12. I encouraged both as I passed and slowly caught up to K who I had run with earlier. I was grateful that as I passed she decided to work with me and we kept the effort honest slowly reeling in guys one by one.
Around 14 or 15 miles a few runners going the other way cheered for us "Go Ladies" surprising two gentleman just in front of us that we had been closing on. K and I shared a smile and though I was tempted to get around the two guys we kept the effort as they picked up the pace to stay in front of us. We were steadily clicking off around 6:30s and though I was working hard it felt doable. K asked where I was from and I learned she was from DC. She was also targeting around 2:50. We kept conversation to a minimum as I told her I was pretty much red lining it.
Before 17 we made a left across a bridge for the second out and back hairpin turn section. This afforded us a chance to see the 2:46 girls ahead of us and as we made the hairpin turn a spectator announced we were in 24th and 25th. I joked that we were sadly out of the money. And both of us commented on how deep the field was for us to be so far back and on sub 2:52 pace. I had noted from about mile 13 that I was starting to struggle a bit more between the aid stations, and that each time I got water I felt worlds better. The wind was at a crosswind to our backs and I was sweating and salty. (I remember wiping my face early in the race and wondering if I had just smeared my 5 and 10 mile splits to my face) Again at 18 there was no water and I kept my eyes peeled for the next station and an opportunity to take another gel.
Bridge around mile 17 or 18.
A bit after 19 I pulled away from K and nearing 20 and the last hairpin out and back I high fived my buddy BS who was looking strong in his first marathon. I gave any ladies ahead a thumbs up or a cheer. There was still a pack of 3 or 4 women together that had been going for 2:46 but the field was starting to spread out and nearing 20 I passed one or two girls as I heard the Rocky theme for the first time in Manayuk. Manayuk was a welcome distraction having not had many spectators for a bit.
At 20 I caught one of the guys we had gone back and forth with since 14 and did some mental math. I knew I'd have to hold 6:30 pace the last 10k to come in under 2:52. He said something to me about being "done" and I replied that we could nail sub 2:52 if we stayed at 6:30s, more for myself than him. This rallied him and I did my best to keep pace and told myself it was time to go to work. As one of my SS racing buddies likes to say, it was "Eatin' season". Time to start taking runners down one at a time. Time to race to the finish.
Pretty sure this guy beat me to the line :)
Somewhere after 19 my left calf started to protest in a serious way. It felt like someone was shocking it and the muscle was contracting and wouldn't release. I wondered to myself if this was one of those cramps that stretching would benefit, but decided to live with the pain and hope that it wouldn't seize so bad I'd have to hobble to the finish. Given the way the calf and foot have been behaving I figured it was just overworked and no stretching was going to bring it back. At 21 I considered taking a beer wondering idly if it would help the cramping but decided I better not.
I was looking more and more forward to aid stations at this point. So much so that at at least one of them I completely missed passing a female I had my eye on. I hadn't been passed by any females since mile 12 and I was determined to pass as many as I could in the final 10km. It was my intention to race myself into the ground regardless of my finish time or place and I reminded myself of such often.
That of course is easier said then done, each mile was becoming more painful for my calf, and I was starting to lose track of the miles. I was only focused on one mile at a time, focused on the next female, focused on keeping the effort up. I had to remind myself repeatedly that I really wanted to run under 2:52 for a reason and not to let up. Thankfully on the way back there were several friendly reminders to help keep me focused. I saw BH somewhere around mile 22 and several of my pacing friends and another local friend WB reminded me to stay focused. At 24 my friend MR who had run the half let me know I only had 2 to go.
Between 22 and 24 I somehow completely lost track of the miles as the first female passed me in 10 miles. I was ecstatic when I hit the mile marker and it was one mile further than I expected. I went back and forth with the girl in green from around mile 22 to the finish. I took a fourth gel somewhere between 21 and 22 as we passed each other at an aid station and both seemed desperate for water. Bulletproof was being played on speakers around 23 and I thought to myself it was ironic as it felt like someone had shot me in the calf, but I used the adrenaline to pass the girl in green again. Despite the effort the pace was starting to falter around 23 into the wind and I assumed that 2:52 was slipping away. From early in the race when I realized this wouldn't be a smooth one I had been telling myself that I was ready to work for every inch. It was timely that when I saw SB she reminded me to focus and to not give up an inch.
I dug in and continued to run as hard as I could. I remember consciously trying to drive the pace with my upper body/arms to try and alleviate the calf pain the last 5k. I had passed several more women but continued to go back and forth with the girl in green and a spectator at the second to last aid station informed me I had two women close behind. An older gentleman with a heavy accent had been running with her and his vocal encouragement of her was helpful to keep my head in the game. When I pulled ahead of her for the final time he ran with me for a bit and encouraged me saying something along the lines of "Save you, you understand?" (When I saw the girl at the finish she said the guy had really helped her stay focused the last 10km, he was definitely a bit of an angel out there keeping us going)
With a mile to go the spectators helped me rally and I did the math thinking I would finish around 2:53. There was one more female in my sights and I dug in and worked my way past her hauling my ass to the finish. I remember thinking that I finally understood what my friend NC had said about her final miles at Columbus last year. If you asked me to tell you what the last 10km of Philly looked like I could not tell you. It was like I had tunnel vision and it just allowed me to keep my eyes on the next runner in front of me. There were photographers around 25 and it took everything I had to smile for the second set of them. Finally over 25 miles in I heard my first cheer of "We like your shorts." I had to laugh that I was just now hearing encouragement for the shorts.
I remembered what BH had told me about the finish and that you would see the clock at the last second. She was right, though the course finish had changed from when she ran it, and I was charging to the finish and didn't see the clock until it said 2:51:51ish and I knew it was going to be really close to break 2:52. I stumbled over the line as the clock went over and wished fervently that I started more than a second behind the line and that the chip time would be kind to me.
Ouch that hurt!
I hobbled around chatting with K and some of my friends before seeing BH come cruising in and making our way to the hotel with my parents.
I have no idea how I managed to stay focused and get to the line under 2:52 (2:51:59 chip time) but I am ecstatic. This was Nothing like Columbus for me last year. At Columbus everything just fell into place, this one was rough and somehow I managed to fight through and still run my best despite not being dealt a perfect hand. Though I was nervous I did some serious damage to my calf I was over the moon happy about my race. It just felt so epic, and it was such a relief to run a low 2:50 and know that my 2:49 from last year was no fluke. I know now that I am capable of more than I ever thought possible and that my body is tougher than I gave it credit for. And that is a wonderful, albeit scary, thing to know.
I'm so glad I made the choice to run Philly as my 23rd marathon and I am glad I raced as hard as I could despite knowing I wasn't in OTQ shape and knowing I likely wasn't in PR shape either. This was such a valuable experience and I know for certain this is the hardest I have ever raced in my life.
Quick splits recap below. I actually think going out with the 2:46 pack worked to my advantage rather than digging a hole. I think given how much I slowed from 6 to 13 with the hills it was actually a good pacing strategy for me to be a little fast through the 10km. I think had it been a bit cooler and had there been a few more aid stations (and had the calf played a bit nicer) a PR might have been feasible, but I am ecstatic with what I was able to do on the day.
6:26.58, 6:21.73, 6:20.71, 6:27.42, 6:25.58, 19:50.20 (6:37 pace), 6:46.92, 6:47.62, 6:26.06, 6:31.82, 6:39.95, 6:27.17, 6:25.54, 6:26.60, 6:30.62, 6:33.38, 6:33.66, 6:37.86, 6:27.92, 6:37.57, 6:44.01, 6:51.60, 6:39.51, 8:00 (6:40 pace)
finish 2:51:59 (1:26:15)
So close to an even split! (Not going to lie I was hoping to negative split this one, but I am calling this close enough!)