Last Sunday I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, my 4th. This was by far my most successful marathon to date. I enjoyed the entire experience, except perhaps for the 50 minutes I waited in line to use the porta potties before the race. It was the first marathon I have run where the last three miles weren't absolute torture. The entire run was fun, fun, fun, from start to finish!
We flew from Boston to Philly the Friday before the race. We decided to take the train from the airport to downtown, and that was a good decision. It wasn't as great a decision, however, to walk the mile from the train station to our hotel with our heavy bags.
The Hampton Inn where we stayed was a great location, right around the corner from the Convention Center where the Race Expo was held, and less than a mile from the start of the race. From the moment we entered the lobby as a race participant, they made me and Lee feel special and welcome. They even had an early breakfast for runners on Sunday morning, and late checkout that afternoon for those that needed it.
Friday afternoon was given over to a little tourist behavior. We stood in line to see the Liberty Bell, which is just as iconic and impressive and you might imagine. I especially enjoyed the exhibit with the pictures of Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama, appropriately, next to the bell. We tried to go see Independence Hall but it was too late that day to get tickets.
We walked back through downtown Philly to the hotel. Philly is an interesting city. It is fairly blue collar in look and feel, intermixed with classic colonial architecture here and there. We couldn't help but compare it to Boston. It seems like Boston has made more of their history, but we didn't really have time to explore Philadelphia very thoroughly so I really can't judge.
For dinner that night we ended up at a fabulous middle eastern restaurant called Kanella's. Everything we ate there was great, my lamb shank was falling off the bone delicious; Lee's pumpkin ravioli was perfect, not too sweet, the pasta cooked exactly right. We strolled slowly back to our hotel and I slept very, very well. This was the night to sleep if I could, since usually the night before a race I'm too nervous to sleep much at all.
The next morning it was time to go to the Race Expo and pick up my bib, race tee shirt, and see if there were any goodies I couldn't live without. I always enjoy getting as many free samples as I can and getting some sort of souvenir if possible. This year I got a very nice grey fleece jacket. My favorite vendor, however was the amazing guys at Recovery Pump doing demos on their inflatable leg compression boots. I tried them out and boy oh boy did they feel great. They had to kick me out of the chair so that some other people could give them a try. Too bad they are so expensive!
Our hotel was right next to Chinatown so for lunch we had Bahn Mi Vietnamese sandwiches at a nearby little hole in the wall. Then we walked from the hotel over to where the race would start, to make sure I knew how to get there and see exactly how far it was and how long it would take me. There's a lovely fountain along the way, and the race start is right by the Philadelphia Art Museum and the famous Rocky Steps. I was trying not to be too nervous but of course my pre-race jitters were starting to make themselves known. Fortunately I was able to keep any doubts and panicky feelings under control. I had my race plan and I knew it was a good one. I was determined to stick to it this time.
Dinner that night was at a nice little Italian place, of course, Little Nonna's. I had spaghetti and meatballs, after sharing a salad and an eggplant appetizer with Lee. No wine for me that night, just lots of water, and a hazelnut cannoli for dessert. I didn't go away hungry, that's for sure, but we ate very early, so I was pretty confident that everything would have plenty of time to digest before race time.
I had planned to get up at 4 AM, but of course by 3:30 I was lying there wide awake. All my clothing, shoes, nutrition, phone, etc. was laid out ready to go. I got up, drank my coffee, ate my energy bar and did my back stretches. Then I got into my running clothes, put in my contacts, brushed my teeth and applied sunscreen. Experience from my previous marathons helped; I had plenty of warm clothes to wear before the start of the race, a comfortable way to carry my phone and energy gels, a plastic garbage bag to sit on while I waited for the start of the race. At 5 AM I took my last gulp of water and headed out the door. Lee kissed me goodbye and wished me luck. I would hopefully see him again, but not until around mile 15.
Its always so exciting walking to the beginning of a race in the predawn darkness of a strange city, with other ghostly running figures everywhere I turn. I love talking to strangers during the course of the race. There are so many different stories; young folks trying to Boston Qualify; old folks running their 35th marathon; family members cheering on the new runner that just wants to finish.
After entering the starting area, I went ahead and peed for the first time. I planned to relax and pee again around 6:30, right before I went to my starting corral. I found a comfortable place to sit against a tree and struck up a conversation with a young lady running her first marathon. She was ready, but nervous. We talked about this and that and around 10 after 6 she decided to go use the porta potties. I didn't want to go again yet, but got bored sitting there by myself so I decided to see what the lines were like. I am SO glad I did, because if I hadn't gotten in line then I would have missed the start of the race!
Those porta potty lines in the starting area were they ONLY bad things about the Philly Marathon. I stood in line from 6:10 AM until right around 7 AM when the race began. For once I was extremely thankful to be one of those old slow runners way in the back. Since my corral didn't actually cross the starting line until around 7:30 I had plenty of time, but it still made for some anxious moments in the runup to the beginning of the race.
So, I found my starting corral, removed my warm up clothes and waited for our turn to start. I crossed the starting line and my race began. I was confident that my goal this year was a reasonable one, based on my past marathon performances. Instead of trying to break 5 and a half hours and starting out too fast, my goal this year was to run the marathon in 5 hours and 35 minutes. This would be 5 minutes better than my fastest time so far and seemed like a reasonable goal.
I had a simple pace chart to use during the race. It didn't change pace very often, and when it did I used simple whole numbers that were easy to remember.
I continued to use Jeff Galloway's Run/Walk/Run method, but this year I used Jeff's recommended run/walk combo of 30/30 (run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds) instead of some anxiety driven derivative, with a little extra running like 35/25, that inevitably wore me out later on in the race.
And for the very first time in a marathon, I didn't go out too fast!
The first part of the Philadelphia Marathon winds through their downtown. It was pretty flat, and the crowds were great. I stuck very closely to the slower pace I needed for the first couple of miles, even though that is so very hard to do. After that I picked up the pace to either 12:45 mpm or 12:30, depending on whether it was a hilly section, flat, or downhill. If my pace fell behind my goal, I slightly extended my running portion of 30/30 by counting to 10 after my beeper went off. I kept doing this for each 30/30 until I was within my pace again and then I went back to 30/30. This let me catch back up without panicking and exhausting myself.
We ran through the Drexel University campus, where frat boys handed out beer and kleenex (I took a tissue and passed on the beer). The crowds were friendly and enthusiastic. Off and on women from the Black Girls Run! organization would be on the sidelines encouraging all of us to keep strong, telling us that we rocked! Every time I saw them it made me happy.
After Drexel we headed to the Philadelphia Zoo and off through a wooded area and a park. We started seeing signs - Marathoners to the left, Half marathoners to the right. I'm glad they made it clear which way we needed to go, but they started putting up the signs at least two miles before the two race groups split which made me feel anxious because I kept on thinking we were almost to 13 miles, when we were not.
When we got to the half marathon turn off we could hear the announcer shouting things about each runner as they crossed the finished line. "How cool" I thought as I ran on past. "I hope they shout something about me!" Ha!
Now the marathoners headed out along Kelly Drive, toward the little town of Manayunk. Manayunk has a reputation for brownies, and beer. I had told myself that if I felt okay I was going to eat a brownie. That brownie started sounding better and better as I ran along the road.
I also started to see unoccupied porta potties. I wanted to wait as long as possible, but I didn't want to pee in my pants either. Around mile 14 I decided to use the facilities, but that was the only time I stopped. Quitting drinking two hours before the start of the race, and only drinking to thirst during the race, really seemed to help keep me from having to pee more than once!
In prior marathons I had worried about getting ill during the race so I think I never took in enough nutrition. For Philly I had decided long ago that if it sounded good I would eat it. Besides eating all
my energy gels, I ate an orange slice, a gulp of beer, and yes I did have one of those amazing brownies in Manayunk! Later on in the race I even ate a pretzel and a gummi bear! And in the second half of the race if it sounded good I drank Gatorade at the water stops, and if it didn't I just drank water. I had practiced drinking Gatorade along with my Gels and knew that I could do it without ill effect if I listened to my body.
Lee was right there waiting for me at mile 15. I still felt great, but I knew the real test wouldn't come until around mile 23 or 24. He would be waiting for me at mile 24 too, so I gave him a hug and continued on my way.
I had a lot of trouble this year during training with my aching toe joints. I finally found out that I don't have bunions; what I actually have is arthritis in my big toes, a fairly common ailment. There's not that much that can be done about it, but I decided to experiment with taking ibuprofen during the race. I researched it and yeah, some people say you shouldn't but it sounded to me like the risks for me at the pace I run were pretty minimal as long as I took them with water. I took some at 5 AM, and then again during the race at 9 AM. The only problem was that although I took them with water it still was harder to swallow pills during a race than I expected and one of them kind of bobbed around in my throat for awhile until another water stop finally washed it down. Unpleasant but certainly not the end of the world.
As I headed back toward Philly from Manayunk I kept checking in with myself to see how I felt. Miles 20, 21 and 22 I still felt good, but from experience I refused to feel hopeful about my time or my finish until mile 23. At mile 23 my legs were still strong and I still had energy, so I started my plan for speeding up by gradually adding a little more running to each run/walk segment. As long as I wasn't too tired I would keep this up until the end.
At mile 24 there was Lee. Instead of feeling awful like last year in St. Louis I felt great. I was starting to feel incredibly happy. Some spectators even commented "look at her, she's still smiling!"
Philly has a great end to the race. After a slight uphill it goes downhill for the last quarter mile. I ran that last quarter mile as fast as I could and ended up with a 9:23 pace for the end, nothing short of amazing for me!
One of the charming things about the Philadelphia Marathon is their Mayor. He stands at the start and the finish of the race, high-fiving anyone that wants to do so. By the time I finished he had a pretty stoic look on his face; after all, I was probably the 10,000th runner that had hit his hands that day. I high-fived the mayor at the end, grinning from ear to ear.
As I crossed the finish line I felt like crying. I had PR'd by 7 minutes, finishing in 5 hours and 33 minutes. Finally I had run a marathon the way they should be run, under control with a strong finish. It was a great accomplishment for me. I basically felt like I was walking on air, with very sore quadriceps.
After meeting Lee at the beautiful fountain, we walked very slowly back to the hotel where I took a long shower. I wanted a Philly Cheese Steak for lunch and a little more walking would be good for me, so we headed back over to the food market by the train station.
Wearing my big flashy race medal, I brought smiles to everyone's face, runners and non-runners alike. At the market, we got into the longest line, figuring the most popular place probably had the best sandwiches. I asked the guy in front of us what to order since I'd never had a cheesesteak, Philly or otherwise, and wasn't really even sure what they were! Roast beef, cheese wiz, peppers and onions he told me, and that's what I got. And yes, it was really, really good.
I'm already wondering about my training and racing for this coming year, what I should do the same, what I should do differently. Running 4 days a week was good for my race readiness, but seemed bad for my body overall. I had a lot more aches and pains this year. So at least for now I'm going back to three days of running a week, until I start serious training again. I'm also going to let my body fully recover before I run any sort of race. I think that's another mistake I made last year.
My next race is the New York City Marathon. I know it is a much more difficult marathon than Philly, but it has been my dream ever since I caught the marathon bug. I'm so excited that I finally get to run it, but I don't know yet what a reasonable goal should be. Can I try to match or beat my time at Philly? Is that foolish and should I be satisfied with a slower time? Can I train to handle the hills that will greet me at the end in Central Park? Stay tuned!