Exactly one week ago I was sitting on my couch feeling exhausted, sore, and accomplished. Just one week ago I finished the Philadelphia Marathon for the 2nd consecutive year with a one minute and 17 second improvement. Three months of long runs, speed workouts, group runs, solo runs, happy feet, sore muscles, and mindful eating/drinking resulted in a 26.2 mile race that took me 3 hours, 45 minutes and 7 seconds. But let’s not start at the finish line where this story would end, just like the race did. Let’s start the two days leading up to the race.
Friday I worked at the marathon expo with Angela and Sparkly Soul. Our adventures to Philly and during the expo are always exciting but what I liked most about working at the expo is that I was able to focus on the race without getting stressed about it. I was surrounded by a bunch of other people who were running either the half or the full marathon. I enjoyed myself at the expo because I enjoy selling Sparkly Souls!
Then, I went to work on Saturday. The day wasn’t overly horrible, but I had a lot more time on my hands to worry about the race and the race day weather. I wasn’t surrounded by other runners about to embark on a 26.2 mile race like I was at the expo. I was left with my own thoughts, doubts, and fears.
When I got home I went for a quick 3 mile shake-out run. The wind was already picking up speed. I ate pasta for dinner and went to church to pray for serenity and acceptance of whatever weather I was going to face the next day. It was hard for me to keep my doubts at bay. I went to bed more anxious and nervous than I had been for the past 3 months. I could hear the wind outside my window and I was worried my chances of PR’ing at the race the next day would be literally blown away (no pun intended). My alarm was set for 3:45 AM so I went to bed early.
I woke up and the wind was still whipping. My weather app showed temperatures would reach 48 degrees but the wind chill would be in the mid-30s. For my race outfit, I opted for long leggings, a long sleeve light Under Armour, my Sneakers and Spokes jersey, my gloves that convert to mittens, and my standard Nike ear warmer. I bundled up in extra layers as I walked out the door with my parents and Josh at 4:45 AM because I knew waiting around the corrals would be brisk.
I planned to get to the city by 5:30 AM which would leave plenty of time to find parking, get through security, and use the port-a-potties (ew!). We arrived early so we sat in my dad’s truck for 15-20 minutes to stay warm. When we arrived at the security gates, they told my dad and Josh bikes were prohibited so they locked them up outside of the secure zone and we continued on our way to the starting area.
I was completely disoriented due to the crowds and because the sun still wasn’t up past the horizon yet. I had no idea where the starting line was or in which direction I would be running. I eventually found the green corral and waited with my parents and Josh until closer to the start time. My mom took a few candid pictures and I tried figuring out where the front of the green corral was.
I hesitantly started taking off layers and the chill in the air became evident. I left my sweatpants, 3/4 zip, and sweatshirt with my parents/Josh which left me with a tshirt and a long sleeve over top of my race outfit. I just wanted to be warm.
I’m not sure if I started in the correct corral. All I do know is that I started in the middle of a corral on the right side of the street. After the national anthem, the wheel chair and elite athletes started the race. I began taking off my last two layers on top of my race outfit and tried finding a nice spot to start the race so I wasn’t tripping over clothes that had been haphazardly tossed on the sides of the corral.
Before I knew it, the corral I was in was at the starting line. I double and triple checked to make sure my Garmin had signal as we inched closer toward the starting line. I was happily adorning my Altra Torins and unlike last year, I wasn’t worried about my toes bleeding half way through the race. The wide toe box of Altras is my favorite! We inched closer to the 26.2 miles ahead of us and everyone’s watches around me simultaneously beeped as we crossed the starting strip. The race had begun.
I told myself to start comfortably – don’t go out too hard, pace yourself, don’t do what you did last year. Easier said than done. I ran my first mile in 7:24….not exactly what I set out to do but I consciously told myself to settle in to a more reasonable pace for 26.2 miles. Just like last year I planned to look at my watch every 3 miles so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy looking at my watch 26 times.
For the first 5 miles of the race I was searching through the crowds to find my dad and Josh on their bikes. They had planned to ride parts of the course to cheer me on. I kept searching and searching but I just couldn’t seem to find them. Worst case scenarios started running through my head…maybe someone stole their bikes after they locked them outside the secure zone or maybe they couldn’t get out of the secure zone for some reason. But my thoughts were soon replaced by the overall sensory overload of the race – the noises, the weather, all the people – I was plenty distracted, but still curious as to where my biggest supporters were.
The run down South Street reminded me somewhat of trail running. The road was completely uneven with ruts and holes down the entire length we ran. Not nearly as tough as trail running, but I needed to find humor in something to get me through the next 20 miles.
At mile 6, I distracted myself by searching for a friend who told me she would be at mile 6.5. I kept searching and when I finally found her I threw my hands up in some silly way and gave her a wave and a “hello”. I was still very much happy at this point so doing that required little to no energy.
The race continued toward the zoo and I remember my dad saying he didn’t have any plans on heading toward the zoo so I knew I’d be running the next 5 or so miles without seeing them. Where could they be?!?! There were musicians playing huge drums near the zoo which set a nice beat leading up to the biggest hill of the course. I remember feeling like I was slowing down but I told myself to keep powering through the hill. There were more musicians after the top of the hill who were playing drums. The course took some weird turns that I didn’t remember running last year but all I could do was keeping running forward.
After a long down hill which I took advantage of, we began running next to the path for Fairmount Park. We were approaching the half way point and that’s when I finally got to see my dad and Josh. It was about time they showed up to cheer me on! My dad yelled out that I was right on pace and I couldn’t help but think “right on pace for what?”. I knew I was running fast. I knew I was running too fast but I needed to just keep going.
13.1 miles in 1:44:55. Simple calculations made me realize I was running for a sub-3:30 finish…what kind of torture had I set up for myself in the last 13.1? There was no turning back – what was done was done. I had 13.1 miles to go and I needed to hold on. I was running to PR. That was my only goal – I needed to PR.
The race rounded the front of the art museum. The wind picked up significantly once we were headed in the direction of Manayunk. I tried using the crowd’s energy to augment my adrenaline. I needed to channel their energy into my legs, my body, my mind, my anything.
The 30 MPH wind gusts made me feel like I wasn’t moving forward any more. My feet weren’t landing underneath my body anymore; rather, they were landing slightly to the right of my body. I started cursing in my head. Then out of frustration, I started cursing out loud. I tried latching on to so many people in attempt to draft off of them. I wanted them to block the wind for me. Yet, every person I tried to draft off of was either running too fast or too slow. Nobody around me was running my pace and I became frustrated by that.
I didn’t remember how far away Manayunk was until I was running against 30+ MPH winds. It was so far away. The wind made my hands cold. I was using a lot more energy during my run out to Manayunk than I did in the cumulative 14 miles that came before this point. A guy cheering on the side of the road said “only 10 more miles to go!”…“only”. I wanted to be done.
I knew that I would also be without cheering from my dad and Josh from mile 15 on out because last year my dad didn’t go out towards Manayunk so he could make it back through security and to the finish area in time to see me finish. My new goal was to find Angela. My legs were cramping up, my handheld was empty of water, and I desperately needed a Shot Blok. Without water, I couldn’t eat a Shot Blok so I reached a very low point in the race. I was running with my hands on my quads because they weren’t functioning right. I was getting more and more frustrated at my body for shutting down and I was getting even MORE frustrated at the wind. I needed to find Angela.
I told myself to stop throwing myself a pity party and get myself together. I found Angela and told her she looked great and to keep going (something along those lines). I wished in that moment as she was running back towards the finish line that we were running together so that I could be around someone I knew. I needed someone to distract me from my soreness. But, she was ahead of me and she was running her own race so I had to find a way to get through it myself.
Because my handheld was empty, I switched to chugging Gatorade at every water stop. Gatorade never tasted so good. I was spilling it all over myself because I can’t run and drink from a paper cup simultaneously and I worried that it would make me colder. To my knowledge, it didn’t really make me colder.
Finally I reached the turn around point in Manayunk. My legs were still cramped. My body was exhausted. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream at the wind for making these miles miserable. I started calculating how much time I have versus the miles I had left to run to see if I was still within PR zone. Luckily, I was. As long as I didn’t slow down to 12-13 minute mile pace, I would make it. I told myself that’s completely possible.
There were hills in Manayunk. There were people handing out beer outside of Manayunk. There were runners cramping up on the side of the course in Manayunk. There was wind in Manayunk. I don’t understand how one little town throughout this course could suck so much energy out of me….but it did.
With 4 miles to go, I heard my dad and Josh cheering me on. I was mentally distraught at this point. I threw my hands up in the air after hearing them and covered my eyes trying to fight back tears. I was getting myself all worked up and I wasn’t breathing properly. I needed to compose myself. I had about 45 minutes to run these last 4 miles and still PR. I was racing the clock. I couldn’t break down and cry right here 4 miles away from being done, from being wrapped in a warm heat blanket, or from finding my family and wonderful boyfriend and going home. It’s only 4 more miles.
I switched to playing a little game in my head that Josh used to motivate me with during speed workouts at the local park. He would pick someone anywhere from 200 meters to 1/4 mile away from me and tell me to go catch them. I started doing that to keep my mind distracted from the pain in my legs but only a few people were getting closer to me – everyone else seemed to be getting farther away.
The finish line seemed close but not close enough with only 1.2 miles to go. I told myself that’s only like 10-11 minutes more of running (because my pace was pretty slow at this point). Finally, I could see the starting line. My ears were attentive in attempt to hear one of my three supporters cheering for me. I didn’t hear any of them but figured I’d just somehow missed hearing them with the thousands of other people in the crowd cheering too.
I crossed the finish line and every muscle in my body hurt. My watch read 3:45. I knew I had PR’d and I was extremely happy on the inside despite probably looking unhappy to all the race volunteers. My hands were numb. A running acquaintance of mine wrapped the heat blanket around me. When she asked me how I was, I said “I think I’m dead”. Those are the only 4 words I could fathom saying at that point.
After receiving my finisher’s medal, I walked to the end of the finishing chute. I grabbed a few snacks and a water bottle. I was done. I was done running. My legs didn’t have to run anymore. I could rest. But first, I needed to find my family.
Last year I couldn’t find them so this year we had planned to meet up in the family meet-up area at letter “F” for my last name. There was no family meet-up area this year. I was delusional and completely out of it so my best reasoning was to stand in one spot until one of them saw me. So I waited 5 minutes and I couldn’t see them anywhere in the crowd. I was shivering uncontrollably. I took it upon myself to ask to borrow a stranger’s cell phone to call my mom. I told my mom where I was and she eventually found me but the police officer wouldn’t let her through to help me. I hobbled over to my mom, past the stubborn police officer, and immediately questioned where dad and Josh were. My mom said they didn’t get through security in time to see the finish so we still needed to find them.
We eventually all found each other and my dad and Josh congratulated me on a great race. I was tired but still happy I ran faster than last year. After Josh and my family helped me put on warm layers, my mom took a picture of my with my medal. I tried to look happier than last year because last year’s picture I looked grumpy.
We started the long, slow, cold walk back to my dad’s truck. I couldn’t stop shivering and stepping off of curbs hurt every muscle in my body. It seemed like the walk took 30 minutes. But I got to tell Josh a little bit about my race which I was happy about.
After returning home and refueling with pizza, I was able to reflect some more about my 2nd official marathon. Despite wanting to improve my time by more than just 1 minute and 17 seconds, considering the windy conditions I am very content with my improvement. Three stressful months of training for 1 minute and 17 seconds of improvement. It’s an unbalanced outcome but it’s an outcome I can be happy with nonetheless.
I don’t plan on running the Philadelphia Marathon again anytime soon because next year and beyond I plan on primarily trail racing. My time with the Philadelphia Marathon has ended and a new chapter of racing for me will begin in April 2017. I obviously didn’t learn last year not to go out too fast because once again I paid for my own stupidity in the second half of the race. My 3:45:07 will stand as my Philadelphia Marathon personal record for many years to come.
The wind didn’t blow my attempt at a personal record away from me; instead, it blew me right in the direction to the type of racing I want to do from here on out.