After my failed attempt to BQ at the 2012 Shamrock marathon, I wanted to do one good, solid marathon before tying a neat bow around marathoning for bit to focus on triathlon. After searching around, I decided the best solution was Philadelphia. After 4 marathons, I had yet to run one in my home state of Pennsylvania so Philadelphia it was. The goal was 3:30 minutes (an 8:00/mile pace) but really I just wanted to run a good solid race with the operative word being RUN. As in run the whole way.
Training started in July and was good, but unremarkable with no injuries or catastrophes. I think I was able to accomplish 98% or more of my planned miles & workouts. Fast forward to the weekend of November 17th & 18th. Race weekend.
Saturday found Janice and I in the car and Philly-bound for the expo & packet pick-up. Over the years I have to come to rely heavily on my online social network for advice, support and commiseration for all things running. I have the best group of friends anyone could ever want. Problem is I haven’t actually met most of them in person. That changed slightly at the Philly expo. After going through packet pick-up I met up with Neal Fox & Judy Lynch whom I go way back with on the Runner’s World Masters forums and now the Facebook Running Warriours group. We met up and it was as if we had known each other for years. Neal said it best when he pointed out he hasn’t met anyone from the forums that weren’t exactly what he expected. I think that speaks volumes for social media. While it may not be a traditional way to get to know people I know more about Neal and Judy from on-line then I do about some of my daily acquaintances. We enjoyed a gabby lunch together at McGillen’s Alehouse on Drury Street with each of us spewing out racing, running and tri stuff while my poor wife Janice sat and listened. All too soon it was time to go our separate ways and get ready for racing the next day.
After a few minutes of navigation errors where I probably yelled at my wife more then I should have, we made our way back out of the city and headed home. A light pasta dinner preceded an early bedtime.
I was awake when the alarm went off at 4:20 but slept extremely well. I was surprised how cold it was when I got in the car. I had to scrape the windows and the thermometer read 29 degrees. Hmm. I hoped the shorts and t-shirt with arm warmers and gloves would be adequate. I grabbed a bagel and some coffee from Wawa an retraced my steps to Philadelphia. It is about 50 minutes to an hour from Reading. Apparently others were planning on running the marathon too because traffic ground to a halt on the Schuylkyll Expressway right at 676 which is the main route into downtown. It wasn’t even 6:00 so no worries. I managed to get into the city but quickly abandoned plans of looping around closer to the start as hundreds of racers were walking from South of the Vine St. expressway. I exited at Broad Street, turned on Arch and pulled into the first garage I came too. Parking was available on the 6th floor. The elevator was broken but no biggie. I was going to run 26.2 miles. A few flights of steps wouldn’t bother me. (Hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it?) One smart thing I did was notice that as I crossed over the race route, there were a couple dozen porta potties set up on a corner. This was a 3/4 of a mile from the start and nobody was there waiting for them so I detoured a couple blocks out of the way and used the john before heading North for the Eakins oval and the start. Oh, and no worries on the temperature. I watched them climb as I came down the expressway until it was at 39 in downtown Philly with no wind. Perfect.
Pre-race is one of my favorite times. This was my 5th and, by far, largest marathon. Walking to the start among all the runners was exciting and exhilarating. There was lively chatter in the air as friends talked among themselves about race wether, the start, and the day. Some shivered in the cold others nodded knowingly at each other that the weather was perfect.
Once at the start I donned by race belt preloaded with gels, stuck my sunglasses on my hat, got rid of the sweatshirt I planned to drop (but didn’t really need at this point) and checked my bag. The bag check was very efficient with dozens of UPS trucks each taking a few names alphabetically. I arrived at the green corral a few minutes before the start. It must have been a popular corral. I was actually outside the rail with a couple dozen others and had to wait until the field moved toward the start to get on the course proper.
The lead group went off at about 7:03. For the next 10-15 minutes we shuffled toward the starting line listening to each corral go. There were two added corrals in front of us. In a VERY classy move, the marathon had opened up 3000 extra slots for runners displaced from the cancelled NY marathon. About 1500 runners had scooped these up at the cost of $200.00/each. $100.00 of which was donated to the Red Cross for hurricane relief. The New York runners all had special orange shirts. While I’m not from Philadelphia, I was very proud of the fans along the course as they called out to and welcomed the New York runners.
Finally, we reached the start and were sent on our way down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the cheers of the crowd. Let me say here and now that I thought the crowd support at Shamrock would be tough to beat but Philly tops any race I have been in. All but a few miles were filled with folks along the streets from all walks of life yelling and cheering. People blowing whistles and vuvuzelas, horns, calling out by name. Little kids were delighted with a high-five.
As I said my race goal had been 3:30 with a strong run as a second goal. My hope had been to run even 8:00 min/mile splits. It is an easy pace for me that I can hold for a long time. It became apparent quickly that that was going to be difficult. With 30,000 runners the course was extremely crowded. In hindsight, I should have bumped my estimated time a hair to get into the next corral. The end of the green corral was 4:00 and it quickly became apparent that there were people with no intention of completing the race in 4:00 hours (or the half-marathon equivalent). Within 3 miles there were people walking. This REALLY clogged up an already crowded race course. I quickly found myself hemorrhaging speed and energy trying to dodge slower runners. On paper the splits weren’t that slow: 8:10, 8:10, 8:16, 8:08, 8:09, 8:16 . . but over the miles the deficit was increasing. I almost took a tumble at mile 4 when some guy came pushing his way up from behind and we tangled feet. Other then that runners were considerate but the crowd made going at a faster pace impossible. Chestnut Street was especially difficult though the fantastic crowd along it made it very worthwhile. I was also not running anything like a tangent which the Garmin vs. the mile markers quickly showed. The first 5-7 miles was a lot of weaving, dodging, and trying to make up time where I could. The fortunate thing was I carried a water bottle so was able to pick up the pace a little bit past the water stations where everyone stopped. The first water station was shear chaos and I was glad not to be involved.
Despite the crowd and a slightly slower pace then I planned, I was really having fun. I made the decision to bag the iPod and enjoy the sights & sounds of the race. It was so fun to hear people calling your name and the out right lies they tell you like “Looking Good”!
At some point before mile 8 we crossed Lombard Street just a few blocks from my Best Man Dave Wiedner’s former residence. He now has a guest house in Puerto Rico but I found, to my delight, an e-mail from him upon my return home congratulating me on my race.
I would never have guessed that a marathon in Philly could be as scenic as it was. For my part, I do my best to stay out of Philadelphia (or any city) as much as I can but the marathon course was easily the most interesting I have done with constant scenery changes and famous landmarks.
9: 7:48.2 (big downhill)
You can tell by the splits above I was trying to pull in some of the lost time from the first few miles. It got a little difficult because with the highway structures, walls, and trees, the Garmin lost signal quite a bit. I tried to ignore it and just run off feeling. I was hoping to get back to an 8:00 min/mile average and then just hang at 8:00 but never quite made it back.
Life got a little easier at the split where the half-marathoners turned off. Crowd support picked up near the art museum and the course had great markings for half & full marathoners. I was surprised though how few folks peeled off for the half finish. Once we passed the half finish, we turned North along the river toward Manayunk. This was the most scenic part of the course but had the lightest crowd support so you had to dig deep and motivate yourself. I had my Endurance Multisport shirt on and heard someone call out and saw Craig Durant (aka The Big Truck) with his hand out for a high-five. I also spotted my running friend and co-worker Larry Filtz manning the water stop at mile 15. Larry and I ran together nearly every Monday and Thursday before work since July.
Oh . . there were also hills. Much bigger and more frequent hills then I expected. Okay they weren’t ski slopes but they were long, steady pace-killing grades. Somewhere in here I decided I really needed a bathroom. I wasn’t concerned about this since I had the sneaking suspicion I wouldn’t be seeing 3:30 and a bathroom stop would surely kill any such hopes. Still, better to stop and go then run uncomfortably for the last 9 miles. There were porta pottis without a wait sometime shortly before mile 17 and the odd little stub the course takes out over the Falls Creek bridge.
You can see the effect the hills of Manayunk have. It is important to note that my 20 oz. water bottle was empty and disposed of by mile 14 or so. I have never learned any method of using a water stop that works for me other then walking it so that was the plan once the bottle was kicked. If I try to drink and run I lose more time choking then just walking through the stop.
We also turned on Main St. in Manayunk right around the 20 mile mark. At this point my brain had a consult with my legs politely asking them to pick things up a bit. After thorough deliberation my legs replied that we should all just be happy they were still willing to run and this was as good as it’s gonna get. Okay then.
As hard as the marathon gets over 20 miles, to me it is the most fun. I just love watching the miles tick off. All the early mornings and hard work are worth it at this point when you know you are going to make it happen. I wasn’t able to hold the 8:00 pace I’d hoped for buy I had long ago decided I was NOT walking. I started focusing on getting to the next mile marker and the next water stop. My mind and body felt good but my legs were very heavy and beginning to get even more unresponsive to requests for speed. I planned to let the chips fall where they may and just finish running.
I saw Larry again at mile 23. He patted me on the shoulder and encouraged me with “Hang in there”. It’s nice to get a positive note along the way. Somewhere in here I also spotted Craig & Erica Sheckler the founders of Endurance Multisport. They called to me and waved and I secretly hoped I wasn’t embarrassing their fine club.
While it may not look like it in the pictures I was really having fun at this point. I had noted mile 25 as I headed North toward Manayunk and was looking forward to seeing it again and then I was there. Come on legs . . just a little more.
I must assume that there was some measuring error for the last mile. There is no way it was only a mile. I talked my legs into one final effort and managed to speed up a bit promising “Only a mile to go”. About 3 miles later they started to protest again as the 26 mile marker, let alone the finish was still nowhere to be seen. I started assuming Philadelphia needed more room for spectators so they must have added a couple miles to the end. And there were spectators. Lots and lots of spectators cheering really hard and loud. Even my legs took notice and picked it up a bit.
Will someone explain to me why after 26 miles does .2 seem SO LONG!? Good grief I didn’t think I’d ever find the finish. But sure enough suddenly there it was with Mayor Michael Nutter right in the middle high-fiving all the finishers. My Garmin shows a final lap of 4:31but it shows a total distance of 26.52 due to not running tangents so that isn’t all that useful. The funny thing is I had e-mails setup to track several friends but not myself. It wasn’t until I got home that I was able to contact someone who had been tracking me to get my official time. Oops.
Not the 3:30 I was looking for . . but absolutely acceptable given the nature of the course and the crowd. Also, this was easily the best and most fun marathon I’ve done. But of course, the fun begins when you cross the finish line. My legs clearly did not have input on our choice of parking spot . . 9 blocks away. Heck they barely wanted to get down the finish chute.
I got my mylar blanket, finishers medal, and a bottle of water. I skipped the food line. I am never really hungry after a race. Bag pick-up was every bit as easy as drop off and in minutes I was in the changing tent attempting to change into dry, warm clothes. If Philly had a failing it was only having 6 or so chairs in the changing tent. Clearly it was setup by someone who has never had to try to change after running a marathon. But changing was accomplished and I started the long, slow walk back to the car.
Remember the broken elevator? The badness of that became vividly clear at this point. Oh . . and it is one of those attendant-less garages. You pay at the kiosk before leaving. The kiosk is on the first floor. My car, parking ticket, and wallet were on the 6th floor. Up the steps. (Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.) Down the steps. (Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.) And back up the steps. (Ouch . . well you get the idea.)
Fortunately, traffic was light leaving town. It was interesting to be on the Schuylkyll Expressway and be able to look across the river and still see runners on the marathon course. I stopped in Oaks for coffee at Wawa. Unlike Philadelphia when you were walking funny and they knew you had run the marathon, the people at Wawa in Oaks had no idea. They just stayed away from me.
Finally, I saw a couple interesting things. There were several signs that tickled my funny bone though I can only remember two at the moment.
“Go! Total Stranger go!”
And the one held by the college co-ed that read “You have stamina! Call me!”
I was also more then slightly impressed by the dude running a sub-3 hour pace wearing a full tuxedo.
Well, if you’ve stayed with me this long, thanks for reading and
thanks for your support. Onward to become a better, faster triathlete in 2013!