After months of hard work, dedication, and training, the Philadelphia Marathon is over. I finished the race in 4:32:46! Wow. That is 18 min and 52 sec faster than I ran the Myrtle Beach Marathon this past February and 38 min and 4 sec faster than I ran my very first marathon, the Wineglass Marathon, in September 2012. Again, wow. Who ever would have thought I could make such a vast improvement.
Let me start by saying how phenomenal a job Philadelphia did with this race. Logistically, I've never participated in a better race.
There were 30,000 runners signed up for the full and half marathons, starting in the same corrals based on pace, at the same exact time. Originally Nick and I were both very worried about this going into the race. We saw photos like the one below and thought we'd have a horrible time getting out of our corral and setting a good pace due to the sheer volume of runners.
Runners at the Start of the Philadelphia Marathon
We arrived at the start fairly early. We stayed at a hotel near the airport and were able to walk to the SEPTA train station and take the train right into the city. From there we had a short walk to the start area. Philadelphia was being very cautious with security and everyone had to go through a security check. Again, another thing I was afraid would take time, but we were able to zip right through. This put us at our corral right after 6:00 am. We were happy to see that there were volunteers ready to hold up a mesh fencing to separate the corrals as they were walked to the start line. Since we were there so early we got right in the front of the Orange Corral. As the start time neared, the volunteers were no longer letting people sneak into the front of the corral start line-- everyone had to go around and come in the back. This was so so so great since we were there early to stake out our spot, and we didn't have anyone butt in front of us. I wanted to hug the volunteer stationed near us. She was firm, but nice, to everyone who tried to cut in. She was definitely one of the individuals who made this race what is was for me.
The Orange Corral was finally walked to the start line at roughly 7:30 am. Like I said, we were right in the front! Once the horn blew and we were off, Nick and I were running down the streets of Philadelphia with hardly anyone around us. I felt like I was flying (turns out that I ran an 8:40 min/mi pace that first mile.. oops).
How totally cool. I've never had that experience, nor do I think I'll have it again, but it is something I will not forget. I think the ability to run unencumbered was a function of being at the front, the wide streets at the beginning, and also they were letting parts of the corral go in waves every few minutes to minimize the congestion. As faster corrals were being sent off we kept hearing the announcer say that they wanted everyone to be able to run their own race and not be overly crowded. Again, wow-- Philadelphia you are a high class race who truly cares about it's runners.
After the first mile or so the streets started to narrow, and Nick and I spent a lot of time dodging and sprinting around other runners. When it was feasible we actually ran on the sidewalks instead of in the road with everyone because it gave us slightly more space. I noticed during this time that there were a lot of people who were running significantly slower than I was-- and I'm not particularly fast. It slightly upset me, because I think they lied about their time when they registered to get in a different corral in order to have more time to complete the race. This is so not the intent of having pace corrals. I didn't let it bother me too much, but it's definitely something I noticed and was frustrated by.
As most of you probably already know I prefer the run/walk method. For the Philadelphia Marathon we did a 9 min run 1 min walk. Every time we walked during the first half of the race (the half the was run in the downtown area) we got on the sidewalks to not block runners behind us.
The first 13 miles of the race flew by. There was one section of approximately 1.5 miles that was slightly downhill the entire time. I ended up with another 8:40 min/mi pace on that mile split. There was another section that had a hill that seemed never ending. There were people downtown giving out beer to runners. There were spectators everywhere. So much positive energy. You couldn't not be your best self during this half of the race. I kept saying to Nick, "We're going way too fast. I can't sustain this pace." We would try to slow down, but it was tough. I went into this race very well rested and fueled. I felt phenomenal during the first half. There was so much to look at. I lost track of the number of dogs I saw with spectators, but each one made me smile a little bit, especially the cute little puppy I saw at one point.
In general we tried to run on the outside edge of the course because it made it easier to go around people when necessary. Our names were printed on our bibs and people kept cheering "Go Nicholas!". He was surprised by it at first. It kept happening the entire race. It made me laugh every time. Towards the end of the race he admitted to me that he started pointing at his name to get people to cheer him on. He's too funny sometimes :)
Once we hit roughly the 13-mile mark, the half marathoners split off from the rest of us. At this point everything thinned out significantly. We were now on an out-and-back course towards Manayunk. The course elevation profile made this portion of the race look extremely hilly, but it really wasn't. There were some hills, but nothing horrible. It was around this point that I could really feel some tightness in my legs, in muscles that I don't normally have problems with. I think that all the sideways motion of dodging runners in the tighter areas caused me to use muscles I don't normally use.
The next stretch of the race seemed really long. As we were coming down Kelly Drive, the elite and seeded runners were heading in to the finish. It was pretty cool to watch them, but also emotionally tiring because we still had so many miles to go. On this outbound stretch my pace slowed down somewhat. I was still within the pace I needed to make my time of 4 hrs 30 min. Somewhere along here I saw a sign telling me that if Oprah can do it, so can I. This gave me a little boost. My goals had shifted slightly towards the end of my training, and I knew beating Oprah was within reach.
Some Runner Motivation
The worst part of the course was running across an old bridge around mile 17. The pavement was pretty bad. It was the only bad spot on the course that I noticed. After you cross the bridge, you run about another 0.5 miles then turn around and continue down Kelly Drive. I wasn't a huge fan of that little part of the course.
There were areas of Kelly Drive that had a ton of spectators, and there were areas where it was just you and your thoughts. I liked how we got a bit of both.
I felt myself slowing down a lot once we hit the turn-around on Kelly Drive. Just over 6 miles to go until the finish. It seemed so far away and my IT band was starting to complain. I never felt like I had a quit-y attitude, but I was definitely physically, mentally, and emotionally tired. I will steal a phrase I overheard someone say towards the end of the race "Understatement of the decade! Of course you're tired, you're on mile 23 of a marathon." Something else I noticed once I started to feel tired-- it was never that my heart rate felt too high or that I was having trouble breathing, I felt like my limiting factor was my legs. This is a definite first, and was probably caused my how quickly I went out during the first half of the race.
I'll give you some insight into the tired mind of a runner. Here are some of the things I told myself to keep moving:
- "Of course it's going to hurt. It's a marathon, suck it up."
- "If you weren't tired, it probably means that you weren't working hard enough."
- "It's a beautiful day, a beautiful city, and you get to run in it."
- "You get to do this."
- "You're strong, fit, and healthy."
Nick was also amazing at keeping me motivated. He kept telling me how proud he was, that I looked so strong and steady, and that he was happy that we get to do these things together. He also kept me in check with my fueling and walk breaks the last few miles. He knew when I was struggling, and when to start my walk breaks sooner. We pre-planned that I would absolutely not change my run/walk intervals until we were past mile 20. At mile 21 or 22 we started shifting them slightly. I think I had two 8 min run 1 min walk intervals, then Nick switched me to 7:15 min run 45 sec walk. I was getting into that delirious, I can't think and I can't feel anything state-- so I just did what he told me. I think around mile 23 the 4 hr 30 min pace group passed us. I was kind of disappointed, but I couldn't focus on it. I was already going to kill my previous time, whether I met 4 hr 30 min or not. I was satisfied.
Once we hit the final mile I felt myself perk up a bit. Anyone can do a mile. A mile isn't that far. We were also getting back into the downtown area at this point. Spectators were everywhere again. Finally, we hit the 26-mile mark-- only 0.2 miles to go!! We started picking up the pace. As we neared the finish line Nick said we needed to cross the finish holding hands, so he grabbed my hand and we crossed together. I didn't even see the time. I just heard him saying over and over "4:32:50! 4:32:50! You did it!!".
Wow. I did it. I might not have beaten Oprah's time, or hit 4 hr 30 min, but I surpassed my original goal and previous marathon time. I ran, probably, my best race ever. I didn't feel quit-y. Is it possible to feel strong and tired at the same time? Because I totally felt that way during parts of this race.
Nick and I Post-Race
I don't know that I can put into better words how awesome of an experience the Philadelphia Marathon was. I accomplished some major personal feats, loved the course and the city, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the race logistics were handled. I heard rumors that Philadelphia was a great marathon-- and how right they were. Highly recommend this race to beginners and experienced runners alike.
As we're coming to the end of the autumn season, what was your favorite race? What are you looking forward to training for during the winter months? I'd love to hear all about it in the comments below :)
Until next time-- Happy Running!