Given all the factors stacked up against me going in to this race, I honestly could not have imagined I would finish with a 3:09:40, which is just about two minutes slower than my marathon PR. That kind of result makes me think I can definitely break 3:05 next year.
I wrote a few weeks ago about my spazzy ankle injury. Last Tuesday as a last ditch effort to get me to the start line in the best shape possible, my PT and I tried dry needling, which is basically acupuncture with more vibration and lots of weird feelings in the affected tissue. I took my two taper weeks easier than normal and only did an easy 14-miler at around 8-minute pace for my final long run. I’d only been able to run about a 7:30 pace for a few miles at a time before my ankle and shin would seize up. Then I would take the pace back down to a more manageable 8:30.
Then sometime around this time last week I came down with a crazy hacking cough, an accompanying stuffy nose and body aches the day before I was supposed to start my new job. My new coworkers probably think I’m a gimpy smoker. The cough didn’t help me with my running either.
At my doctor’s advice, I wore KT tape on my bum ankle for most of the weekend and during the race. I also popped two Advils this morning. Let’s say even though I was cleared to run the whole race, I didn’t exactly feel prepared going in to this thing.
We stayed downtown, so I didn’t have any trouble getting to the start line in plenty of time. On a normal day when I wasn’t afraid my leg would fall off at the ankle, I would have used a 1.5-mile jog as a warmup. Today I opted for a cab. The cabbie got me darn close to the park. I got there at 6:25 for a 7 a.m. race, so I had tons of time to meander and be nervous. I didn’t have any trouble getting in to the park, and there wasn’t any crazy security that I noticed. Of course, my focus was probably elsewhere.
The start line festivities seemed minimal — just the singing of the anthem and a few shoutouts to people running the race overseas. Right at 7 a.m., we were off. I got on pace pretty quick and noticed the 3:05 pace balloon drifting away quickly. In the first 800 feet I decided I should at least try to stick with that group for a while.
This is one of those half/full combo races where everyone starts together, and the half peels off around the (duh) halfway point. In the race guide’s fine print, you see that as a marathon runner, you can opt out of the full at the halfway point and be scored with the half finishers. This fact was dangling above my head in one of those cartoon thought bubbles from about mile six right up until the split. If I’d felt any discomfort in my ankle, I would have given myself an out. Funny thing was I never felt pain. Even now on the train ride home, I feel only a little normal soreness.
I hung on with the 3:05 pacer until mile 8 or so when we came to the big hill by the university. I started to doubt my pacing at that point, so I didn’t bother catching up. But I kept the group in sight through the second half of the course. After the full marathon runners split off, a woman who I’d been near for the past four or so miles caught up to me. I asked here what her goal time was. “3:10. You?” I told her I didn’t really have a goal right now. And that was true. But with that, I thought, hell, I can still break 3:10, too, probably. I don’t feel any crazy ankle pain right now, and this pace feels comfortable. The temperature is a little warm, but what the hell? So at mile 14, I started to get in the zone.
Getting in a nice, steady groove is easy in the second half of this race. The road is even. The scenery is darn pretty. You can concentrate on your running. Basically, I ran nearly even miles in the second half of the race with a few minor deviations for hills. I didn’t slow at the end because I still felt good. At one point a man yelled to me, “Go AMANDA! Looking really strong!” and his wife said, “Wait. You’re right. She actually did look strong.”
At mile 23, I thought back to that 3:10 goal and did a quick calculation that if I kept a pretty aggressive pace, I could still make it. To my right, Michael, who I’d seen at mile 22, was just behind me on the trail. He yelled something encouraging to me and then ran along the trail at my pace for a few miles until he came to the security zone. I kept thinking he certainly was going fast, or maybe I needed to speed up. He’d done an 11-mile training run this morning. Later I found out that yes, I was running pretty fast at that point. I pushed pretty hard for the last mile to make my self-imposed time goal. My Garmin was off by about a tenth of a mile, and the last few feet just seemed to go by in slow motion.
As a bonus, I happened to find a pair of my very favorite racing shoes on sale for $50 at City Sports on Saturday. I threw caution to the wind and raced in them. These things are incredibly hard to find in D.C. and especially hard to find online. If they’d had more than one pair in my size, I would’ve stocked up.
Bad roads for a few miles. In the Penn’s Landing section during the early miles, the roads were oddly gooved and uneven. During miles 4 through 6, people are trying to fall into position, but the bad roads clearly were distracting a bunch of us. Thank goodness this was in the early miles because if it was later, I probably would have fallen.
Confusing race start area. My cabbie dropped me off near one of the park’s entrances, and I headed toward where I thought the bag check would be. I ended up wandering around for about 10 minutes before I found the UPS trucks. Some clear signage would have gone a long way. I will take responsibility for not looking at the start area map the race organizers provided with the race packet, though.
Weird jaunt across Falls Bridge. Around mile 17, the course is happily chugging down Kelly Drive when you see up ahead a random left turn. This is Falls Bridge, and it is stupid. Why not keep going down Kelly Drive a little longer? The jaunt slowed me down and got me out of the zone. If you look at my splits, mile 18 is my worst mile because of this lame bridge.
Corrals. The corral system seemed to work well for me. I started with people who were going about my speed, and I noticed people with bibs from my corral around me most of the time.
Race results posted fast online. My results were online when I checked about two hours after I finished. That’s faster than most 5Ks. Great job here.
Start time. I love starting races early. Today’s 7 a.m. start time was especially nice because the weather was set to warm up past 60 by the time I crossed the finish line.
SWAG. With added security, the race required that we check our gear in clear bags. Not to worry, though, since the fancy drawstring SWAG bag was clear and did double duty. The race also had a nice long-sleeve tech shirt that doesn’t have much branding (yay) and a 26.2 sticker. And my name was on my bib, so I got a ton of shout-outs from fans on the course. I love it when a race does that.
Fan support, at times. The greatest concentration of fans is downtown along Chestnut Street. For about 10 or 12 blocks, people form a wall of sound on either side of the street. The fans at this section and in a few other areas (turnarounds were good) made the race exciting. As I said, I enjoyed getting into the groove along Kelly Drive, so I didn’t miss the barren fan areas too much there.
Hotel discounts. We found a pretty good discounted marathon deal on a Kimpton hotel in a touristy area. If you book early enough, you can probably find some cheaper deals through the marathon website.
Clear course markers, mostly. Most mile markers had a visible flag. I didn’t notice all of them at the beginning, though, since I was trying to not trip over people around me and the uneven streets.
- Course: loop with an out and back in the second half
- Terrain: roads and minimal turns, a few hills in the beginning
- Website: Philadelphia Marathon