Leading up to the Philadelphia Marathon I had no goals. I knew I had the endurance to finish, thanks to a year of trail runs and adventure races. I knew, though, that I didn't have the speed to come close to a PR, let alone the new and improved BQ times.
Leaving me with what to shoot for? I was as aimless as humanly possible when it came to a goal. Prior to Philly, I'd run five other marathons -- Philadelphia in 2001, Steamtown in 2002 (at the time I had the goal of running a marathon a year, I failed), Columbus in 2009, Boston and New York in 2010. Goals were clear-cut to me (finish, finish faster than at Philly, qualify for Boston, have a shit-ton of fun at Boston, beat my Boston time at New York, respectively).
Abby was in it to enjoy it, and that didn't sound like too bad of a plan. We decided to cross the start line together and I had 3:45:00 in my head as a number to shoot for just to keep me moving forward -- a bit better than my average marathon time so I couldn't just mosey along but obtainable without feeling like hell, hopefully.
I didn't even hit snooze on race morning. I was up by 5, on my second cup of coffee by 5:15, decided against a third, stuffed an Eggo with peanut butter into my face, properly lubed, dressed, deoderized and was actually ready to go when Abby and her crew rolled by to pick me up at 5:40.
By 6:20 we were at the race site and were in the longest portapotty line in the history of the universe. Actually, the line itself wasn't too long -- the people in front of us were apparently giving birth and/or performing minor surgeries in there and were taking forever and ever. Finally I gave up, got out of line and peed between a rock and a tree while pretending no one could see me -- the start was getting close.
Abby and I parted ways with her people and headed to the start together. The plan? Run together until we didn't. Have a good time. And, for me, don't do anything stupid in the first half -- all my other marathons came with positive second-half splits of 7 to 15 minutes. Terrible. F.
We crossed the start about 7 minutes after the gun and dodged our way over, under, around and through other runners and walkers for the first mile -- hit the marker at right around 9 minutes. A little slower than I would have liked but, eh. The weather was great, the company was great, I was happy, the road was flat.
Just before mile 2 I had a cheerleader -- an old coworker from an old job out bright and early to push along the runners. I was amused and surprised to see her, so yay.
And then, another familiar face -- Abby's husband Brent. "Look, there he is," Abby basically whispered to me. Among the footfalls of a zillion runners on a packed course, he, oddly, did not hear her whisper. "BREEENNNNT!," I yelled and then pointed at him and jumped up and down a bit. It worked -- he saw us.
Friends of friends who managed to recognize me and a drumline (my favorite thing during races) made the next few miles tick by. Abby and I chatted about nothing in particular as we weaved around more runners and held a comfortable 8:35 pace.
As we hit mile five, a thought popped into my brain. Should I share it? "Dare I say it?," I said to Abby. "I think I am actually having fun."
"I wasn't going to say it out loud," she said, "but I am, too."
As we approached mile 5, there was Brent again. This time he saw us and started snapping away with his camera.
I sort of love this picture -- we both look thrilled
to be running!
"Bill! Bill! Bill! BILL! BILLLL!," I screamed (apparently I get very excited when I see people I know while running marathons). He saw us and waved. He knows better than to ignore my big mouth but we were so damn fast he wasn't able to get any pictures.
Motivated by the unexpectedly loud and large crowds, the next several miles flew by. We chatted about whatever -- mostly adventure racing, I think, and before we knew it we were smelling the Philadelphia Zoo. Barf. I don't do stink while running and the smell of caged elephants and monkeys and lions and tigers and bears and lemurs and aardvarks and whatever made me a bit gaggy but I kept that to myself. Plus, I had more important things to think about -- the only significant hill of the course was right in front of us.
Abby and I didn't increase our effort as we steadily climbed the hill. Some runners around us started to struggle but we'd run this part of the course twice on two of our longer runs. We knew it wasn't that long, or that steep and that we'd be met at the top by about a mile of flat followed by a short, steep downhill so we kept things in control.
"Man, I can't believe we've already run what, like 8 miles?," I commented. I hadn't been paying close attention to mile markers and would check in only occasionally with Abby and her Garmin about our pace. "Try 10 miles," she said.
Yep, the miles were flying by. We were running solidly and comfortably and were right on pace for a 3:45 finish.
As the course dropped us along the Schuylkill River, Bill found us again. This time he was ready with the camera.
We also saw something crazy -- people dressed like bacon, grilled cheese and pizza dancing around. Silly! Soon signs were directing people running the full in one direction, the half in the other. I couldn't believe we were almost at the 13.1-mark. As we peeled in one direction and the half runners peeled into the other, we hit the middle at about 1:52 and some change.
At the mile 14 water stop I was bolstered by two friends handing out cups. Damn, they were loud. Just past them a dude dressed like Batman was playing the theme song to Rocky on a trombone. Abby was absolutely thrilled by this. I, however, have never seen Rocky despite living in Philly for more than 15 years so I didn't know what was happening.
As we chugged along on the out-and-back I realized Abby was in for a huge PR unless something unhappy happened. I tried to be extra-careful to knock her down, trip or kick her or punch her -- didn't want to ruin her day.
Outward bound. Can you spot us?
Next up was a detour from the main out-and-back -- about a mile across a bridge, down a hill, around a cone, back up the hill and back over the bridge. I'd been mentally dreading this part all morning -- not sure why, but I was. Just as we were about to reach the bridge a friend of Abby's let us know that Brent was waiting for us at the turnaround cone. Yay! Something to look forward to. I zoomed down the hill and was eager to see another familiar face.
I don't remember feeling as dead serious as
I look in the top picture.
As we spun around the cone I was elated. "I was dreading that part! And now it's over!," I must have repeated enough times to make Abby want to sprint far, far away from me. Mostly I was just happy that both brain and body were still into the race.
We both started to get a bit bored about a mile or so later. "Talk to me about something," Abby requested. Do you know how hard it is to think of things to talk about when someone asks you to say words? Uhhhhh...
All I could think about was racing. I peppered Abby with questions about the race she was most scared of at the start line, her favorite race, her first race, her last race, her thoughts on race relations, race race race.
As we slogged into Manayunk the crowds grew louder and drunker. And we started to pass a lot of runners. People were starting to struggle. I felt a bit bad too, but, surprisingly, only a bit -- Abby started to pick up the pace and I was happy to tuck behind her. Then we passed a group of people handing out little cups o' beer and I dry-heaved. I like beer as much as (ok, probably more than) the next person, but not at mile 21.5 of a marathon.
"Oh, God, there's beer, I am going to puke," I said, as I darted as far away from the beer as I could. Fortunately, I didn't actually barf.
The course dumped us back alongside the river and I realized we only had four miles to go. Four miles? That's a prologue in an adventure race, a distance I can manage on a treadmill, 32 minutes and some change until the finish, depending on how well I was able to keep it together.
Let's go! I was feeling better than I ever had at mile 22 of a marathon. Usually at mile 22 I am wanting to cry and contemplating burning all running shoes/shorts/shirts/tights/hats/gloves/gus/water bottles/etc. and never running again.
This time ,though, was different.
I started to run a bit harder, not so much that it hurt yet but enough that I knew that it would before I crossed the finish line. Gradually, Abby and I began to pull apart. I peeked over my shoulder a few times -- she was still right back there but I decided I wanted to be done and I knew she would finish with a nastyhuge PR with or without me so I dropped my pace into the high 7s/low 8s, hoping to hold that for the duration.
Bill found me again. I wasn't smiling quite as big as I had been -- slowly but surely I was starting to hurt but I really thought I could hang on. I was actually passing people and the fact that I didn't seem to be hurting as much as many of the runners around me gave me a bit of motivation -- I apparently wasn't going to shit the bed with only three miles to go.
I passed my buddies at the water stop again -- they seemed to be having the most fun of all. Bill rode on the path just off the course and snapped a few more pictures.
So many spectators!
I have no idea who I am smiling at in this picture.
I wasn't sure what to do -- most of the people around me were grumpy and many were walking. A few were crying and a few were saying "fuck" a lot. I needed someone ungrumpy and unhurting to motivate me. I scanned the runners around me and settled in on Purple Shirt. She looked like she'd been at mile 24 of a marathoon before, and looked like she wanted to finish strong. I made myself promise to myself that I wouldn't let her get more than 15 feet in front of me.
And then she picked up the pace a bit. Purple Shirt, were you trying to kill me? I hung on, barely, and managed to convince myself that I could hang on for the 18 or so minutes of running still ahead of me.
Thank you Purple Shirt, whomever you are.
I am not going to lie -- mile 24.5 to about mile 25.5 sucked. My lungs were unhappy, my legs were tired and my brain was starting to go. But then the crowd got huger and louder and I started smiling like a bobo. Suddenly I was so happy again. I didn't notice the last little incline as I rounded a bend to find the finish line staring me in the face. I ran as hard as I could for the last 100 meters or so, and that was that.
Chip time: 3:43:46. Fine by me. I worked my way to the gear check truck, threw on some warms (although the day was actually sunny and quite warm for Philly in mid-November) and met up with Bill, Abby, Brent and Abby's family before slogging about a mile to brunch/beer/breakfast/coffee.
Abby had a 9-minute PR. Nine minutes. NINE MINUTES. I would sell my soul for a PR like that. And she seemed to have fun while doing it, too. My big achievement for the day was a negative split -- only by a few seconds, but I fianlly didn't crash and burn in the second half of a marathon.
A nice little Sunday.