You can count on it. After pouring hours and miles into training for an event, it comes down to a single decision you make on race day. My marathon plan was in jeopardy. The clock was ticking, and the window of opportunity was closing fast. I held my breath and hung in there. Fortunately it paid off. With patience and determination, I got in to use one of the relatively few porta-potties just four minutes to spare before the start of the race. And after executing this key part of my race strategy, I lined up at the start with the 25,000 others to run the Philadelphia Marathon.
After completing the Bellingham Bay Marathon back in September, I was looking for one to close out the calendar year. I took a gander at the helpful Marathon Maniacs calendar, and saw Philadelphia on November 20th. I’d thought I would try a small event, closer to home. But the timing was right and I’d get to click off marathon state number fourteen. So – Philly it would be.
I set out for Philadelphia early on Friday morning, two days before the race. Flights were uneventful, and after checking in to my hotel, I ventured over to the race expo. Afterwards, I went and got a taste of what eating dinner out in downtown Philly would be like. The short answer to this is “expensive”. I rounded the evening out with a nice walk out to Independence Square, taking a nice look at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell without the crowds. It was a nice way to cap the evening.
I spent the day before the race doing a bit of sightseeing, and then turned in early. After a fitful night of sleep, the alarm woke me just before five(that’s two a.m. by my normal body clock for those keeping track at home).
I ventured over to the start in time in time to meet my fellow Marathon Maniacs for a group picture. When I arrived there just before six, it was pretty quiet. Just thirty minutes later it seemed there was people everywhere. It was all I could do to make the clothing drop, find my “happy place”, and line up with all the others.
Marathon number 34 started slowly, as the 25,000 of us ambled towards the starting line, with little room to move. Six minutes later after the gun went off, I hit the start and began running.
The early miles were definitely crowded. We ran past the international flags on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and bore left onto Arch, heading towards the waterfront. Given my usual preference for smaller events, running in such a mass of people was an adjustment. More than once, someone would come up along my blind side and we’d bump. It kind of reminded me of a mass start to a swim in a triathlon.
We turned south and ran along the Delaware River for a while. Here people began to spread out a bit more. By the time we turned towards the Old City, it felt more sane. Around mile five, we passed Independence hall, and turned west on Chestnut.
The stretch through Penn and Drexel was pretty raucous – lots of cheering. We hit a couple of hills (minor by Seattle standards) passing the zoo. I backed off a little bit here – mile 8 is pretty early in the race, and by then I’d banked enough time against my sub-four hour goal.
As we headed into Fairmount Park, I’d settled into a pretty steady pace. Sporting my new heart rate monitor and GPS, I was able to get a sense of my effort as I went. In the early miles, I’d managed to keep it lower than I’d expected (high 130s, low 140s), while clicking off good mile split times (sub 8:50s).
We passed to the west of the art museum, where the half split off from us, and turned north into the long out and back stretch of the race. Between mile 14 and 15, then front runners past us from the opposite direction. Definitely humbling to see then gain a full ten miles on me over the course of about 2:10!
The stretch north to about mile 17 felt a bit challenging mentally. I typically split the race into three parts. The early miles (up to 10-13) I just try to settle into it. The middle miles (to mile 20) are about grinding out a strong, sustainable pace. The final 10k is about digging deep – either to push to a strong finish or just to hang on, depending on how the middle miles went. I was trying to figure out which kind of final 10k today would be.
Mile 17-20 got a bit interesting. We hit an unusual three-point junction in the course (this is near the 17 mile marker on the course map). The northbound runners branched to the left over the Falls Bridge to do a 3/4 mile out and back, and the southbound runners joined us at between mile 21 and 22. We headed out over the bridge, and did a short down and up before returning. Three groups of runners converge at the same spot.
As we came back to the junction, I’m about 75% sure that a woman cut the course in front of me. She suddenly came up from my right side – near a gap in the fence separating us from the folks heading out to the short out and back. If she did cut it, she shaved about seven or eight minutes off of her time – which hardly seems worth it (unless she was trying to get a Boston Qualifying time from it). She promptly pushed about 100 meters ahead of me. There were a number of stretches of out and back, where the course would be subject to someone doing this – I noted it in the park as well. Can’t be sure that’s what happened here, and can’t worry about stuff like this – but I don’t really understand why someone might do it. Who wouldn’t want to earn their posted time fairly?
We headed down a hill into downtown Manayunk, before turning around. As we climbed up towards mile 20 and 21, I was feeling good about finishing strong. As we hit the long stretch where we’d seen the frontrunners coming in before I’d turned it up a notch. Karen, a runner from New Jersey who I ran this stretch with was contrasting how good she was feeling now with her final 10k in the New York City Marathon last year. She was digging deep and her confidence was infectious – I found myself digging in to keep up with her.
All of my splits for the final 10k were under 8:30, with the final 5k 8:20 or better. Mile 25 was my fastest for the event – a sub-8.
I was feeling some pain by mile 25. I checked my heart rate and saw that it was in the low 160s – better than I would have expected. Grinding out that final half mile or so, heading towards the Eakins Oval was hard. I thought about Scott Jurek’s blog post “This is What You Came For”, about how he focused on the essentials of running while doing continuous 1k loops for 24 hours. I wasn’t running for 24 hours, but Scott has always inspired me by being a great athlete, and a very nice and authentic person as well.
I’d monitored my cadence throughout the race (it was several strides per minute faster than it had been), and glided across the finish. Improbably I came in at 3:43:51 – my third consecutive sub-3:45 finish.
I hung out for a while at the finish, pleased with my effort. I’d run a pretty smart race (first time in a while), monitoring things like heart rate and cadence to figure out how I was doing. I focused less on the mile splits than I had for a while, confident that I’d hit my goal pace. And I had enough left during the final 10k to make it interesting.
I relaxed in my hotel room for a while, and headed out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art – enjoying some wonderful Monet, Cezanne, Eakins, and some Dali sketches. I wandered out of the galleries to a beautiful view of the city from the top of the steps. A great lobster dinner capped the evening for me. A nice trip, and a race I felt good about.
charts and graphs for running geeks
Once in a while I’ll see a pace chart that I really like. There’s a nice steady downward trend indicating negative splits, relatively low variance, and a nice kick towards the end. I’ll even take that slowing between mile 25 and 26.2 as evidence that I’d not held too much back :).
I ran with my new TImex Global Trainer GPS and Heart Rate Monitor. I’m not very happy with the device, but it was definitely useful to be able to monitor heart rate data as I ran – it’s a great indicator of fatigue level, and a reasonable predictor of what I might have left in the tank.
marathon maniac group picture provided by scott stader, a fellow maniac.