November 22, 2016

2016 Philadelphia Marathon Race Recap

One week ago today I woke up with intense tightness in my left calf. It was so bad, I could barely put any weight on my leg. I booked a massage that offered temporary relief but wasn't a fix. I took to the internet, soliciting advice from friends, which led me to acupuncture, graston, and cupping. I felt better, but I definitely didn't feel in shape to run a marathon. On top of that, I was coming down with a cold.

Come Saturday, I was in a dead panic and dreading the race. I had no idea how I was going to feel through the marathon and the weather was calling for 40mph winds on Race Day. Walking back from dinner on Sunday night was brutal, and my family and I were being blown into the sides of the buildings in Philly as we tried to make our way back to our hotel.

I was a nervous wreck. This was exactly how I didn't want to feel the night before the race.

I fell asleep relatively quickly on Saturday night at 8:30, but my 5am alarm came quickly. I had a hard time getting out of bed, I was having some stomach issues, and I was a mess. My mom and The Pilot walked me to the start which was barricaded for security. I've never seen security at a race like this, not even Chicago, and it took awhile to actually find the start corrals. I left the hotel later than I wanted to but by the time I got in line for the bathrooms, it was 6:52. I was still in line when the gun went off at 7, but luckily had enough time to get into my corral and start at the time I was supposed to. I think I was so stressed out about missing the start, that I didn't have time to think about how nervous I was anymore, and when I hit the start line, I just started running.

This was my 3rd time running the Philadelphia course. The full was my first marathon in 2010 and I ran the half in 2011. I remembered the course well (even though it changed a bit), and my focus for the first mile was to put one foot in front of the other and not try to weave too much. The course wasn't very crowded and I was able to do that easily. I missed the Mile 1 marker but it came up relatively quickly. By Mile 3, I was still only focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I wasn't thinking about finishing, I still didn't know if that was a possibility.

There was virtually no spectator support in the first 5 miles of the race. My calf started bothering me shortly after the 3rd mile but by Mile 4, my legs were so cold, I couldn't feel anything anymore.

I saw my mom and The Pilot right around the 10k mark and that's when I started thinking that I could actually finish. I was running faster than I wanted to, but the wind kept me from running any slower as it was at our back during the earlier parts of the race. Just after the 10k mark, the sub-4 pace group caught up to me and it was tempting to stay with them. I was running a 9:10 pace and felt good, so why not see what I could do? We hit a hill, which I powered up against the wind, passing the group, and let them pass me on the downhill. It was too early in the race. My race was just starting. The 10k was my warm up, and now, it was time to dial in and race.

I knew that the hills were in this portion of the race, but I trained for hills, so I was ready. Every incline was met with a strong headwind that made pushing up those hills immensely difficult. Again, the spectator support was pretty minimal, but when we hit Mile 8, we hit the Greek houses at Drexel which had fewer spectators than in years passed, but there was a few crowds and music to keep us going.

At Mile 9, I had to make a pitstop. I definitely drank way too much water before the race started and, since I didn't carry water with me, I was stopping at every water station and I think I was a little overhydrated. Once we hit Mile 9, I knew the hills were mostly behind us, and I was feeling really good. The road flattened out and the spectator support picked up a bit. I saw someone holding a sign that said, "Taco cat spelled backward is taco cat," which made absolutely no sense, but I spent the next mile thinking about that and trying to spell it backward, that I appreciated the sign for taking my mind off the race! Mile 10 came and went and at Mile 11, I started panicking. This is the second time I've run a marathon that I've started panicking at Mile 11. I think it's the realization that you're already 10 miles in, and still have so much further to go.

Around Mile 12, I still didn't feel great. I was 2 10ks into the race and quickly approaching the Half so I pushed on. I saw my mom and The Pilot cheering at Mile 14 and waved to them. My calf was bothering me again at this point, but I pushed on. At Mile 15, we hit the roughly 10-mile out and back part of the course that I had been dreading. I saw some of the lead runners, including the lead female pass at my Mile 15 and their Mile 25. I also saw someone with a sign that said, "Forward is a pace," which I loved.

At Mile 16, I noticed the Mile 24 runners and saw that they looked miserable. They were fighting a strong headwind, which I had at my back and all I could think was that I was so happy I wasn't at Mile 24 at that point. My calf was still bothering me and I wanted to wait until Mile 18 to stop and stretch it out, but at Mile 17, I thought I should just stop in case it got worse. I stopped, stretched my calves out for a minute, and pushed on. At Mile 18, I started realizing that I was doing this, that I was running this marathon, that at this point in the race, there literally was no turning back. I started to get excited, and, despite the minimal crowd support, I started smiling. At Mile 19, all I could think about was getting to that turnaround. Miles 19-20 are along Main Street in Manayunk and I remember the crowd support being overwhelming there, and that held true this year. I high fived every person I saw, "powered up" at every sign I could, and danced my way through cheer stations. I felt good. People were yelling my name and cheering and telling me I looked good, and I shouted back to one woman, "I FEEL good!"

Once I passed Mile 20, I knew I had this. I knew I was going to finish. I knew I wasn't going to hit the wall. I felt incredible. I broke the last 10k into 2 5ks and I cruised through to Mile 23. Once I hit that mile marker, I was pumped. I felt great, and I was ready to pick up the pace and cruise to the finish line. I spent Mile 23 thinking about what I wanted my next marathon to be. THAT is how great I felt.

Except, remember when I said that at Mile 16, I saw the Mile 24 runners and they looked miserable? With 5k left to go, the wind picked up something fierce. We had hit strong headwinds during most of the course, but this was brutal. My watch slowed from a sub-9:30 pace to 10, 10:30, 11, 11:15 and there was nothing I could do. It was HARD. At Mile 24, I started getting antsy. My face and legs were frozen and I was so cold. I knew that the Finish Line and warmth were just 2 short miles away but I couldn't get there any faster.

At Mile 25, I saw my mom, which was a huge surprise! I yelled, "I'm doing it! I'm going to finish!" Though, I don't think I sounded audible since my face was so frozen and it felt weird to talk. I never saw the mile marker for 25 and I couldn't see or hear the Finish line so I started panicking. How long is a marathon again? Is my watch off? How much farther do I have to go? I started seeing crowds, and finally caught the Mile 26 mile marker, but I still didn't see the finish. My watch was a little bit off, but I knew it was from pretty early on. The course's Mile 26 was my 26.2. I knew I only had a bit further, so I started sprinting up the hill into the wind and I finally saw the teeny tiny clock and heard the finish line announcer. They had had to take down the finisher's arch because of the wind. I picked it up, sprinted to the Finish and immediately started crying.

The sweetest girl gave me my medal and said, "You did it! I'm so proud of you!" and I said, "Thank you! Can I give you a hug?" and she gave me the biggest hug and I cried and cried and cried and cried.

I had done it. I had finished my 7th marathon. At Mile 1, I had no idea if I was going to make it but I did, and I felt incredible. I never stopped to walk, and the only times I stopped were for the bathroom at Mile 9 and to stretch my calf at Mile 17. Last week, I said that I thought 4:20 was a realistic time goal. I ran a 4:21:06 and I'll take it. It was a tough day and I ran in the strongest winds I've ever run in. I smiled through the entire race, I had fun, and I did it. I'm so grateful that this wasn't another Chicago and I'm so happy I was able to finish strong.

This should give you an indication of how windy it was.
So, there you go. Marathon #7 in the books!

A few post-race thoughts:

I was really disappointed with the spectator support in this race. I don't know if it was the weather that kept people away or the fact that they ran the Half on Saturday instead of with the Full, but it was pretty minimal compared to the two years I had run this course before. The designated cheer stations had awesome support, but in between those sections, it was pretty sparse.

My favorite signs from this race were, "Run as fast as Mike Pence ran out of Hamilton," "Run as fast as you want the next 4 years to go by," and "Philly Marathon TODAY, Gilmore Girls Marathon SATURDAY."

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