It doesn’t take long to realize that I’m not a very consistent or frequent blogger, so it should come as no surprise that I’ve never blogged a post-marathon recap. After running the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday I figured this would be a great way to start!
The Philadelphia Marathon took place on Sunday, November 18 in the City of Brotherly Love. I live just an hour north of Philadelphia, and after not getting into the NYC Marathon lottery again this year, I decided to sign up for the Philadelphia Marathon with Team In Training. This was my third event with Team In Training, and considering what happened with the NYC Marathon, I’m glad that this was how my Fall marathon plans played out. This year marked the 19th year of the Philadelphia Marathon. More than 30,000 runners participated, including 3,000 NYC Marathon registrants who were offered the chance to run after Superstorm Sandy caused the cancellation of their event. The event has a full marathon and a half marathon. Four years ago I ran the half marathon, so it’s nice to now say I’ve run both distances.
My day started with a hotel wakeup call at 4am. The phone ringing was like an awful fire alarm and all three of us (I shared my room with my friends Niki and Mike) were awake quickly. I’m not sure if it was the combination of a couple beers in the hotel bar the night before (Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale) with the TNT Pasta Party dinner along with not as much sleep as I would have liked, but I knew early on that I was going to have to puke. Not a normal pre-race thing for me, but I did it and felt better. This did, however, leave me unable to eat as much of a breakfast as I’d have liked. I had a banana and one and a half PB&J Uncrustables.
I got ready, threw together my gear check bag and headed downstairs to the lobby to meet with everyone else. Niki and Mike soon joined me there, along with all the TNT’ers I’d met the night before, or was just meeting then. We began walking over to the start line (1/2 mile or so away) around 5:45 and Niki and I tried to assuage the nerves of the runners who were there for the first time. I can’t tell you the last time I was nervous at a start line, and I think it’s important to try and help those I’m with keep calm as well. We took our time going to gear check and then got in the Porta-Potty line. It amused and perplexed me that there were signs with QR codes on the outside doors of them. The lines were so-so when we got in, but kept growing so we were smart to go when we did. The lines were slow and one of the runners I was with couldn’t wait any longer in fear that she’d miss her corral start. Since I knew I was in one of the back corrals I wasn’t concerned.
I made my way through the corrals to find mine and decided that if I could get into one of the two before mine I’d stay there so that I’d start a little quicker and could try to get back to the hotel before my 2pm checkout for a shower. I started in the Orange corral which was one ahead of my own Blue corral. I got into the Black corral, but knew that if I started there I’d be run over and that’s just rude. My strategy was to stick as close to my training ratios as I could (9 minutes run, 1 minute walk) and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I wanted to either PR, or at least do better than Disney in January. I’m admittedly a VERY SLOW runner and my PR was 5:46 at the Marine Corps Marathon in October of 2010.
Half and Full runners follow the same course for the first 13 miles. The course takes runners through much of the city, which makes it a great event for out-of-towners who like to take in the sights. The first 13 miles go from the Ben Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, down Arch Street through Old City and past Independence Hall, along Columbus Blvd to go past Penns Landing, then up around to South Street. At this point my toe felt funky, kind of like a toe nail had broke and was stabbing me. I thought it through and felt I needed to at least check it out and pulled onto the sidewalk to see my toe. Nothing wrong with it, so I put my sock and shoe back on and felt that I was going to have to deal with it and just keep running. Within the next ten minutes I didn’t notice it.
From there we wound our way into Center City toward City Hall. I came upon a cheer station on Chestnut Street just before Broad Street that was being run by my childhood friend Jane. I was desperately in need of pretzels and made a beeline to the table with pretzels, and was so happy to see her there. Around Mile 7, I did my first set of Gu Chomps. At this point runners are in University City and pass by the frat houses of Drexel and Penn, then head past the Philadelphia Zoo into Fairmount Park. This was the most challenging part of the run, with a nice hill to climb between 9 and 10 as we made our way to Memorial Hall (home of the Please Touch Museum). We moved onto Martin Luther King Drive and made our way toward the Art Museum.
The half marathon and full marathon split is right in front of the steps of the Art Museum (yes, the Rocky steps). Full runners bear left and follow Kelly Drive toward Manayunk, while those running the half finish triumphantly and get their pics with the Rocky statue, or if they are adventurous enough, give the steps a try. Kelly Drive is a popular running and cycle route along the Schuylkill River. The famed Boathouse Row is along Kelly Drive, so there are crews cheering along runners as the go either direction. This section was only full marathon runners, and was much more solitary than the earlier miles of the run. I did another serving of Gu Chomps and soonafter I stopped for a bathroom break around mile 16 and was happy that soon after I passed a woman who had been driving me crazy with weird outbursts of songs or cadences. I saw Mike going in the opposite direction and gave him a high-five. I started to see those who I’d been running or jockeying with for several miles start to falter, and began making some kills as runners ahead of me slowed up as well.
After going over and back on the Falls Bridge I knew we were getting close to Manayunk. I had been warned about the hills I’d experience there, but as we got there they weren’t as bad as I’d expected. With my run/walk ratios I was able to time the worst part of any of the hills with my walk breaks. There were hashers around the 18/21 mile point handing out beer which I really hoped I would be up for on the way back. I hit the turnaround in Manayunk and set my sights on pushing through the last 6.2 miles. One of the TNT coaches caught up with me between 20 and 21 and ran with me a little bit. I did another set of Gu Chomps and grabbed a pack of pretzels at a cheer station for later. Then I hit the hashers again and passed on the Yuengling :/ I’m not sure what I was thinking to pass up beer, but at that point I was starting to see the end of the tunnel and didn’t want anything to get in the way. My pace was looking very close to a PR which I desperately wanted. Another coach started running with me a little after Falls Bridge and was great company. She grew up near my hometown and we had a couple common connections. We ate pretzels, chatted and kept running. I knew the miles remaining were getting fewer and fewer.
As I came upon mile 24 the coach who spoke at our Pasta Party the night before joined me briefly. I was afraid to say much about his speech the evening before but it was so inspiring. This coach had lost his son to leukemia five years ago. His story was tragic but it was incredible to see how he has channeled the loss of his son into support to find a cure to blood cancers. It’s the kind of motivation you need to go out and kick butt the next day. Running with him for only a little bit was what I needed at that point. Soon after I came across two guys who weren’t much older than me who were walking, one very clearly with a cramp in his calf. I slowed down and offered a salt tab which they were both very appreciative of.
Then I got to Mile 25 and shit got real. This was it, the last mile, and it was a gradual incline, but not steep enough to wreak havoc like I expected it to on the elevation chart. Coach Glen joined me until I got to the crest of the hill before reaching the front of the Art Museum, and as the course wound down to the finish I just kept going. Just after the 26 mile marker along the side of the course I hear “KIM” being screamed and look to see my mom, brother and niece waving frantically. I ran over to them and gave my niece a kiss through the fencing. I waved them off and said I’d go back around to them after I crossed the finish line. I crossed with a clock time of 6 hours and a few minutes. I got my medal and walked over to the TNT tent to check in and get my pin, then met up with the fam in front. Abby gave me a HUGE hug and I let her wear my medal. My mom showed me the text she got for my chip time – 5:47:25. I missed the PR by just 2 minutes, but finished 9 minutes faster than Disney. If only I hadn’t stopped to check my shoe, or gone to the bathroom. I am so happy that I proved to myself that I could run that close to my PR again, and it now has me thinking further about what is next.
The last two weeks I’ve thought about what I would do next, and if I’d run another marathon after Philly. I was leaning strongly toward going into retirement after Philly, and I think part of that was because I was coming close to the end of the training cycle and knew I needed a break. I wasn’t getting injured, and I was recovering fine from all the long miles, but I just wasn’t sure how many more of these I could possibly have in me. I haven’t locked in a decision in either direction right now and am letting my body recover physically and mentally. I know one thing for sure, if I am going to go out and do at least one more, I am dead set that I’m going to PR.
Philly was a great experience for me, and I would highly recommend this marathon for anyone. It’s well organized, has amazing crowd support, and is a great course.