Sunday, November 23, 2014

Race report: Philadelphia Marathon, November 23, 2014

I ran the Philadelphia Marathon today, finishing in a time of 3:20:xx.  This is both the slowest marathon I've ever run and the second fastest.  I like the latter characterization more, so I'm rolling with it.

The too long, didn't read version is that my legs cramped up and the last miles were ridiculous - a combination of horrible and amusing.  The longer story, read below...

Every lengthy overthought race report starts with a summary, and who am I to buck tradition?  My training can be summed up as a rapid build from very low mileage and injury recovery to a peak of 85 miles per week, followed by a taper.  Long runs were alternating 20-22 milers and 16-17 miles with 4-3-2-1 mile marathon paced segments.  Then I tapered.

The taper was, of course, a paranoia fest.  At various points during the last week, my glutes spasmed, my right calf got tight, I got bad indigestion, and I convinced myself I was coming down with a head cold (I'm pretty sure I wasn't). It's strange all the curveballs that your mind and body will throw at you.  I just told myself that it was all part of the taper paranoia and that I'd feel great on race morning. And I did.

By Saturday, I was fairly tense and bouncing off the walls.  That was when I had an inspired idea - instead of going out to eat, Brian and I ordered takeout and paid for a hotel movie (X-Men Days of Future Past).  It was exactly the right order - I relaxed and put the race out of my mind.  And whadyaknow - I felt good on Sunday morning, right when I needed to be.

I felt shaky/jumpy - very ready to go.  This worried me a bit - there was a real possibility of going out too fast here.  So I seeded myself in the very back of my corral, and started with a friend who was shooting for a more conservative time.  We crossed the start line and chatted for the first mile, and then I started to open up a little more, though still staying conservative.   I focused on keeping an easy effort - I'd find myself picking it up to a pace that felt "good", and then I'd remind myself -"if you don't feel like you're going too slow, you're going too fast" and I'd pull back to what felt "too slow."

As in my previous marathon, I started the race with a carry-water bottle - I planned to drink from that and then toss it, and then get another from either Brian or my coach at the halfway point.  However, for whatever reason, I had completely drained my bottle by mile 5.  And I was thirsty.

(before I get accused of starting the race dehydrated, I'll note that I was peeing clear for the days before (TMI) and also needed to pee slightly when we started the race).

This presented a bit of a quandry - I'm not good at drinking out of cups while running.  At the next water stop, I attempted to refill my water bottle with a cup of water so I could run while sipping, but that was pure fail.  So I tossed the water bottle, and reluctantly slowed down at the next station to grab a cup and down it.  Then I was off again.  (And not too long after, I saw my coach and got my second water bottle).

I continued on like that, running through Philly and enjoying the tour.  Around mile 8, we hit a set of hills that my coach had warned us about - essentially we were to be careful on the downhills not to run them too fast.  The downhills were a bit steep, and it felt like if I slowed too much, I was placing more stress on my quads, since they were doing the braking.  So I decided to focus on running them in whatever way felt like it took the least effort and the least stress, regardless of the pace.

I was feeling good and in control as we turned back towards the Arts Center and the half/full split, and then I noted that both my inner quads (VMO for you physio geeks) were a bit sore.  This was...concerning.  But...I could either freak out about it, or put it out of my mind.  I decided to do the latter, and just focus on running in control.

But the quads started talking louder.  Not good.  I wasn't even halfway yet.  But... the worst of the hills was over, right?  And breathing great, energy level good - I'd just keep working through this.

By mile 14, they were starting to yell at me, and I was having crazy fantasies about KT taping them (my mind is an odd place).  And then I remembered....

On the last interval workout before this race, we did a set of 1600, and 2x800.   I felt like my legs were tying up and I had no knee lift, only to discover that my running tights had slipped down.  The feeling I had now, as my quads tired, was much the same as when I had my wardrobe issue.

So....that was how I rationalized it - if I could hold ~6 minute pace with my tights slipping down, then holding 7 something pace while feeling the same was eminently doable.  So that's what I did as we progressed away from Philly towards Manayunk.

And so I progressed.  Between miles 17-18 there's a downhill for a quartermile, then a 180 turn and you come back up hill.  And that was truly the beginning of the end.  I held it together for that, but the quads were on fire, and in Manayunk, they spasmed.

From there, you can imagine how it went - the last miles back into Philly (most of which were downhill) were a shuffle/slogfest.    In a way, it was really upsetting - no one likes to run a race that way.  But in a strange way, I could also see the hilarity of it - my legs simply were not listening to me, but just doing some variant of a running motion.  It got worse as my right hamstring and calf decided to play along - a symphony of disobediance.

I felt like I was running past crowds of people with my pants half down, both figuratively and literally.   I also came to the realization that the slower you run and the more it's obvious you hurt, the more people start cheering you on - at the very point where I really wanted to pretend like no one could see me.

But... that's racing.  So, I slogged home to the finish.  I realized later that I could have just dropped at 18 and done CIM in two weeks (I'm entered).  But, I didn't want to do that for multiple reasons.  For one, I want a break now, not in two weeks.  Secondly, I didn't want to let this race win.  Simple as that.

And though it was a sucky experience, it was also a good one.  Though this was my second marathon, in someways I felt like it was my first.  My first marathon went so well that I never really felt like I had been tested, or experienced the suckiness of marathons.  I was worried that I didn't respect the distance and all the things that could go wrong.  Now I've been blooded, and that's a good thing.

I think that I'll be a better runner in my next marathon (and there will be a next one, and it might be Philly) because of the experience I had today.  I now have a better understanding of how it can hurt and suck, and I still think it's my favorite distance to race.

Splits for the hell of it:

Mile 1: 7:59
Mile 2: 7:35
Mile 3: 7:21
Mile 4: 7:22
Mile 5: 7:17
Mile 6-7: 14:14
Mile 8: 7:11
Mile 9: 6:57
Mile 10: 7:18
Mile 11: 6:57
Mile 12: 7:04
Mile 13: 7:15
Mile 14: 7:10
Mile 15: 7:12
Mile 16: 7:14
Mile 17: 7:12
Mile 18: 7:13
Mile 19: 7:18
Mile 20: 7:28
Mile 21: 8:10
Mile 22: 8:35
Mile 23-24: 17:34
Mile 25: 9:42
Mile 26: 9:22
last bit: 1:38

Other notes:
  • Weather was absolutely perfect.  Doesn't get better.  Started in high 30s, ended in mid 40s, overcast, little wind.
  • I stayed at the Embassy Suites, which worked well.  It was right outside the secure zone for the marathon start/finish, and had a TGI Fridays as the hotel restaurant.  The one trouble spot was that the elevators were slow and we were on the 14th floor - I was worried that the elevators would get VERY slow when everyone decided to come down for the race.  So I left my room early and headed to the gym on the second floor for some final stretching.  Gym was empty and had a bathroom - perfect for some pre-race relaxing.
  • Hit the security entrance at 6:30, which was perfect timing for getting me into my corral at 6:40.


  1. Great recap - and I love your thoughts about the running tights slipping down! Just the kind of thing that would go through my mind at a race. Sorry you were slower than you wanted / are capable of: even though a 3:20 is nice!

  2. First of all, congrats on the marathon, because I think getting to race a marathon is always worthy of that! And second -- woof, that second half sounds rough. I have a feeling your revenge race is going to be pretty awesome.

  3. Thanks for sharing your recap! We added your link to our list of recaps.