I am finally writing my marathon recap on Friday morning before we go to our second Thanksgiving (at my sister’s and her fiancee’s house; we did Thanksgiving with Tim’s family yesterday). I figure after 26.2 miles, we’ve earned double the indulgence this holiday!
I am officially a marathoner! It was harder than I had imagined it would be, but it was amazing and I know I will do it again.
I took Friday afternoon off, finished packing, and then left the house at 3 to pick Tim up and head up to my parents’ house. They live just 20 minutes outside of Center City Philadelphia. We took it easy Friday night, eating pizza and going to bed early, trying to store up both carbs and sleep.
Saturday morning dawned cold and we bundled up to do our last little shake-out run – a 2-miler around my parents’ neighborhood. The tapering experience was definitely weird. We had gone from running 30+ miles per week to doing only 7 miles the week of the marathon. But, we felt rested and ready to go.
After a yummy breakfast, we cleaned up and got ready to head to the Philadelphia Marriot Downtown, which was about a mile and a quarter from the race starting line. We stayed there Saturday night to make the morning of the race as stress-free as possible. After we checked in, Tim and I headed over to the race expo.
We found it a little disappointing as they didn’t have any big-name race sponsors (so no big Nike or Adidas booths, etc.), but we picked up our race numbers and shirts (which I like).
Tim also got a t-shirt, and I picked up some gels and a Spi-belt. Yes, I have sunk to a new low. All the dorky running things I said I’d never do (i.e. – wear a visor, wear a fuel belt, wear a Spi-belt) I have done to be more comfortable while training for the marathon. I didn’t want to have to hold four gels in my hand while running the race. The Spi-belt worked out great.
After the Expo, we met up with my Atlanta friends back at the hotel (so good to see Vanessa, Kathryn, Artie, and Kimberly, and to meet Stacey!), rested for a while, and then got ready for dinner at Ristorante La Buca, which we enjoyed with my friends and my mom and dad. The food was delicious and the company was great! Tim and I split some yummy calamari, and I had linguini in clam sauce and Tim had penne Bolognese.
Back at the hotel, we got all our clothes and gear out for the morning and got ready to go to bed. Tim and I both like to get up really early before races so we have time for coffee and don’t feel rushed, so we had our alarm set for 4:45 a.m.!
When the alarm went off, Tim was already wide awake and I got up pretty quickly too. It was race day! Months of training, and it was finally here! We got ready, met up with my dad – who was running the half marathon – said goodbye to my mom, and started the walk to the starting line. It was about 50 degrees – perfect race temperature.
When we reached the start, we waited in the longest porta-potty line ever and then checked our bags (post race sweats, phones, etc.) at gear check. And then we headed to the start! I was in the same corral as my dad, so we wished Tim good luck and parted ways.
Because there were several corrals, it took my dad and me about 15 to 20 minutes to reach the starting line after the race officially started. Once we did, we took off. We planned to run a little bit together, but to run our own races, so if one of us wanted to pick up the pace, we’d separate. We ran the first mile together and saw Mom, Jenn (my sister) and Ryan (her fiancée) at Mile 1. It was so great to see them and it really meant a lot to me that they came to support us and watch us race! I ran about another mile with my dad and then told him I was going to pick it up slightly (we had been doing about a 10:30 minute per mile pace).
I put my iPod on and settled into a nice rhythm. I felt absolutely fantastic. Just cruising along at a 10 minute per mile pace. I was planning to stick to that pace for the whole race and figured I’d have no problem breaking 4:30. More on that later…
The course was awesome. It was almost two separate races – the first half was downtown, with a real “city” feel and tons of crowd support, music, and noise. The second half headed up Kelly Drive, along the Schuykill River, through Fairmount Park and up into Manyunk before turning around and heading back down into the city.
I saw Jenn, Ryan and Mom again a little past mile 6 and handed them my gloves, which I had been holding for the last few miles since I warmed up. I felt great, so I held off on taking my first gel until I got close to mile 8. I probably should have taken one earlier, but I was afraid of how my stomach would hold out if I took them too early and too often.
I continued to feel really good, sticking pretty much right on 10 minute miles (including short walk breaks at water stops). I was just cruising along and taking in all the sights and sounds around me. The first thing that started to hurt, before I hit the half marathon point, was strangely my shoulders. They felt really tight and sore and I kept trying to roll them to loosen up. But so far, so good.
I saw my family one last time before the course split, at mile marker 13 – where the half marathoners head down to the finish while the marathoners veer northwest to start the second half of the course. I remember thinking – “here we go!” and feeling a little bit nervous that I still had 13.1 miles ahead of me. I took my second gel shortly after the split.
Around mile 15, I started to feel a blister forming where my big toe meets the ball of my left foot. When I get blisters, I always get them in that exact spot – and never on my right foot. I was mad at myself because I was wearing socks that I don’t typically wear for really long runs. I also started to feel a bit of fatigue setting in at this point. Suddenly, keeping my pace wasn’t effortless anymore and I had to start working a little harder. I heard one girl say to her running mate, “In five miles, it will start to get hard.” I was already thinking it was starting to get hard, so that was a little discouraging!
Fatigue really set in over miles 16-17. I hadn’t really hit the wall yet, but I wasn’t having my nice leisurely run anymore, and my legs were really starting to hurt, along with the blister. Surprisingly, my knees weren’t bothering me at all, and they never really did. But, my hips were aching and my quads and hamstrings were really sore. I kept plugging along.
Miles 18-20 were probably my low point of the race. I was really getting tired and sore and a little panicky about the fact that I still more than an hour of running to go. I could also see my time per mile slowing down significantly. I took a gel around Mile 18 hoping it would pep me up, but I didn’t feel too much of an effect. We kept passing signs that said “Marathon Outbound” – since we were on the “out” part of the course, before the turnaround in Manyunk. Knowing I still had to run all the way back into the city was a tough pill to swallow.
But then I hit the turnaround and that was a big mental boost. I had some good songs on my iPod, and I just kept telling myself “pump your arms, pump your arms.” I found if I got my arms going, it helped propel me forward and it took my mind off my painful legs. By this time, any time I stopped at a water stop (which I needed to do – I needed those short walk breaks), I found that it was enormously difficult to get my legs to start running again. But at least I was seeing the “Marathon Inbound” signs now!
But the miles kept getting longer and longer. Miles 22-24 were my second real low point. I did my last gel at 22, but it didn’t really help. And then I hit the wall. Up until that point, I did not walk at all during the race unless I was at a water stop. But I reached a stretch of the course where there were no stops for about 2.3 miles (whereas they had previously been coming about every mile to a mile and a half). I started to freak out and almost started to cry because I did not want to walk, but finally, after passing mile marker 24 and still not seeing a water stop ahead, I had to cave. I walked for a good minute, started painfully jogging again, and then finally reached the elusive water stop, where they had run out of cups and were pouring jugs of water and Gatorade directly into runners’ mouths. I stopped to get some, and also grabbed a couple gummy bears from a volunteer and then started back up again. I told myself I would run it in to the finish. No more stopping. And I stuck to that.
When I hit mile marker 25, I felt tears of relief in my eyes. I knew I was home free, I somehow forgot the pain, and I definitely picked up the pace. Probably back to about 10 minute miles, but I felt like I was flying compared to my pace from the previous few miles. I started scanning the crowd on both sides for my family, and I finally saw them about a quarter mile from the finish line. I waved like a madwoman and beamed from ear to ear.
Crossing the finish line was amazing. I stopped my watch and saw that my final time was 4:40:26 – 10 minutes slower than the time that I thought would be a cinch to beat. But I didn’t even care. In fact, I was deliriously happy. I had done it! I had run a marathon! I had a whole new respect for the distance. It was so much harder than I thought it would be. I had never felt – and couldn’t anticipate – the level of physical pain and exhaustion I felt in those last few miles. At the finish, when one of the volunteers put my medal around my neck and said congratulations, I almost started to cry.
In a daze, I wandered through the finish area, grabbing water, pretzels, and a cup of hot chicken broth. I met up with my friends and family and we took lots of pictures wearing our medals and shared our respective war stories.
My marathon was an amazing experience and it definitely won’t be my last. I did what I set out to do – get to the starting line healthy and finish the race. We followed a very conservative training plan, which maxed at 36 miles a week and included only one 20-miler. I am confident that my body can handle more, and when we do our second one – probably next fall – I want to step it up with a little higher volume and at least two 20’s.
But for now, I’m going to bask in the glow. I loved to see how far I could push myself and what I was capable of – a truly awesome experience. Plus I get to enjoy two guilt-free turkey dinners!
Miles run since last post: 28.2; total miles for the year: 757.4.