Philadelphia Marathon: #RedefinePossible

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The Beginning

It’s marathon recap time and oh, where do I begin? Well, just settle in because you know how these things are :)

It began with a weekend of Crossfit in Boston – which is never a good thing for the legs of a woman about to run a marathon! I couldn’t resist participating in the WOD on Friday (hello, my partner was Julie Foucher!) and despite scaling it all down, I still ended up with sore quads on Saturday.

I just embraced the sore and said, I’m going to Philly!

Saturday morning, Rick and I drove to the city (only a 2.5 hour drive from DC!), intending on seeing some cool stuff in Philly and having plenty of time to hit up the expo, eat and explore.

My little, humble hotel room at the Comfort Inn (4 miles from the start) was a sad sight. I wouldn’t have minded were I not paying $359 for ONE night. I guess that’s just one more sacrifice in the life of a runner.

The expo was okay, nothing too exciting and I didn’t stick around long. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all and I wasn’t interested in being tempted to purchase overpriced stuff!

I really liked how the bibs had our names on them. I always forget to figure out a way to get my name on my shirt so people can cheer for me. This solved that problem, thanks Philly Marathon!

Pre-Race

I went to bed around 8pm on Saturday night but had trouble getting to sleep. I pretty much woke up hourly until 3:30am and then just gave up. I had set my alarm for 4am to give me plenty of time for coffee, breakfast, stretching, etc. The marathon was an early 7am start and I wasn’t taking any chances.

I relied on the advice I’ve read that getting a good night’s rest “the night before the night before” is actually more important. Since Friday night had been solid, I ignored the fact that Saturday was a wreck.

I had a cup of gross hotel coffee and ate an everything bagel with peanut butter and honey and half a glass of water. I wanted to stay minimal on the liquids so I didn’t have to pee during the race.

20 minutes before go-time!

Outfit: 

My hotel lobby was filled with people waiting for cabs so I grabbed one with three strangers and headed to the starting line area. It was cold…but I was prepared. I had on arm sleeves, my t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, hat and gloves. I did NOT want to be shivering for an hour before running. Unfortunately, that meant I had to toss my long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt. I ran with my new hat for a few miles until I luckily ran into Rick and tossed it to him.

After meeting a few ladies from Back on My Feet Philadelphia and chatting it up, the race was set to begin. I had my ipod playlist ready to go and had absolutely no idea how this race would go.

And So It Begins

Because of the cold, my feet were actually numb (I have serious circulation problems) and the first two miles I literally felt like I was running on wooden blocks for feet. I started running somewhat obliviously, not at all feeling like it was marathon time. My new running watch was not working for some reason so that was out on pacing. I set my RunKeeper app on iphone to check my splits later but had no intention of zipping it in and out to check time.

Rick took this photo of runners about 3 miles in

Oh yeah, I had forgotten to bring my running belt so I stuffed 4 Gus in my sports bra, a row of shot blocks in my pants and my iphone in the secret pocket of my Nike capris. Kind of glad, though, because I’m so over running with a belt (annoying!)

My new thing is only having Gus when I run marathons. I used to have more solids but I realized tht never help me and Gus are best. I had one at miles 6, 12, 18 and 24 plus 2 shot blocks somewhere in there as well.

Issues

My stomach started giving me issues starting around mile 7. Awesome. I had taken 2 immodiums as per usual and I guess they were “doing their job” but I could just feel my tummy having a freak out. Also, by the time the race had started, I did have to pee. Boo! The port-a-potties were few and far between and every time there was a line so I kept on skipping them, desperately looking for a bush to go behind. No suck luck.

Around mile 8, I had to pee so much that I waited in a really short line and went. The toilet I opened was so nasty…someone had some MAJOR issues before I went in there but I had no choice but to just go. I lost at least one minute in that little adventure. Hate that!

But…the freedom of no more bladder issues was awesome. I was off…with an upset tummy that I proceeded to ignore for the next 18 miles.

From the get go, this marathon was much harder than Marine Corps three weeks ago. From the cold limbs and numb feet to the sore quads and upset tummy, I knew I was in for kind of a long race. I also had no idea how I would finish.

With absolutely no strategy in mind, I decided to go as fast as I wanted from the start and “see what happened.” That’s the nice thing about doing multiple marathons — you can test out theories of what could work…you live and you learn. I wanted to see if I could go fast the whole time. Ha ha.

I remembered Theodora telling me the advice Ryan Hall had given her when she met him. He said, “you might as well start out fast because it’s going to be hard the whole time anyway.” Um, okay Ryan Hall, I’ll take you up on that.

The Other Side of 13.1

Of course, fast is relative. I wasn’t going toooo fast…just faster than would be recommended (8:30 pace). The music pushed me as song after song that I loved came on. I’d just go with the beat and tell myself life would be better if I could just get to the other side of 13.1.

That’s always the case, isn’t it? If I can just finish half, I got it. That’s hilarious thinking in a marathon considering the first half is really, physically, only the first third or less. Nevertheless, I felt better after the half-marathoners veered off and I was in full marathon territory. I had no desire to stop at the half mark — though I had been afraid it could be a temptation earlier.

No, I felt like I was with “my people” once we curved to the left and got ourselves started to 26.2.

The weather was cold but of course running it felt nice. I did need my gloves the whole time, my hands kept freezing up, almost going numb (that whole circulation problem thing) and I never wanted to take the arm sleeves off either. I had worn compression socks up over my capris and those were okay too.

However…the socks had been pulling the capris down slightly in the beginnig (without me realizing it) so over halfway through, the chafing of the capris in between my legs started hurting and I had to run with a slight stinging sensation, which was NOT fun.

She’s Got Legs (And They Hurt)

Listening to music kind of put me in another world. I’m not used to racing with it and it no doubt helped me through. I think it would have been a much harder race for me without it.

My legs started to feel fatigued around mile 15 or 16. That’s not good news. This didn’t happen in Marine Corps until mile 22. In all my other marathons, mile 16 has been about standard though.

However, I have a better mental capacity these days. It goes something like this: embrace the pain, ignore the legs, just keep running, try not to slow down, listen to the beat, the faster you go the fast you are done. Kind of how it went for me.

Seeing inspirational things like this helped me push through!

  
Surprisingly (and I didn’t know this till after when I checked my splits), I kept an 8:40-ish pace all the way until mile 20. There was quite a bit of downhill which helped.

The Fast People

The other thing was….a huge time frame where you see the “fast people” coming back the other direction. It began when we were at about mile 15 and the front folks were hitting mile 24. Talk about inspiring and depressing all at the same time.

I saw the winner cruising past mile 24 -- and watching the “fast people” is always a huge motivator for me. I waited to see the first woman — another highlight that I love. I was surprised to see a white woman in her late 30s charging forth. You go girl!! I screamed and cheered for her as I kept on.

I truly do love watching the fast girls -- and continued to cheer them on for the next few miles — calculating their finish times in my head and wondering what it would feel like to run a sub-3 marathon.

Coursing Through

This race had lots of twists and turns, out and backs. We ran through the cutest little Philly neighborhoods with quaint little bars with names like “Paddy’s,” past frat row and independent stores on historically named streets. The crowds were awesome, plenty of great signs and lots of encouragement.

We ran across on a neat bridge and had several turnaround points. I saw a man juggling five balls and another man running in sandals with a shield. I saw some men dressed as Ghostbusters and others as pirates. I saw t-shirts dedicated to lost loved ones, funny signs that kept my mind off the pain and several places where college kids dressed up and danced Gangham Style and more. All I can say is THANK GOD for you amazing spectators. THANK YOU!!!

It seems like miles 16/17 had a lot of mental energy. It was at this point I had to force myself not to think about the fact that I had 10 miles left. I said, break it up into chunks. Just get to 18 first, then 20.

The out and back and turnarounds actually made it mentally easier for me. Once we did the main turnaround, I knew I would eventually see mile marker 24 the direction I was going and it kind of drove me forward. Any time there was any downhill, I sped up and capitalized on the ease.

Unlike in MCM, I did hit that point where my legs just wanted to go really slow. Of course I physically wanted to stop and walk but wouldn’t allow it. I said, you can slow down but you can’t walk. When I would slow down, I had to tell myself, “It’s okay, you don’t have to kill yourself here, this isn’t a kill yourself marathon.”

It seemed like I would get spurts of energy, kick it up for a few minutes and then level back down. It was the weirdest thing really but I just went with it when I could. My legs hurt and unlike MCM again, I did have those thoughts like…why do I do this? Why am I doing this again in three weeks? Why can’t I be happy with a half marathon?!

5 Miles Till Forever

Once I hit mile 21, I was like…okay 5 miles no big deal, you do this alll the time. Stay steady, one foot in front of the other. My favorite songs were playing and I was actually singing along a little bit not giving a crap what anyone thought. Those 20s miles were brutally long but the slower folks were passing me on the other side and thinking about how short I had to go compared to how long they had to go actually helped.

Around mile 24.5, I must have looked like I was struggling because a guy next to me was like, “We’re almost there…just a mile and a half left and you can still break 4 hours.”

I hardly heard him with my music but I took out my earphones and said, “Wait, how long to break 4?” He told me we had about 20 minutes to break 4 if his watch was right. That motivated me. I didn’t think I would break 4 again but here it seemed entirely possible. And…even possible that I could break my fresh PR.

I sped up a bit when I could but that didn’t last long and I had to settle back into a slower pace. After 25, approaching 26 was agonizing. If there was a video camera on me, you would have seen me straining my neck constantly going “Where the *** is the 26 mile marker?” I really don’t curse much but that’s what was flashing through my mind very angrily!

Finish Line!

Finally, there was 26 but damn that last .2, it takes forever. After 26, I sped up to a “kind of” sprint — as sprint-ish as I could be at that point in a marathon. It felt good to push it and with the crowds all along side of me, I felt a little bad ass running strong to the very end. I don’t know if anyone noticed that I was flying past others at the end, but I sure did.

As I crossed the finish line, I still didn’t know my time because I had started 8-11 minutes after the clock. I immediately felt dizzy and nauseaous when I finished but kept walking. I checked my phone for time. It said 4:00:27 but I knew that it was off by around 30+ seconds but not sure. It took me over an hour to find my official finish time which turned out to be 3:59:55!

I was shocked to have another sub-4 marathon! Also, I was thinking if I hadn’t taken that stupid bathroom break, I might have beat the 3:58 PR. Oh well! It was miraculous that I finished with that time on semi-tired legs, sore quads and a less-than-stellar attitude to start with.

The first thought I had was…this proves you have a much faster marathon in you. Is that marathon Rehobath Beach in three weeks? Well, probably not but hey, you never know. I’m taking a full week off from running of any kind (I sware, I promise, I will.)

Post-Race

After I wandered around looking for Rick, we began the slow walk back to the hotel. It was freeezing! My legs were so sore — way more than Marine Corps. I think this had a lot to do with the downhill portions I sprinted down, plus the fatigue from Crossfit.

Looking back at my splits, I ran 8:30-8:45 miles the first 19-20 (plus one random 7:40 mile — must have been a great song!) and then miles 20-26.2 were all around 9:40. Talk about NOT running a negative split! Average pace in the end said 8:44. Happy to say I never ran over a 9:XX though!

Reflection

So what did we learn from this marathon? Mental power can be greater than physical pain. If this had been my first marathon, there’s no way I could have pushed through the way my legs and feet felt the second half without walking or breaking down in some way.

I’d like to figure out how to make it through the marathon without my legs breaking down from fatigue. I can tell that the higher mileage training was a great  help for MCM. For my next training cycle (might not be until for fall 2013), I’m going to focus on higher mileage and try to get up to 60 miles per week for peak training.

As always, finishing a marathon makes me feel strong, capable and proud. When the going got tough, I thought about how lucky I was to have a body that could do this — I really did — and I truly believe it gave me the endurance I needed to run strong to the end.

I’d recommend the Philly Marathon to everyone — a great course, great scenery, wonderful crowds and a neat city to visit as well. I could see myself doing it again in the future!