The Run-Down #7: Philadelphia Half-Marathon

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This recap is very delayed because I was waiting for the official race photos to be posted. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet read my friend Sam’s “10 Tips for Looking Good While Running a Marathon” yet, so I’m not actually looking at any of the cameras or smiling.

Before the race: I got to Philly on Saturday afternoon and headed straight to the expo to check in, pick up my bib, and peruse the exhibitors. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the number of people milling about and ended up not buying anything, though I did make sure to pick up some of the food free samples going around.

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I was lucky enough to have the company of my good college friend Adam for the weekend. He’s a runner too (way faster than I am!), so he totally understood that I just wanted to eat pasta and go to bed early on Saturday night. I was a little bit nervous because I had only been on three runs during the previous three weeks, so I wanted to make sure that I ate, hydrated, and slept properly. I will say, however, that walking from the train station to my friend’s apartment with my duffle slung over my shoulder was not the best call, as I woke up the next day with a stitch under my left shoulder blade (a recurring problem for me that I should have known to avoid), but in the end it wasn’t a big deal.

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Morning of the race: Start time was 7:00am, so I got up at 4:30am. I woke up fifteen minutes before my alarm went off, so I guess all those years of early morning crew races finally paid off. Mentally, I snapped right into race-day mode and had no problem getting up. I ate a mini Larabar, had half a cup of cold brew, and chugged some water immediately upon waking up, and then got dressed and jogged the one mile to the starting area. The website said to be there by 5:00am, but that was a lie. The gates weren’t even open when I arrived at 5:01 and there wasn’t even a line. I spend the next two hours hopping around in place to stay warm, waiting in a port-a-john line, and running into another college friend and his wife.

The race: What can I say? It was 13.1 miles through Philadelphia. My goal was to go under two hours, but like I said, I hadn’t really trained for three weeks, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Race-day adrenaline got me through the first five miles about thirty seconds per mile faster than what I needed to break two hours. During the sixth mile I started worrying that my pace wasn’t sustainable, but then I realized that I could run ten minute miles and still hit my goal, so I relaxed and ended up being able to sustain that pace for the rest of the course. Maybe it’s just because I woke up at 4:30am and my brain never really got the message, but I didn’t find it to be that mentally tough. I just kind of shut my brain off and ran.

This might sound silly, but I didn’t realize how social the race was going to be. First of all, you’re surrounded by people the whole time (I was so thankful for all the people who wore the official race shirt we all got at registration; apologies to anyone who thought I was squinting strangely at people — I was just looking at the course map on the backs of the shirts). Lots of people were chatting with each other during the race, which was a strange concept for an ex-coxswain who firmly believes that athletes don’t talk during the race. However, by the end of the race you actually feel a sense of camaraderie with the strangers crossing the finish line with you and an immediate intimacy that allows for the discussion of bodily functions, bruised toenails, and digestive issues before you know each other’s names.

Most of the half-marathon course was lined with people cheering for us too. Some people were friends and family with supportive signs, some were just Philadelphians who like having a good time (favorite signs: “Run fast — I just farted” and “You run better than healthcare.gov”). I had to smile at some of the costumed crowds and the stretch of Drexel frat houses that greeted us with blasting music, rowdy cheers, and cases of beers free for the more adventurous runners among us.

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After the race: I’d been on long runs before, but running at race pace took more out of my legs than I thought it would. I spent the rest of the day lying around on the couch eating. In fact, I was hungry for the 48 hours straight and let myself eat whatever I wanted for a full week after the race.

I only have two regrets about the day. First, I should have read the race rules more carefully when selecting my corral. I had no idea what my goal time would be when I registered, never having run more than about 6.5 miles before, so I conservatively put myself in the 2:15 group. However, Philly lets you move to a slower corral on race day without having to check in with anyone; you only have to contact the race officials if you want to move up. I wish I had been more ambitious when I registered because I spent the first 8 miles or so passing people.

Second, in the words of my friend’s father, “I’m not the sort of person who stops when other people keep going.” At the very end of the half marathon course, the marathon runners split off from us, and I wanted to be in that group. Which is why, in a fit of post-race irrationality, I registered for a marathon two days later. I’ll share the details of when and where this will be after Thanksgiving, but I’m equally excited and nervous about the 26.2 miles. I now totally understand how people get hooked on running these things. Have any of you run a marathon? Any training advice?

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2 comments

  1. Congrats! What an awesome accomplishment. A friend of mine runs marathons all the time, but I never have so the only advice I can give is to put band aids and vaseline on your nipples to prevent chaffing. (This is something he told me that shocked and surprised me so I will never forget it lol)

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