American gold medalist Frank Shorter once said that you’re not ready to run another marathon until you’ve forgotten the last one.
If the Internet had existed in the 70s, he also would have said that you’re not ready to write your marathon recap blog post until you’re once again able to walk down stairs, so it’s Wednesday after the big day, and here I am.
I apologize if my radio silence these past four days has led any of you to believe I collapsed somewhere along the Schuylkill River and was taken hostage by the Manayunkans. Despite my severe bout of chest congestion, fever and debilitating self-doubt in the days leading up to this past weekend’s event, I did, I fact, finish the Philadelphia Marathon in one piece.
Well, that’s not completely true. Running Sunday’s event, I did lose something: 5 minutes off my New York City marathon race time. Bam.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I went down to Philadelphia on Saturday with two NYC friends who were running the half and my lovely boyfriend, who impressively matched me bagel for bagel in the carb-loading phase of my training. We checked into our hotel and went to the expo, then gathered with friends at their gorgeous Philadelphia apartment to roast veggies, boil pasta and curse the day we chose to register for long-distance running events.
I was the only runner at our dinner party doing the full marathon, so while everyone else probably could have stayed up a little later, I made my exit at 8 p.m. and headed to the hotel room with my running roommate in tow to prep for the race and its cruel 5:30 a.m. suggested arrival time. There, I realized I’d lost my bib safety pins and maaaaay have crumbled into a minor panic attack that involved sprinting back to the (already closed) expo before raiding every sewing kit in the Sheraton, but, let’s be honest, that level of mental breakdown is pretty run-of-the-mill during the final 10 hours before a marathon. We all go a little crazy before lacing up to run the seriously insane distance of 26.2 miles.
I was in bed by 9 p.m., having left my boyfriend under the care and supervision of my much more sociable Philly friends, but I tossed and turned until nearly 3 a.m. before finally catching about 90 minutes of pre-race shuteye. Fortunately, I’ve read that two days before a race is really the time to bank sleep, so I didn’t let my insomnia stress me out. Ok, that’s a lie: I was stressed. But after the safety pin incident heard ‘round the world, running a marathon on only a nap’s worth of slumber didn’t really seem like the end of the world.
You know what did feel like the end of the world? My alarm going off at 4:45 a.m. Woof.
We got dressed, packed our clear checkable race bags and met in the lobby to walk over to the staging area. It was early. It was cold. It was dark.
Unlike NYC-marathon staging, where you arrive on the ferry about four hours before your starting wave, I only found myself with about 30 extra minutes milling around the art museum on Sunday. It was just enough time to check my baggage, discard my sweatshirt and start to wonder whether I was really in good enough shape to complete this thing in one piece. I didn’t get to wonder for long – within minutes, the welcomes were over, the anthem was sung and, before I knew it, we were off.
The first several miles of the course weaved around downtown Philly, and while the crowds were thin given the 7 a.m. starting gun, the weather was dry, the roads were flat and the temptation to go out flying was hard to resist. Fortunately, the memories of NYC – going out too fast and crashing around mile 16 – were still fresh on my mind, so I reined in my enthusiasm and kept above an 8:30 pace. “Just maintain,” I told myself as I passed city hall. “The real race begins at mile 20.”
About 45 minutes in, I was rewarded with a sighting of my parents, who had driven in from Maryland to cheer me to victory. A half mile later, I saw several more familiar faces – one of whom I may have given a big sweaty kiss as I sprinted past. Ok, you caught me. It was Carrie.
And then the race got a whole lot harder. We crossed into University City and the flat terrain I’d come to love was replaced with rolling hills. Then we neared the zoo and the rolling hills I’d come to endure were replaced with a misplaced Himalaya. Then we rounded mile 13 and the course decided to do the cruelest thing yet: it split. “Half marathoners to the right to the finish line!” the signs overhanging the race course read. “Full marathoners to the left … to your death.” Or at least that’s how it felt to me. Thirteen miles at an 8:40 pace felt downright wonderful. Thirteen more of the same ahead? What was I thinking?
Sure enough, the second half of the course was infinitesimally harder. I know what you’re thinking – of course the second half of a marathon race course is harder – you’re tired. Sure, that’s part of it, but it was so much more: The scenery was unchanging. The course was out and back. The crowds had disappeared. And worst of all, I wasn’t expecting to see any of my people again until at least mile 26.1. With each step during the second half of the course, I grew more and more despondent. Also, more and more slow.
And then something glorious happened: my sister popped up for a surprise hello at mile 24. How she got to the side of such a desolate road between a river and a cemetery, I have no idea, but hearing her call my name gave me the last bit of motivation I needed to push through. As the finish line came back into focus, I spotted my people a final time, gave one last high-five, and barreled my way to the soft pretzels I knew were waiting for me at mile 26.3.
When it came down to it, I finished the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:53:48, or at an average pace of 8:56 minute miles. Or if you want more numbers, I was the 3,409th overall marathon finisher, or the 972nd woman, or the 249th 25-to-29-year-old female runner in my division.
In terms of cheerleaders, though, I took home the gold.