I’ve had over a day now to come off the “marathon high” that I’ve been on and wow was it ever one. I set a personal record breaking the four-hour mark with a chip time of 3:54 flat.
Prior to race day I was reading some articles about whether it’s best to run an even pace throughout or come out strong at the beginning and taper off towards the end. Most agreed that even paces are best, but I had too much energy early on to hold back. Going into the race I honestly was not quite sure how I would fare. My cough was still lingering a bit and throughout my training I had a feeling that I would at least be able to break the four-hour mark.
Here’s my “run” down memory lane:
Mile 0: Post-expo on Saturday evening, I carb loaded on pasta and a little bit of chicken (for protein). I was in bed around 10:30 pm and had a pretty restful sleep probably because I was home and knew that my mom would wake me on the off-chance that I slept through my alarm.
My breakfast consisted of a banana and a slice of raisin bread topped with peanut butter. I left the house early Sunday morning at 5:30 with my parents. It was still dark outside and I was doing my best to stay peaceful during the ride to the city. I was nervous, in large part because I had a goal in the back of my head and I knew that deep down I would be disappointed if I did not accomplish what I set my mind to do.
After a little stretching by the car, I took a last pit stop at the porta-potty, hugged my parents for luck and quickly walked over to my race corral. The start gun went off after a recorded countdown from the military and the elite runners were gone. Now it was time to wait patiently for my wave start to begin.
Miles 1-3: As I approached the start line, I spotted Bart Yasso, my new buddy, who was announcing the race. As the horn went off and I crossed the line, my Garmin watch was kicked into high gear just like my legs. Excitement was in the air–we were off! I saw my parents standing on the sideline as I grinned ear-to-ear high fiving my stepdad, Frank.
I passed the band playing at the first Cheer Zone, as we turned into Arch Street then down towards the stretch of Columbus Boulevard running along the Delaware River. I was feeling good and keeping a pretty fast clip around an 8-minute/mile pace. I decided to go out faster
Miles 4-6: As I approached mile four, the crowds began to pick up a bit. There were more families out along South Street to cheer us on early. As we passed Independence Hall and turned down Chestnut Street there was another Cheer Zone that was hopping with a boom box playing and lots of crowds all along the street. The vibe was amazing and I was feeling like a rock star running through the streets of Philadelphia. Saw my parents, loyal fans for sure, waved to them and grabbed a mini bottle of water from them.
10K clock-in: 0:52:17
Miles 7-10: Still riding the high from the last cheer zone, I knew Drexel University was the next stop. Two years ago I remembered the fraternity boys standing outside their house with pots and pans–sure enough, they were there again (looking a bit younger, I might add). Then it was time to start pushing it down the long stretch of 34th Street to MLK Jr. Drive and past the zoo. At this point I spotted the 3:50 pace runner who was holding up red balloons. “Sweet,” I told myself. “I’m doing just fine.” As I began the steep uphill climb right past mile 9, I smiled at the pace runner and zipped by. A few minutes later the pacer was ahead of me–apparently I was not as fast on that hill as I thought. Oh well, I figured that as long as I had that pace group in my sight I would be motivated.
Miles 11-13: Just past Mile 11 it was turnaround time to head out of Fairmount Park and back towards the direction of the start near the art museum. The Schuylkill River was calm for the moment that I took to stretch my quad muscles. As I was approaching the halfway point, I heard one guy talking to his friend. He asked, “how are you feeling, man?” His friend responded, “terrible, I’m in so much pain and just want this to end.” To that he said, “I’m sorry…I’m running great and on target.” And with that his friend said, “go on man…don’t let me hold you back.” I was just beginning to feel some pain myself at this point as my left ankle was beginning to feel a little off and I felt a slight tingling of some blisters forming. Just my luck for choosing the wrong pair of socks this morning, and perhaps my new pair of shoes were not as broken in as they needed to be.
Finally it was time for the half-marathoners to finish their race; as they shifted to the right of the course the marathoners went left. Now it was time to separate the boys from the men.
Half-marathon clock-in: 1:51:59
Miles 14-18: We passed Boathouse Row and made our way down the long stretch of Kelly Drive. On any other day I would greatly enjoy this beautiful road, but on marathon day the pain is beginning to set-in and it’s the longest stretch of quietness during the entire race. Plus you have to go up and back on the same strip.
Around Mile 15, a guy zoomed by the opposite lane in a car and shouted over a megaphone for runners to stay on the left side of the road as the winners were approaching in the opposite direction. Less than a minute later the lead runner came wizzing by followed by a few more and then eventually the top woman came zipping by us too. It was really neat to see the elite runners. We non-elite runners were all cheering them on which I thought was a really rewarding experience to be a part of in that moment. It demonstrated the comraderie of the sport that we all share.
During this part of the run I also realized that the course was slightly different than the 2009 course. After Mile 13, we got on Kelly Drive much sooner and bypassed the previous hilly spot the course used to take through Fairmount Park. Instead, the race included a small section between 17 and 18 that took us over a bridge crossing the Schuylkill River and then back onto the main road leading us into the hopping area of Manayunk. Awesome sign spotting: “You’re only 0.000000000000000001 light years from the finish line.”
30K/18.6 miles clock-in: 2:41:48
Miles 19-22: As I jogged down Manayunk’s Main Street, the blisters on my second to last toes (on both feet, mind you) were beginning to seriously sting. “Just a little longer,” I kept encouraging myself. Thank goodness we were entering another lively Cheer Zone because I was in great need of some distraction! Funny sign spotting, “Beer straight ahead.” A woman was handing out oranges–that hit the spot–and as I approached the turn-around point there was a band set up on a make-shift stage singing, “down, down, do your dance, do your dance…”. Yes, the Cupid Shuffle.
All right now it was dig in time. The turn around back down Main Street was pumping with good vibes. People were yelling my name and one guy said, “Sallyann, your form is looking good.” (It really helps having your name in bold letters across the bib number.) Awesome sign spotting: “Running a Marathon. There’s no App for That.”
Miles 23-26.2: Somewhere around 22 or 23 miles I saw the first scary sign of someone who was seriously hurt. Two guys were holding up a guy by both arms. The main looked really dazed like he was about to pass out but was doing his darndest to stand up straight. I just kept hearing the two men say we have to sit you down. A few of us slowed down but since they had him under control we kept going. A few minutes later the mini-EMT truck was headed that direction.
I was getting really exhausted at this point and stopped for a 5-second stretch (the third time I stopped all race for a brief stretch of the quad muscles). I also glanced at my watch and for the first time I was running in the 10-minute/mile range. Yikes! “Push it a little more,” I muttered. “Don’t give it up.” I had built a really great buffer with my fast speeds at the beginning and now I was beginning to calculate in my head if I would finish under the four-hour mark. Unless I slowed up to an 11 or 12 minute mile I would be ok.
At Mile 25 back to Boathouse Row I was looking for my family since they said that’s where they’d be looking out for me. Since I did not see them, I decided they must be near the finish line. So I pushed it ever so slightly faster. One fan yelled at me, “You’re almost at the finish, and I’m not lying to you like the folks way back there.” The crowds were thickening up again and the road narrowed as the end was getting closer and closer. It is always fun near the end when someone running near you spots their family and friends along the sidelines and they break out in a happy running dance of sorts. Well I did just that as I spotted my parents less than half a mile to the finish. My mom snapped an awesome shot as I kicked it into high gear to run as fast as my little legs would carry me.
My parents told me that it was really exciting to watch the group of runners finishing around me because the announcers were revved up saying these folks are going to break the four-hour mark. I crossed the finish line with a high-five from Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter.
Finishing the race was the greatest physical accomplishment of my life and I was so happy to grab my medal and especially some water and snacks ahead (especially the warm chicken soup).
This was far and away the toughest race I’ve ever done; I pushed myself hard throughout the course and yet still enjoyed the journey, both on marathon day and throughout my 16-week training plan. Overall, I finished 3,316 out of 10,213 (870 out of 4,224 women and 185 out of 761 for my age group of the 30 to 34 year old women).
My legs are sore and I can barely walk up and down the stairs, but I am proud to say, running this race was one of the Best: Times of My Life!