For months I’ve been training. In the heat. In the rain. In the dark. Even in the cold. All to get myself to the Philadelphia Half Marathon. With my newly discovered speed this summer, I realized I might have a chance to PR and run a sub-2:00 half marathon. That’s running 13.1 miles in less than 2 hours! I knew I would definitely PR, but there was a good chance I could run faster than I ever imagined my short little legs would take me on Philly’s famously flat fast course.
So, I signed up and since I had never been to Philly before, booked a 5 day trip to see the city as well. More on that in a later pt. 2 post, but let me just tell you, thank goodness I was running 13 miles that weekend because OMG THE FOOD!!! I returned only half as fat than I would have if I hadn’t run. So, stay tuned for that post.
And back to the running. I hit up the Race Expo the day it opened and wow, it was one of the best expos I’ve seen. Very big, lots of freebies, great companies. And the swag bag was awesome too. Nice reusable bag, loved the mesh panel, and a whole box of Cliff Crunch Bars, yes I said BOX, not just one bar, but an entire box of 10 bars!
While at the expo, I stopped by the Runner’s World booth and saw they were having a shakeout run with Bart Yasso on Saturday morning. I wasn’t planning on running any before the race but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity! So, I got up early and ran with one of my sport’s greats! How cool is that?! I also got to see some cool parts of the city and the race course, and meet a couple people including some of the editors at Runner’s World, one of my favorite magazines!
Sunday morning: The day of the race. With a VERY early wake up call for that 7am start time with the starting line a mile from my hotel. I had laid out my clothes and gear the night before, so getting dressed was easy. At about 6:15, I started trekking with the masses in the dark towards the race start. I stood in line for a portapotty for a long time, but as the race was getting started, I just couldn’t wait for the 40 people in front of me to empty their bladders and convinced myself it was just nerves and I didn’t need to go after all. I dropped my stuff at gear check and found my corral. Within a few minutes I was inching my way to the start line and I was off.
I knew that I would be stuck in a crowd for the first mile, so I didn’t stress out too much about my pace for the first mile, trying to take advantage of open pockets when I could. However, I was able to maintain a decent pace for the first few miles despite the crowds. I used a pace band from Cliff bars for the first time and that was great, less need to do math in my head and I could just focus on running and breathing.
Although it is very big race, I was able to move away from large packs after a couple miles. It was only on a couple places where the road is fairly narrow, and the spectators outnumbered the racers was it crowded again. I even ran into one of the runners I met during the run with Bart Yasso. He and his wife were both running the marathon. He seemed to be doing well at that point, I stopped to say hi and wish him luck.
Although Philly is a flat course, I heard rumors about a hill around miles 7-10. There was a “blip” of a hill at mile 7 over a bridge, but I’m from Tennessee and I hardly noticed it. Once I hit the true hill at mile 9, I definitely noticed it. It wasn’t an awful hill, just a little long, but not too steep, but after running 9 miles you’re going to notice any terrain changes. I made it up the hill without walking (yeah, high five!), and was looking forward to the downhill that was sure to follow. I think the downhill did me in more than the uphill. It was a pretty steep downhill, and I usually love to let gravity pull me down and make up some momentum I lost on the uphill. But this downhill had several sharp turns that forced me to brake my pace and burn up some quads strength and energy.
Usually at some point during mile 11 of a half, I hit a mini-wall. I walk. And I keep telling myself this is stupid and I want to go home. Over. And. Over. I can’t say I didn’t have some of those thoughts, but I didn’t walk dammit! In fact for the first time, I hardly walked during the race. Only a couple paces during a water stop, but that’s it! And then when I see the Mile 12 marker, I know I only have to run 1 mile and surely I can do that, already ran 12. I can run 1 mile in my sleep!
Heading towards the finish, there are about 500 signs warning the full marathoners to go left and half finish is on the right. Of course this is for the last mile or two. I appreciated the notice and help in breaking up the crowds of runners so we didn’t cut each other off at the last minute, but it was a little confusing, thinking I was closer to the finish than I was. But as I saw the back of the Art Museum, and the slight waterfall my friend Bill gave me a heads up to look for, I knew I was close. I did hate the slight uphill heading towards the last couple tenths of a mile before the finish, but I was so close.
And I did it! I got a new PR and a sub-2:00 Half Marathon! My final time was 1:57:18. That’s a PR of 18 minutes!!
We ran through some really great parts of Philly. Seeing the historical sites, going through University City, past the Philly Zoo, start and finish by the Art Museum (and the Rocky Statue!). We had perfect weather, and I was able to run in my favorite shorts and a short sleeve shirt, hi-40s – mid 50s, no rain and partly cloudy blue skies.
This is a great race that I recommend to anyone wanting to PR. I think most people I know PR’d or at least had a decent race. There is plenty of crowd support on the entire course. There is plenty of interesting things to look at to distract you from the miles you’re putting under those shoes. Friendly racers, this isn’t a crazy competitive race where people are trying to take each other out. Plenty of water stops.
I didn’t see any mile markers until mile 7. I’m not sure if this is because the course was crowded with spectators and/or racers and I just didn’t see them or there were so few. I think I only saw about 3-4 total mile markers, thank goodness for my Garmin. It seemed very random how the water stops were set up. In some places it was only on the right, some only on the left and some on both sides. It was a little chaotic when a water stop snuck up on you and you had to quickly dart to one side or dodge other runners in need of hydration. There were a couple places the race got really crowded, but not so awful I ever had to walk. I never heard the Rocky Theme. I had heard you hear it nonstop at the start and finish, but I never heard it. Oh well, could be worse things to complain about!
And some of my favorite points along the race unrelated to running:
- Right around mile 1 the Philadelphia Eagle (from the NFL team) was handing out High Fives! Yeah, I went for it!!
- Awesome spectator signs:
“Toenails are Overrated!”
“WTF! Worst Parade Ever!”
“Keep Running, Zombies Behind”
and my favorite: “You’re a better running mate than Sarah Palin!”
- The hot chicken broth after the finish. What brilliant soul came up with this? I don’t eat chicken and don’t really have interest in chicken broth, but OMGITWASSOGOOD! You finish the race, sweaty, a little chilled and dehydrated…just what you need, something hot, liquid, and full of sodium! It was made of magic and unicorns! I think I told the guy handing it out that he was the smartest man ever about 75 times. I’m pretty sure he was creeped out.