Today I ran the Philadelphia Marathon.
I'd had this marathon on my radar for a while. I'd decided over a year ago that I'd do the 09 Philly marathon. And I'd decided that I'd try to finish it in less than three hours.
Someday things will come crushing down on me. Someday I'll set myself a goal and not reach it. Someday my streak of a PR at every race will end. So far, I've been lucky. But on the eve of the marathon, I was worried – worried that my feet would bother me, worried that my shoes would be too uncomfortable. Mostly, though, I was worried about my stomach. It was kind of bugging me.
But things worked out. Thanks, pepto-bismol.
I went into the race with two plans. On my right wrist I had a wrist band with the mile goals for a 3-hour marathon, with even times for each mile. On my left wrist, I had a more aggressive, Philly-specific wristband, designed for a 2:56:30 marathon. With secret plans of trying to break 2:55. But I always knew that was a pipe dream. The plan was to run a 1:28 first half and then see from there.
The race started out easy enough. I was worried about congestion at the start, but that was not a problem. I was able to settle into a pace pretty well. It was never that easy a pace, but I concentrated on keeping calm and keeping my shoulders relaxed. I was able to get a little time cushion in front of even my more optimistic left-arm wristband.
The first 7 miles were fun, and fairly easy. The only down point was not seeing Helen at mile 6, where I expected her. She saw me and called my name – but here's the thing. My bib said "Noah" on it. People were yelling "go Noah" and "good job Noah" the whole race.
So it threw me a little, not seeing her, but I knew it was tough to see people in the crowd. I just tried to keep going. I started pacing off of this group of three guys with "runner's alley" shirts on – they were going just a little faster than I would have, so it helped keep me focused. Having run all of the route before in training helped a lot psychologically. I did pretty well going through the west park, generally keeping pace with my left arm wristband. I knew that somewhere behind me was a 3 hour pace-group, so I wouldn't panic unless I saw them.
This approach got me through the first half. I was able to get past one of my worries, by not going through the half marathon finish line. Soon, I was back on the main route, ready to start the second half.
Helen joined me at that point, and kept me company from mile 14 to mile 18. These were relatively easy miles. The three guys slowed down, so I ran past them. I was impressed that Helen could keep up, since she'd just run the four corners the day before, but she didn't even seem to be struggling.
Helen stopped off at mile 18, at the Wanderers' water stop. Afterwards was a low point. I'd counted on getting gels at that water stop, but there weren't any. This was a major blow to my strategy, which basically involved eating a lot of gels.
That low point wouldn't last. Running through Manayunk was fun. My sister and my nephews were there to cheer me on, which was a huge boost. There was a spot to get gels, saving my strategy. The crowd there was good. And there was even one spot where they were playing Eye of the Tiger.
At around 20 miles, you make a 180 degree turn and start heading back to the Art Museum. I'd told myself that if I felt good at this point, I could speed up a bit. By this time I was a little behind my left arm wristband, but still well ahead of my right arm wristband. I didn't really have it in me to speed up, though. So I concentrated on keeping a good pace and staying relaxed. I was starting to get sore, but optimistic about a strong finish. That optimism lasted through the return trip to the Wanderers water stop. Not much longer, though.
Somewhere around mile 22-23, the pounding started really adding up. My shoes felt too hard, my legs too sore. I stopped looking at my wrist bands. The three-hour pace group hadn't caught up to me, so I knew I wasn't fading too fast. I started timing miles. I kept my focus on staying loose, but that wasn't easy. My legs were hurting. I tried to pass more people than passed me, but a bunch of people passed me. I had to let them go. I missed having Helen run with me in the last stretch, like she had at National. One of my miles was around 7 minutes, which was slower than I was going for. 2:55 was gone. That was ok. That was always a pipe dream. I still wanted to break 3 hours, though. The math was on my side - I knew I had a little bit of a cushion. But I also started to feel my calf start to cramp up. It was like a cramp-breeze blowing across my calf – it started to seize up and then went away. But I knew that I had to monitor that.
The last 3.2 weren't fun. I was just hoping on surviving, hoping my calf woudn't cramp up. I did and it didn't. I managed to get a little kick in the last quarter mile. I ran past the finish line in 2:57:44.
Now, I'm recovering. In other words, I'm really, really sore. And I'm in no rush to run another marathon – or at least, to race another marathon. For now, I'm looking forward to some time off, and then to getting back into running on the trails, and riding my bike some more. I don't know if I've got many more marathons in me.