Disclaimer: I know this shiz is long, but I write these more for myself than anyone else so I can refer to them in the future to help me remember what worked and what didn’t. Apologies for the length, feel free to just check out this post if you prefer short and sweet. Then again, if you are a marathoner, you probably don’t – so here’s the long and dirty version!
Pre-Race: I woke up Saturday morning with an ominous pain in my upper right groin. Chalking it up to phantom race pains I went about my day, but this little poltergeist made itself at home, unpacked its bags and set up shop. It was clear by day’s end it was here to stay. I had a mini-meltdown in our hotel room that night, but pulled myself out of it through a combination of pep talks from Lil Sis and GD and by remembering that one of my race goals was a well-executed race, to “assess the situation and move on despite whatever obstacle is thrown in my way”. So I treated it like an obstacle and made a plan to get up and over it. This included a good meal (pasta with chicken and red sauce at Maggiano’s, a hot bath and good night’s sleep at Sofitel, highly recommend this hotel) and an attitude adjustment from “oh, no!” to “oh, yes!”.
Pre-Gun: Woke up bright and early and started getting ready – this included a trip to Sherry’s hotel room for some Tylenol and Voltaren gel , eating a bagel, taking a shower and running around like a chicken about to run a marathon with GD – this was the first time we were both getting ready for a race and it added a new level of chaos that I was not expecting. We finally got our bibs and GUs and throwaway clothes and Garmins and extra toilet paper and last minute snacks and tumbled out into the pre-dawn air. Due to said chicken running and extra layers, I was downright hot on the way to the start line, no need for chemical hand and foot warmers today. It wasn’t too cold, it wasn’t windy, it was clear and it was perfect! We chatted nervously and followed the sea of humanity to the mouth of the river – the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Upon arriving, we all needed to tend to our own pre-race tasks and split up. Saying good-bye to your compatriots right before a race is akin to going off to war (well, more like video game war since no one is in any actual danger)– you send them off with high hopes and steal yourself for your own battle. It’s suddenly just you and the clock and when you walk alone to your corral, the whole thing starts to feel very, very real.
Miles 1-5: I was in the green corral, which went off 12-ish minutes after gun time. We shuffled to the start line (as is always the case in large races – no room to run yet!) and crossed the mat among a cacophony of Garmin beeps. I was scanning the sidelines for my parents – my dad saw me but I was not so lucky to see him. Once we got up near Willy Penn, I knew that I would not be seeing them ‘til Chestnut and turned my attention to the task at hand – running this mother! I am a slow starter and that is pretty much what everyone is in Mile 1 of a marathon is, but my goal this time was to run a more evenly paced race. When I saw 9:17 for the first mile, I was pleasantly surprised since Mile 1 is usually closer to 10:00 for me. Although I had aways to go to get to race pace (I was hoping for 8:45s), I also had aways to make it happen! I used these early miles to dial into my pace and get into the right head space. I also paid my respects, as I am apt to do during a race, to all these other people who were all out here for their own reasons but sharing my same goal of completing a marathon on this bright, beautiful morning. Go, strangers!
Miles 6-10: This is one of my favorite stretches of any race, ever. The beginning is along Chestnut Street, which is jam packed with spectators. It was here I saw my favorite race sign: “Nate Silver predicts you have a 100% chance of kicking this race’s ass”. I gave lots of high fives and just like clockwork saw my family + Kat at Mile 6.5, where they always are. It is great to have this kind of history with the race – I always know where to find them even without coordinating beforehand. Seeing them gave me a boost (ran that mile 7 seconds faster than the two that bookended it) but there was one noticeable difference– no GD! Today he was out there running his own race and I got a little choked up thinking about him, fighting his own battle. I made do with the “ghost of races past GD” and pictured him running down the sidewalk yelling “Go, Kashi!!” as he is wont to do, which made me smile as much as always. I also noticed that since I was working harder than usual, the crowds in the narrow streets and tight turns bothered me more than when I am just cruising. I thought “Move it, people! Kashi train coming through!” wayyy more than normal (where normal = never)! The rest of this section included an awesome drum circle near the zoo bridge, the big hill at mile 9 and the big downhill after 🙂 I enjoyed this section immensely, I thought about GD a lot, everything in Kashiland was solid and I was pretty happy with my splits. I felt like I was on track for at least doing a stronger first half than usual.
Miles 11-15: Mile 11 brought my favorite cheer zone, which is the group dressed in crazy, tight, colorful costumes dancing to songs like “2 Legit 2 Quit” . I love these guys and look forward to them every year. This year there seemed to be more kids in their contingent than usual, so am wondering if they are indoctrinating as the next generation of Philly spectators – yeah, Philly 2022!!
One thing marathons have taught me is that the good times don’t last forever and by Mile 12, I started having some serious groin pain. I think the hills and the cambered roads took their toll – it was funny because it seemed that one minute I was barely aware of it and the next it was all I could feel. I used Scott Jurek’s 4-step checklist (more on this in a later post) and allowed myself a mini-pity party before moving on and assessing what the situation was and what could be done about it. I thought to myself “ the situation is that my groin FUCKING HURTS AND THIS SUCKS!” This made me laugh and then I thought “Ok, but what can I do about it?”. I decided that I would keep going, consider stopping if it got (much) worse and would reward myself with some Tylenol at Mile 16, assuming I made it that far (ok, let’s be honest – I was finishing this sucker come hell or high water so it was more a matter of how I would finish – running or dragging my sorry self across the line ). I got through the halfway point at 1:57:25. At Chicago in 2009, I ran through the half in 2:02:54 so I consoled myself that even if the wheels came off now, I managed to accomplish my goal of running a faster first half. This thought propelled me through the next few miles, which are hard mentally because you have so much to go and if you run at my pace, you are already seeing the elites come back with mere minutes until their pain ends. I cheered as they passed and plowed on.
Miles 16-20: I dreaded these miles when envisioning the race beforehand, thinking they would be the hardest of the lot. You still have many miles ahead of you, yet plenty already completed so that if you are giving an honest effort, the fatigue is beginning to set in. Plus, you know it is only going to hurt more from here on out. But a funny thing happened on the way to my S&M party – it never got that bad! This is where I think the ultra training really came in handy. I knew when I got to mile 19, we would be in Manayunk and there would be eye candy galore. So I really only had to get through 5 hard miles (14-19) and honestly, that did not seem too bad! My groin continued to make a fool of itself by hooting and hollering and causing all manner of ruckus in my body, but importantly, it was not getting worse. I popped Tylenol in Mile 18 (just before a nasty climb in this weird extension of the course), paused my music to listen to the Rocky theme they were blaring and pressed on. Manayunk provided just the atmosphere I needed and I enjoyed it as always – the beer guys, the drummer guy and the party it always is buoyed my already high spirits. At the turnaround, I thought back to when Lis Sis and I ran this race in 2005 and at this same spot she looked at me and said “Let’s go home!”. She said it to me again in my mind’s eye and I thought “Yes, let’s!”.
Miles 21-26.2: Still waiting for that Tylenol to kick in! Nope, no such luck, did not notice any improvement. I tried to tell myself, “well, imagine how much worse it would feel if you did not take it!” but that thought brought no relief, so I abandoned it 🙂 I was distracted briefly by seeing Lisa as I was leaving Manayunk , which was super exciting! My body was feeling tired, but oddly all my pain was in my groin and quads. Usually by this point my hammies, ankles and feet are crying uncle, but they stayed Jersey Strong the whole race. I decided this was a plus to running with an injury – you are so focused on it that you don’t feel anything else. During this stretch you start seeing carnage on the side of the road – people crying, people stretching, people cajoling their various body parts, making all sorts of promises they won’t keep to convince their bodies to solider on. I silently sent good vibes to them and moved on, clicking off the miles on my fingers. Throughout the race, I had been looking for the runners I knew, scanning the faces of the people running in the opposite direction of me. It was in this section that I ran out of energy to even do that. Instead I channeled Lisa and thought of how she tells us to “look straight ahead and run your line”. I did just that, locked inside my own world while surrounded by thousands of others.
I watched as my pace slowed and it is this point in the race that I am really proud of. I am used to negative splitting, so the late miles are often my fastest. Watching my splits go in the wrong direction was tough, but instead of beating myself up about it, I just told myself not to give up. I was running as hard as I was capable of and decided that as long as I was doing that, I’d call it a success. I told myself that I was running slower than usual because I ran a faster than normal first half and that it was a good thing. I hit Mile 25, always my nemesis mile, and felt good. Buuut about halfway through it I started feeling terrible, which my split shows! Damn you, Mile 25! Moving past that, I could see the art museum and again marveled at how one little mile can feel so incredibly long. The crowds began to thicken and usually I’d hit pause on the music to listen to their cheering, but I kept my laser focus straight ahead and let Mumford and Sons lead me home. Every muscle in my quads was begging for me to stop and the rest of my body was starting to agree that this would be a very, very good idea. I turned up my music even louder and drowned out these thoughts, concentrating only on putting one foot in front of the other. Coming down the last stretch, I heard my family yelling for me, which was the sweetest sound in the world! I had the mental acuity to notice that Mayor Nutter was handing out high-fives and made my way over to him to claim my prize! Yes, Mayor Nutter, I did just PR by 4 minutes, I did just run an evenly split race and I did not give up!!! I will take that high-five, thank you very much!!!
Post-race: This monster of a post is already too long, so I am saving this section for another day 🙂
Nutrition: Nailed it! Pre-race I ate a cinnamon raisin bagel and sipped about 11 ounces of water. During the race I had 3 GUs (PB, Lemon Sublime and Mint Chocolate), taken on the :45 and :05 of each hour (1/2 packet each time), just as I’d practiced. I drank a full cup of water at every other water stop and had 3 cups of Gatorade in there as well (1 in first half, 2 in second). My stomach mostly accepted the Gatorade with little grumbling, which was a plus. In the finisher’s chute, I had a cup of Gatorade which made my stomach grouchy and a cup of chicken broth (which continues its reign of best post-race food EVER!) which calmed it back down. About 3 hours later I had a turkey sandwich. It takes my tummy some time to get back to normal after a long run and I wasn’t really hungry the rest of the day, but I made myself eat just the same. Thanks Whole Foods!
First Half – 9:17, 8:40, 8:43, 8:51, 8:48, 8:41, 8:48, 8:51, 8:36, 8:44, 8:52, 8:44, 8:51
Second Half – 8:50, 8:36, 8:47, 8:50, 9:15, 8:47, 8:58, 8:45, 8:49, 8:50, 8:46, 9:03, 8:56
.51 – 8:21 (pace, time was 4:13)
Chip Time: 3:54:05 for 26.2, 8:55 pace
Garmy Time: 3:51:xx for 26.2, 3:54:03 for 26.51,8:49 pace
Final thoughts: Although I did not get my 3:49 (that was my super duper time goal), I did manage to get everything else right, which means this day was a winner! Nutrition and hydration were perfect, I got close to my goal pace and I ran a smart, even race. I pushed through the groin injury, mentally and physically. Is it the smartest thing to run on a pulled/strained muscle? No. Am I saying you should do the same? Nope. Am I saying it was the right decision for me that day, given how much races mean to me and how depressed I would be with a DNS versus the downtime I would need to recover from it? Absolutely.
When thinking ahead to future marathons (which started for me the minute I high-fived the Mayor), I think I might try a tougher plan. While I enjoyed the Runner’s World Intermediate Plan and feel it had me well prepared for what I did, I know I can do more. I am ready to do more. So bring it on!
Stay tuned for a post-race entry to find our how Sherry, Scott, GD, Scott and Tiff made out!
How was your fall race?
What are some lessons you have learned during races?