When is the last time you cried from accomplishment… Or because of a sign that said “Taco Cat is Taco Cat spelt backwards”? The Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday November 20, 2016 tested everything I had, including every emotion, the strength in my legs and my mental will power.
The night before the marathon my parents made a pasta dinner, while we stalked the hour by hour forecast on the weather channel.
“If you finish by 8am you should miss most of the wind!” My dad suddenly exclaimed,
“Thanks Dad, but this is a marathon that’s not possible.” I jabbed back.
“Well, that sounds like you’re not trying hard enough.” Thanks Dad, where would I be without you.I told my parents not to expect anything great from this marathon, they always know that my goal is to get under 4 hours, but here, I told them not to expect anything less than 5.
I was nervous, super nervous, like I resorted to breaking out my lucky hair bow nervous. First of all, I did not train like I should have. I started training up to a 12 mile long run, then did my ultra, took a month off of long runs, and scrambled in the last month getting up to only 16 miles straight. Second, it was going to be windy. Not like a little breeze, like 40 mph and gusts to 50. And third, it snowed the night before, and I hate the cold. It looked like everything was against me in this marathon, even my own cat wouldn’t sit next to me at dinner.
My parents booked me a room at the Sheraton on 17th street earlier in the week, and I am so thankful they did. If I was to drive from home I would have had to get up at 3am, here I could wake up at 5 and walk to the race at 6:30 when the race started at 7, it was glorious. And Saturday night, I actually got a decent night sleep.
When I woke up Sunday morning, I felt confident. It was windy I could hear the wind pounding against my 14th floor window, but it did not bother me. I got dressed, had my coffee, ate my bagel and left. I was not nervous, I was not scared, I was in a euphoric state of calm. Now I’m wondering if I was actually just drunk off too much water from the day before.
The starting corrals were poorly organized, not like a New York Road Runners Race, the corrals were marked with flags, but no one was patrolling them. It was chaos, and I really think the only thing keeping the runners from losing it was there fear of the 26.2 that lay ahead.
As the wheel chair athletes left, I took off my throw away layers, it didn’t feel that cold. I considered taking off more of my layers. As the elites left, I realized I didn’t have time. I made a game time decision to put my music on, and with that I was ready.
The first 4 miles flew by. Downtown Philly cheered and supported the almost 9,000 runners who took over the streets. By mile six Chestnut street was three people deep with fans on both sides, and if it wasn’t for my Moms obnoxious peach jacket, I might have missed her. I got rid of my gloves and looked down at my watch I was averaging 45 seconds quicker per mile than I wanted, but I felt good so what the hell, I went with it.
Less than a mile later, while crossing the Schuylkill River, the wind and the hills hit me all at once. I knew there would be hills, but the inclines got worse. As we trekked on and passed the Philadelphia zoo a flood of emotion hit me, this was where it all started. My first 5k was at the Philadelphia zoo, and back then I would never have dreamed I would be running the marathon on the same streets I started.
The hill on mile 9.5 to 10 was the last stab in the heart. It brought back memories of the mile 10 hill on the Nike Woman’s San Fransisco half, and that made me keep pushing, for I knew the downhill would be worth it.
As we made our way down to Martin Luther Drive, passing the halfway mark I looked at my watch again and realized I was four minutes faster than the Chicago Marathon, and I panicked. With Chicago I came out too fast and it killed me in the long run, here I came out four minutes faster, and well so far, so good. As mile 14 came up the lead male passed us to the finish. I was zoned out in daydream land when one of the guys next to me goes “Oh f*%k look at this!”, I panicked and had a mini heart attack, then realized he was talking about the lead runners finishing. “That’s amazing!” He repeated over and over again “It’s a new course record!” That was pretty cool, but alas, I was still on mile 14 only dreaming of 26.2.
Kelly Drive was boring to me, relatively straight not much going on, but lots of wind. As soon as we turned the corner onto Kelly Drive I lost 3 steps. The wind was intense, it took the breath out of me. People started passing me, I was the slow runner in the right lane. Mile 15 and 16 went by, as I approached 17 I realized this is where I hit “the wall” in Chicago. But I felt decently good… Until two miles later.
Once we reached 19 I just wanted it to be over. Luckily the crowds picked up in the Manayunk section and I was able to keep my mind busy. I took my first walking break on a slight hill at 20. My hips were tight and it was starting to get painful to run, I knew I only had six more miles. I looked down at my watch and it was 2:45, that’s when I realized as long as something drastic didn’t happen I was on course to PR by a long shot.
A little further down in mile 20, it might have even been 21, I found the beer station. I promised Tanya that I would chug a beer on her behalf at this point, because Philly was her first marathon after all. In the spirit of Tanya I took that beer and took off. Things went well until the wind hit my face at mile 22. Miles 22-24.5 were like dragging a body through syrup. It was painful, windy, cold, I lost momentum, I swallowed a leaf, which I’m still coughing up. I felt defeated, I walked a quarter mile, reached another mile, walked a quarter mile. Until the turn, and the wind went to our backs it was a long 2 miles. But once I hit 25 it was like being reborn.
I saw the Pretzel City Sports folks and I cried, I missed seeing people I knew so much. They say you go through every emotion when you run a marathon, and let me tell you that is truer than true. Next I cried at a sign with a cat, cause my cats name is taco too! Then I got pissed that a guy started walking in front of me, and then I was sad that I took a break 3 miles back… Yeah I was an emotional roller coaster ride that last mile.
Then came the silver lining. I saw the crowds. It was probably only mile 25.75, but I ripped out my headphones I wanted to take it all in. I picked up my pace. I was passing guys that I stayed with most of the race (and the big guy I ducked behind to block the wind). It felt like everyone was cheering me on from the stands. I had no idea where my parents were, so I didn’t look for them, I just kept running. I picked it up again as I passed the 26 mile marker. I was crying. I was flying. I finished.
Without proper training I thought I was going to finish in the five hour range, not even close. I PRed by 8 minutes. I crossed the finish line by myself. I passed everyone and ended up in this weird empty space. It was like a movie, and I just won first place.
A girl gave me a space blanket, as a guy gave me a medal. My hard earned medal. I took the traditional post race selfie at the finish line, and hung out in the finisher shoot just to take it all in (and to stop crying). Finally I started making my way out, a guy I passed came up to me and said “If you could finish going that fast you definitely didn’t run hard enough.” I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t feel my legs, it felt like I left it all out there, that one last sprint was just for good measure, to finish strong and not look back.
I found my parents, took the traditional medal finisher pictures, and cried a little more (I swear I’m not really that much of an emotional person).
I turned to my Mom and said, “I PRed!!”
She looks me dead in the eye and goes, “that means nothing to me, do you need the bathroom?” Thanks Mom, shoot me down in my most glorious moments.
To explain the feeling of finishing a marathon, it’s just pure euphoric joy, with cramps in your legs. Everything is exactly as it should be, and your invincible! Well except for the blister on the bottom of your foot, and maybe that one spot on your knee. Finishing 26.2, it’s a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world. If you want to change your life, run a marathon, see for yourself.
We walked back to the hotel, where I showered, and screamed in agony as the water hit my chafing areas. I put warm dry clothes on, for the first time in 4 hours. I went downstairs to the lobby, the medal hanging heavy around my neck. I was hungry, sore, clean, and exhausted.
We decided instead of hanging around Philly, lets just get takeout at home, which in the long run I’m glad we did. I had my celebratory beer, and a cheesesteak with pickles, before sitting on my couch and watching my favorite team (Seattle Seahawks) destroy my least favorite team (Philadelphia Eagles).
That night (8:30) I went to bed, with a smile on my face. This is how you should feel after PRing a marathon, content, happy, and over joyed. Now, should I get a coach for New York City Marathon, or just do it my way again? No rest for the weary.
Rants and rave section:
So it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have an opinion.
1. Why wasn’t there any finisher banner for the marathon? Was it the wind? I’d understand that, just curious.
2. Why was the public allowed into the race finish and start area? It was just weird to see, there should be some separation.
3. Why was security so lax? I literally got asked “you don’t have weapons on you right? Good, go ahead” I feel safe.
1. The course was really nice, at first I thought the city and Kelly Drive should be flipped, but I liked having the harder part with the hills first.
2. Really liked how big this small race felt. Like there was only 9,000 runners, there is more at Broad Street, but this felt big.
3. I have never ran with more friendly people. I recieved high fives, low fives and quality conversations from multiple people.