It’s been almost three weeks since I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, PR’ing the 26.2 mile distance by nearly 31 minutes.
I must admit, it hardly feels real.
Yet, it’s a fact. Plain as day, in black and white.
Anyone who has ever run a marathon knows how hard it is to race this distance. Anyone who has ever run it again knows how hard it is to PR by just a few seconds or minutes, let alone a half hour!
I am by no means a competitive athlete. This ginormous personal record still has me tucked tightly in the middle of the pack when it comes to the race field, as a whole. But that does not matter to me. My goals are personal; and my PR at this race means more to me than if I had been the winner of the race, itself. Alot of blood, sweat, and tears went into achieving this finish time. (Literally and figuratively!) It reminds me of a quote I read a few years ago :
“It is not the level of achievement or the numbers attached to a PR. It is the size of our hearts. It is what we do in those moments when all hope seems lost and we are confronted with a choice to give up or to keep trying. It is what we learn about ourselves through those dire circumstances that gives us the courage and strength to conquer the other challenges and hills in our lives.”
– Adam Goucher
I think back to that day in Philly and, while I cannot be more proud of the end result, I still see room for improvement as I prepare to move forward and enter another marathon training cycle.
I had trained harder (in the beginning weeks) than I ever had before. I was following the Hanson’s Marathon Method but, about 8-10 weeks in, the cumulative fatigue the program is designed to cause (along with a busy work schedule) took its toll. I broke down and took a few days off, followed by several easy days, and converted my training plan back over to the Runner’s World Break 4:00 program which I had been attempting to master for the past several years.
At this point, mentally, I was losing hope. I was not feeling confident in myself or my running/racing abilities. I have never been one to give up, however, and I have never not finished what I’ve started. So I simply kept going. If I hit the set training paces? Great. If I didn’t? I came as close as I physically could in that moment and immediately moved on. I chose not to think about it or dwell on it. When I arrived at a race and friends asked me what I was planning to run my response was always the same : “Whatever my best is for today.”, and I did. In doing so, I finished every single race event feeling proud of what I had run…and the results were always better than I had expected, with many of them resulting in new PR’s and awards for myself.
A few days prior to Philly, I reached out to my friend, Joe, asking him what pace he planned to run for the marathon. When he told me his plan, I was surprised to feel that I could potentially run with him; I just wasn’t sure for how long? Regardless, we planned to try.
As we lined up in our corral, the cold wind and rain chilled us all, but the excitement was palpable amongst the field of 24,000 runners.
It took us over 20 minutes to reach the START and count down to the beginning of our wave; but then, finally, we were off.
The pace felt easy and I hoped that it would stay this way. Before we even reached the 1 mile mark though, Joe took a hard right off course and stopped at a porta potty. I spun around in the street for several seconds, cursing under my breath.
What do I do?! What do I do?! Do I wait?! Do I go?! I don’t know! We didn’t discuss or plan for this!
So I ran.
Joe is a strong runner, a very experienced marathoner. We call him “The Rocketman”. There was no doubt in my mind that Joe could catch up to me. My biggest fear this day was the point in the race when I could no longer keep up with him, so I did not want to lose any time now.
I zoned in.
I ran how I have run every race event this year, based on feel. A comfortable, easy, steady effort that did not tax my breathing into a controlled rhythm.
The miles ticked by.
My pace was strong and tracking updates notified me of my estimated finish time; approximately 3:47:xx. I was ecstatic but kept telling myself not to get too excited; the race is long and the hardest miles are still hours away.
The scenery along the course in Philly is phenomenal with so many beautiful city streets, murals, and historical statues, monuments, and buildings to see along the way. The crowd support was fantastic; the music, the noise, the race signs. I was frustrated only by the need to weave so frequently, as the field of athletes was quite large and there were several miles in this race where it was hard to move at all, running shoulder to shoulder with other participants.
At Mile 6, I was scanning the crowd lined streets in search of my husband. To this day, I still don’t know how I spotted him so easily, but I did, and I made my way across the course toward him, hopping the curb and tapping his shoulder as I ran by. It was at this moment, jumping back off that curb, that I realized exactly how fast I was running : 7:35/mi !!!
“Don’t get too excited.” I told myself, “There’s still 20 miles left to run.” (But, damn, it sure felt good!)
Miles 8-10+, we faced some serious hills.
But at Mile 14, received a “power up” hug by my running icon, Meb Keflezighi, himself.
Around Mile 16, I desperately needed a pit stop. I spotted a cluster of porta potties and jumped in line behind 4 other runners. While waiting, I continued to scan the crowd of people running the course. I still had not seen Joe.
2 minutes passed.
The bathroom line had not budged.
I became too anxious and stepped out of line. I took off running again, this time, scanning any possibility of using a “facili-tree” along the course. We were running along a river at this point and I spotted my opportunity by a cluster of bushes next to a building. I took it and was back on course, running, less than a minute or two later.
Miles 17-18, the crowds grew silent between cheer stations. The runners began to struggle. The wind and rain picked up. I had Katy Perry’s song “Hot And Cold” echoing in my mind as I put my gloves on to warm up my hands, only to rip them off minutes later because I was too warm.
“You’re hot then you’re cold.
You’re yes then you’re no.
You’re in then you’re out.
You’re up then you’re down.”
This pattern repeated continuously through this entire race.
Yes, this is how my mind works…and it amused me for miles, interrupted only by the periodic “cheers” erupting from my phone, tucked in the back of my running vest, as my friends back home tracked my pace and progress along the course.
“Eye Of The Tiger” played out and runners behind me LOVED it!!!
I’m still not sure which of my friends followed it up with the munchkins from “The Wizard Of Oz” singing “Follow The Yellow Brick Road”, but it made me (and several other runners) laugh.
Mile 19 – I was still cruising along, but starting to feel tight in the hips. I still hadn’t seen Joe, but I catch a glimpse of my friend, Ryan. I moved over and slid up next to him, grabbed his arm, and said Hello. I was surprised how quickly I ran by, my legs still firing at a pace I’ve never known this late in a marathon. Ryan called out some encouragement, telling me that we were almost to the turnaround and it powered me through.
Mile 20 – I saw it. The newest mural in Philly, dedicated to the Marathon itself, unveiled just days before. It was beautiful. We were now entering Manayunk, very similar to Pittsburgh’s South Side. Crowds, bands, bars, and beer EVERYWHERE! Yes, even at aid stations for runners. I passed on the beer but gratefully accepted an orange slice…discovering, moments later, as I sucked down the juice from it, that I had been handed a LEMON slice! Thankfully, another station was just ahead (after the sharpest, most awkward turnaround point in marathon history) and they handed me a LEGIT orange slice.
I was now well on my way running the homestretch – the final 6 miles – back towards the Philadelphia Museum Of Art.
I was scanning the faces amongst the crowd of runners still on their way towards Manayunk, looking for Joe, when I spotted him!
Head down, struggling.
My estimate was that he was approximately 2 miles behind me at this point – too far behind for me to wait – and I so desperately wanted to be DONE already.
I’m struggling to write the remaining miles of this race because remembering it is so unclear.
My mind literally zoned OUT when my body entered “the pain cave” portion of this race.
Fueling was, as always, a bit of a struggle for me and by Mile 22 or 23 I was, again, in search of an available bathroom. The lines for the porta potties were long and I was acutely aware of the loss of time threatening to take away my sub-4 hour marathon goal.
I spotted a gas station up ahead, a block off the course route. I picked up my pace and ran for it.
A man was stepping out of the restroom and saw me running up. He held the door and I ran right in. On my way back onto the course, I slipped coming off a curb. The paint was slick from the rain. I came down hard on my arm, cracking my Garmin. It shut down. I thought it was broken. A bystander helped me up, brushed me off, and I took off running again. I was tired, dizzy, a little delirious…and now, I was angry too. My mind was buzzing with the stress of not knowing where I was, how fast I was running, and no longer having cheers, music, or the tracking alerts telling me that I was still okay and on pace to succeed.
My stomach churned. My ears were ringing. My vision was blurry. I thought I might throw up. Or worse. ￼
I ran harder, desperate for another pit stop yet seeing none.
I made a split decision to jump the fencing along the left side of the course near a line of trees, following it up to the top of a hill, and found a secluded spot where I could stop.
Upon returning to the course, climbing back over the same fence, my Honey came running up to me asking what I was doing. I broke down in tears and told him I was sick. “I’m done!”, I remember saying.
“What do you mean you’re done? The Finish Line is right there!”, he said, hugging me.
Where am I???
He pointed to the top of the hill in front of us. “You’re almost done! Keep running. I’ll meet you at the Finish.”, and he pushed me away.
So I ran.
And that’s when I heard it.
The voice of the announcer, calling out the runner’s names.
The celebration going on in the surrounding tents.
The roar of the crowds along the fence line.
The music, blaring the ROCKY fight song:
“Trying hard now
It’s so hard now
Trying hard now
Getting strong now
Won’t be long now
Getting strong now
Gonna fly now
Flying high now
Gonna fly, fly, fly.”
I ran harder than I’ve ever run before across a Finish Line and I heard the announcer calling out MY name.
The clock read 4:19:xx.
But wait… when I started, didn’t the clock say 00:21:xx???
A man placed a medal around my neck and hugged me like he knew me. He did not know my official finish time.
I pulled out my phone and realized the charging case I placed it in was never turned on, therefore my battery had died. I turned it on and powered on my phone. The rain was pouring down now and I was soaked and cold, walking through hundreds of people, searching for my husband.
Messages began to flood my phone.
Shep sent me a text: “Congratulations, you did it!”, as did another friend.
I texted them both back, asking what I did.
They responded with: “3:57:05”!!!
I, immediately, came alive and was hyper aware of everything around me. The festivities, the music…YES!!! The Music!!! “The Rolling Stones” were playing and the lyrics were perfect for this precise moment : “You can’t always get what you want. but, if you try sometimes, you just might find – you get what you need!”
As I look back now, it’s amazing how one race can change an entire mindset. I’ve spent the last few years believing the odds were stacked against me and that “Boston” was, in reality, too far away for me to actually achieve.
But, thanks to the Philadelphia Marathon, I now confidently say and firmly believe that:
“Boston is now just 17 minutes away.”