Have you ever started something and just known that you would want to commit every detail of the moment to memory? The way you felt, the way the air felt, all of the sights and sounds of the moment? For me, that was the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon.
But first, let us back up a bit to the day before.
I love race expos. They are one of my favorite parts of a race. The excitement of getting your bib and shirt, checking out all the vendors and entering to win free race entries… well, there’s nothing like it. The Philadelphia Marathon expo was no different. They had everything we could want: great photo ops, free merchandise, and a spot to buy branded race merchandise (just a headband for me, sadly. I was #adulting.)
After hitting up all the booths, we set off to explore the city some more (stay tuned for another blog on that), and then settled in for an early night. Then, things got real. It was time to check the weather, and things were not looking great.
I packed for a variety of conditions, but wind was not one thing I was counting on. The Weather Channel had an expected forecast that included wind gusts of 20-30 miles per hour. However, the overall temperature was looking warmer than originally anticipated, so I tried to think positive and laid out my outfit for my traditional #flatrunner photo:
Despite the impending race, I managed to fall asleep pretty early. For a while, at least.
I woke up at 2:30 needing to pee. All my pre-race hydration was working a little too well. So, I was awake. I also was not going back to sleep. I spent the next 2 and a half ours flip flopping between having an existential crisis and getting 15 minute bursts of sleep. Why do I sign up for these races? What happens if it rains the whole time? What happens if it hurts? Oh, you know it will hurt. Suck it up. Sleep for a bit. It’s going to be cold, you hate cold. You need to do this, you paid for it. Sleep for a bit. What kind of post race food will they have? What if my gear bag gets stolen or misplaced and I have to freeze to death after the race? What if I can’t walk back to the room?
Okay, you get the idea.
At 5 I finally woke up for good and decided to check the weather. It didn’t look great:
Thankfully, Past Leah (in all her wisdom) bought a windbreaker at Goodwill that was intended to be a throwaway jacket. However, with those wind gusts, I was fully prepared to hold on to it the whole race.
Our Airbnb was about a mile from the start, so we started walking. In the rain. And the horrible, horrible wind. I told myself it wouldn’t be any worse during the race, because at least it was going to stop raining.
As we approached the Art Museum, we went through security, which I was really impressed by. They actually searched our bags and searched our bodies with wands. It was efficient and I felt like they were actually doing something, so that was a pleasant surprise.
After dropping our bags off, it was time to say goodbye and line up in the corrals.
This was pretty much the worst part, just because we were standing still. There was no buffer from the wind, and we weren’t moving enough to stay warm (jumping up and down only helps so much). On the plus side, it had stopped raining.
The race uses a wave start, so I had to wait about 2 minutes to actually start. Then, the real race began.
The race starts down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and running this section made me weirdly emotional. There was something so magical about being surrounded by thousands of people with the same goal and having flags from every country represented in Philadelphia flying over us. Add in the cheering spectators and it was an emotional moment. Here, I hung with the 5:00 pacer for a few moments (really like 3 minutes) but they were going way slower than I wanted, so I just settled into my own groove.
We ran past the Franklin Institute (which we visited the day before) and the Museum of Natural Sciences. We then passed the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, which had a lot of spectators standing in front of it.
Around mile 1, we hit Chinatown, which came out in full force to cheer us on. They even brought out the dragons! This is when it hit me that this race is special, and that I wanted to memorize as much as possible throughout the day. So, I made a vow to notice the small details for the next 25 miles.
Between 1 and 2 we passed the U.S. Mint, which I really want to explore one day. But, for now, passing it was cool. Around that area, they had some Revolutionary reenactors standing and cheering, which made me smile.
Mile 3 took us down Columbus Boulevard, and was our first look at the water, and where I took of the windbreaker. At this point, the weather was great and the buildings were protecting us from the wind. I didn’t want to trust the weather just yet, so I tied it around my waist. It was around this time that I saw my favorite sign of the race, an homage to one of my favorite Twitter accounts, @dog_rates: “They’re good runners, Brent. 26.2/10. H*cking fast.”
Around mile 5 we passed Independence Hall, and I started to relax a little. I felt good. All my mile splits were consistent and felt effortless. Nothing hurt. Before the race, I had made the decision to break up the race into 5 chunks to help me digest the whole thing. I was just running 4 5 mile runs, and then 1 6 mile run. That was it. And, I had just finished the first one. It was somewhere around this time that we ran past a church handing out small bottles of water that the priest was promoting as “holy water”, which I thought was hilarious.
I crossed the 10K mat at 1:05:14, which was right on goal pace. I felt great, and just knew this would be my race.
Mile 7 took us past the University of Pennsylvania, and then immediately into Drexel University’s Campus. This was probably one of the most fun part of the course. All the runners were still feeling pretty great and the whole college had come out to support us. There were people out on their front steps in pajamas banging spoons on pots as they cheered us. One of the frats had a sign that said, “Yell Philly and we drink!” and were even passing out shots to share. There was a bit of a hill here, but I didn’t even notice it due to the crowd support!
Mile 8 took us through the Philadelphia Zoo parking lot. I wasn’t super familiar with the course, and I was kind of hoping that we would get to run through the zoo. However, we weren’t quite that lucky. Instead, we headed into Fairmont Park, which was where the “dreaded mile 10 hill” I had heard so much about was waiting.
I have to say I was still feeling good. I also have to say that I love living in the Hill City, because our hills are not like other hills. The “dreaded hill” was a baby hill by our standards and I went up it without even slowing down. I was still running even splits and knew the worst elevation gain was done.
The rest of mile 10 took us around the Catholic Fountain, which is currently hosting a circus in the fields around it. While there really wasn’t anything exciting to see there, other than the tents, the smell of elephants and horses was definitely interesting.
Not much happened between 10 and 13, other than heading back to the start. When you hit the halfway point of this race, you’re passing the Start/Finish area, which is slightly cruel, since you still have the hardest half to run. However, the area was completely engulfed in spectators, which pumped me up enough to keep going and cross the halfway mat at 2:17 38.
The halfway mark also meant that we would begin a 13 mile out and back section. It’s very weird to be heading into mile 14 of a marathon and see elites on mile 25. All 3 of my previous marathons were loop courses, so I have never experienced an out an back like this. For the next 7 miles, I had to watch faster people on the other side of me. But, that wasn’t even the worst part. We were now by the water and had lost the shelter of our buildings, so the wind was hitting us in all it’s 30mph glory. And genius me had dropped my jacket around mile 8 because it was getting too cumbersome to carry around my waist (it was making me sweaty). I was starting to regret that decision.
I kept trucking along right into the headwind for miles 14, 15, 16, and 17. Around this time I really had to pee, but there were no bathrooms so I had to keep going. I was still having perfectly even splits, and hit the 30K mat at 3:20:12. I had signed up for text alerts for myself, and they predicted my finish time to be 4:44. Had things kept going perfectly, that would have been an almost 40 minute PR.
Then, all the wheels fell off. Somewhere around mile 18 the pressure on my bladder was getting to be too much, but luckily I was able to stop and pee. However, my legs, which were moving at a perfectly smooth pace, did not appreciate the stop and starting hurting really badly. I managed to hobble the next mile or so, and then things literally fell apart.
At mile 20, my stomach revolted. I’m not sure if it was the lack of real food, or the brand of gel they were handing out on course, but I got incredibly sick. I stopped to walk, and kept dry heaving every few minutes, but there really wasn’t anything in my stomach except 2 gels and some water and Gatorade, which were long gone. I would walk a little, dry heave, feel better, try to run, and start the cycle all over.
Around this time, I texted my mom telling her I just wanted the race to be over. Her reply was, “You can do this, hang in there!”, which just made me try. The only bright side is that I knew where the finish was. I knew I could walk there and finish in a decent time. The problem was, I didn’t want to. I wanted to run. I wanted to throw up. I also didn’t want to throw up. From 20-24 I was cold and miserable and nauseous. I tried eating an orange to see if I would actually throw up. I didn’t. I just felt worse.
By mile 25 I just wanted to put on my hoodie and pants and curl up in a ball and never be cold again. My face hurt from the wind, because somehow it was a headwind in both directions on the out and back.
When I could finally see the finish area, I started to hobble run because I just wanted it to be over. I didn’t even care if I got sick. I ran through the finish line in 5:23:48. However, I was grinning from ear to ear. Despite how much everything hurt, despite how much my goal time had crashed and burned, despite how sick I felt, I had finished my 4th marathon upright. I had gotten my Liberty Bell, felt good past mile 16 (which is always a problem for me), and enjoyed my 26.2 mile tour of the City of Brotherly Love.
After grabbing my medal, blanket, and snapping a selfie, I went to the food tent and looked for something that would go easy on my stomach. Lo and behold, they had soft pretzels, which I immediately grabbed with a water. I hobbled over to bag check to grab my warm clothes, put them on, and sat and ate that pretzel, which will forever have the title of best post race snack. I’m pretty sure it was a curative pretzel, because after I ate it my stomach felt better after a few minutes.
After eating my snack, Andrew and I went to watch Morgan finish, and then we had to snap a pic of the whole crew.
While the other two are sworn off marathons for the time being, I get to do it all over in 7 weeks as part of the Dopey Challenge.
While Philadelphia was not the race I wanted, I wouldn’t change anything. I may not be able to walk down stairs today, and my stomach is still a little sensitive, but every race can’t be perfect. I got to explore a new city and do it knowing my friends were out there on the course with me. There will come a time when I’ll forget how much this one hurt and sign up for another one. Maybe that one will be perfect.
Swag: 5/5- long sleeve race shirt, clear mesh gear check bag full of brand samples, and plenty of free goodies at the expo!
Medal: 5/5- It’s a 3D mini replica of the Liberty Bell that actually rings!
Course Support: 4/5- I’m only knocking off points here because the aid stations didn’t have any “real” food, just Gu. Blue Ridge offered real food, and I think that’s what helped to keep my stomach happy then.
Spectators: 5/5- there were very few sections without spectators, but they weren’t very long. All the spectators were energetic, some were passing out food on their own (not official aid stations), a lot of them were dressed up, and there were a ton of dogs!
Course: 4/5- That 13 mile out and back was mentally challenging, but it was relatively nice and flat.
Overall Experience: 5/5- I loved this race, despite being wind blasted the whole time. Once I’ve recovered from this time, I would consider doing it again in the future.