This weekend my wife Shari and I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. This is a very special event for me as it was my very first marathon back in 2011, it was also where in 2012 I broke 4 hours in a marathon for the first time as well is being my ‘local’ race (I live in the suburbs just north of Philadelphia in Bucks County, PA). So this was going to be my 3rd consecutive Philadelphia Marathon. It was also the 20th year of the current marathon event so it was sure to be special.
My wife ran the Half Marathon in 2012 and felt that the atmosphere for the event and the crowds she saw might encourage her to run the Full in the future. After completing her first Full marathon in Walt Disney World in January of this year I convinced her (not that she needed much convincing) to run Philadelphia and I signed us up when registration opened on April 1st.
Both Shari and I trainined using Hal Higdon’s training plans, Novice 2 for Shari and Intermediate 2 for myself. This was the 3rd time I have used this plan and I’m comfortable with the training level right now. I said to Shari as we approached the race that I had no goal other than to run with her and enjoy the race. I had nothing to prove here and just wanted to savor the time. I was probably the most relaxed before a marathon I had ever been (okay, I haven’t done that many!).
As race weekend approached, we, along with everyone else, watched the upcoming weather forecast which seemed to change daily. Even the day before the weather forecast was different than on the actual day. This was Fall in the North East and we had the week before experienced temperatures in the high 20s/low 30s so although it looked warmer they were predicted a little fog and rain. As it turned out it was a glorious day but more on that later.
Our first stop was on Saturday at the expo. As with the previous year it was held at the Philadelphia Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia. We headed down with our two boys with the plan that we would grab our bibs and take turns sitting with the boys in the Kids Zone while each of us took a look around the expo. The Kids Zone has been a life saver in the past and we only wish there had been one at the Walt Disney World Marathon expo back in January (that was not a fun time at the expo…)
The expo itself was a little odd. As we walked in there was the usual Philadelphia Marathon banner and we took our regular photos by the banner (actually our 6 year old took the photos so we look really tall). As we got through the banner there was a ‘hand written’ sign pointing us towards packet pickup. That was kind of strange. A little amateur looking considering the size of the race.
The other thing we noticed about this years expo was the setup seemed different. Usually we grabbed our bibs, went through the merchandise section and then out into the main expo. This year it was a little more like rats in a maze. I don’t know how else to describe it. The packet pickup was easy in itself but getting to there had a couple of turns and you were partly going through the expo at the same time. It was crowded and not easy to manouver with a stroller as some people were in line, some people were passing through and some people were looking at booths. Of all the races I have taken part in this year this was the first race where nobody asked to see my ID to confirm who I was when picking up my race packet. Given all the extra messaging around the increased need for security at the event no-one checked our bags going into the expo either. Strange. That would however change on Sunday.
As has become the norm for races since Boston, the race organizers provided clear bags that would be the only ones allowed at the bag check. They were at least a decent size and they actually looked quite cool, mesh on one side and clear plastic on the other printed with the name of the race. The shirts this year were a light blue and I liked it. It had the words of ’20 YEARS FOR THE LOVE OF RUNNING’ written on the front with the course map on the back (as in prior years).
The expo seemed a little smaller than in previous years too. Looking at the map of the expo it appeared that the booths were all perfectly in line but in reality it wasn’t as if you could walk in a straight line through the expo and I got turned around a couple of times not knowing which direction I had just come from. My wife thought the same. It wasn’t the worst expo but it wasn’t the best and we kind of had expectations for his race being the 20th anniversary event.
I did stop by the Hoka booth as this was the first time I had seen the Hoka shoes close up. I tried on a pair of the Bondi model shoes but I really need to have the opportunity to try them on a run to see if they live up to the good things I’ve heard. They sure look different though.
Once we were done at the expo we headed home for an early dinner with the boys and to get ready for race day. As usual we laid out our gear the night before. As we were running as a couple we tried to coordinate colors…because you have to! Also, we looked over the race guide that was in our packets I was pleasantly surprized/shocked to see a picture of me in the program. We are not new to this free publicity as my wife made the program of the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend program and we are on the banner of the Atlantic City April Fool’s Half Marathon but the picture of me was from last year’s marathon. As you may know from reading my blog I use Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run method to good effect. The picture in the program was a picture of me walking…the only person walking in a picture of everyone else running…oh no!!! Still, I broke 4 hours in the marathon last year so whatever you think from the picture, the result was what I wanted and I can live with the embarassment 😉 My wife didn’t even notice it was me and she specifically looked for us in the program (thanks Honey).
Since the Boston Marathon bombing this year many races have increased the security around their events and this event was no different. Prior to race weekend there were updates on the website and in our race emails advising us of the increased security measures. The race organizers were setting up a security perimeter around the start line and check-in areas (the Benjamin Franklin Parkway). They advised everyone to get down early to get through security checks. My wife and I headed downtown at 4:45am for the 7am start time. We parked about 4 blocks away from the start line and headed toward the area. As we approached the Parkway we saw actually barriers into the starting area. We were funneled into chutes with my bag being checked at the start and end of the chute. At the start my bag was ok, but at the end of the chute just a few yards further away I was stopped because my bag contained a bottle of Powerade Zero which at 32 ounces was not permitted into the area. Only 12 ounces bottles were apparently acceptable…my wife made it through security with her 16 ounce bottle…grrrrr 😦
Still annoyed about my loss of my Powerade Zero I was pretty annoyed when I saw plenty of people with Camelbak hydration packs and Gatorade bottles (I was beginning to believe it was an anti Coke product bias at this stage) we made a quick pit stop and then stretched out. We had brought our space blankets from last weeks Trenton Half Marathon to keep us warm at the start area as the temperatures were predicted to be in the 50s by start time. We walked a little further up towards the corrals and bag check and decided for one last pit stop before checking in our gear and heading to the corral. Wow. All I can say is wow. So, they increased registration this year to almost 30,000 runners and it seemed they had less port-a-potties than in prior years. We were in lines that zig-zagged up and back across the field. After being in line for over 30 minutes we had a minor mutiny on our hands and when we circle a tree to what seemed like the end of a line only to find it continue around again, so a few people in line just formed another line and monopolised two potties. Ugh. I didn’t want to start all that again so we joined the mutiny (although one lady in a parallel line gave us such a dirty look!!!) Not fun. We checked our bags and made it to the corrals just as the National Anthem was being sung. Start time was minutes away.
Our Corral was finally brought forward and given the word to ‘Go’. At the start line (and finish line) the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, is there to high five runners as they pass by. I’m sure not many big city Mayors come out to support the runners but it’s great that he does. Last year I got high fives at the start and finish. This year Bill ‘Boston Billy’ Rodgers was also at the start line giving high fives out. We tried for that but failed miserably as I didn’t spot him amongst the crowds. Oh well…I got a high five (and a good luck kiss) from my Wife which is way better.
The one thing that I will always say about this race is that it has great crowd support. From the start line to the finish line (with only a few exceptions in the second half of the race) the crowds a many people deep and very vocal. Awesome stuff. The race is very scenic taking in many sites and neighborhoods. The first half is a different course than the Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon which shares the same start and finish line area. Here is the course.
The course at the start and for the first few miles was pretty tight as we were running with the Half Marathoners as well as the streets in Center City Philadelphia being fairly narrow. There were a lot of straights to run in the first few miles and crowd support was there alongside us. One of my favorite areas is to run up South Street and Chestnut Street. There was a DJ out on South Street last year but none this year but that was okay, we came to run and were having our own little party anyway. Running up Chestnut Street is awesome. Imagine a long narrow tunnel of just people and then send a crowd running through them. A great atmostphere.
The run along Chestnut Street is almost 2.5 miles straight up. You pass by 30th Street Station and up past Drexel University to what is the first (and probably longest) hill of the race. Once you reach the top you run past lots of Frat and Sororety houses and around past the Philadelphia Zoo. Luckily the wind was blowing in the right direction and you couldn’t ‘smell’ the Zoo as I had in prior years 🙂 The students living in the houses were out in support (and I’m sure a little beer was on offer).
It was around this part of the race that Shari began feeling a little uncomfortable with her knee. She has a little IT band issue from time to time and this had set her back a bit missing a couple of long runs half way through her training. She pulled a small tube of icy/hot out of her SpiBelt and massaged some of it into her knee and onto her IT band (believe me, that SpiBelt is like Mary Poppins carpet bag…you wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff she was carrying in there). After a couple of stretches were were on our way. Shari was doing okay keeping together with me. She was following the run/walk interval that I had trained with even though she herself doesn’t train this way. We were using a 4:00/0:40 run/walk ratio and that broke things up well. We were averaging just a little more than 10 minute miles at this point and were feeling okay.
After the Zoo we had the second toughest hill (shorter and more intense) up to the Please Touch Museum (Memorial Hall) in Fairmount Park. Once you get past this hill the rest of the course is not anyway near as demanding (although you still have another 17 miles to go at this point). Shari mentioned to me that it was at this point in the Half Marathon last year that she felt it was a little tough but she was much better this year and was happy with how things were going. This was also the location of the first Clif Shot station. I had only packed 4 gels for the marathon (my strategy was to take a gel at miles 5, 10, 15 & 20) so I decided to grab an extra which I never usually do. We did go a little slower down the hill onto West River Drive but then held a steady pace up to the halfway point where we left the Half Marathoners at the finish line exit and looped around the front of the Philadelphia Art Museum just past the statue of Rocky Balboa (from the movie Rocky III).
The second half of the course is an out and back to Manyunk with a slight detour across the river and back to pick up a couple of miles in distance. It was at this stage that I feel like the race was on as we start seeing runners on their way back up to the finish line. We just missed the lead runner for the men’s race but saw the some of the elites running in as we were just starting mile 14. We also saw the first female runner on her way back in. It is always impressive to see how these folks leave it all on the course and their focus and determination in their eyes. I should also mention that we also saw Elvis…yes, you heard me right.
Interestingly enough there were two water stations very close together at this point in the course at miles 13 & 14 but then what seemed like a long gap before the next water stop at mile 17 at the second Clif Shot station. I could have done with a drink of water or Gatorade at this stage as the last water stop prior was around mile 11. Shari was begining to feel a little sore and she started stretching during some of the walk breaks but kept soldiering on. The little turnaround at mile 17 across the Falls Bridge and back is usually the point in the race where I dread. It’s downhill and uphill in a short space but this year it seemed to go much easier for me than in 2011 and 2012 and Shari didn’t seem to mind it at all and it gave me one my of my best views all day (see below):
Once we cleared the bridge we started to head up into Manyunk proper. Shari started to feel a little uncomfortable again and stopped to put on some more icy/hot cream. These were our 2 slowest miles of the marathon as we did these at a 12 minute mile pace. We were close to Manyunk itself which I had promised her was going to be a high point of the second half of the race as I had remembered the lift from the crowds from my previous experiences.
The run up and back through Manyunk is slight uphill/downhill but was not overly difficult although when you are running miles 19 to 21 it may seem to some like Mount Everest. We found it fine for us although we could see that a few were hurting and hitting the wall at this stage. However, for those with depleted carbohydrate stores Manyunk is the place to be.
As we ran into the town we were immediately offered refreshments at a beer station. Plenty partook but we decided to pass and head for the Gatorade and water a little further up the street. People were handing out orange segments to runners which I somehow managed to miss and was so distracted at this stage that I took my last energy gel at mile 19 instead of 20. Oops.. Luckily I had picked up a couple more gels at the last Clif Shot station and may actually have ended up with as many gels that I started with. Oh well, I am fully stocked for my Dopey training.
The crowds in Manyunk are awesome. Essentially you run up and down Main Street and the side walks are lined with supporters and people sitting outside cafe’s and restaurants watching. People were handing out brownies (seriously? you are going to eat a brownie from a random stranger mid race?) and Gummy Bears which Shari gladly took (hopefully she didn’t use the icy/hot hand as those would be some interesting tasting Gummy Bears). At the turnaround point you start to run downhill and it is the last big change of direction you make in the race as essentially you have 6 more straight miles to go from here.
Now it was heads down to the finish. Not much more to see on the course as we were retracing our steps back to the Art Museum and the finish line. Shari was concentrating on her form so she could run comfortably. She didn’t stop to stretch but just ran focused. She was pretty quiet at this stage and I was my usual chatty (somewhat annoying at this stage probably) self. I was having a ball. I was very relaxed, although I could feel my left ankle a bit it wasn’t hurting and I was just enjoying the sunshine, the run and the pace. We were almost home.
As we approached mile 25 I sensed Shari started to pick up the pace a little and we decided we would skip the last walk break if we felt okay. I don’t think either of us was planning on a sprint to the finish, at this stage the goal was to cross that line. Just as we reached mile 26 we did pick up the pace a little more but it wasn’t a sprint. Shari told me after the race that just as she reached that point her leg buckled a bit and she had a quick “oh no, not now” moment but held on to the end. As we approached the finish line we both went towards the Mayor and got our high fives (we had earned them) and crossed the finish line hand in hand in a time of 4:45 (a 45 minute PR for Shari).
Shari broke down in tears as we crossed the finish line and later told me that although this was her second marathon, at her first at Disney back in January we had plenty of stops for pictures, we had walked a little (as it was way too hot) and pretty much taken it easy, but that this was to her more of a challenge and was a real race feeling as we powered through the whole distance. And yes, before you ask, we were still speaking after 26.2 miles 🙂
After getting our space blankets and medals we were shuffled along by a volunteer to one side of the post race refreshment tables. It was pretty quick and easy compared to last year where I had to wait in line for quite a while to get some food. They handed us a small Macy’s bag with some bananas, pretzels, fruits snacks and granola bars. They also had oranges and chicken soup available. What I was surpized was that there were no soft pretzels at the finish line. Come on! This is Philly! No soft pretzels??? What is that all about? 🙂
After clearing the food line we went to try and get our finisher photo noticing that it was on the other side of the food tables. As we tried to approach for our picture a volunteer blocked our path and said that noone was allowed back up into the finish line area. We told him we were directed by another volunteer to the other side to grab refreshments and that we only wanted to get our photos taken but he refused to let us go back for security reasons. Yes, it must have been the banana and water I was holding that seemed threatening. What was that all about? We were still inside the security perimeter. Had it been our first marathon and we really wanted our photo taken we would have been really disappointed.
One of the goals we had for the weekend was to take our picture at Love Park just beyond the finish line area. We noticed as we excited the security perimeter that there were guards blocking people outside. Last year when I ran the Full and Shari ran the Half she had a couple of hours to wait and had walked a couple of blocks to Starbucks to grab a coffee. Had she done that this year she would not have been able to get back to meet me at the finish line. What a difference a year makes.
The walk was a good opportunity to cool down and stay loose before we actually had to sit down and drive home. We have always found it beneficial after a race to just keep moving. We walked (albeit slowly) the few blocks to Love Park and Shari said to me that now she has a baseline for a marathon (4:45 vs her Disney 5:30). Does this mean there may be a third? Who knows…
And we finally made it to Love Park.
Finally, I just want to say how very proud I am of Shari for completing her Marathon. She was awesome. She is always my biggest cheerleader and today I got to be hers. I look forward to many more 🙂
Thank you for reading (what was a real marathon of a recap).