2012 Philly Marathon Recap
Official results say 3:02:42 for a 6:58/mile average. In anecdotal results, the offending hamstring did not bother me one bit.
On the one hand, I don’t know how I did it.
On the other hand, sure I do.
I flip-flopped between nervous and psyched in the days leading up to the race. I could have predicted a result like this before I got injured, but lately, I wasn’t sure if I’d go out and find it hard to pull 7:25s, or if I’d somehow be seeing sub-7 pace and maybe that would magically feel easy.
After waking up this morning, I realized that more than anything, I was excited to let the day unfold. Let it happen. The miles I ran in training would either come back to reward me or they wouldn’t, and either way, it was going to be an incredible day to run.
Before the start, I met up with one of my training buddies and we jogged down to our corral. I was surprised to almost literally run into the girl who won the small 4th of July road race I did this summer (I came in second). Somehow this serendipitous run-in helped me feel really loose and grounded about how my race would go. Our brief, nervous chat made me feel connected to the mileage foundation I’d built starting all the way back in July.
National anthem, loudspeaker chatter, and then the gun went off and there I was crossing the starting mat hoping idly that I’d done a sufficient job tying my shoes.
My first mile was a 6:42. Oh, man.
I saw that opening split on my watch and thought to myself, Well, I guess it’s gonna be that kind of day.
I had no delusions of holding this pace all through the race, but I wasn’t worried about having a quicker start. I anticipated that if my hamstring held up and allowed me to see where my fitness stood, I was going to positive split this race.
I managed to reign in my pace after an opening 5K that averaged somewhere in the 6:40s. We cruised along through Center City and I high-fived a few little kids and soaked in the (honestly) heartwarming crowd support of strangers who read my name off my bib. I came through the 10k in about 42:22 and said out loud to myself, “a bit ambitious.”
Then the tide of fellow 3:00 to 3:05 hopefuls carried me across the Schuylkill and we came to the sole hilly section of the race between miles ~7 and 10. Many runners screamed by me down the hills in these miles. As they did, I announced to the guy next to me: “Don’t go with them, we’re gonna save our quads.”
SWEATY KID, COURSE EXPERT, ZERO CREDENTIALS.
However, he emitted a noise that sounded like an agreement, and together we remained calm and let everybody fly by us. We later both reeled most of these people back in and passed them after things flattened out.
All too soon, there we were peeling back around the Art Museum and losing our half-marathon friends. My watch caught the half split at 1:3o:22. I felt I was at a similar effort level at the same point during the Louisiana Marathon, where I positive split by about two minutes in the second half. I decided I could hope for a similar result here, which might mean I could squeak under 3:05.
We swung out onto lovely, leafy Kelly Drive where the crowd support all but evaporated, but I was glad because this, this was going to be my stretch. My river. My path. My town. At about mile 14.5 or 15.5, however, I had a fleeting moment of doubt. I saw the mile 24 marker on the opposite side of the course, and experienced a mild, sudden paralysis of WTF ARE YOU DOING WHY DID YOU GO OUT SO FAST STUPID IDIOT YOU ARE GOING TO PERISH.
But it passed. A word popped into my head that I latched onto during those miles: “Nunatak.” It’s a Native Alaskan word for rock outcroppings that aren’t glaciated — they’re more or less the tippy tops of mountains that were (or are) too tall to have been covered in ice. I’m not sure if this is true, but somebody back in Juneau once told me that it means “lonely one,” or maybe that’s a name for one of these particular mountain tops. I had an Aldo Leopold moment and told myself these miles up until the turnaround point for the last 10K would be the nunatak miles. The lonely ones. I could think like a mountain and shoulder the loneliness and it didn’t have to be some big miserable end-of-the-world deal.
Aside from that, I don’t believe I had a single outside thought until about mile 20. It’s as if I shrank back into myself during these miles and fixated on the simple, manageable task of hitting the four minute mark on my watch into each mile split, and then the (sub)-seven minute mark. I plugged methodically onward through the markers and stayed smooth, relaxed.
Soon we were turning around in Manayunk and it was exactly as I envisioned it. Last 10K. The bridges, the St. Joe’s boathouse, the river path, the rowing statue and the grandstands. Sub-7:00s were harder to come by and a few ephemeral whispers of cramps seized my legs, but I kept doing the math in my head and knew I’d have to have a cataclysmic meltdown to be over 3:05. Even as my pace crept upward, it seemed as if the final miles went by far too quickly. I was uncomfortable, but not redlining. I had no desire for a heroic fast finish — probably could not have mustered one if I’d tried — and was mostly a little sad to see the race coming to an end. I took my time getting through the last mile and my reaction to passing the 26th flag was one of wistful disbelief.
I crossed the finish line and the rest of the world roared back into my ears, throngs of runners and spectators, heat sheets crinkling, medals winking in the sun, people talking loudly and limping.
The subsequent hour was spent kneading away charlie horses, drinking several blissful cups of chicken broth, and passing multiple eternities in the changing tent while undergoing basic challenges to my gross motor skills like removing my freezing sweaty sports bra without sending my muscles into painfully exhilarating cascades of cramps. I spent the rest of the day eating and drinking with family and friends, feeling satisfied, grateful, happy and, well… incredulous and sad that it was already over.
Well, we all know there is only one cure for that feeling.