Back when the marathon was only a wee dream I had, I always said that if I ever did one, it would be Philly. Having grown up in South Jersey, just over the bridge, I have always felt as though I related with Philly. I grew up taking my class trips there, spent my high school years walking around different parts of the city and yes, even spent a few years in the “club” scene. When I turned 21, I spent many a nights partying it up on the streets of Philly. It was only natural that when I started running, I would race in Philly. First Broad Street, then the Philly 8K, followed by the half-marathon two years in a row…and then…the marathon!
I started planning to do the Philly Marathon back in 2009- but the truth is, I just wasn’t ready. For a number of reasons, I just didn’t think it was the right time for me. Round two, I planned for 2010. Then I got hurt. The injury took away my entire spring racing season and as a result I packed in racing all summer and was burnt out by fall. I completed the Philly Half last year and consider it to date my best half- marathon. When I finished that race, I knew 2011 was my year for the marathon. And when it came time to register on April 1, I clicked marathon. And,I knew the third time would be the charm!
So fast forward a few months from signing up and the training began…and it was not easy. As always, I was fighting through injuries. There were many moments where I questioned what the hell I was doing and if it would all be worth it. But I kept training. In the rain, on the treadmill, without music and always alone. I knew from the start that it would be vital to me to be mentally prepared for hours of running. To be mentally prepared for anything and everything. I knew from my first long run…really long run…that none of this would be easy. But I was determined to make it fun.
And then it was November. And before I knew it, it was race weekend. One of the best decisions I made in this process was getting a hotel room. We had a room for my parents and R2 and I had a room. This could not have worked out better. I was .5 miles from the expo and .8 from the race site. Perfect! The expo was good but fast for me. I was disappointed that the K-Tape people weren’t there as I hoped to get my calves taped, but they weren’t and I got over it quick. We were at the expo for about an hour and then for me it was back to the hotel for rest, rest and more rest! After getting all my things laid out, some dinner and a bath it was time for sleep. I was stunned to have slept as well as I did. I woke up feeling calm and ready to go.
We left about 30 minutes before the race start and headed down for some photos. The nerves were kicked in and I was feeling stressed out- but before I had too much time to think about it, the race was starting. My mom and R2 headed down to mile 1 where I would see them first and I got in my corral. The plan was for my mom and R2 to see me at Mile 1, Mile 6 and Mile 14. My dad and teammates would meet up with them at the finish. Knowing when I would see people made getting from point to point a lot easier. I think the best way to break it down is to go a few miles at a time.
Miles 1-5: I totally missed my mom, R2 and my friend Brian at Mile 1. I wasn’t too concerned though as it was the beginning and I was feeling great. I had started with the 5 hour pacer but realized quickly that (probably due to my training) I wanted to run alone. Around Mile 2, I saw a few teammates and I was so happy. I wasn’t even listening to my IPOD at this point because the energy from the crowds was so awesome. I skipped the first water stop and headed into Mile 3. I took my first walk break at the second water stop. My plan all along, like my training, was to walk the water stops. At least for the first half I was hoping to do no other walking than through stops. At the same time, I also told myself that if I had the urge to slow down or walk, that was okay too. Mile 4 was uneventful except that I had to pee. I tried to ignore it but I knew I had to stop and go. I saw my chance at the next porta-potty and felt thankful that there were only three other people in line. I was glad I stopped because I felt a million times better having gone. As I headed into Mile 5, the magnitude of what I was doing was starting to hit me. I could feel that I was going to fast and I started to feel overwhelmed. The 5 hour pacer passed me and I had a moment of feeling like I needed to catch up but then quickly determined that if I did that, I would not be running my own race. So I stuck to my guns and kept moving at my solid, comfortable, slow pace.
Miles 6-10: I received a text from my mom letting me know where to look at Mile 6 and before I knew it, I was there. I spotted her sign like four blocks away!!! I threw them my jacket, flashed a smile, got a pic and kept on moving. I was feeling AWESOME! The awesome feeling stuck around until just into Mile 7 when I started to feel a blister. It would have been too easy to focus on the pain so I stuck my IPOD in and put it out of my head. Miles 9 & 10 were the toughest for me in the first half…I was running slow and I had to stop again to use the bathroom…but I was feeling good and running happy. By the time I reached Mile 10, I could hardly believe I only had 16.2 to go. I was trying to take it all in, but the time was ticking fast!
Miles 11-15: The person who designed the split at mile 13 should know that there is a special seat in hell waiting for them. Not only do we have to head the guy on the megaphone tell us “You are almost there!” as he yells out to the half’ers but the split is on an UPHILL and I had to watch as not only the half’ers finish but as the marathon leaders come into finish as well. This was mentally the most difficult part for me. I was so thankful that I had decided to have my mom and R2 at Mile 14. I went through the half point at 2:38 and was thrilled. My goal was to get through the half by 2:45 so this was a huge boost for me. (My half PR is 2:23.) Just before the Mile 14 marker I saw my mom…and to my surprise my Uncle Mark was there and my best friend Jessica. What a great surprise!!!! The other surprise was that R2 was not there- I felt crushed…I immediately started to get upset. He went to get food and I could not believe he was missing me. Knowing I wouldn’t see him again until the finish made me so sad. Luckily, my mom had texted him and he was able to get back in time. I took this opportunity to take some advil, eat a banana and take a few photos. I was so glad I did this- not only did I need the real food but it was such a lift to see everyone. As they sent me into Mile 14, I felt so strong. It was getting hot out (high of 64!!!), my feet were tired, I was tired, I was sick of GU already but still, I felt strong. Mile 15 was a run/walk mile and it was here I met Kristy. It was also her first marathon- and her plan was much the same as mine. We chatted for a few minutes and then went on running. Meeting people along the course would prove to be one of the most helpful things for me getting to the finish. Especially as the time progressed.
Miles 16-20: As I headed into Mile 16, I became emotional for the first time. It dawned on me all I had left was a Broad Street Run. It was also when the 5:30 pacer passed me. I had held them off for 16 miles- that was the bright side. And in this race, there was nothing other than bright sides. Into Mile 17, I met Donna. Donna was running Philly for the 19th time. She was older, and had come into the race wanting to BQ as she had a few times in her past. At Mile 12, she got a cramp and watched as her pace group passed. She was still so happy to be running, so energetic and still loving the run. She was, without knowing it, reassuring me that I was running the right race for me. I ran with Donna for a little over a mile, mostly quietly but chit-chatting at times. Eventually, we came upon her husband- she stopped and I went on. Miles 18-20 were tough. As I headed downhill into Manayunk, all I could think about was the uphill back out of Manayunk. I was slowing down even more, and for the first time starting to feel down. That changed real fast when I realized that at Mile 20 I was entering uncharted territory. I had no idea what to expect beyond Mile 20 but I knew I needed to snap back into my strong mental game. The timing was perfect because the energy in Manayunk was great and I was really feeling it. I texted my mom, “I think I’ll for for a 10K today :)” and put my positive mental game into overdrive!
Miles 21-26.2: Just before Mile 21, I saw my friends Greg and Dee. They had planned to run with me and I couldn’t have been happier to see them. It gave me such a boost and we all started running together. Then came Mile 22 and the unexpected- a foot cramp. I had been prepared for hip pain, knee pain, ITB pain, PF pain and shin pain. But this was the top of my left foot. Hello marathon curve ball!!! The pain was so bad, I couldn’t run. At all. I was relegated to walking until I could get it out. Greg gave me some advil and we kept going one foot in front of the other. Greg and Dee were amazing- kept telling me how awesome I was doing and kept my spirits up by asking me about the race to that point. Eventually though, I had to stop. My foot was screaming. It happens that Greg is also my podiatrist (lucky me!) and he was able to assess quickly after I took off my shoe that it needed to be re-laced. I was swelling so bad that my show was cutting off the circulation in my foot. From this point I did almost all walking. It was a tough pill to swallow but having come that far already there was no stopping me. I was going to finish! At Mile 25, I decided come hell or highwater, I was running. And run I did…for the last 1.2 miles.
The finish line: It is hard to describe how I felt at those moments. The experience was bigger than myself. I could see my friends, parents and R2 all at the finish, screaming with excitement for me. It was a long journey but I had done it. There really is no feeling like it.
The best thing I did for myself was mentally prepare. I relied on that many times throughout the race. The other best thing I did, was go in without a real time goal. I mean, of course I did have goals, but I truly did not care. I wanted to finish happy. That was most important to me- to cross the line with a smile. Because of my mental preparation and my desire to have a fun race, I took all the pressure off myself and was really able to enjoy the journey.
All my goals were met. I did have fun. I finished running and with a smile. It was truly the best time of my life. I have zero regrets.
Oh and also, I have no itentions of every doing another marathon!
PS- for some reason, WordPress is not letting me upload photos; hopefully soon!!!