Spectating the Philadelphia Marathon

Hey guys! This weekend, Todd and I were in Philadelphia so he could take on his second 26.2: the Philadelphia Marathon!

Since I’m still mentally recovering from the New York City Marathon, I chose to be a lazy bum and not run this race — or even the half. That meant I got to experience being a race spectator for the first time. (Well, for something a bit longer than a local 5K or 10K, that is.)

I’m bugging him to write a full recap of the race for you guys, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share some details about my first attempt at spectating a major race in a major city that I just so happen to be completely unfamiliar with. It was…an adventure, to say the least!

On Saturday, we visited the expo a few minutes after opening at 10am. And as a non-runner, I gotta tell you…it was freakin’ weird. It was so strange to not feel that usual surge of excitement as you picked up your packet and your bib, and it was definitely weird to walk out of there without an armload of race merchandise. ;) DSCF1580

Honestly, I think we both felt that the expo was a bit lacking in excitement. A ton of the “usual” vendors were missing, and I guess after experiencing so many runDisney expos and the New York City Marathon expo, this one seemed to be a little…underwhelming. Plus, one of the volunteers was extremely rude to us when we asked if we could switch his shirt size (she eventually gave in, because we were apparently annoying her by standing within five feet of the table), and that’s never something I care to see before a big race. Not cool.

At noon, I had arranged to meet up with Karla of Run Karla Run and a couple of other bloggers — some of the ladies from Scootadoot and Katherine from Food Fitness Fantasy — at the Readington Terminal Market.

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It was insanely loud and crowded and chaotic, and I swear Todd and I wandered around for 20 minutes just trying to FIND the meeting place, but it was SO great to meet these girls “in real life!”

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We decided to spend a couple of hours at the Academy of Natural Sciences that afternoon (we’re dorks like that), since we checked out some of the major touristy attractions during our last visit to Philly for the Rock n’  Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.

It was a nice museum. Small, but nice. My favorite part were the dinosaurs (I’ve always been, like, obsessed with them for some reason).

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And I also enjoyed the butterfly exhibit, where you’re basically crammed into a little room that was well over 80 degrees and humid and disgusting and you want to die…but there are these gorgeous butterflies flying all over the place, and landing on you.

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They also had a new exhibit on the making of chocolate — and, well, there’s not a whole lot that interests us more than food. Especially of the sweet variety. :)

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We had our usual Philly pre-race dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and headed back to the hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton — also the same place we stayed last time.

As a non-runner in this weekend’s activities, I felt it was my duty to help keep Todd remain calm. So as he agonized for the millionth time over the optimal race-day clothing for the next day’s forecast (30s in the morning, 50s by the time he would finish), or worried that he would end up with a repeat performance of his first marathon earlier this year — when he hit the wall a lot earlier than anticipated — I did my best to help talk him off the ledge, so to speak. It was strange to not have to worry about laying our my clothes or resting my legs the night before the race!

The next morning, we were out the door around 5:30 to walk to the starting line near the Philadelphia Art Museum, and since unfortunately I am stupid and assumed there would be wanding and checking of bags, I chose not to use the see-through backpacks they gave the runners at the expo. Unfortunately, that was not the case…they were making anyone carrying purses, drawstring backpacks, etc. empty their contents into these cheap little clear bags that were a pain in the ass to carry around.

We walked to Narnia to find Todd’s corral (orange), and then he spent the majority of his pre-race time standing in massive lines for the port-a-potties. I was going to serve as the day’s pack mule, so he got to stay warm for as long as possible before it was time for his corral to be released.

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As soon as I saw him cross the starting line (it was 7:30 on the dot), it was time for me to execute the day’s spectator plan.

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I was going to somehow find my way to the mile 7.5 area, which was a designated “cheer zone” on the spectator map. Mind you, I have absolutely NO sense of direction whatsoever, and let’s just say that I got lost more than once. Even when using my Google Maps app AND attempting to read the map they gave to spectators at the expo. But I managed to find it and then waited for my runner tracking updates…

And waited…

And waited some more…

And finally, I got my very first update of the morning as he crossed the 10K mark. He actually spotted me, and it was very, very exciting. He said he couldn’t miss me, what with my turquoise NYCM get-up and neon sign, haha. ;)

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I ran with him around the corner, and asked how he was doing, how the first few miles had been, etc. He said everything was fine so far. Then my bag broke and all of his post-race clothing spilled out all over the sidewalk, so that was the end of that, lol.

My next step was to head back to the halfway point, beyond where the half marathoners would finish their race. Once again, I got just a little bit lost, but mainly because the map obviously couldn’t recognize that there was a race going on, and I didn’t want to be THAT person who walks right across the race course, potentially putting runners in harm’s way. I somehow managed to find a shortcut (don’t ask me how, I really couldn’t tell you), and I made it to the 13.5 mile “cheer zone” just a few minutes before Todd, once again, spotted me.

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Because guess what? Runner tracking decided not to bother telling me that he had crossed the 13.1 mile marker until AFTER I had already seen him a half-mile later. Super helpful.DSCF1656

Once again, I ran with him a little bit. It was no easy task, given that a.) I wasn’t wearing my running sneakers, b.) I was wearing about 10 layers of clothing under my jacket to stay warm, including Todd’s throwaway sweatshirt from earlier, and c.) I had a poster to carry and a fairly heavy bag full of his change of clothes and all my stuff bouncing around on my back. I was sweating like a pig within 0.2 seconds!

But it was fun — I felt sort of like I was banditing the race, and I’m sure I looked like a complete idiot, but we ran together right up until around the 14-mile marker when it became clear that I couldn’t really go on without interfering with other runners by having to turn around (there were no more sidewalks).

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So I let him go on his way, and that’s when the nerves officially began. Since I had NO CLUE how to find him on the second half of the course, and I was so worried about missing him at the finish line, we had decided that I would just make my way back to the finish line. But, first, I had to enjoy a much needed Starbucks trip and scarfed down a sandwich at Whole Foods, because I was about to die from hunger and caffeine withdrawal — I hadn’t eaten anything since 5am!

Meanwhile, there had been no updates via text OR e-mail on where Todd was. It wasn’t until around 11am that I received a 30K update — and, yes, it took me several minutes to figure out what mile that was, haha. I was sort of expecting more frequent updates…he basically got a tweet every time I took so much as a step forward in New York!

I made my way back to the finish line area, where staff apparently no longer cared about checking your bags because I walked right through the barricade with a bunch of other people, and pushed my way to a spot right along the fence at the finish line.

This had to be my favorite part of the spectator experience. Watching the expressions on marathoners faces as they finally spotted the finish line up ahead. As a spectator, you really do see it all — from the tears to the pain to the mothers and fathers carrying their kids to the sheer elation to the disbelief that it is FINALLY over.

Not even gonna lie; I totally got emotional several times for complete strangers, because I knew EXACTLY what they were feeling in that moment. There is absolutely nothing like it.

Fifteen minutes went by. Then 30. Then 45. I was expecting Todd around the 5-hour mark, which would have been 12:30pm. So you can imagine my concern when, at 12:25, I still hadn’t received any other updates since the 30K point! I thought for SURE there’d be at least one more mat for him to cross to tell me where he was.

I’ll admit, I was nervous. Here’s the thing: I knew without a doubt that he was going to finish this race. And I was very confident that he’d do better than his first marathon, where he pretty much hit the wall by mile 15 and suffered a whole lot of back pain and emotional and mental agony trying to make it to that finish line. I couldn’t help but think back upon his first marathon and worry that something was going wrong for him out there. I know from firsthand experience that absolutely ANYTHING can happen out there on a race course, especially in those final, most brutal miles. Plus, I know he wanted a sub-five, and I had all my fingers and toes crossed that he’d meet his goal.

So the fact that I wasn’t getting any further tracking on him was driving me batcrap crazy. Not to mention that fact that it was now 12:30 and there was still no sign of him.

Finally, just a few minutes later, I spotted him. And it was AWESOME.

To me, there’s no better feeling than crossing the finish line of a marathon. But watching HIM finish the race and make this huge accomplishment was a close second. He looked strong and happy and it was SO exciting to spot each other and then watch him cross that finish line. I know how hard he trained for this race, and it definitely took a lot of guts for him to experience what he did the first time around but then have the courage to pick himself back up and try again.

So…it was pretty freakin’ amazing. :) DSCF1693

I followed him (behind the barricade, of course), and got to see him get his medal and heat wrap and post-race goodies.

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And then we met up in the family reunion area to scope out the finisher’s merch and let him sit for awhile and take various photos.

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Overall, I have to tell you, the spectator experience was EXHAUSTING. Of course, it’s nowhere near as physically taxing as, say, running a marathon, but walking for hours on end in a strange city and navigating massive crowds and dealing with security and trying to spot your lone runner in a sea of thousands of other people and the stress of not knowing how he’s doing took quite a toll on me! I have to admit, I’M still a little sore just from WATCHING the marathon!

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But more importantly, I think it gave me another perspective on just how big a deal this all really is. As I cheered and clapped for other runners, I could see the pain and uncertainty and the “marathon brain” on everyone’s faces. It was a little bizarre to be on the other side of the race course for a change. And I definitely have a new appreciation for just how long 5 hours really is — you don’t realize it when you’re the one doing the running!

Best of all, spending over an hour at the finish line and watching all the runners come in TOTALLY helped me get some of my mojo back. I’ve been in a little bit of a funk since New York, mostly in that I haven’t had ANY desire to train whatsoever — even with the Goofy Challenge coming up! But seeing that look of sheer joy on fellow runner’s faces was totally what I needed to remind myself why I need to keep setting new goals and moving forward. And why I MUST run another marathon! :)

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Have you ever spectated a half/full marathon?

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