Race Recap: Philadelphia Marathon (Todd’s Perspective)

Hey, guys! Thanks so much for all the well wishes and congratulations on Todd’s marathon — he really appreciates it! (He does stalk my blog constantly, I can assure you…he just doesn’t actually comment much, haha). So since I posted my recap of the Philadelphia Marathon as a spectator (you can read all about my adventures while spectating a major race for the first time right HERE), I thought it would be fun if Todd shared his perspective in actually RUNNING the marathon!
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Hello, readers! Three weeks after Jen conquered the TCS New York City Marathon, it was my turn to join the party and run a fall marathon.
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On Saturday, we headed south to Philadelphia so I could run the Gore-Tex Philadelphia Marathon. This was going to be my second full marathon after completing the 2014 Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon in Washington, DC, which I remember mostly for the pain and agony I felt over the last 10+ miles. One of the reasons I signed up for Philly was, in a way, to redeem myself.
762825-1114-0004sGoing into Sunday, you can imagine that my mind was focusing a lot on the negative. In fact, I kept making jokes to Jen about how I might drop dead along the side of the road. (She didn’t appreciate that.) I know that I made a bunch of mistakes the first time around, and I made sure to work on correcting those. I was just hoping that things would go better, especially knowing that I would have no running partner who would offer to rub my back once it started to hurt.
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We arrived at the start area around 6am. After getting through security, which was pretty empty at that time, we made our way to my corral, orange, which was all the way in the back (number 6 of 7). Full and half marathoners start together in Philly—and I generously listed 4:30 as my expected finish time—so I was placed in a farther corral, which was fine by me because corral placement was one of my last concerns. After standing in line for a while to use the port-a-potty, I was in my corral a little before 7am, the official start of the race. I wouldn’t start moving for 20 minutes or so, or cross the start line for another half-hour. Luckily, spectators were allowed to stand right beside the barricades next to the runners, so I had Jen to keep me company while I waited in the cold. I wore a sweatshirt that I had planned to throw away, so that kept me somewhat warm.DSCF1634
At just about 7:30am, I was off. It was crowded, but not so much where we were really packed together.
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I made sure to start conservatively; my goal was to stick with a 11:00-minute-per-mile pace for the first half, which would give me some wiggle room in the second half so that I could possibly finish in under 5 hours.
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Things were going well in the first few miles. We ran through Center City, which had a bunch of spectators, and I was feeling strong. I had only run once that whole week, so it was actually a little weird running on legs that weren’t completely tired and sore. We passed by Philadelphia attractions like the Independence Visitor Center and Liberty Bell, and then along the Delaware River by Penn’s Landing. I always like a good water view, and seeing the Battleship New Jersey in the background was pretty cool.

Photo credit: Island Photography

Photo credit: Island Photography

It was quiet in this area, but by mile 4, we were met by throngs of spectators. This stretch, from South Street into the University City area, was my favorite part of the course.

The only thing I didn’t like in this area was that a lot of spectators were cutting through the course trying to get from one side of the street to the other. I understand that it’s tough for spectators to navigate when roads are closed, but after seeing so many people start off the curb and then stop, and then make a beeline for the other side, it was getting a little frustrating. And I almost had to dodge a few crossing spectators just so I wouldn’t bump into them.
Photo credit: Island Photography

Photo credit: Island Photography

But again, that was the least of my worries. I knew to expect Jen around mile 7.5 in the designated Cheer Zone by Drexel University. I have to say, for someone who doesn’t have the best sense of direction and who doesn’t know Philadelphia at all, I’m very proud of her for navigating to different locations along the course just so she could see me. I was very grateful. Before I knew it, I saw her at the corner, decked out in her turquoise New York City Marathon gear, carrying the bright yellow poster she made for me (which I loved).
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After a greeting and a smooch, she started running alongside me on the sidewalk. Finally, I had my running buddy! That lasted a few minutes; the contents of her bag ended up falling on the ground, so she had to stop, but it was a nice little boost before I expected to see her again a little after the halfway point. The stretch after I met Jen—from University City past the Philadelphia Zoo—was probably the hilliest part of the whole course. But for the most part, the entire route was flat. After that, I didn’t know exactly where in Philadelphia I was, but I did know there were only a few more miles left until the halfway point. In training (and in marathon #1), I experienced sharp lower back pain that would flare up all of a sudden; although I started to feel something in my back here, I knew it wouldn’t be debilitating, and I soldiered on.
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The last few miles of the first half, down along the Schuylkill River, weren’t easy because there was basically no crowd support. I needed the boost of getting to the halfway mark, and I needed to do it feeling the way I was. As we approached the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the half marathoners split off, and soon after, I crossed the 13.1-mile mat. With a time around 2:30, I was pleased that I was still on pace for a 5-hour finish.DSCF1672
Shortly after, I saw Jen waiting for me at another Cheer Zone. She immediately got up and started to run alongside me again!Because the road was open and wide, and there was no barricade from the sidewalk, I told her to come onto the course. So with her layers of NYC Marathon gear, her drawstring bags, and her rolled-up poster, she began to run next to me, and we chatted for a little while.DSCF1656 I mentioned that I hadn’t seen a single photographer along the course; a minute or two later, the Island Photography people were positioned right in front of us. But, sadly, they didn’t manage to get a photo of us running together. After Jen left me, I decided this was a good time for a pit stop. The port-a-potties were spaced out, and I said to myself that I should stop at the next one. The block that I chose had about 8 people ahead of me, and while waiting, I rubbed my increasingly sore lower back and did some stretching. Just as it was about to be my turn, one of the official race pacers asked if she could cut the line, and we agreed. Overall, my stop lasted about 5 or 6 minutes, which put me behind my pace (I was wearing a 5-hour pace band). Once I was back running, I made it my goal to get back on track. Funny thing is that the pacer who stopped for the bathroom was the 5-hour pacer.
Photo credit: Island Photography

Photo credit: Island Photography

The good news is that my stop for the port-a-potty helped my back considerably. I was definitely starting to feel it before I stopped, but that few minutes of stretching (and not moving, I’m sure) was a big relief. I wasn’t experiencing major pain at this point, so I decided to push the pace. However, I ended up missing my planned fuel stop, so I had to do it a little later. I tried eating pretzels, as I had during training, but when you’re really focused on time, getting down pretzels quickly is not the best idea. I’m good with Clif Shot Bloks and Honey Stingers (which I used earlier in the race), but I’ll probably experiment with something other than pretzels next time. The stretch up Kelly Drive wasn’t all that bad; I had read that it was very, very quiet, and while there weren’t so many spectators, I didn’t feel like we were running by ourselves.
Photo credit: Island Photography

Photo credit: Island Photography

As soon as we hit Manayunk, that’s where the race came alive. It was loaded with spectators and excitement; I tried to enjoy it as best as I could, but it was getting more difficult as my legs and back continued to get sorer. I was excited when I hit mile 20—I hadn’t run farther in training—and I wasn’t crippled just yet, as I feared I would be. However, after doing the math, I calculated that I wouldn’t be able to meet my 5-hour goal.I began to struggle a lot more between miles 20 and 23, but thankfully, I was able to run a good portion of it and only walk when I needed to.
Photo credit: Island Photography

Photo credit: Island Photography

The last 3+ miles, as expected, were the toughest for me. At this point, I was wiped; my legs were basically like lead, hurting more than I had experienced in training. I was getting the similar lower back pain (but again, glad that it was at its worst here and not much earlier). This is where I had to walk a good deal, along with many other marathoners who were clearly in discomfort.I kept telling myself that I would run up until a certain mileage and then take a walk break. Many times, I would have to walk sooner, or I would walk when coming up to a water station. (I stopped at pretty much every water stop during the race.) I kept looking at my watch to see when this torture would end, often asking myself why I put myself through this. After passing that 5-hour pacer earlier, she and her crew caught up to me and left me in their dust. At this point, I just wanted to run at my own pace and hopefully, still beat my 5:20 time in D.C. It was looking pretty good, and I knew that I still had time to walk. With about a half-mile left, I had little in the tank and was about to walk again until I saw the crowd of finish-line spectators.

Photo credit: Island Photography

Photo credit: Island Photography

I didn’t think seeing everyone would motivate me to keep running, but I decided to forge on without walking, and the crowd got me through. I kept scanning the sea of people for Jen, knowing she’d be close to the finish line. I don’t know if I had “marathon brain” or just didn’t spot her quickly, but I caught her late, cheering for me with her big yellow sign. Moments later, I was crossing the finish line and giving a high-five to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.With a final time of 5:06, I have a new marathon PR.

Photo credit: Island Photography

Photo credit: Island Photography

More importantly, though, I got to enjoy more of it than last time because I didn’t struggle nearly as much. Granted, I wasn’t walking so great after crossing the finish line, and I was in a lot of pain. But I hadn’t dropped dead.

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After collecting my heat sheet, medal, and food (which included soft pretzels, hot soup, bananas, and chips), I met Jen at the finish-line festival, and she kindly gave me her NYC Marathon jacket to keep me warm. I looked like a prizefighter.
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Overall, there were many things I liked about this race, including the fact that there were loads of water stops and volunteers. And it was a gorgeous day to run. Perhaps, though, I was hoping it would be more like the spectacle of the New York City Marathon. No matter what, I was very pleased with how everything turned out. And finally, I can think about running a marathon in a positive way!
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Have you ever run a race “for redemption?”

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