Philadelphia Marathon 2012
I came into this school year with a Big City Marathon under my belt. This July I ran the San Francisco Marathon, and missed qualifying for the Boston marathon by one minute and fifteen seconds. I was determined not to let the same thing happen in Philadelphia. In order to reach this goal, this semester, I started focusing on tempo long runs. Before, I had split tempo runs and long runs into two separate days, but after the race this summer, I realized that I needed to maintain my level of fitness for longer periods of time. It wasn’t easy, in fact it really sucked, but I was able to pull off a few decent runs this semester: a 20-miler at a 6:44 pace, a 19 miler at a 6:30, and a 17-miler at a 6:24 pace. Psyched by these runs, I decided to take a 3 week taper rather than the usual 2 weeks. In this time, I began to develop some pains in the shin and knee that didn’t seem to go away with a decrease in mileage. The final week’s mileage was limited to around 8 miles, making me worry about a possible decrease of fitness. I also attempted my first “real” carbo-load, which was an experience in itself. I started the final week with a carb-depletion, which drained most of the energy I had left. On the final Thursday, I started eating pasta, cereal, and rice for all my 3 meals. Cost-wise, I was glad that I still had a dining plan with the school. I did grow tired of the monotony after a while, and the bloated feeling I got the morning after wasn’t too fun either. So the night before the race, I spent most of the time thinking about these problems, preventing me from getting a good night rest. I got up at 4 AM, adjusted the KT tape on my knees and shins, and got ready to go.
Besides pre-race jitters, I feel the morning went rather well. I had gotten my bib and jersey from the expo on Friday, so I didn’t have much administrative stuff to worry about. I tested out the KT tape with a few jogs, and it seemed to hold up fine, while reducing soreness quite a bit (I still haven’t determined if this was the placebo effect, or if this stuff actually works!). To take further precautions, I took 2 200 mg Advil tablets to reduce the slight pain I felt in my right knee. If I didn’t qualify for Boston today, my knee was bound to be the issue. After munching on a banana, trail mix, Cliff bar, and some Gatorade, I started stretching and doing strides. Nature eventually called and I raced to a porto with a long-ass line. With 30 minutes to go, I was impatiently tapping my feet, waiting for others to defecate in peace. I started talking to a 42-year old man who was waiting behind me. He informed me that he too was trying to qualify for Boston, after nearly missing it in Berlin by 2 minutes (ran a 3:17). I told him about my similar performance in San Francisco and we both wished each other luck before heading our separate ways. I managed to make it back to the Maroon corral just in time to take my first GU shot 15 minutes prior to the start of the race. So far so good.
After Mayor Nutter misses giving me a high-five, I start heading down Ben Franklin Parkway. The first thing I notice is how large this race really is. I started in the wave after the elite runners, but even then, I noticed that the number of racers in Philly vastly outnumbered that of San Francisco. I think part of this was due to the 3,000 runners who came from NYC to participate due to Hurricane Sandy. Even though I had practiced my tempo runs at sub 6:30 paces at times, I felt that I still went off a bit too fast. I was clocking in at about a 6:24 pace for the first 10K. Jesus Christ. Considering I averaged a 6:52 for the first half of the San Francisco marathon and dropped back to a 7:06 overall, I knew I had to be careful when it came to wasting precious energy in the start of the race. The race through Center City was pretty dope though. Fans were plentiful and very VERY loud. Even though I never got a chance to see any of my friends, one man in a weird hotdog costume did try to pronounce my name and scream for me to run faster. Thank you hot dog man. I had been down Arch and Race streets many times, so I knew what to expect out of the course. At this time, I was just gauging my bodily functions to see whether I would make it through the race. While I had no immediate shin or knee pain (Side Note: The tape seemed to be working as a sort of spring that was able to help me propel my leg forward with less effort than usual), I did feel a lot of liquid sloshing in my belly. This worried me, because for many of my training runs, if I felt such a sensation I would either a) throw up or b) stop running. I think the reason I felt that way was that I was following the advice of some advanced racers who told me not to take water stations for granted. I don’t think I needed water/Gatorade during that first 10K. For future races, I should probably take that into account. After making a right onto Columbus Boulevard, I was feeling a nice rhythm. Bear in mind, this was only mile 3 and I was still flying at a 6:24 pace. At around mile 4.5, I was on South St and I took my first GU. I was glad that taking GU was second-nature for me. I saw a lot of runners gag while taking it, reminding me never to try anything new on the day of the race (Ok ok, the advil and the tape were new, but those helped!). As I approached University City, I realized we would not be passing Penn, but instead Drexel. This turned out to be pretty damn fun. Drexel frat guys are pretty nice, and one even complimented me on my beard. Feels good man (.jpg). As I headed down 34th, I started to back off of the pedal, easing up to a 6:30ish pace. I especially backed down near the zoo, where the road takes a steep downhill. While most runners find downhills bliss, I find them tiresome because they force me to brake too hard. I lost some ground on the downhills, but I was able to recover it on the uphills leading into Fairmount Park. Once again, I was pretty used to this area, so I knew when the hills would end, thereby pacing myself properly. At this point we were about a third of the way done. My stomach problems were pretty much gone, but the tape was not having the same therapeutic effect as earlier. My right knee was starting to feel odd, but not in a bad way. It just felt, different. Regardless, I kept running at my 6:30 pace. Once we got out of the park, we hit the Schuylkill River Trail and started heading… the other direction? It was a weird turn-around. Bah, I hate those things. Anyway, I keep running and I’m making good time. After a while, I start to see the Art Museum, and the splits for the half-marathoners and marathoners begin. As I was passing by the Museum, I looked for friends, but didn’t see any. Oh well, I guess I’ll keep running. I clocked in at 1:24:56, which was a 6:29 pace. I was pretty happy, but there was this annoying guy who kept trying to get tired fans to cheer. What an attention-whore.
I was more concerned about this second half than any of the other races I’ve done. It’s not because it’s difficult (it’s pretty damn flat for the most part), but instead because of the lack of fans. And I was right. Sometimes I wouldn’t see a fan for a mile or so. It didn’t matter too much because I wasn’t feeling too much pain at that point. I was behind a girl and a guy who seemed to know EVERY SINGLE FAN on the friggin’ course. I would hear “Go Rachel”, “Alright girlfraan let’s go!”, or “See you at our annual potluck!!”. I wish I was invited to potlucks. Regardless, I was happy that the two were there in front of me to keep me motivated to run at 6:28-6:30 pace. After reaching Falls Bridge, we actually turned left onto it. I was like “wut”. To my horror, it was another turn-around. Did I mention how much I hated those things? After getting back onto the trail to Manayunk, I started to lose Rachel and the big dude. And then I realized that I was about to hit the wall. It kind of pissed me off. I made sure that everything I did during training would allow me to surpass the wall, but it was still here. At first I kind of accepted it, slowing down a bit. But as I started to think more and more about it, I started to mentally overcome the pain and kick it back to my original pace. I probably lost a good chunk of time there, but I was back at a decent pace right when we entered downtown Manayunk. Oddly enough, I still managed a time of 2:01:09 for the 20K (6:31 pace) even with the slight “hurdle”. (I also think that taking a GU every 30 minutes helped a bit). After wagging my finger at a group of guys trying to give me beer, I finally reached the end of the trail. Now I had to find my way back…? Great. But I think I was still in that tough-guy mindset. It wasn’t as hard for me on the way back. Sure I may have lost Rachel and the dude, but I was flying past people left and right. Where people usually “bonk” I was running as fast as I had in the beginning of the race (maybe a little slower but you get the idea). At that point, I knew I had 6.2 miles to go until the end of the race. A measly 10K. “You can do that in your sleep” I told myself. Remember that guy I was talking to while in line for the porto earlier that morning? Well, the guy was running into Manayunk while I was leaving it! He yelled out “San Francisco!” and I looked over and immediately recognized him. We both gave each other thumbs up and kept on moving. Man I hope that guy did well! It was also at this point I realized that I could not only qualify for Boston, but also break the 3 hour mark (2 of the most important goals of my life). This propelled me into high gear. I started counting down the mile markers both on my side and of the outbound marathoners. While I was watching their side, I noticed them giving me looks of approval and wide smiles. It then hit me that they thought I was an elite runner. I had read reviews online about marathoners in the large pack enjoying watching the faster runners run the opposite direction, while the pack was still headed to Manayunk. Was I one of them? Man I was feeling really good about myself. I was down to about 4.2 miles and took my last GU. That made 6 total. How many did you take Mr. Armstrong ? (13, the guy took 13 Gus). Counting the mile markers made me look at my watch more than I should have, but I was still maintaining an amazing pace. I felt a slight twinge in my right hamstring (similar to one I felt on the final mile of the SF marathon). This didn’t worry me too much so I kept my pace. With 1 mile left, I began my kick. I started passing the guys who had started to slow down (quite a few had stopped completely!). And in the final 200 meters or so, I was sprinting. I know most people say this is stupid and that I could have had a heart attack at the end, but screw it. I felt like finishing like a champion that day. Grunting and groaning, I passed 3 other competitors in the final 100 yards or so and finished with a roar. I check my watch and am ecstatic to see that I have run a 2:50:54 marathon, or a 6:31 pace for the entire race. Jesus Christ, did that really happen? I was still in a state of shock at that point, but two reporters felt that my finish “was the craziest thing they had seen all day” and had to interview me. After saying some random words that I can’t remember at the moment I head on down and receive my medal. And let me tell you, that felt amazing. I had finally qualified for Boston and beaten my previous PR by 15 minutes. After working so long and hard on this, I had finally reached my goal. It feels great and I’m probably going to feel like that for the rest of the day. Tomorrow on the other hand might be a different story.
From here, I look to sign up and run the 2014 Boston marathon my senior year. I’ll have incorporate hills back into my workouts, but the fact that I’m running in Boston is good enough for me. I’ve also been thinking about trying an ultra marathon or a triathlon. In both cases, I’ll need to improve my stamina, so I’m pretty sure I have a lot more training to go.
Special Shoutout to all my friends who came and supported me!