I'm pretty sure the first words out of my mouth when I crossed the finish line to this race were "Thank $%^#ing god that's over!" But let's rewind and start from the beginning, shall we?
We arrived in Philly Saturday evening, grabbed my race bib and a shirt that was a size too big (note to self: get there earlier next year for a Women's small) (note to race organizers: really? you couldn't tally the numbers correctly?), dropped off three old pairs of running shoes to the charity taking donations at the expo and stopped to try and get a picture by the entrance signage to the expo. I then realized there were approximately 87 people trying to do the same thing simultaneously, so I just left. We got back to my sister's house where we were staying (thanks sis!) and I ate a gourmet dinner consisting of an everything bagel topped with butter and jelly. It actually worked out pretty well, I think I might consider this a new pre-race dinner tradition instead of pasta. I was in bed reading John Adams' biography at 8 PM and had the lights out by 9 PM. (Side note: so far his biography is actually very interesting, but I would recommend any book along these lines for putting you to sleep the night before a big event.) I had my "Relaxing Ocean Music" playing through my headphones as I tried to fall asleep. My husband thought this was hilarious. Usually it works pretty well, but I think next year I'm going to invest in earplugs. Nothing can drown out drunk people stumbling out of Standard Tap, unfortunately.
I awoke at 3:53, AM, two minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Yep, it was the butt crack-o-dawn, but I had to get up that early since the race organizers were telling us all to arrive by 5 AM (wahh) to go through security. I got up and at 'em, dressed, ate my peanut butter toast and drank some Gatorade, packed up our stuff and hopped in the car. We were at the security gates by 5:20 and had no issues with waiting in line since we'd only brought the clear race gear bag. The next two hours consisted of alternating waiting and not waiting in line for the porta potty. Typical pre-race stuff.
I have to give the organizers credit, they were super on top of their game during the race. Everything started right on time. By 7 AM, the elites were off. I discarded my cozy sweats and said goodbye to Scott (now known as most affectionately as "Mr. 0.0") and shivered my way to the start line. It was actually close to 50 degrees, so really warm for late November, but I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and calf sleeves which wasn't much to cover up with.
By 7:20 or so, my corral was at the starting line. I accidentally started my watch about 20 seconds before I actually crossed the start line—doh! There was a lot going on. I think I had actually crossed the finish line and was confused because everyone else was starting to run. Mostly, I was trying to find the Mayor so I could high five him, which I did! And then we were off!
The first few miles were good. I kept a pretty steady and good for me (9:15) pace. About mile 3, for some reason, I started doing exactly what I told myself I wasn't going to do and started thinking, "OH GOD I HAVE TEN MORE MILES WHY AM I DOING THIS." I tried to just focus on getting to my first water stop at mile 5. In the mean time I finagled my energy chews out of my pocket, out of my jerry-rigged plastic wrapper and gulped them down. I'm always afraid of choking on them while running, but I don't really care for gels so I just try to be careful. I just imagine myself in a medical tent not finishing a race because I choked on an energy chew. That would be dumb.
I was also trying to distract myself from my negative thoughts by remembering the best signs for later. My favorites were:
- You're running better than the government! (That made me laugh)
- Smile if you pooped your pants!
- Pain is temporary, your time on the internet is forever.
- Run faster, I just farted!
- Run, bitch! (With a picture of Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad)
Most of the crowds were along South Street and Chestnut Street, where there were a TON of people cheering. There were also some people handing out beers to runners, ha! The race course was also fairly crowded at this point too, and I was doing some weaving around people who were slower than me. And also watching out for the manhole covers. Always have to be vigilant about those if you want to keep your ankles intact. Apparently, this (mile 6) was actually my fastest mile, clocking in at 9:09.
And then...the hills started. Now, I knew that there were hills coming. I had read various accounts of the hills. They ranged from, "The hills really aren't that bad," to "I'm from a state that has no hills, so the hills on this course were horrible!" I really didn't do any hill training. I'm from a state with no hills (Delaware) and now live in a state with more hills (Pennsylvania) which I typically avoid running on when I can. Welp—that plan of basically denying of the existence of hills on the course came back and bit me in the ass big time. I hit mile 8 and had to stop and walk. At this point I was in west Philly near Drexel. After a short walk break, I picked it back up and ran. It seemed like there were hills everywhere. According to the elevation chart there was one hill between miles 7–8 and another monster hill between miles 9–10. It sure seemed like 7–10 was one huge, insurmountable mountain. But I was also tired and didn't train on hills, so it's possible I'm being overly dramatic. My plan had been to stop for water at miles 5 and 10. I ended up stopping for water at 5, 8, 10 AND 11. Most of those were excuses to walk up hills instead of running up them. There were more walk breaks in those miles than I care to remember. So if you're reading this and wondering if you should incorporate hill training: the answer is YES. When your brain is trying to tell you that you suck at running and you should just stop, and then you hit a hill and have to walk, it really doesn't help you in the positive thinking category.
Finally, around mile 10, we crested the last friggin' hill and went into a steep decline. I tried to use this to catch some speed without tumbling face-first down the hill and succeeded. At mile 11 I thought to myself, "You can totally do the rest of this with no more walking!" except I did take at least one more walk break thanks to my monkey brain telling me I should. At that point I knew the more I ran, the faster it would be over. I also knew it was unlikely that I would hit my goal time of 2:05 but I might be able to aim for 2:10 or under. So I dug in and tried to run fast (which, according to my watch, it only felt like I was doing).
At the start of mile 12 a ginormous blister that I didn't even know had formed on the end of my toe popped. You want to talk about the most disgusting and simultaneously motivating sensation ever? That would be it. I fully expected to look down and see a giant blood stain on my shoe, but everything looked normal, so I kept going. For the last half mile, there started to be people along the course again, so I took my headphones off. I knew that my name was printed on my bib, but the magic of hearing people shout, "Go Julie, you can do it!" at you in that last mile is pretty amazing. I'm sure I looked like I was totally full of wonderment that people knew my name. With about a quarter of a mile to the finish line I spotted Mr. 0.0 and ran over to him. He told me later that I looked completely crazed (I was really excited to be almost done!) and at that point I sprinted until I could see the finish line. I smiled for the photographers and tried not to look too huffy and puffy and high-fived the mayor (again) as I finally finished. And then said, "Thank $%^#ing god that's over!" My official time was 2:10:16. Definitely PR'd by ten minutes, which is awesome, but I'm almost certain I could have hit 2:05 if the course had been flat.
So class, what did I learn from this experience? Since this blog post is turning into War and Peace: Half Marathon Edition I will answer that question with a separate post tomorrow...