9 Lifts / 26.2 Miles / 36 Hours: Part Three

Read Part One: The Lead Up

Read Part Two: Meet Day

Finally, the marathon. I’ve told this story so many times in real life, and every retelling makes me want to do it again even more. To recap:

The meet went well, but ran very long. We had to get from York to Philadelphia (a two hour drive, at least) as quickly as possible, and I had to eat AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE during that trip. I did okay – got down some bananas, Clif bars, and almond butter. My appetite was a bit suppressed from the adrenaline of competing and exhaustion. 

We got to the hotel (the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Old City, which I’d highly recommend) at 9pm, right before dinner service ended. We settled into the room and immediately got some easy to eat sandwiches and sides. I did okay eating here. At this point, I was ready for sleep, so nervously unpacked and laid out my race gear, took a shower, and passed out.

Pre-Race

My alarm went off at 4:45am, and I jolted out of bed. Attempted to eat my usual pre-run breakfast (scrambled eggs and white rice) but couldn’t choke any of it down. Looked at the weather: it was going to be a cold, rainy day. I knew this and was prepared. The Philly Marathon does a race day clothing donation operation, so basically you can come in extra layers and shed them as you take off on the run, and all that clothing gets donated to a good cause. Casey gave me some gloves and a sweatshirt just for this purpose (add that to my gratitude list for this guy). 

I got ready, snapped a quick pic of my bib for the gram, and headed out to the street. I needed to walk a few blocks to a shuttle pick-up location. I won’t lie, despite growing up in Philly, I’m awful at navigating, and totally walked several blocks in the wrong direction that morning. Call that mistake number one. Did manage to eat a Clif bar while I walked.

Made it to the shuttle pick up, where hundreds of other people were already waiting. It was around 5:45am at this point. We got dropped off at the race start around 6am. 

Because of competing the night before the race, I didn’t get to go to the Expo. The Philly Marathon has an option to get your bib mailed to you, which was great. The only downside is that I didn’t get a chance to see how things were organized at the start. I also had no idea just how big this race was. There were 30,000 runners on this course. That means 30,000 people gearing up to race from the same start, plus staff and any really diligent spectators. There were 26 portapotties. I was not prepared.

I stumbled around in the dark, getting progressively colder and wetter (see aforementioned cold rainy day), and eventually found my way to gear drop-off. Once I finished, I immediately found the line for the bathroom. I did NOT want to have to pee on the course. I was preparedAF for this race and wanted my time to reflect that. 

So now it’s 6:15am, and the race gun was set to go off at 7:00am. I felt good (and cold). 

Still in line, it’s now 6:30am. Then 6:40am. I’m getting nervous. I’m cold, my feet are kind of frozen. I get to chatting with some of the other women in line, who were so sweet and consoling and encouraging for my first race. 

It’s 6:50 and I’m still really far from the bathroom. I’m assigned the Grey Corral with the other predicted 3:55 – 4:00 finishers. That one was set to actually start the race at about 7:15am according to my new bathroom line friends, and they assured me I’d be fine.

It’s 7:00 and the gun goes off. Still in line.

It’s 7:15 and my corral leaves. Still in line.

I know they close the course at 7:30am. At 7:25 I get into the bathroom. I literally walk out, shed my extra clothes, lose my headphones (luckily I had a spare set), and start running.

That means literally no warm-up. I did a few hamstring things while in line, but didn’t have the time or space for my normal hip-focused warm-up. In addition, my feet were actually frozen numb. I didn’t feel them again until mile 4.

That was mistake two, the biggest mistake. BUT I WAS ON THE COURSE. I was literally one of the last people to take off, behind the 6:00 finishers, but I was there.

The Race

I spent the first several miles zig-zagging through walkers and slower runners, but still found myself smiling like a lunatic. It was just barely drizzling and despite being really cold now, I knew I’d feel better soon. I hit the marker for Mile 3 and my watch was telling my I’d already completed 4 miles, meaning all that extra ducking and dodging added a full MILE to my already long race. Cool. Cool.

The first 7ish miles of this race are through Center City. The crowds were out despite absolutely miserable weather, cheering all of the insane people on. At Mile 4, I passed the hotel where Casey was hopefully still asleep and I laughed. My feet were warmed up at this point and I was feeling good. That continued through the rest of the city portion.

I was kind of excited for this race because it’s pretty much flat. People were talking about the “hill” at Mile 9 (I think). When I got there, I actually laughed out loud. Philadelphia hills and Pittsburgh hills are just not the same. This course was flat and I loved it.

I was pretty much smooth sailing at this point as we looped through Fairmount Park. I was on pace for a sub-4:00 finish and wasn’t really hurting or pushing too hard. I kept passing the pacers for the slower times, eventually making my way past the 4:10 finishing group (remember I started with the 6:00+ finishers). My watch was totally off because of that first few miles which freaked me out a bit, so I spent a large amount of time doing math slowly in my head. 

The Philly Marathon ends with an out-and-back portion on Kelly Drive. When I’m in town, I actually love running here, so I was really looking forward to this part. Others had warned me about what it does to you mentally, but I felt prepared.

Starting out, I was fine. I continued through miles 14 and 15, excitedly smiling at the faster runners on their way back to the finish. At Mile 16, everything changed.

The Hard Part

First, I’m getting some left knee pain. I didn’t experience any pain of this type during the months I trained for this race, so I was caught off-guard. I noticed that my stride felt a little off but couldn’t figure out exactly why. On training runs, my pain (just foot pain) didn’t typically start until after the 18 mile mark, so this was a bad sign. 

Second, I realize that I’m in pain and I still have 10 miles to go. Turned my music up and kept pushing on. 

You probably noticed that my nutrition before the race was pretty subpar. I ended up relying heavily on Honeystinger gummies, which have always been my running go-to. I don’t do caloric drinks due to GI issues, opting for salted water instead. I did have a few moments of GI upset, but nothing dire. My normal long run routine is slowing to a walk to eat 2 gummies every other mile. During this race, I never slowed to walking (afraid I wouldn’t be able to start running again), and ate every mile, alternating between 1 and 2 gummies each time. This kept me moving and gave me some motivation as things got difficult (I actually love these things, it’s as close to candy as I ever get).

The turnaround came in Manayunk, just past mile 20. I knew this was the point where things typically start to suck, and they really did. I was in agony – my left knee was throbbing and in turn, my right hip flexor was completely locked up. My gait was wonky. Weirdly enough, the only thing that helps is moving faster, so I did. The entire way back along Kelly Drive I was telling myself to run faster, don’t stop, and DON’T CRY.

I just kept ticking off miles. At this point the race was all mental. I was doing counted breathing exercises and focusing on keeping my core and hip alignment as best I could through the pain. I tried to smile a bit for the people coming up on the other side who hadn’t seen the 20 mile marker yet. The course has few spectators along parts of Kelly Drive, so not a lot of energy during the most trying time of the race.

Around Mile 25, the crowds were out around Boathouse Row. The whole mood changed. I did a lot of visualization while training for this race, and THIS is what I was picturing. Less than a mile a to go, finish line practically in sight. The pain didn’t disappear but it didn’t matter anymore. I found a way to pick up my pace the entire way into the finish, and as I crossed got the notification from the marathon tracking app for my finishing time:

3:50:24. My reach goal.

I slowed down into the corral where finishers get a medal, food, supplies, and just kept pushing on to get out to where I knew Casey and my parents were waiting for me. After a quick phone call, I found them. I hugged them all and sobbed. Part of it was pain, part of it was the emotional release of being done. 

And part of it was pride – for whatever reason the marathon distance always seemed impossible for me. I thought I was too big, too bulky, too slow to get through that race. And I did. Nothing puts life in clearer perspective like preparing for and actually doing something you thought you couldn’t. 

I spent the next three days or so not being able to walk super well (but managing to get around the city anyway), sleeping and eating a ton. I’m proud of what I did in Philly and despite the pain, CANNOT WAIT to do this again and make fewer mistakes. Mark my words, that was the last time I skipped warming up before a run. 

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