Monday, November 23, 2009

Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

I woke with a start and peered at the clock. 5:15am. I swung my legs out of the hotel bed and quietly got dressed. It took me a while to figure out a way to pin on my number and stow my Clif Shots (like GU but made with brown rice syrup) in the new fanny pack that I bought at the expo the night before. I got it all sorted out, kissed Erin and made my way down to Broad Street, where I joined an unusually silent procession of runners who were heading towards the Marathon starting line at the other end of Ben Franklin Parkway. Philly has a lot of hotels and they were all seemingly disgorging their lycra clad guests at the same time. The distance to the starting line from the Doubletree on Broad Street is a mile and a half, and there is no way to get there by public transportation. Along the way I ate some sort of energy bar and worried about the lines for the port-o-johns.

6:15am I was waiting on one of those lines. At 6:30pm I was waiting again. Nerves, I guess. I found the 3:50 pace group which was inexplicably lined up in the gray corral, rather then the green corral. Slight panic. Made the first of several mental adjustments. (Incidentally, the weather was perfect. 42 degrees at the start and it didn’t get above 55 for the duration of the race) 7:00, we’re off! Or not. This year the race started in waves so it was closer to 7:20 when we crossed the starting line and I hit the button on my Garmin. I had pockets full of Cliff Shots, and a bracelet on my right wrist that had the splits for every mile printed on it for a 3:50 finish (courtesy of Cliff). This would prove valuable once I lost the pace group.

The first 5 miles were along narrow Philadelphia streets that had been designed and built  back in the days when Ben Franklin was still a dandy around town. Unfortunately, the staggered starts didn’t do much to reduce the crowds. I felt more like I was running with the bulls in Pamplona than with runners in Philadelphia. (I must pause here to take note of the fact that there were many, many runners who completely overestimated their abilities, started in the first corral, and became lumbering obstacles to everyone behind them by the time they hit the wall at mile three.) Around mile 5 I slowed down at a water stop and saw an open port-o-san. I let the pace group go, peed, then ran a 7:38 mile to catch up with the pace group. Stupid, I know, and I paid for it later.

At Mile 6 I spied Erin and the boys at the corner of Chestnut and Broad. I gave Erin a kiss, tossed her my hat and gloves and continued up Chestnut towards West Philly. I was feeling good and the crowds just before the bridge were very energetic. The race then entered University City and climbed a long gradual uphill towards Drexel University. I passed by some Drexel frat houses at mile 7 or 8 and noted that the kids had probably been up since the night before, and in any event, were clearly wasted. A particularly cheerful bunch were blasting music and offering swigs of beer from a gallon milk jug. I declined.

Another hill greeted us as we passed the zoo and entered Fairmont Park. My legs were starting to protest when we came out of the park and headed back to the Parkway at the 13.1 mile marker. The ½ marathon peeled off at this point and the marathoners headed up Kelly Drive towards the town of Manayunk where the turn-around was. I let the 3:50 group peel away at mile 14 and they quickly pulled away. I couldn’t understand it, because I was hitting my splits pretty dead on yet they were running a pace that was much faster than 8:47. I later realized Clif promises that the pacers will get their group to the finish line 2 minutes faster than the advertised pace time, and they run negative splits for the first half of the race.

The lead racers started passing me coming from the opposite direction as I got to mile 16. They were cruising. I was not. I briefly rallied when I noticed that one of the lead runners  was a 60 year old man wearing a pink ballerina outfit, but it didn’t last. The route from mile 15-20 follows along the Schuylkill River and is fairly devoid of spectators. I put on my I-Pod at mile 18 and grimly soldiered on.

As I entered Manayunk I grabbed a small glass of beer that was offered by the local Hash-House Harriers club and downed it. It tasted pretty good considering it was warm Yeungling and I had had nothing to eat but Clif Shots and water for the previous three hours. I made the turn-around at the 20 mile mark and headed back down the river. I was dying. The last six miles totally sucked. My knees and ankles were killing me and my pace started creeping up to over a 9:00/mile. Every time it did I sped up which made it hurt even more.

At mile 22 I saw a runner power-vomiting on a tree off the side of the road. The EMT’s pulled up seconds later and carted him away. At that moment I would have given the rest of my energy gels to grab a few seconds of rest on the backboard his unconscious body was strapped to.

I passed through a gauntlet of cheering spectators and hit the finish line in 1:51.07. The guy next to me promptly passed out, fell over and was dragged out of the chute. I picked up my medal and a bottle of water, found Erin and the kids in the crowd and limped back to the hotel for a shower. It had been an unbelievable day and a great race. Thank you, Philadelphia, for reminding this old goat that he can still get up the mountain every once and a while.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I liked your post-race report for Philly, it reminded me of some of the things that I saw but forgot to write about.

    I couldn't agree more that for the first few miles, the people who overestimated their times just got in the way .. not sure about the waved start either, didn't seem like it worked too well..

    I didn't get to see the pink tutu ballerina guy this time though, i've seen him at many of the other races i've been at, but not on Sunday, he's really a great guy if you get a chance to talk to him..

    Seems like you had a great day overall in Philly too, despite some of the struggles, but thats what helps make us stronger runners...