Yes, I used to blog. Pretty regularly, actually. First it was about the kids, then it became about the kids and running, and then - largely because the kids started getting bigger, and I felt it wasn't right for me to be blabbing online about their personal lives - it became just about running.
But even running posts have been few and far between the past couple of years, and I can't pinpoint any specific reason for it, except to say that the craziness of life with three young boys just doesn't leave much time for pontificating about my running. And I don't have a huge audience anyway, so I know nobody has been clamoring for my posts.
But I did always enjoy writing up race reports, and have found it enormously helpful to be able to go back and read them later on, so I am finally inspired to sit down and write about what really feels like a turning point in this very long year of not-so-great stuff.
My original plan for Philly was to run the full marathon. It was going to be my redemption, after not being able to run Boston this year. But when it became apparent that my body wasn't cooperating as I hoped it would after my pre-Boston injury, and pain was still lingering into the summer months, I knew that trying to rush into marathon training was just going to set me up for failure, or even worse, more injury.
So redemption would have to wait. I made the decision this summer to scale back to the half, and changed my registration officially, so that I wouldn't even be tempted to try to train for the full. I was disappointed, but knew that it was the right choice, and decided that I would use this extra time to build up a fantastic base and concentrate on running a kick-ass half in November.
I had a few good races leading up to Philly - a 1:45 and age-group award (very unprepared and undertrained) at the Surftown Half in Westerly in mid-September, and then just a week later, a 1:42 and another age-group award at the Hogsback Half in Colebrook, CT (a very fun and scenic race, for a very good cause).
I felt optimistic that with a couple months of solid, consistent running, I could pull off a good race in Philly, and as the date got closer, I decided that going sub-1:40 was a reasonable goal.
Since the half was moved to Saturday this year (rather than starting with the full on Sunday), I was on the train with a friend (who was also running the half) at 9:15 Friday morning. Our train was delayed, but we still got in with plenty of time to check into the hotel, get our stuff at the expo, and have a nice dinner out with our other friends who had arrived shortly after us.
The weather Friday was crazy warm for this time of year, and it was predicted to get warm again Saturday, but with a 7:30am start, I wasn't worried about it ever feeling hot while we ran, and thankfully, I was correct.
It was chilly enough for a throwaway sweatshirt at the start, and arm warmers and gloves for the first 2 miles, but once I shed those layers, I was perfectly comfortable in a tank top and shorts. It was probably in the mid- to upper-50s, sunny, dry, and not at all windy. Great running weather, for sure, and I was so excited to get out and race.
I had done a 16-mile run the weekend before, so hadn't really done any kind of tapering for this race, but the 16 miles was at a very easy pace, and I really hadn't done any race-specific training, so wasn't worried about not tapering. I was just counting on the 6 weeks of solid base-building I had under my belt to carry me through.
We had arrived at the start with about 40 minutes to spare, which was just enough time for a few porta-potty stops, and then I made my way to my corral. I wasn't too far back from the starting line, so it didn't take us too long to cross the mat, and we were on our way.
Even though we were not starting with the full marathoners, I still found the first mile to be very crowded. I felt pretty trapped for most of it, and we were also running on downtown streets, and there were a lot of sewer caps that were either sticking above ground or sunk slightly below ground, and I was so nervous that I was going to trip over or step into one of them, I kept my eyes on the ground for most of that mile.
Apparently, I was trapped in a group that was running pretty fast, though, as my first mile beeped at 6:54. No matter how solid the base I had built, I knew I was not in shape to run sub-7:00 pace for 13 miles, so I made a conscious effort to back off. And the field had opened up slightly, so I was able to jockey for some space and dropped back to 7:28 for mile 2.
That seemed much better, and I was feeling great, and we were headed back toward the starting area now, with a nice flat stretch of road, and I just felt like my stride was so smooth and steady, I didn't pay too much attention to my watch, and focused more on the effort.
Mile 3 clicked over at 7:17, which I thought may have been a wee bit fast, but mile 4 was back to 7:26. I was still a little surprised that these splits were feeling so easy, but then the hill between miles 5 and 6 appeared to keep me honest.
I remembered this hill very well from running the half 4 years ago, and the full 2 years ago. It's a pretty big one, but from what I remembered, once you got past that hill, it was smooth, flat sailing. So I chugged my way up, and finished mile 5 in 7:43 and mile 6 in 7:46.
I was mad about the slower pace, but thought that I'd be able to pick it up again, now that the hill was behind me.
I was wrong, and this is where I will remind you to always, always check the course elevation map, because sometimes they change the course. And apparently they changed this course quite a bit, because somewhere after mile 7 was another huge hill. And yet another one in mile 8. And then another one at the beginning of mile 10.
I am generally a pretty good hill runner, but I had not really prepared myself to run a hilly half marathon, and these were very steep, sizeable hills, and really caught me off guard. I still managed to pass some people through this hilly section, but it definitely slowed me down. Miles 7 through 10 - 7:27, 8:03, 7:23, 7:43.
I did my best to take advantage of the downhills when I got them, but the steep inclines took the wind out of my sails a bit.
As we came down what would turn out to be the last of the hills, with just about three miles to go, I kept thinking that if there weren't any more hills, I might still be able to pull this off.
And aside from two very, very slight inclines in the last few miles, it was a much flatter stretch, and I was able to get back into a good rhythm and ran mile 11 in 7:21, and mile 12 in 6:58. And once I had recovered from the hills, that pace in the low 7s was feeling good again.
Ran into the final stretch at a 7:10 pace, and crossed the finish in 1:40:33.
Am I disappointed that I was 34 seconds shy of my goal? Just the tiniest bit. But mostly incredibly proud that between September and November, I was able to shave 5 minutes off my half marathon time, with just regular, consistent running. Imagine what I can do when I actually train?
And a few other things put it all into perspective -
When I ran the half 4 years ago, I was in great shape and had been training hard, and ran a 1:39. So to be able to come within a minute of that, with virtually no actual training, on what is now a much hillier course, I think is pretty telling.
Also - 6th in my age group out of 544 makes me very happy, as this is a big race (10,515 total participants), and I'm thrilled to even be in the top ten in my age group.
And lastly - especially with a big race like this, it's extremely difficult to run the tangents, and my Garmin had me finishing at 13.52 miles, which equates to an average 7:26 pace (not the 7:40 pace that's my official 13.1 time). And if a 7:26 pace feels good for 13.1 miles, I'm in a good place!
So it was another great weekend in Philly, and I feel very happy and satisfied with my effort and the results. Although the new half course was far hillier, it was still beautiful and scenic, and I had a fun time both at the race and the rest of the weekend with my friends.
With that, I'm now more excited than ever to pick a spring marathon, put together a training plan, and get to work! I'm eyeing a couple of very small local races, mostly because I like the idea of being close to home and not having to travel.
As fun as it is to get away for the weekend, I am looking at my next marathon as a means to an end - I want a BQ, and hopefully a PR, so it's not about the fanfare and the festivities - it's about putting my head down and running my own race.
Still some more thinking to do, but hopefully I'll have a plan in place soon, and I know I'm more than ready to start training.
Philly by the numbers:
7:40 pace by official time, 7:26 pace (13.5 miles) on my Garmin
6 of 544 age group
182 of 6,261 females
682 of 10, 515 overall