I got my redemption in Philly. Even though it wasn't exactly the race I had originally hoped it would be, it was still an amazing day, and an amazing weekend, and one I'll remember for a long time.
And I have to say - shout out to the city of Philadelphia, which puts on a great race! Extremely well-organized, beautiful course, great volunteers, and great crowd support. I don't know if I'll run it again, just because there are so many other races I want to do, but I'd absolutely recommend it to anyone looking to run a big-city marathon.
I'd kind of like my next marathon to be a smaller one, though. I've now done Boston twice, followed by Philly, and although there are some things I like about the bigger races, I think I'm happiest with a slightly smaller crowd (along the lines of Hartford).
I was ready for the big race experience this time around, though, and was so happy to finally get on the train Friday morning. My train ride was uneventful (and blissfully quiet), and I was able to check into the hotel as soon as I got there, which was great.
I waited a little while for Erica, my roommate for the weekend, and when she got there we headed over to the Expo to pick up our packets and say hi to the Another Mother Runner team.
It was so great to see Sarah and Dimity again - I talk to them often via email, but haven't actually seen them in nearly 2 years, so it's been a while. And we met some other mother runners who I've only talked with virtually - always fun to finally meet people live and in person. And anytime I meet another mother runner, it's always like chatting with an old friend - which is a testament to the incredible community that SBS and Dimity have created.
Saturday was a very restful day, which was perfect. I did a short shakeout run in the morning, and it was fun to run down past the start/finish area. I took the time to go up the "Rocky Steps", too - very cool to look out over the race site from up there. The few miles I ran felt great, and I knew I was ready to get out there and really run the next day.
We stopped by the Expo again in the morning, just to say hi (and to deliver some cookies to all the women working the AMR booth for the day), scoped out the amazing Reading Terminal for what we were going to eat post-race on Sunday (didn't want to eat anything heavy the day before the race), and spent the afternoon with our feet up, watching movies and chatting and hydrating. It was perfect.
Our dinner Saturday night was super fun - delicious pasta at a great Italian restaurant, and lots of laughs with a great group of mother runners, including SBS and Dimity. I'm so glad we were all able to get together, and it was fun to meet even more women from the mother runner 'tribe.'
Dinner was done early, and I was asleep by 10pm. We had gotten all our gear ready earlier in the afternoon, so all that was left to do was hopefully get a good night's sleep, wake up on time, eat, and head out.
I woke up in a panic at 3:15am, thinking I had overslept, but I saw what time it was, breathed a sigh of relief, and went back to sleep. But I was up before my alarm, so went down to the lobby to get in line for Starbucks, which was opening at 5am.
I was the second person in line, and I'm glad I was, because a few minutes later, there were about 20 people behind me. I grabbed my bagel and coffee and brought them back upstairs and forced myself to eat the whole thing, even though I wasn't the least bit hungry.
Staying half a mile from the start was awesome. We walked over and got there right at 6am, as planned. We had to wait half an hour for the portapotties, which was kind of a drag, but thankfully it wasn't a really cold morning, so waiting around wasn't uncomfortable.
After that wait, it was time to head over to my corral and get lined up. I had worn a throwaway fleece jacket and fleece pants, which I left on the side of the road, and I had thought I'd want a long-sleeve shirt over my short sleeves and arm warmers for the first few miles, but it was feeling pretty comfortable, so I ditched the long sleeves before the start, too.
I teared up several times standing in the corral - I always do before a big race like that. It's so emotional finally being on that starting line. After all the waiting and waiting and waiting, those last 20 minutes or so seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, we were off.
The weather was absolute perfection. It was in the low 40s, and would likely stay there for the entire time that I was on the course. That is ideal running weather, and the outfit I had settled on was perfect for it. I knew I wouldn't be too cold or too warm, and I was so relieved that we were being treated to such great conditions.
My plan to start the race conservatively hit a little snag when I ran the first mile in 7:36. Oops.
Rookie mistake, and I knew I needed to fix it quickly. But I also knew one fast mile wasn't going to ruin my race, so as long as I reeled myself in to a slower pace, I'd be ok. And I did a great job for most of the rest of the first half, with my splits coming in at 8:29, 8:11, 8:14, 8:07, 8:50 (short walk at water stop), 8:18, and 8:00 through mile 8.
But I think my issues later in the race partly stem from the fact that I picked it up a little too early. I had planned to hold back until at least mile 12, but instead dropped down to sub-8s a bit earlier. Miles 9 through 13 came in at 7:36, 7:50, 7:53, 7:55, and 7:59. I felt great, and I thought that since I was just below an 8-minute pace (except for that 7:36 mile), it was ok that I was pushing it a little bit here. In retrospect, maybe it wasn't....
Passing near the finish line at the halfway point, which can potentially be a little tough mentally, didn't bother me at all. I was on top of the world at that point. I felt fabulous, I was loving my splits, it was a beautiful day, and I was having a great time.
I was soaking it all in, and loving the course and the spectators - with the exception of mile 6, which was a stretch of road with extremely uneven pavement, where I felt like I had to constantly keep my eyes on the road, for fear or twisting an ankle or tripping and falling. That stretch was also packed with spectators, and although the cheers and support were nice, it felt like the crowds were really encroaching on the road, and I felt very claustrophobic, and did a bit of dodging and weaving to get around slower runners.
The two most significant hills on the course (miles 8 and 10) didn't present too much of a challenge for me. They were big enough to be noticeable, but not enough to really slow me down, and I passed quite a few people as I made my way up. And it was nice knowing that there weren't really any other big hills on the course after that point - great to get them out of the way early.
Looking at the course map before the race, I was a little concerned about the very long out and back stretch from mile 14 to 25. There's something similar to that in Hartford, and I found it very mentally draining, and hoped this wouldn't be the same. And for a while, it wasn't.
It isn't the most exciting stretch of road, but it is pretty, as it's run all along the Schuylkill River. The crowds were a little thinner here, and I decided to listen to some music for a little while, and for several miles, I was really enjoying the quiet and my tunes and cruising along.
And at this point, as I had felt for most of the race, I found myself thinking that I 'only' had 12 miles left to go. I had even felt that way at mile 10 ('only' 16 miles to go!). The miles just seemed to be flying by, and I was so optimistic and so driven to just get it done, I was happy just to be out there and be able to run.
Miles 14 through 19 continued to feel great, both physically and mentally. I clicked them off in 7:41, 7:59, 7:51, 7:58, 7:42, and 7:52. Each time I crossed a timing mat, I knew my split was being sent out into cyberspace, to all the people who were tracking me, and I felt so happy that I was doing what I set out to do, and loved that they would know that.
The course has a somewhat strange little out and back section that crosses over a small bridge at around mile 17, and friends who had run the race before told me that little section really annoyed them, but it didn't bother me at all. I was still feeling great.
But part of the reason I was feeling great is that I mistakenly thought that once we crossed back over the bridge, we'd be turning around to head back toward the city. Not so much. I clearly should have studied the course map a little better.
It was discouraging to know that we still had to keep heading out on the endless out and back, but I did my best to not let it throw me off, and held it together for mile 19, which I ran in 7:52, and mile 20 - 7:49.
And shortly after mile 20, we finally, finally got to turn around for the back portion of the out and back. It should have energized me and pushed me to pick it up even more. That was my plan. I did it in Boston a few years ago, and I hoped I could do it again here.
But this, I think, is where everything caught up to me - starting to push the pace a few miles too early; the two and a half weeks I had to take off; the fact that I hadn't done any speed work for the second half of my training; the fact that I missed an 18-miler and a 20-miler; the fact that I wasn't able to run my last two 20-milers as dress rehearsals (i.e., no stopping to walk for water/Gu). It all came crashing down in the form of exhaustion and legs that felt like lead.
I ran mile 21 in 8:12, mostly because I took a pretty decent walk break at the water stop. That little break rejuvenated me enough that I was able to run 22 in 7:38, but that was pretty much all the pep I had left.
Miles 23 to 26 were a battle. I fought for every step. I felt myself clomping along, and tried as hard as I could to focus on my form and be more efficient - the things that usually help me at the end of a race - but it just wasn't happening.
At the halfway point, I had thought a PR was a possibility, but as I saw all those final mile splits coming in above the 8-minute mark, I knew it wasn't going to happen today. But I also knew that I wasn't going to quit completely. I wasn't going to limp into the finish. I was going to continue to push forward and run as fast as I possibly could, even though it wasn't anywhere near as fast as I had hoped to be running at that point.
I knew I could still finish with a time that I'd be proud of, and I wasn't anywhere near ready to let that go.
And given how rotten I felt, I'm actually kind of proud that I was even able to run the splits I did for those last three miles - 8:16, 8:32, and 8:15 (and a teeny tiny kick of 7:45 pace for the final .2).
It was nothing but stubbornness and determination that powered me through that final stretch, and I'm glad I have those two qualities in spades, because it meant I was able to finish in a very respectable 3:32:59.
I didn't get my PR, but I did assure myself a spot for Boston 2016 (with 12 minutes to spare), and I did finish with pride, because I gave it my all.
You always second-guess yourself after a big effort like this - could I have pushed harder? Did I give in to the fatigue too easily? But I keep going over it again and again, and I have no doubt that I ran for all I was worth, and I left nothing in the tank. When I crossed that finish line, I was done.
On that day, I ran the absolute best race I had in me, and that is all I can ever ask of myself.
As usual, I spent the entire walk through the finisher's chute crying on and off. The emotion of standing on the starting line is nothing compared to the emotion of finishing. And you might think that when you've already done this 5 times before, that effect is lessened - but you'd be wrong.
There are no words to describe the mix of elation and exhaustion and pride - it completely envelops you, and it's one of the greatest things I've ever experienced (which is part of the reason I keep going back for more!)
We were fortunate enough to get late checkout at the hotel, so I was able to hobble back and shower and change, and walked over to Reading Terminal to meet up with Erica and another friend and grab myself some food for the train ride home.
I also ran into Sarah and another mother runner at the train station, which was a great way to end the weekend.
I have to admit that there is a small part of me that is disappointed with the outcome of my race, only in the sense that everything else about the day was so perfectly aligned to make it a PR kind of day - the weather, the course, and my fueling and hydration, which were spot on. It's a shame that my legs didn't quite cooperate.
But what I take away from this race and this training cycle is that I am absolutely 100% certain that if I remain healthy and complete my next marathon training cycle in its entirety, with no injuries and no time off, I will get that sub-3:30. Through the first 8 weeks of training, I was right there - hitting and usually exceeding my target paces.
And even with that interruption in my training, and having to scale back for the second half of the plan, I was still able to go out and run a 3:32 - which was, realistically, pretty much what I figured I'd do, even though I was still secretly hoping for a PR.
That outcome under those less-than-ideal circumstances gives me so much confidence in my abilities that even as I'm still walking around with sore legs and tired feet, I'm already thinking about how I'm going to get out there and attack the next one.
I will never get tired of doing this. The emotional roller coaster, the constant fear of injury, the early morning wakeups, the grueling workouts at the track, the hours and hours spent on the roads in all kinds of weather, both good and downright awful - it's all completely and totally worth it, and I will keep doing it for as long as my body cooperates - which will hopefully be a very long time.
And the other thing I take away from this race is that it was just a really, really fun weekend. I spent time with some great old friends, and made a whole bunch of new friends, had a lot of good laughs, ate some fabulous food, and did a lot of relaxing. The whole experience - including the race - was good for the soul, and I'm so thankful that I was able to do it.
The final numbers from Philly 2014 -
3:32:59, 8:07 pace (26.56 mi, 8:01 pace by my Garmin)
25 of 620 in my age group
310 of 4,612 females
1,751 of 10, 333 overall
Great numbers, great race and great weekend.