Philadelphia Marathon (Part 2)

Hello! When we last spoke, I was leaving my hotel and waiting for a bus. The transportation situation was confusing from the start. The race website suggested runners use public transportation but provided no guidance as to how to do that. They suggested runners call SEPTA (the group that runs the transportation system in Philly). So, I called them the week of the race. The folks at SEPTA were as nice as could be but had no idea the marathon was on Sunday. They told me the bus I needed didn’t start running until 6. The race website instructed us to be at the start at 5:30, so I ruled out the bus. Then, we checked in and our hotel had these handy printouts with bus and subway directions and explained that the buses start running at 4:30 and come every 20 minutes.

Ok. So I am waiting for the bus. An annoyingly peppy couple and two blessedly quiet girls are waiting with me. After ten minutes, the couple gives up and calls a cab. After ten more minutes, myself and my two new girlfriends give up on the bus and follow suit. Maybe people had better luck with the subway, but I’d suggest calling a cab. They were everywhere, and it took us ten minutes and ten dollars (with tip!) to get about a half mile from the start.

Gosh that was boring. So, we got to race, and I said goodbye to the ladies. We passed through a perfunctory security checkpoint then started the long walk up to the art museum. I didn’t bring a bag to check so I can’t speak to that but I heard others grumbling that it was difficult to get to the bag check spot.

The bathroom situation is as bad as everyone says it is. They had at least five groupings of potties, but the lines were insane at each. Get in line immediately. I sort of wandered a bit and didn’t get in line until 6. I was in line until 6:50.

After the bathroom, I wrestled my way into my corral. It was mostly organized. I did not eat my banana because I’m a dummy. My stomach was growling before the race even started, so I had one Gu Chomp. They sang the national anthem and released the elites. They staggered each wave start about 5 minutes, and I was in the last corral, so I began moving at 7:20. I took off all my throwaway clothes save a long sleeved shirt and gloves. It was cold (about 45) but comfortable in the sun.

I crossed the start mat at 7:27 and officially began my first marathon! There are twice as many half marathoners as marathoners, so the first half of the race is fuller than the second half. I was worried about this, but it was totally fine. I rarely had to weave through traffic and was almost never elbow to elbow with my fellow runners.

The first few miles flew by. Chris and I decided he would wait at mile 15/24 (it’s an out and back), but we ran past the hotel we stayed at, so I got to see him earlier than I expected which was wonderful. I ran up and gave him a kiss. We got some “aws” from the crowd. We’re so cute.

The spectators along the course were awesome. They were loud and crazy and had great signs. There were a couple stretches along the highway that were pretty boring to look at, but it was so early in the course I didn’t really mind.

My stomach started grumbling almost immediately and never stopped throughout the race. I should have eaten a bigger breakfast, and I knew craving a bagel at the 5k point was not a good sign. I was terrified of hitting the wall, and everyone had told me the biggest factor was fuel. Needless to say, I was really anxious about this situation. I started eating one Gu Chomp at a time every other mile after 3. I hadn’t planned to start until mile 6, but I needed something. Unfortunately, when you want a bagel, a fancy gummy bear ain’t gonna cut it.

In addition to the Chomps I drank a cup of Gatorade at each water stop to try and make sure I was fueled enough. All that liquid quickly resulted in the need for a bathroom break. The first few groups of potties I passed had long lines, so once I saw one with a manageable line, I hopped on. I probably should have waited until the half marathon split when there would be fewer runners and shorter lines, but I wanted to work out any kinks before I started the second half.

After my stop came the hills. Philly is billed as a flat course, and while I guess it’s all relative (my training routes have zero hills) I wouldn’t say that’s accurate. There’s two significant hills between miles 7 and 10 and a few smaller ones throughout. The hills in the first half weren’t so bad. I felt it in my quads, but it was manageable. I didn’t have to stop and walk, and the change was actually nice for my legs. The downhills were harder, and I did find myself wishing I had incorporated some hills in my training, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

The thing that surprised me the most about the marathon was just how mental it was. I’m a horrible natural pacer. It’s something I’ve been working on a lot, but I usually have no idea how fast I’m going, and I’m basically the opposite of “metronomic.” Chris is perfect at this, so the last few half marathons, I haven’t had to pay much attention. He naturally falls into a steady pace, and I just follow. Alone in the marathon, I was tied to my watch. I wanted to run the first half in 11:30s to avoid burnout in the second half, but with walking through the water stops and my bathroom break, I was about a minute and a half off what my pace bracelet said I should be for 5 hours. This began the mental battle. I couldn’t decide if I should pick up the pace and get back on track or stay slow and steady until I hit the halfway point. Ultimately, I sort of just gave up on pacing. I ran how I felt but tried to rein it in when I knew I was over exerting. Still, I never really hit my stride with all that mental math in my head.

The last bit of the first half was great. We ran down South Street which was packed with spectators and just a total party. Then we picked up part of the route from the Philly half I did last year. Recognizing the course was a nice boost. When we started seeing signs indicating the split between marathoners and half marathoners, it hit me. I was running a marathon! That was a cool feeling. I actually said out loud to no one, “I’m running a marathon!”

I did a little check-in at the half and realized that while it may have been a bit of a mental struggle, physically I was feeling great. I felt totally prepared, and the miles really flew by. Even mentally, while it was a lot of (over) analyzing, I was really happy. It was a beautiful day. I was surrounded by enthusiastic people, and I was doing what I loved. I really couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Luckily, even though things got physically tougher in the second half, mentally, I only got happier. I think knowing that I was through half the race allowed me to relax and just run. It really was a perfect day, but I’ll get to that tomorrow 🙂

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