I woke up at 4am on Sunday morning in a cozy king-sized hotel bed after getting over 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Somehow, I hadn't tossed and turned in anticipation of the morning's race. I turned over and heard all about the exciting events in college football that had kept Josh up until midnight and that, in his opinion, left Florida with a small chance of making the BCS National Championship game.
I got up and ate a banana, peanut butter, and a nature valley granola bar. We dressed and frantically packed up our things before checking out and hopping on a shuttle to the airport at 4:40. By 5:15 we were on a train into the city with many other runners. We had a bit of a walk from the train to the start but the pack of runners surrounding us made the cold darkness somewhat more exciting.
On the walk to the start, I told Josh my goals for this race:
A Goal: Sub 1:50:00
B Goal: PR (sub 1:55:00)
C Goal: Sub 2:00:00 (but really, I would have been disappointed to not PR)
I also told him my "race plan". I aimed to run the first five miles in 8:45-9, the next five in 8:15-8:45 and the final three as fast as I could. I'm not very good at making race plans but the focus of this one was to run smart and not wear myself out too early. During the RNR USA half marathon in March, I had set lofty goals (the same 1:50) and I started out way too fast. My legs got sore halfway through, from what I have since learned was probably a build-up of lactate in my muscles from overexertion, and I slowly thumped them along like lead for the last few miles. The smartest way to run a race, according to the many (smarter-than-me) running bloggers and runner's world articles I've read, is to negative split. To negative split is to run the second half faster than the first half, having saved the perfect amount of energy early on to push it to the max later. With all the adrenaline from crossing a starting line with thousands of other runners, I find this really hard to do. But I did it perfectly during the Run for the Parks 10k and I was hoping to do it again over the course of 13.1 miles in Philly.
We arrived with plenty of time to spare so I took several bathroom trips and did whatever I could not to freeze or waste a lot of energy. The start line was on Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the corrals backed up all the way to the Museum of Art's "Rocky Steps". The Philly skyline was an awesome site as the sun rose.
Finally, it was time to start! I stripped off my outer layer of clothes and handed my things over to Josh. I fiddled with my shoelaces, jumped in my corral and cued my garmin to search for satellite.
I was in the third corral with only about 6,000 (of 40,000 total) runners ahead of me. Still, it took about ten minutes for me to start running. It was a little unclear to me where the start line was but I started my watch and set off. A little while later, after a quick sip of water, I heard Josh yell my name.
Adrenaline was pumping and I set out at a quick pace. I told myself to slow down and it was easy given the hoards of runners in the street. I actually slowed down more than I wanted to because of all the people. It was frustrating to be forced to change pace so much because of the congestion but I knew that constantly speeding up to dodge people would waste a lot of energy. I did what I could to keep pace and managed alright.
The first few miles ran along some of the same streets Josh and I had walked the day before and I felt like I was really getting to know the city. In spite of my frustration over the congestion, the running felt like a piece of cake.
From miles 2 to 4, we ran south along the Deleware River and I spent the entire time playing numbers games in my head. I thought about when I should try and pick it up and whether I was holding back too much early on.
During mile 5, we turned to head west back through the city center. The crowd support along the next few miles was incredible and the miles flew by. I remember running over the 10k chip reader and thinking about the people who would get an update on my location. I knew I was doing well but wondered what my average pace was. Could I finish in less than 1:50?
At mile 7, we crossed the Shuylkill River and I knew we had some hills ahead. I had picked up the pace a bit and running felt somewhat harder than it had but I was feeling really zen. To be honest, I wasn't thinking about much other than putting one foot in front of the other. It felt right.
We ran through some residential streets with good crowd support. People kept yelling "GO CAROLINE!" since my full name was printed on my bib and I had an eye-opening moment when I realized how little those cheers pumped me up. I've never felt more attached to my name, Carrie. For a minute, I jammed out in my head to The Ting Tings That's Not My Name. It was fun.
Around mile 9, we began climbing the second of the two long hills. We weren't downtown anymore and were on a curvy road, packed with runners bouncing their little heads along, surrounded by beautiful fall foliage. The site made me really happy and I regretted that I couldn't snap a photo and share the beauty with everyone.
We hit the 10 mile mark on a steep downhill run back toward the river. I almost couldn't believe that there were only three miles left. It had been too easy. I picked up the pace, aiming to keep it right at 8:00 for the last three miles. I did alright at first but, at mile 11, my legs finally felt the stress of such a long run. They were still feeling strong but I had done the math and knew I couldn't beat 1:50. I kept up my pace but I didn't dig my deepest to pull out those three 8:00 miles. I regret that a little bit now.
Without knowing it, I passed Josh at mile 13 and pushed myself to the finish. I stopped my watch and it read 1:51:54 which I later found out was 30 seconds off. I stopped to walk and my quad muscles tightened up quickly. Though I had felt a little too comfortable running the entire race, that was my sign that I had, in fact, worked hard and pushed myself.
I stocked up in the food tent which, among other things, served cups of hot chicken broth and wandered around for a long time looking for Josh. We found each other in the family meet up area as we'd agreed to. He congratulated me and showed me the e-mail updates he'd gotten. I had maintained an 8:39 pace for the first 6.2 miles and, at the end, I'd averaged 8:34 overall. It wasn't drastic but it was exactly the negative split I was aiming for.
We chilled in the grass and it was still well before 10AM. Now that I didn't have to worry about tiring my legs or eating food that might upset my stomach, we set out to explore and consume some greasy calories. I asked a police officer where the LOVE statue is and it turned out I had run right by Love Park, where it is, without knowing it. I took a jumping picture but didn't get one with my love because we were annoyed by the locals trying to take your photo for tips and didn't want to pay someone to take it.
A few blocks further, we stumbled upon the plaza with all the game pieces which was also on my list to see. They weren't as cool as I'd imagined but we had fun with them anyway.
Exploring was fun but my #1 post-run need is chocolate milk so we let yelp lead us to La Colombe for hot chocolate. Their hot chocolate is unsweetened and it was delicious.
From there, we went to the reading terminal market. We took the only non-iPhone photo of us from the weekend under the sign for Bassett's ice cream. Soon, we'll both be Bassetts.
Before leaving, we ordered cheesesteaks and then bid Philly adieu. After another long commute, we ate our juicy sandwiches in the car before heading home.
Looking back, I feel good and a little confused about this race. It was a great course and, if I end up liking marathons, I would return for the full. The weather was perfect and the Philly crowds, known for their hostility on the baseball and football fields, were lovely and supportive. It was well organized and my only complaint was the congestion on the course.
But the way I felt before and during the race was so surreal to me. I wasn't nervous and then I didn't feel like I was working too hard through the miles. My sore legs and potentially injured foot tell a very different story, though. I feel crazy writing this but I think I might have actually been on a 13.1 mile runner's high on Sunday morning. Not the kind of high that left me completely elated. But the kind that put me in a zen state, unaware of whatever pain my body was feeling. And, when I finished, I got a little choked up. Races and other athletic accomplishments do that to me.
Runner's high or not, my legs and my brain worked together like champions to negative split and set a PR on Sunday in Philadelphia. I am happy and I'm already dreaming about the next time I can run a race.*
*My right foot has been in a lot of pain for the past 24 hours and my hypochondriac self is worried I have a stress fracture. Please cross your fingers that I'm wrong!
All photos by Josh Bassett Photography.