This past weekend, I once again escaped New York City for a race. However, this one did not follow the normal swim-bike-run format: on Sunday, I ran the Philadelphia Half-Marathon, a.k.a. a 13.1 miles through the city sans swimming and biking.
This was my second time doing Philly, and like last year, it was supposed to be a low-key race weekend with family and friends. Unfortunately, my immediate family was sick, so they were unable to make it. And my entire friend group was simply on a different timetable: some of us were doing the marathon; some of us weren’t leaving NYC until Saturday afternoon; etc. This combination translated to pre- and post-race experiences that were much different from what I anticipated, but it turned out to be totally fun.
A few Tailwind Endurance training buds and I discovered we were taking the same Friday night train, so we traveled south together, went to the expo, and grabbed dinner. The next morning, we met up for a shake-out run, and we linked up race morning too. (And we reconvened after to go to Geno’s for Philly cheesesteaks.) I have to give credit to my diverse triathlon arsenal on this one because I would’ve been flying solo otherwise—and since this was not a goal race, I wanted to socialize a bit more.
So more about that “not goal race” part. The Philly Half has become a late-season staple in my schedule because it keeps me running during the off-season. This year, Coach Pat and I were able to be more aggressive with my run training, and after my last tri in August, we slowly increased my weekly volume to about 30 miles per week. That’s the most I’ve run ever! My “engine” (cardio base) from triathlon season carried over quite seamlessly too, so even though this was not a goal race—it was a “C” priority, but we did taper a bit—we planned to be more aggressive and execute the most perfect race possible.
Thinking about the most perfect running race intimidated me—just ask Jen or any of my work friends. After reading over the plan and calculating the splits, I realized if the stars aligned—if I felt great, ran smart, and stayed mentally sound—we were looking at a 1:43 half. Wait, is this me we’re talking about? Mind games ensued, but as soon as I hopped on the train, my outlook changed. Coach Pat has not steered me wrong. Earl has told me time and time again, “having confidence is a choice. You need to choose to be confident.” And as I reflected on my roller coaster of a triathlon season—leaving my former team, assembling my triathlon arsenal, sustaining a bike crash—I realized I was strong enough to overcome anything on that course.
And on race day, I simply had so much fun I ran an extra half-mile—ha!
The race plan: we would start easy (miles 1-2) and build to tempo effort (miles 2-6); relax on the first hill (mile 7); build the effort again (miles 8-9); relax on the second hill (mile 10); and then hang on and finish strong (miles 11-13.1). According to my Garmin, I ran 13.1 miles somewhere in the 1:44-1:45 ballpark and logged a total of 13.67. Unfortunately, this data did not translate to official race results. (Chip time was 1:49:40.) However, after reviewing the outing with both Coach Pat and Earl, we are viewing this (1:44-1:45 Garmin time) as PR.
Honestly, the race was a blur, but here are a few bits and pieces I remember:
Miles 1-2 – relax, settle in, and keep the pace easy
Target – 8:15; actual – 7:39, 8:01
Well, whoops. ‘Slow down, Red—this is not a 10-K off the bike.’ I didn’t feel amazing during these first two miles, but I felt strong. It usually takes me four or five miles to settle in and feel decent so I wasn’t worried.
Miles 3-6 – take advantage of the flat course and build the effort
Target – bring the pace to 7:40; actual – 7:56, 8:03, 8:13, 7:52
Within this chunk, I realized my watch was off. At first, it was only a 0.1-mile deviation, but it ballooned to 0.5. I felt like I was doing everything right: I was in control of the pace, I took a gel at the 45-minute mark as planned (hence the slower split at mile five), etc. My paces matched my effort level, but I couldn’t figure out where the extra mileage was coming from. Looking back, I realize I was probably bobbing and weaving too much.
Mile 7 – relax at the hill and run with confidence
Target – 8:15-8:20; actual – 7:38
Due to the Garmin deviation, this was not at the actual hill. This happened on Chestnut Street where the crowd lined up Tour de France style. This is one of my favorite times during the race, and I even ran into one of my old work friends. You know you’re a runner when …
Mile 8 – increase the effort
Target – 7:50-8:00; actual – 8:30
This is when I actually ran up the hill. The wind at this part of the exposed course prompted me to really back off the effort; I didn’t want to burn too many matches here. My hat also blew off, so I actually backtracked a few steps to retrieve it.
Mile 9 – relax at the hill and run with confidence
Target – 8:15-8:20; actual – 6:42
Yep, totally not at the hill. There was a big downhill here, and my legs simply took over. Muscle memory kicked in, and it was a really cool moment. It just happened, and I just ran.
Miles 10-13.1 – hold strong
Target – 7:30; actual – 8:51, 8:10, 8:13, 8:23, 5:36 for the last little bit
During this span, I actually hit that second hill and again eased off the gas. It wasn’t until after the hill where I let myself attempt to calculate my finishing time. (I do words, not math.) According to my Garmin, a 1:45 was totally within reach. ‘I’m doing it! I’m a runner!’ But my watch was off. Sure, the distance, time, and pace it recorded were accurate, but those values did not match up to what the course actually measured. When my watch went off for mile 13, and I saw 1:44:17, I was feeling all the feelings. An unofficial 13.1-mile PR somewhere between 1:44 and 1:45 was huge. Absolutely huge. But I couldn’t even see the finish line. It took me several seconds to realize that although I just logged a major PR on my watch, I may not even break 1:50 according to the race clock. That was an incredibly bizarre realization.
My mental game had been locked in the entire run, and only after hitting 13 miles on my watch did it begin to wander. I was incredibly frustrated, and I realized this would be the biggest mental test I’d face: I could check out and ease off the gas; or I could hang tough and stay in it. Granted, my legs didn’t have a finishing “pop” in them so I mostly cruised to the finish line. My first thought? ‘OK, so that happened. Now what?’
It took some time to fully process everything and come to terms with the official race results. I learned I can run strong for 13-plus miles. I can stay positive and mentally engaged for 13-plus miles. I can execute even when things go awry. And if I can run a 1:44-1:45 half, then I can definitely run faster than my current 45:xx 10-K PR off the bike. All good things!
And with this 13.67-mile run through Philadelphia, my 2015 racing season is officially over. I will be slothing around for a few more days (#SlothWeek), and official base building for 2016 begins next week. Bring it on!
But first, bring me a piece of apple pie …