Race Report: Philly Marathon

This past Sunday, Caitlin did the half marathon and I did the full marathon. Caitlin ran with some of the Students Run Philly Style kids from her school in about 2.5 hrs. I finished in 3:25:02, 931st/5921 male finishers, 192/927 in my age bracket, 1098/10076 overall. That’s 25 minutes slower than my original goal early this year, and somewhere between 25 to maybe 45 minutes slower than I was running by Labor Day. Given how the preceding week and the fall in general has worked out though, we were both pretty happy.

We’ve both been sick with some sort of sinus thing the past 10 days or so. Up until about 12 hours before the race weren’t even real set on getting up in the morning to go, particularly after a brief jog to go pick up bibs on Saturday didn’t go so awesome. Both of us have also really fallen off the trolley on training. After her Ironman at the end of the summer, Caitlin decided she was ready to start hibernating early. The excessive number of hours I was working out by the end of the summer directly converted first into driving overnight each Friday and Sunday to ECCC MTB races, and then to some new work projects. From a high of 40–60mi running + 12–16hrs riding + weights & core each week, Sunday’s marathon alone was literally more running than I did in the 6 week span from late September to early November, and I haven’t been riding either. We were fully prepared for a disaster.

We were both super glad we went though, obviously especially since it actually went pretty well. It was a gorgeous day to run, perfect temperatures and clear skies. The marathon also makes Philly look super awesome, I really enjoy it. It’s filled with great stuff, like the opening stretch down the Parkway into the morning sun coming up over city hall and the skyscrapers, the people lined up shoulder to shoulder cheering all down Chestnut St, and the way the the sun lines up perfectly in your face again when you make the last turn for homestretch return down Kelly Drive. I think it really is one of the best ways to see Philly, it comes across in a great light, so I highly recommend it for that reason alone.

More technical notes:

In terms of general fitness it was actually not difficult. I pretty easily cleared the first half in ~90 minutes, but starting around mile 15 had real serious knee problems and was very close to dropping out. Unfortunately, that stretch from mile ~14 (Girard Ave) to ~18.5 (Grape St) I consider definitively the hardest part of the course. Physically the sequence from 23rd & Chestnut to 34th St to Memorial Hall is the hardest because it’s uphill throughout, but that stretch on the river has no real crowds. It gets real quiet from miles 15 to 17 especially, and if you’re running in the top third of the field, there aren’t even that many other runners around. There’s nothing exciting going on course-wise either, it’s just flat and no turns, so it’s a real long time to spend by yourself in pain.

I told myself though to just keep going to mile 18, where there’d be a timing mat and I could quit with an official time at the 30k. Somehow that meant something in my head. At 18mi my knee was still getting worse but I told myself I just had to get into Manayunk where there’d be no way I could quit with people cheering again, and then I’d be on the return and home free. I did though have to adopt some serious survival strategies, which in the end carried the day. I cut my average pace by about a minute and a half (not that I had much choice), and started walking ~3 minutes every 2 miles or so. I could not possibly have run any faster or for any longer periods, but combined those gave just enough relief to my knee to finish, walk home, and just generally not permanently destroy the joint.

Food wise I have definitely settled on a really really scientific regimen of water, Shot Bloks, Snickers bars, and Dr Pepper… It blows my mind how little food and liquid most people must be taking in during one of these events, given that only the more serious end of the field carries anything at all, and even then hardly anyone and generally just a couple gels. Four hours and more for the bulk of the people is a long time to be out there doing a serious workout and living off just the occasional water cup and gel.

I run longer stuff with a Nathan HPL #008 water vest which I strongly endorse, it’s amazingly stable for running and hardly noticeable even when well overstuffed. I use it even in supported events like this because I hate dealing with or slowing down for water cups, and much prefer to take in sips throughout rather than gulp down at water stations. Besides generally making sense to me, I also think having a higher caloric intake mostly eliminates concerns many other people have, like stressing out about a great breakfast or oversize carb dinner the night before. I pretty much just eat what I always eat, in part because by eating steadily in the event itself I figure I avoid an unsustainable deficit. That said, I do try to be conscious of not eating ridiculously more calories or sugar per hour than I can probably process (the soda adds up real fast on the latter).

Finally, another important piece of gear I’ve adopted alongside my beloved compression calf sleeves and water pack are double layer running socks. Historically when doing a lot of running I’ve fairly regularly gotten minor blisters that I could ignore while running but would be a small nuisance otherwise. This year I’ve used WrightSock double layers for longer runs, and that minor problem has been completely eliminated. Worth checking out.