Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Philadelphia Marathon - 11/23/08

So long time no posting. Busy family + busy job + 70 mpw left blogging on the cutting room floor. I did keep training this fall though and ran the Philly Marathon this past weekend.

My biggest fear going into the marathon was what would happen after mile 20. I was very confident in my ability to roll through mile 20 on a great pace, but what would happen to me physically after that was anyone's guess. Coming out of September and a hard HM I've struggled with a hamstring strain and I knew that at some point the marathon would expose this. It was more a question of when than if.

I spent a lot of time picking the brains of some friends - including one with almost 75 marathons under his belt and they were hugely helpful. The plan, based on my condition and background, was to take it out easy through 8 or 10 (the end of the bigger hills on the Philly course), then pick it up. I had run 15+ @ MP in training, so a plan like that would put me in the position of being pretty fresh at mile 10, then more or less doing a run I've done before, and left with just a few miles to wrap things up.

Race-week in Philly broke in a January cold come early. Sunday morning was low 20s with a teens windchill. Possibly the only upside to this was that it let me obsess for the last few days over something I at least had some control over - what to wear! Ultimately I went with my original plan, race shorts, tank top, compression sleeves.

Race morning I was up around 4 and it was as cold as predicted. Thankfully the corral was pretty packed and not too cold.

It was cold enough though that the air horn froze and would work, so the race started with a countdown instead.

I intentionally started a little further back than I would have knowing that it would force me to start at a more relaxed pace. We crossed the line and wooosh, underway. I tried to limit my picking and moving up.

The crowds in the first mile or two were thicker than I was used to, and I missed the first mile marker if it was even out there. Mile 2 split came by 13:27, 6:43 pace, a little on the slow side but around what I was looking for on those miles. As we moved onto Delaware Ave, I picked the pace up a bit and went through the 5k with a split just over 20:30.

The next few miles lead to a confusing cycle of "easy on the gas" / "easy on the brake". I don't know if my internal spedo was off or if some of the miles were mis-makred but I saw splits like mile 6 (6:16) then 7 (6:49)? Huh? The run up Chestnut street is one of the best parts of this course and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I remember moving up in that 6th mile and hearing 2 spectator guys commenting on me and how relaxed I looked. I took that as a good sign. Miles 8 & 9 have a good uphill portion and I settled in a small group. I was trying to be conscious to keep my pace & my breathing well under control - I wanted to hit the 10 and the HM feeling fresh. I settled in for most of miles 8 & 9 with a Philly guy and we just chatted about the weather and the pace.

The amount of conversation that goes on during a marathon was a surprise to me. I'm used to a little more spitting and gasping for air.

Coming up in mile 9 & 10 the course heads up toward Memorial Hall and a confusing set of twists and turns. Every time I looked up I saw hordes of runners shooting off in some opposing direction. The 10 mile checkpoint was a biggie for me. I thought that a number of the previous splits had been off and I knew that if I wanted to hit my goal for the first half (1:25) I needed to get through 10 in around 65. I saw the 10 mile marker and my watch and knew I wasn't close enough. 10 miles in 65:41.

I was a little pissed. I had wanted to be relaxed in the first 10 but I also wanted to put myself in a position for a strong time and being off pace at that point was not something I was happy about - I had planned for high 6:20s and averaged mid 6:30s.

I told myself not to get too fired up and not to try to make it all up by the half.

So of course, I ditched my last layer and got all fired up and made it all up by the half.

Next 3 miles as we worked down onto West River Drive and toward the Art Museum - 6:13, 6:15, 6:17. I made it to the HM just under 1:25.

I knew that my wife Jen and some family were waiting just after the half. As we came past the Art Museum and headed out toward Kelly Drive my heart started to sink - I was sure I had missed them. But no - they were right on the turn for our last last legit hill and I took the boost from seeing them into a spurt past the group I was with and up to 2 West Point cadets who I ran with for a bit (and who insisted on calling me sir!).

When we came back down Lemon Hill and onto Kelly Drive I all of a sudden felt at home in my race. The first half, starting slow and mixed in with the HM runners was much more crowded than I was used to, but by mile 14 I was in much more familiar territory - small groups of people, fairly spread out.

Outside of seeing family and friends on the course, in retrospect miles 14-19 were my favorites of the race. The crowds really disappeared, the packs had thinned out and it was just me and my thoughts. I started putting down the miles I had planned on and was feeling really good. I was just moving from small pack to small pack, chatting with them briefly, then moving on again. (Splits - 6:15,6:22,6:23,6:18,6:14).

A good friend of mine, and the guy who had really gotten me into running 3 years ago - rode his bike down to the bottom of Lincoln Drive (right before Manayunk) and I was ecstatic to see him there. Pretty much as soon as I passed him though things took a turn for the worse. I had started to feel some cramping in my hamstring back maybe as far as mile 15. But my pace had been ok. Now it was starting to hurt.

Mile 19 was a downhill mile into the turnaround. I would have through that would be easy on the hamstring, but it just started getting tighter and tighter. I was looking for a place to stretch and just not really able to comprehend that there were still 6+ miles left. I made the turnaround and a guy I had just passed passed me back. As best I can recall he was the only person to pass me after the 10 mile mark, but that could be a hazy lie. ;)

Mile 20 I was going back uphill and out of Manayunk. I tried to relax a little in that mile and looking for people I knew coming down the hill. I tried to keep the turnover going and mentally relax everything I could to take the stress of my hamstring. I made it up the hill and back to my friend. He remarked later that I looked a lot better on the way in (when we talked) than on the way out (where I just slapped his hand).

Somehow in mile 22 I came back around (6:18). I remember passing people and seeing a bit of a crowd at the Falls Bridge. I knew deep down at this point that I would make it, and probably in a decent time.

To be honest, I don't really remember much of 23-25. I would just focus on the person in front of me, reel them in a step at a time, then on to the next. Based on the crowd I knew I was moving up through the top 5 women (who has a good race going on) and I started keeping away to pass to not interfere in any of that.

I remember being careful going through the water stops, since they were icing up and putting down rock salt. I stopped drinking Gatorade after getting a slushy mix that dropped my core temp in a hurry.

As the crowds started to get thicker into mile 26 the cramps started to get worse, but at that point it was just a matter of trying to keep my leg tracking straight and moving forward.

At mile 26 or so I somewhat saw (or really heard) my wife, family, but I can't say I was really able to focus on them.

Then, as slowly in real life as it is now quick in memory, it was up a short hill and woosh, into the chute and I heard the kick cheer squad erupt in the stands, then I was done and my left leg was swinging at a crazy angle and I was grabbing at trash cans and people who looked more stable than me and trying to stay on my feet.

Official time - 2:49:11. 80th overall.

First 10: 1:05:41 6:34 pace
Second 10: 1:03:06 6:18 pace
Last 10k: 40:24 6:31 pace

I was lucky that my family was there when I came out of the chute - if for nothing else than to help me get some clothes on! Within minutes of finishing I was shaking like a leaf.

Perhaps my biggest regret at this point was that no one had a camera ready to capture my mom's expression when I started pulling various pieces of clothing out of my race shorts that I had stuffed down there in a desperate attempt to keep my crotch warm!

It was a great run and I was really ecstatic to hit my goal.

Here's some pictures that my wife took on race day:

Me at mile 26:

Going past:

Trying to warm up:

And that's the Philly Marathon for ya:

Numbers for those of you who care about that sort of thing:
1: 6:43.5
2: 6:43.5 (based on 13:27)
3: 6:20
4: 6:34
5: 6:21
6: 6:16
7: 6:49
8: 6:44
9: 6:26
10: 6:39
11: 6:13
12: 6:17
13: 6:15
14: 6:15
15: 6:22
16: 6:23
17: 6:18
18: 6:14
19: 6:27
20: 6:22
21: 6:29
22: 6:18
23: 6:27
24: 6:36
25: 6:31
26: 6:27
.2: ?

Some takeways:

- The weather was tough. I've never raced in weather that cold before and I can't say I'm anxious to do it again. On the plus side, you feet don't sweat much when they are frozen.
- I upgraded from my normal racing flats to a (slightly) heavier show (Asics Speedstar). I think I would have been fine with new T5s.
- I don't think I was really close to running out of gas at any point, but I was pretty close to running out of time on how much more pulling my hamstring could do. I think it might have been ugly if I had gone out hard.
- As everyone says, but you don't don't really know what they mean until you do it, the marathon really is a very different beast than the shorter races.
- The slow start / faster finish probably saved my leg enough for the end. It might not be an optimal plan for time, but it is fun passing people for the last 16! :)

The next few weeks will be an off season for me, so again with the no blogging! Hopefully in the spring the time will be there for some more.


Quinto Sol said...

You raced it very well for your first "true" marathon. Time to raise the bar :-)

Congrats on meeting your goal and on a rather excellent time.

Mindi said...

Fantastic debut! You were smart to hold off a bit, even if you feel a bit disappointed. That just means you probably have 10 minutes to chop off next time. It is funny how in marathons you so look forward to seeing your family/friends. I always notice them before they notice me! :)

Recover well and enjoy recalling a very impressive race!

And Happy Thanksgiving.

seebo said...

Great job, Tom! Good to see you finish off the year this way.

Mark said...

Nice race, thought you had more marathons in you, the cold can have quite an affect on the muscles, don't forget that for your next one. Congrats.

Nettie said...

Great report, great photos! *notworthy*

solarpowered said...

WooHoo!!! I'm still in awe and so proud of your marathon debut! Congratulations!

Maria said...


Figuring out an optimal time of year to run a marathon is tough... but if I had to choose, it'd be cold over warm.

Runnin-from-the-Law said...

Fabulous! And you don't feel like you ever ran out of gas? Just amazing - Congrats!

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