Keep Calm and Carry On

This morning I ran the Philadelphia Marathon 2011. I ran it in 3:07:47, making this my second-fastest marathon time. I missed my 2009 PR time (also in Philly) by only 15 seconds! Still, quite an accomplishment given that I ran the NYC Marathon two weeks ago in 3:13:49.

Unofficial Garmin Results

I wasn’t really sure what would happen in this race. Last year I also did NYC-then-Philly. While at the time I made a PR for NYC (but about a minute), I actually ran the easier Philly race slower than NYC (by about a couple minutes). Then, my training had diminished because I was working long hours and when I got off work, I chose to spend time with my girlfriend over training. Also, between the two races, only did one (slow) training run of about 8 miles. This year, having no girlfriend, the conflict of interest was eliminated, making for more regular training despite a hectic work schedule. I also managed 4 training runs between the two races, including on 12.27-miler. The overall result was that I was fitter this year than last year, but I still wasn’t sure if I would run Philly as fast as NYC, or faster, or what.

My original goal for Philly was to run a sub-3:00 marathon. I knew that was not likely in the cards, so I rewrote in my head my goal to be sub-3:07:32, meaning my goal was to beat my best Philly time and run my faster marathon ever. A secondary goal was to at least do a sub-3:10 (which would coincidentally qualify me for the Boston Marathon 2013), and a tertiary goal was to run at least better than my recent NYC Marathon time of 3:13:49. I wasn’t sure what was in the cards.

For this race, I strategized to hold back a little in the beginning. The day before, I printed out my Garmin results for the two marathons last year and the one I ran a couple weeks ago. I folded the results so that the splits were all lined up. Then I studied them. I was looking for trends. At what mile do I tend to slow down? At what point in the races do I lose steam? Etc. I tried to remember these trends so that I could make running calculations when I was out today. They definitely helped. I started to slowly realize that I was able to maintain a competitive pace, but I also knew I needed to push as much as I could at the end.

You may have seen the posters that read simply “Keep Calm and Carry On.” For some reason, that motto came into my head early in the race, and I used it to help steady my breathing and keep me from “race panic” in hillier areas that taxed my breathing. The other motto was more like a command, one that I heard someone say rather forcefully early on in the race: “Let’s go!” I decided to tell myself that to see if it could excite me as it did early in the race. (It seemed to help a little bit, but it didn’t seem to endure. It seemed to take a few seconds for my body to respond to the command.)

In studying my race results today and comparing them with my NYC results, I noticed some interesting effects of the different courses on my body. For one, NYC’s bridges do a number on my body. Essentially, they are draining, zapping my energy and sending me eventually into high-7:00s and 8:00s. At the same points in today’s race, which didn’t have really anything like the bridges of NYC, at least late in the race, I was maintaining a fairly even pace, and that pace was able to endure. In Philly today, none of my splits were greater than 7:40, which is just incredible to me. It’s the bridges and late hills of NYC that send me into the 8:00s.

My body held up today. I was at the start line a bit concerned, having just had a bathroom concern develop (the kind that could lead to in-race embarrassment), and having noticed that bouncing would probably trigger. I also had to pee slightly. I was less concerned about the pee sensation, because I’ve learned that a slight pee sensation goes away for me in races. However, the other sensation struck fear in me. I bargained that if it happened, I wouldn’t be embarrassed, and it would be a valuable experience. But, Eureka!, it never developed! At some point early in the race I forgot about the sensation and I was fine.

At times in the last hour or so of the race, I really tried to push myself a bit, especially on the downhills. While I probably succeeded to some degree, I wasn’t able to really drive down my time in a significant way (like bringing myself down to low 7:00s). My pace felt slow but constant, but I really couldn’t get my body to speed it up into a sprint. As the race went on, I was starting to see that I had about 5 minutes in the bank–that is, 5 minutes ahead of a 3:10. I knew some of that would be used up in the later miles, but it was seeming to me that I would probably finish around 3:06. It was only toward the last mile or so that it was getting a little dangerous, and it wasn’t until I rounded the slight turn and saw the finish line that I knew that my dream of beating my PR was just out of reach. I did, however, manage a sprint at the end that felt like about 90-95% of my maximum speed, so I finished strong despite just missing my PR.

During this race, I was fearful of the cramps that flirted with my calves in NYC. To guard against them, I decided to consume a quart of coconut water the day before in order to load my body with potassium. To see what it might aid me, I consumed 1 ibuprofen an hour before the race, and one Gatorade Prime 15 minutes before. I also tried better to hydrate myself, taking water and Gatorade along the course at probably 80% of the stations. I consumed somewhere on the order of 6 PowerGel or Clif Shots, but with the PowerGels I actually dialed back the caffeine just a little bit. More importantly, I tried to strategize my use of them. I wasn’t exactly sure how long my body would get a bolster from their ingredients, but when I predicted a hill (like the one near Drexel, or even the bridge about a half-mile before it), I consumed a Gel in hopes that it would kick in at the hill and help me out. Also, I made up a strategy in the race to take Gatorade in stations and then try to pick up the pace coming out of them. The theory was that I would want to slow down so don’t do that, and by the time I’d tired from that pickup the Gatorade would kick in and rescue me, allowing me to keep up the pace. It seemed to work out, at least as a nice idea.

The 3:00 pace team passed me around Mile 10. However, the 3:10 pace team never caught me. They weren’t that far behind me (when I was getting back onto the bridge in Mile 17 area, they were just leaving the bridge), but I was a little concerned that they were close enough if my pace dropped off. Fortunately it didn’t.

I realized based on what I wanted to say that I was a little disappointed that I didn’t make a PR with this race. But as the day went on, I realized I was shocked I did so well, considering that I also ran so well at the NYC Marathon two weeks prior. It was cool to be able to do this. Elizabeth also ran this race and did incredibly well (running a 3:15 and some change), and her boyfriend Chris ran the half-marathon and surprised me with his awesome finish time of 1:51:06.

Photos coming soon!