Really, Really Happy!

A Race!  Philadelphia Marathon 2017

7:33s  |  26.2 miles  |  ~51°F

Today I ran the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon.  I completed it in 3:17:59 (7:33s).  It was really nice to run this race much faster than I ran the NYC Marathon two weeks ago. As a result of running Philly at this pace, I got validation that my training this year was better than the race I finished in NYC.

Here are my unofficial results per my Garmin:

The Philadelphia Marathon official results had me finishing 650th overall, 579th in my gender, and 79th in my division (which is maybe age?). My splits were 46:12.9 (10K, 7:26s), 1:36:02.2 (Half Marathon, 7:20s), 2:17:09.6 (30K, 7:21s), and a finish of 3:17:58.8 (7:33s).

Today’s race started with sub-optimal conditions. It was raining! When I got to the starting area around 5:30am, it had only been sprinkles for me to that point, but then the sky opened up for a long, windy shower. At least I didn’t have to walk there in the rain!

By the time the race actually started at 7am, though, the announcer pointed out the sun was starting to come out — just as forecast!  However, also just as forecast, it was windy. REALLY windy.  Like, 20 mph windy, with gusts to 40 mph windy. The effect of winds like these was felt throughout the race, at times making for some real pushing. There were maybe three times during the whole marathon when the headwinds were so strong that it took a real effort to keep moving into them.  At one point, a crosswind knocked my lifted foot into my other leg! As for tailwinds, there weren’t as obvious. That said, the winds didn’t seem to have that much of an influence on my race.

As for my strategy, I learned a lot from NYC two weeks ago. For one, since I trained with little water and never got cramps, I decided to hold back a bit on the water and be a bit more strategic about having it as well as gels.  After studying my splits in NYC, and my splits over the last three Philly Marathons I did (2010, 2011. and 2012), I realized it would be smarter for me if I tried for a slower, more even pace out the gate. That meant if I felt the desire to run 6:40s in the beginning, I should really slow down — at least in the beginning. Training had suggested that sometimes I run a second 10K faster than a beginning 10K, so if I felt like picking up the pace after 6 miles, then that might be okay. In the beginning, my first six splits were 7:03, 7:16, 7:51*, 7:28, 7:20, and 7:11. (*I stopped at a bathroom and lost about 45 seconds, and added some compensatory speed going into it and leaving it.) These splits were clearly slower than my 2017 NYC Marathon, with opening splits of 8:05, 6:30, 6:57, 6:43, 6:42, and 6:39.

The reason to go slower was obvious to me: In NYC, I flamed out around the 10th mile after having run superfast miles before that point. Plus, I didn’t have any training this year in maintaining those splits, or even really running miles that fast except on very rare occasion. So, it made sense that for Philly, I should run above 7:00s, and probably at a pace more like what I’d trained at.  That was a hard estimate to make, though, because my summer long runs were 8:05s at their fastest, but as it got a little cooler I was doing 7:45s and sometimes faster. Not knowing the target time was not a big deal.  What mattered was just to relax and run at a slower pace than I might want to. So after the first mile, I slowed myself, and subsequent miles I just tried not to pick it up that much.

As for the course, it was basically as I remembered it, with a few changes. The most noticeable change was at the top of the hill halfway through mile 9. Instead of veering to the right, the course continued down a ways. Then we ran through completely new, peaceful, rolling roads that had some nice downhills to them. On the downhills for most of this race, I refrained from picking up the pace, fearful that I’d wear out my quads in the effort to steal some cheap downhill time.

The hill after Drexel University, halfway through mile 7, isn’t so bad and not that long if I don’t go too fast before it. I think if I were sprinting in the beginning, it would have killed by the time I reached it. There is a distinctive building at the top of it that serves as an actual sign of the hill’s completion, rather than a false flag of its summit. After it’s pretty much downhill for a long while.

My pace started to slow around mile 10.  That made some sense because the longest hill in the race was in the second half of mile 9, so in a way losing maybe 15-20 seconds wasn’t so bad, and in looking at my past Philly stats, that seemed to be a common thing to happen. Still, at this point I didn’t know if this meant my time would start to balloon, so I started to put the pressure on.  In fact, I had told myself that after the first 8 miles or so, I’d start my running “work,” so it was now okay to push myself. And by pushing myself, it mainly meant protecting my pace from ballooning much over 7:20s.

While my half marathon was in the 1:35 range, I did the math and figured out that if I kept up the pace, that meant I’d pull off a 3:10. That was pretty respectable, and since I was running at a pretty relaxed pace, I knew I wasn’t going to get a 3:10 but maybe I’d score a 3:15. That gave me hope and a challenge. The challenge was putting on the pressure, especially if toward the end (when the racing is toughest) I was close to achieving a 3:15.

Kelly Drive was pretty much as I remembered it. This year, there was no exit onto a bridge and down a hill to a turnaround point that dumps you back onto Kelly Drive. Thank you for not having that! That was so demoralizing. This year it was straight down Kelly Drive all the way to Manayunk and the turnaround point. From prior years, I recalled that Kelly Drive seems downhill going out, which means that coming back would seem uphill. However, in truth, most of the return down Kelly Drive is a noticeable downhill, however slight. The only memorable uphill is toward the end, as you struggle to locate the finish.

On my return to Kelly Drive, I saw my times were starting to balloon to 8:10s.  Doing the math meant I might still finish in the upper 3:15 range (under which would mean a Boston Qualifying time for my age), or I might even finish 3:16.  That was VERY promising! And while it probably seemed as if I had some energy still in me, it was such a gamble: If I picked up my pace now, I might flame out later — before the finish when it counted. So rather than pick up the pace, I just tried to maintain, maintain, maintain, until I knew where the finish line actually was. I had thought it was an uphill finish, too, so that was another factor — I wanted to have gas to get across the finish line.

One part that was mucking with my math was that my Garmin would tick off miles about .2 miles ahead of the mile markers. So what that meant was that I’d cross the finish line at 26.4 miles rather than 26.2. And it takes about 2 minutes or more for me to run that last .2 miles of the marathon, so in doing math in my head, should I add two minutes to my projected finish time, or four minutes?  That is, would the finish line be where my Garmin says 26.2 miles is, or where it says 26.4 miles is?  Should I protect for another two minutes of running, or sprint early?

It didn’t matter much. As I got close to the finish, I couldn’t really up my pace much. I saw the clock, though (they don’t have them along the course, so this was the first clock I saw!), and I could see it was ticking close to 3:18. I wanted to see if I could finish sub-3:18. I crossed the finish line shirtless (which is how I did the run), and the announcer humorously called out my pecs. I stopped my watch a second or two after crossing the finish line and my Garmin said I finished in 3:18:01. I thought that meant I might have done a sub-3:18.  I didn’t confirm that I had in fact run 3:17:59 until I got back to my hotel room.

I was so, so, so happy to finish so much faster than the 3:30:03 I did in the much harder course of NYC. In past NYC-then-Philly combos, I’d sometimes run Philly slower than NYC, even despite the flatness of Philly. So, I didn’t know how I’d do in Philly this year. My training between the races was different, and I thought improved: I did a Friday 12-miler after the NYC Marathon, then a Saturday 18-miler with some fast parts. I missed a few days of training then did a Thursday 12-miler, followed by a Friday 6-miler. That was a lot more mileage between races than I think I’ve done before — I don’t think I’d ever run longer than a 12-miler between races. The reasoning to run longer and more was to keep my fitness up in the latter parts of long runs rather than to let it slide. Plus, in a way, the NYC Marathon was a training run for Philly! I think the heavier mileage coupled with the rest day before Philly helped.

What also helped was a big pasta dinner the night before the Philly Marathon.  I ordered Seamless from Trios Pizzeria & Tratorria: Ortolana pasta with broccoli and olives, a small piece of bread, a salad, and a fudge brownie. (Remember to order utensils in the future!). The food was delicious and despite the size, not overwhelmingly filling.

All in all, while this was not my fastest marathon ever, it was some reassurance that all this running I did this year meant something.  It meant I could run a marathon pretty fast — at least faster than a 3:30, and even faster than a 3:20! It made me think that if I did more distance speed work despite the warmth of September and October, it might have paid off in my endurance. It meant I still “got it,” even if I didn’t run a 3:08 or less. Running a faster marathon than 3:17:59 seems totally plausible. The question is: When?

I’m thinking about doing the Icebreaker International Marathon in East Meadow, NY, for January 28th.  It’s close enough to NYC and it’s inexpensive. It might be a way for me to try again to lower my time while I have this level of fitness.  We’ll see!

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