Monday, November 22, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Philadelphia Half Marathon

Date: November 21, 2010

Distance: 13.1 miles

Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes, 34 seconds (chip time)

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Cats Spotted: 0

Dogs Chased By: None

Stuck in my head: Motivational and surly self-talk

Post race food: Too much to mention here

I started running races in April 2007 when I ran my first 5K, but I didn't start trying to tackle longer distances until last year, when I ran a 10K over Memorial Day Weekend, pushed myself to 8 miles by June, and, after a lot of indecision, signed up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. I finished in 2:03 and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't one of the best feelings I ever had.

I signed up again in July, and after a hot, tough summer of running in which my frequency of runs and consistency of distance were both not up to last year's standard, I started training in earnest in mid-October. I trained using my regular route, which runs between York Haven and Goldsboro, and also invented a new half marathon for myself, the York Haven Half Marathon, which I ran the two weekends prior to the Philly Half.

Both times, I came in around 2:10-2:15, which was a bit disappointing but not surprising since A) my training route is much hillier than the Philly Half Marathon, and B) last year I really pushed myself for speed on my regular runs and kept track of times and records. This year, I just put in the miles, and so while I was sure I could finish the half, I was expecting to be a bit slower than my time from last year.

My amazing wife and I headed to Philly on Saturday morning, picked my packet up, and wandered the expo. I purchased some night running gear and a half marathon souvenir hat, scouted out future races, and also had the fortune to run into a friend (and former RA) from college, who was running the full marathon.

We then headed to Reading Terminal Market to grab a snack. We stopped at the "Famous Fourth Street Cookie Company", because nothing says, "I'm running a half marathon tomorrow" like delicious chocolate chip cookies. We then walked a bit before checking into our hotel.

For pre-race dinner we headed one of my favorite carb-loading stations, Pietro's Coal Oven Pizza, where I enjoyed some delicious ravioli.

The evening was far from over. We wandered the Rittenhouse Square area in search of Capogiro, a gelato shop with several locations in Philadelphia. After finally finding it, I went with a scoop of Coconut Milk and a scoop of "Chocolate Insanity" (I don't recall it's real name)

Amazing. And at this point, I had to run 13.1 miles just to make a dent in everything I'd eaten.

After a short photo-taking excursion around City Hall, we returned to our room around 8:30, to find that we had noisy neighbors and no hot water. The hotel promptly sent engineering to fix our problem, and I was able to fall asleep around 11.

Race Day Morning
I woke up up at 4:00, appropriately psyched. I can only hope that our annoying neighbors enjoyed my Blink-182 concert.

Copying my routine from last year, we headed out to the starting line at 5:45. It was still very dark, and cold.

The starting area seemed crowded and chaotic compared to last year. After some confusion, I found the Purple Corral, where my wave would wait for its start. This wait, in my opinion, is one of the toughest parts of the race. The corral is very crowded, making it hard to stay stretched and loose, and since I dress for Mile 13 rather than Mile 1, I was freezing in my running shorts and a sleeveless shirt. (I did have gloves!!) The race began at 7:00 with the National Anthem, and then Michael Nutter, the Mayor of Philadelphia, and Bart Yasso, the "Mayor of Running", started each wave. One can only listen to "Eye of the Tiger" so many times before wanting to get on the road.

Finally, a bit before 7:30, the horn sounded to let the Purple wave out of its gate.

Race Summary

Miles 1-2: The race begins on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and makes a gentle left turn onto Arch Street at about the half-mile point. It continues down Arch before making another left on Fourth, and right on Race, with the two mile maker coming right before turning right (south) onto Columbus Boulevard.

The first two miles were slow because the course was very crowded, but this also provided a nice warm-up after standing and freezing at the starting line. I got to the first mile marker at about 10:00, and the second at about 20:00, putting me I believe a little behind last year's pace, where I was able to make up time in Mile 2. I felt great, but this point at the race is a bit depressing: I can't help but notice that I've run the entire length of what I would consider downtown Philly -- and it's only been two miles.

Miles 3-4: After the two mile marker, the course makes a right onto Columbus Boulevard, which runs south along the Delaware River. This stretch of course is one of my least favorite. I feel it's just one of the least visually interesting parts of the course, and since I'm just running parallel to the river, I just don't feel like I'm going ANYWHERE until the course makes the turn westbound onto Washington Ave for 1 block (at about the 3.5 mile mark) before turning northbound on Front Street. Now, I'm back in a neighborhood, and a local running club had hung some signs for our motivation/amusement ("You paid to do THIS?").

Mile 5: Soon after the Mile 4 marker, the course makes the turn onto South Street, a well-known area for shops, restaurants, and bars. This is a nice, interesting, change of scenery compared to Columbus Boulevard, though unfortunately it made me start thinking about food. I could have used a slice of pizza at about this point. A half mile later, the route turns right (north) onto 6th Street, where I passed Independence Hall and scored my first high-five of the day -- a gentleman in Colonial garb. I hit the 5-mile marker at about 47 minutes, about two minutes below my usual 5-mile pace. I hadn't made up time from my first two miles, but I hadn't lost any more either.

Miles 6-7: Almost immediately after beginning Mile 6 the course turns left (west) onto Chestnut Street. This is my favorite part of the course: a flat straightaway that lasts for over two blissful miles through a part of the city that I'm very familiar with.

It was also during this stretch that I discovered that I had a rival: a guy in an Eli Manning jersey. My beloved Eagles were scheduled take on the Giants that night in a battle for first place in the NFC East, and I was not going to let Eli finish ahead ahead of me. I overtook him at about 20th street and did not see him again the rest of the race. And while I did boo or yell "Giants suck!" to some spectators that I saw wearing Giants gear, let me assure you that my rivalry with "Eli" was only in my head -- I would never talk trash to another runner during a race.

I finished Mile 7 at about 1:05 -- 2-4 minutes ahead of my usual 7-mile pace. I'd made up considerable time chasing Eli Manning down Chestnut Street, but at what cost?

Mile 8: After the 7-mile mark, the course continues down Chestnut for a few more blocks before turning right (north) onto 34th street, which features the longest and steepest hill on the course. I'm tired from my charge down Chestnut, and am muttering things like "I hate this &^% hill" alternated with "This hill is NOTHING!!!" and "I run hills steeper than this in my sleep!" Other runners probably rightly questioned my sanity.

Mile 9: Mile 9 goes by the Philadelphia Zoo, where a lot of guys stopped to urinate. DON'T PEE ON THE ZOO!!!

Miles 10-13: The course continues past the zoo through Fairmount Park. This stretch features some steep uphill and downhill sections, before flattening out for good before the 11-mile marker, where the course turns back toward downtown and its terminus at the Art Museum. I hit the 10-mile marker around 1:32, and realized that a sub 2-hour finish was not outside the realm of possibilities: I typically run a 5K in about 25 minutes. However, that's in a 5K race, not three miles of a long run, where I'm usually around 28 minutes, and definitely not the last three miles of a long run.

I grabbed a few sips of Gatorade, and BOOKED the last three miles...or what passes for "BOOKED" when my legs are running out of gas. I hit the 11-mile mark at about 1:41, my new goal still reachable but no sure thing. I don't remember what time I hit 12 mile marker, but as the Art Museum drew closer, it seemed like I was going to make it. The last 1/3 to quarter mile crosses over the Schuylkill River and under an overpass before going uphill to the final straightaway, and I sprinted it. I felt like Usain Bolt, but to observers I was probably actually moving quite slow and appearing to be in terrible, terrible pain. (I can't wait to see what horrible grimacing face I'm making in the photos).

I crossed the finish line at what I believed to be under 2:00, but failed to stop my watch promptly. At worst, however, I'd shaved just over 3 minutes off my time from last year and I'd run my hardest in a race that in which I didn't think I could top last year. (Chip time turned out to be 1:59:34)

Post Race
Met up with my wife and some friends from college (one of whom had finished in 1:41 -- awesome!) and she and I headed to get my favorite post-race snack: donuts. I sampled Dunkin Donuts' new Sausage Pancake Bites (Good, but I missed out on dipping them in Syrup) and 2 hours later headed to a great brunch at Little Pete, my favorite downtown diner, with one of our best friends.

After brunch, we headed home, where I rested up for Sunday Night Football by taking a nap with two of my best friends.

The Eagles followed my example, and put a great exclamation point on the day by taking down Eli Manning and the Giants to lead the division, but the Half Marathon was the centerpiece of a spectacular weekend.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my wife for all her support and good humor in accompanying me and being dragged outside at 5:45. This would not have been possible without her.

Thanks for reading. I promise most entries will be MUCH shorter.

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