Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The Toughest Race I've Ever Run: Nightmare on Broad Street
This Sunday at 8:30am, a gunshot will go off at the intersection of Broad Street and Somerville Avenue in northern Philadelphia, and 30,000 runners will charge southward 10 miles to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Unfortunately, but for no one's fault but my own, I will not be joining them. The Broad Street Run is, according to its website, the largest 10 mile race in the United States. Last year, it was the toughest race I've ever run.
The Broad Street run billed as a flat, fast course through the diverse neighborhoods along Broad Street. And it probably would have been, had the weather not taken an unfortunate -- in my humble opinion -- turn.
Last year's Broad Street Run took place on May 2, 2010. I registered for it on February 22nd, after wavering back and forth for a few weeks and waiting to see if vacation plans would conflict with the race date. Last winter, training was a challenge as Central Pennsylvania was bombarded with more snow than Wisconsin, Minnesota, or upstate New York received. I had been running about 5 miles at a time, and probably no more than 15 miles a week before the double-blizzards that hit the week before Valentine's Day, and running was sporadic at best through the rest of the month.
However, I redoubled my efforts in March, increasing my distance back up to 10 miles by the end of the month, giving me all of April to focus on running it faster. (I didn't know about tapering "back then".) My goal was to finish the race in an hour and a half. I'd achieved that twice on training runs in York and come very close to it on a few other runs, and I thought that Broad Street would have both the disadvantage of a crowded field and the advantage of a flatter course with a net downhill. I was clearly ready for the distance.
What I was clearly not ready for was dramatic shift in weather. I'd run 10 miles on the Wednesday morning immediately prior to the race (like I said, I didn't know about tapering), and the temperature was in the low 50s. But, an unseasonably powerful heat wave moved in during the latter part of the week and by Friday it was in the upper 80s. On Saturday, after packet pickup at Lincoln Financial Field, Chris and I sweltered through one of the hottest baseball games I've ever attended. The forecast for Sunday was no better: It was predicted to be in the mid 80s and extremely humid by the race's 8:30 start time.
I admit, I was scared. Not even my favorite carb-loading dinner, Ravioli at Pietro's Brick Oven Pizza, my traditional one pre-race beer, and cool refreshing maple ice cream at Scoops Deville could reassure me. It was, I feared, the last meal of a condemned man. Have I told you I like to over-dramatize things?
I took what precautions I could against the heat. I got up several times in the middle of the night to drink extra water (One of the volunteers at the expo, who I also heard along the course, just yelled "HYDRATE! HYDRATE! HYDRATE! IT'S GOING TO BE HOT OUT THERE!" over and over, which has become a running joke amongst my wife and I.), I filled one of the bottles on my hydration belt with coconut water to restore electrolytes, I liberally applied sunscreen, and...and...well, that was about it.
I left the hotel to board the Broad Street Line subway at about 6:00, hearing that crowds made it difficult to get to the start. At this hour, this was no trouble at all, although there was a decent crowd already there when I arrived. The early arrival was a positive and negative. On the plus side, not to be gross, it gave me plenty of time to rid myself of the excess fluid I'd consumed the day before, despite long lines for the impressive number of restrooms available. On the negative, it gave me a long time to sit on Broad Street without my iPod and think about how miserable this race was going to be.
And, it was miserable -- one of those days where I was sweating profusely well within the first half mile. The course is a visually interesting cross-section of Philly that passes by or through Temple, City Hall, Little Italy, and the Sports Complex (Go Sixers, by the way!) before it's terminus at the Navy Yard. Crowd support along the whole route is unbelievable. There was army of smiling volunteers offering water, Gatorade, and encouragement. Still, it felt like the race would never end, and I did see many participants, either due to frustration or injury, head off the course to any of the numerous subway stations along the route. The main thing keeping me going as I melted was my ever-increasing desire to hurl my oft-maligned Garmin Forerunner 201, which was become more and more out of sync with the mile markers on the course, into the Delaware River.
I eventually did finish in 1:38, well below my goal, but quite satisfactory under the circumstances. I did not hurl Garmin, which said that I had run over 11 miles in a 10-mile race, into the river, since another GPS wearer reminded me that if I'd meandered back and forth on the course to frequently hit water stations or run through the fire hydrants that the city had opened to cool down runners, that it was feasible that I really had added an extra mile. D'oh!
Garmin lives on to frustrate me to this day.
I sat for about 15 minutes, completely exhausted, on the steps of one of the Navy Yard, re-hydrating and eating before Chris made her away across the crowded finishing area. The Broad Street Run, though three miles shorter, had been unquestionably more challenging than the '09 Philly Half, my first half marathon. According 6ABC, 36 runners were taken to local hospitals during the race and one man collapsed at Pattison Ave, almost within sight of the finish line, and over a million cups of water were dispensed. Although I felt like I was wise to not push myself for a 1:30 finish in these conditions, I also don't think i would have finished if the city had not opened the fire hydrants. Between the hydrants and the multitude of water stops, there is nothing negative I can say about this race as an event.
I'd looked forward to a chance to compete in the BSR again in more favorable conditions, and as the 30,000 journey down Broad Street this year, I wish them luck and will regret that I am not among them.