Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2011 Philadelphia Marathon

So two mornings ago I woke up and did the Philly Marathon.  Saturday, the day before, I took the train to Philly from South Jersey where my family was visiting the in-laws.  (special thanks t0 Pete - for updating texting the Penn State score updates when I was riding a bus through south-central Jersey and adding 40 minutes to the commute).  Because of the train delay I headed out a little late to the convention center to get the packet - and the last 3:35 pace band before the cliff-bar pace people closed up shop.  This, it turns out, was great fortune - since I was waffling between a 3:40 and 3:30 pace - it never occured to me to split the difference.  Leaving the expo, I then crossed the street to Wawa to buy some fuel - and, it turns out, dinner.  Pre-marathon fuel:  Wawa pretzel, Wawa chicken salad on whole grain bun, Greek yogurt and diet ginger ale.  Not exactly the pasta feast I was planning - but it seemed a like a lot of carbs with enough protein thrown in.  The Wawa pretzel, in particular, isn't something I'd eat every day - but it seems as though they did try to have some nutritional content - and it had a butt-load of calories - I don't remember exactly - but something like 600 or so.

The next morning I awoke ready to go at 4:00 am - more or less on my own without the alarm.  I headed down to the special runners breakfast buffet and got toast with peanut butter, yogurt, fruit and drank lots of coffee - in an attempt to clear the system as much as possible.  About 6:10, in the dim dawn light, I headed out - with about 27,000 other runners - to the start outside the famous Philly art museum.  I got my bag checked in and did some dynamic stretches before heading to the black starting area.  Not long of a wait and the race was off.

I love the first few miles of a marathon - very easy pace - lots to look around at - and the miles really just fly by.  The course heads past city hall then turns south along the bank of the Deleware river before curling back in to the city center.  There - the crowds pick up and I really had to focus on not pushing the pace too much.  At about the one hour part - you head out of downtown to the 'University City' area - and some great crowd support from those Drexel Dragons (thanks students).

At this point, I was just off the 3:35 pace band (8:12 miles), but I had to stop and pee and also stopped to stretch - since I was starting to worry about my groins a little.  As hard as it was to do, I stopped and stretched on multiple occasions.  I could really feel the groins starting to act up as I headed up the hill by the zoo - and especially on the descent.  In retrospect - this is probably what hurt me two years ago - I'm glad I had the experience on my side and took that part relatively slowly and gingerly.

However, by halfway, I'd probably dropped to over a minute off the 3:35 pace (mentally - I knew that was 3:37).  I felt relieved though - because it seemed as though my body was going to keep it together and not break down.  I picked it up the pace then since I felt pretty good and wanted to try and 'race' this race.  The next 5 miles tick away - mostly flat - along the Schuykill river - and I managed to get very close to the 3:35 pace.  However by  mile 18 my legs were ready to stop racing.  I slowly started to give up time again against the pace band.  Rounding the 20 mile marker in Manyunk - I knew I'd be now racing/struggling to stay below 3:40.  Along the last few miles coming in I noticed a lot of runners walking or stopped along the side.  So I just kept the legs moving.  My pace coming in was slow.  Probably 8:40s or so.  It was funny - I would notice someone up ahead shuffling along at a ridiculously slow pace - only to realize that I wasn't gaining on them and probably looked equally ridiculous.  Nevertheless, as the crowds grew again near the end, I tried to pump those arms and at least look like a serious runner as I neared the finish.  I knew I'd done better and the final time was 3:38:49 - overall about a 8:21 pace.  A solid 15 minutes shaved off of my only other attempt at this distance.

Found wife, friends and drank beer at Monks.   A great day!

Overall, it was a great race experience.  I'm glad to finally have a good marathon under my belt.  The time and pace was good, but not great - certainly room for improvement.  What is amazing is the training plan I used maxed out at 31.5 miles/week running.  The monster month mileage hovered around 30 miles/week with the x-training making up for the 'missing' miles.  I did use one of the easier versions of the FIRST plan.  And I was lucky enough to have a friend at work willing to do the tough intervals (off-track), tempo runs and shorter long runs with me.  The big bonus of this plan is that the x-training - in my case swimming, weights (via 1 hour dvd workout) and some biking - had me feeling much stronger heading into the marathon.  Also, because the mileage is more manageable - I didn't overeat and probably ran the race ~155 -  a good 10 pounds lighter than 2 years ago.  Having said that - I'd have to do a more difficult - slightly higher mileage version - to really improve my time.  But, I'll obsess over that later.

Final 2 thoughts.  A big thank you to race organizers, volunteers and the thousands of fans that showed up to cheer us on.  And on a sadder note, I'd like to offer my condolences to the families of the 2 runners that passed away near the finish of Sunday's race.  Truly horrible news and my heart goes out to their families.

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