8 months ago I ran my first marathon. I swore I would never do it again… and then I signed up for the Philadelphia marathon 5 days later.
What made me change my mind so quickly? I got injured really early during training for my first marathon and was really lucky just to be able to finish. Originally I had hoped to run under 4 hours but learned to live with 4:19:37… or at least for 5 days.
The Philadelphia Marathon appealed to me because it was a big marathon in the North-East region which has no registration standards or lottery. It also helped that Fall in the North-East is perfect for distance running and Philadelphia is fairly flat. I came down in April and ran a 16-mile run here along Kelly Drive, which ended up being the same route as miles 13-17 and 21-26, so that worked out pretty perfectly.
As for training, I posted my plan here but the core of it was fitting in 3 20-mile runs. This didn’t really make me feel 100% prepared for the marathon; then again, knowing me, the only way I would have felt prepared is if I had run a practice marathon and in the time I was aiming for, which is usually considered excessive as far as training plans go. What the 3 20-milers taught me was that 2:50:00 was a reasonable 20-mile time for me and that if I did that I could drop my pace significantly over the last 6 miles and still make my goal, so that was more or less my marathon strategy.
Fueling during the race became my biggest obstacle to overcome(you can skip this paragraph if you don’t want to hear about bathroom talk, but I’d say it’s a pretty big deal when it comes to marathons). I have GI problems when I’m not traveling 5 hours and anxious about running a marathon; this weekend threw my body off way off. I ate oatmeal and some almond butter a few hours before the marathon, tried to go to the bathroom and no luck. I knew drinking water or Gatorade or a GU during the race would send me racing for a porta-potty and use up time I didn’t have, so my plan ended up being drinking as little as possible for the first 20 miles. This might sound crazy, but since I never ate or drank during my 20-mile runs, it wasn’t a huge shock to my system. And the cool weather helped since I wasn’t sweating much.
The first 6 miles or so were pretty crowded and it was hard to go ahead of many people. Normally this would be a bad thing but I think the crowd helped to pace me and prevent me from going out too fast at the start.
The next 7 miles people started breaking up. It made it a lot easier to find a comfortable running spot. It was pretty noticeable when the half-marathoners split off from the marathoners but there were a surprising number of full runners so the course didn’t feel empty at all after the break.
Miles 13 through 18 were surprisingly good. It felt like I had picked up my pace a bit and was passing a lot of people. It really helped that Kelly Drive was flat and that I had ran it before so I had an idea of what to expect.
18-20 had us go down through Manayunk and back. This is when I first started feeling exhausted. I tried to drink a cup of Gatorade and water and later an orange slice from a spectator which helped a little; still I knew I couldn’t overdo it on the liquids if I wanted to avoid using the bathroom. The crowds down at this part were great and kept everyone’s spirits up. When I checked my watch I realized I finished the first 20 miles in around 2:53, so just around goal.
The last 6 miles were by far the toughest. I think there are two halves of a marathon: The first 20 miles and the last 6.2. My legs were exhausted and I was definitely in need of more electrolytes. I tried to zone out into my playlist as best I could to not obsess over how much longer it was. I remember seeing that I had almost an hour to run 5 miles and figured I was in good position. Still, my pace dropped by about a minute each mile because I just didn’t want to go on anymore.
When I got to the last 5k I told myself it was only 30 more minutes of hell. I thought about taking walking breaks but questioned if I had time for them. I settled into a 10 minute/mile running pace for the last couple of miles telling myself it would only be 20 minutes of hell and that was do-able. As cliché as they are, the signs that said “Pain is only temporary” really helped me through this part and reminded me that if I couldn’t hold out for the toughest part than what was I training for all this time? There were also a ton of people cheering the last .75 mile so that helped to keep me going, and once I could see the finish I just took off and forgot my legs hurt at all.
I knew as soon as I finished that it was faster than 4 hours. After drinking a bottle of water and a cup of Gatorade, I checked online and saw that my official time was 3:52:17. That couldn’t have been a bigger relief.
Now that I have a sub 4:00 marathon under my belt, I’m not rushing to sign up for another any time soon(don’t quote me on that in 5 days). But really I don’t have any more running goals in mind at the moment, so if I did train for another race it’d be more for the fun of it. You call a marathon a lot of names when you’re running it; “fun” isn’t one of those.