When I ran my first half marathon in 2013, I finished in an hour and 53 minutes. I was happy to break two hours right out of the gate. A few more half marathons, and I was finishing in the 1:40s. In my fifth half, I ran a 1:42. So the next step was breaking 1:40! That would come easily, too, right?
It didn’t. It took me 15 more half marathons, and some very specific training, to run a 1:38:53. It wasn’t easy and I wondered if I’d be able to do it again.
Well, I did, at the Philadelphia Half Marathon last weekend! And I even got a 10-second PR! The Philly Half was absolutely incredible and I think it should be on every runner’s bucket list.
My trip to Philly, however, did not exactly start off on the right foot. I left work around 4 pm on Friday before the race, hoping to arrive at the race expo shortly after 6 and meet up with Staci, who was running the 8K, and Sarah, who was there to cheer us on. I’ve been to Philly numerous times; Sarah and another good friend of ours, Melissa, live there. But I wasn’t sure exactly which exit to take to get to the Convention Center, so I plugged the address into the maps function on my iPhone. Well, for some unknown reason, the GPS diverted me off I-95 and into New Jersey! I figured it out that this was, um, not right pretty quickly, but then I had to find my way back (the GPS kept telling me to go toward Trenton — WRONG!) and it added an extra 45 minutes or so onto my drive. Staci and Sarah got my race packet for me and I eventually got there, but it was stressful. We did spend a little bit of time at the expo before we went to Iron Hill Brewery for dinner, but I was anxious AF and wondered if it was a bad omen for the race.
I do wish I’d had the opportunity to spend more time at the expo — there were some great speakers earlier that day, including 2014 Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezigi, 2018 Boston Marathon champ Des Linden and Bart Yasso, creator of my favorite Yasso 800s speed workout. Staci and Sarah listened to a local running coach who had run every single Philadelphia Marathon give his tips on the course, and Sarah took detailed notes for me. Thanks, Sarah!
The half marathon and 8K take place on Saturday, with the full marathon on Sunday. I woke bright and early on Saturday morning and felt calm and ready to run. There was shuttle service to the race from our hotel, and I was so pleased with how easy that was. (Getting to the start of the race on time can be stressful, especially in a big city race, and I’d already had enough transportation drama for the weekend!) I walked out of the hotel shortly after 6 am and right onto one of the buses lined up in front of our hotel. It was awesome! Unfortunately, Staci’s shuttle experience for the 8K, which started at 10:45 am, did not go quite as smoothly. Note to race organizers for the future: Don’t neglect the 8K runners! Make sure you have reliable shuttle service for the 4,500 people who run that race, too.
The weather for the race was supposed to be in the 40s and sunny, so I wore running leggings, compression socks, my Rip It Events singlet and arm warmers. I knew I’d be fine while running, but was a bit worried that I would freeze my butt off while waiting for the race to start. However, there was a warming tent set up for runners. Major props to the race for this! I have run a fair amount of cold weather races, and this is the first time I’ve seen a warming tent — what a great idea. There were so many runners packed in there that it was almost too hot.
When I signed up for the race earlier this year, I optimistically listed my finish time as 1:39:00, so that put me in the corral behind the elite runners. The gun went off at 7:30 with the elites kicking off the race, then my corral followed soon after. Unfortunately, there were 1:45 and 1:30 pace groups, but no 1:40 pacer, so I knew I’d basically be on my own this time.
The first two miles are in the Center City section of Philly, and my Garmin did not like the tall buildings along this part of the course. At mile 1, my watch said I ran a 6:54. My first thought was, “Shit. You’ll be paying for that in about eight or nine miles.” My second thought was, “Wow, that felt pretty comfortable! I must be in better shape than I thought!” And my third thought was, “Your GPS is off because of the buildings.” I remembered hearing that other runners have experienced the same thing in Philly races, so I figured that was what was happening here, too. My second mile was a 6:50, according to my watch, but who knows how fast I actually ran it. By the end of the race, my watch said I ran 13.46 miles, and I really didn’t do too much weaving around other runners, so it was definitely the GPS that was messed up. (Not a good weekend for GPS, right??) Kind of annoying, but what can you do?
After the first few miles, I settled into a rhythm and focused on relaxing and taking in the sights. Around mile 4, I found myself running with a group with Achilles International, a nonprofit that pairs runners with disabilities with able bodied running partners. I asked them if they had a time goal, and they told me 1:40. “We can do that!” I said. I ran with them through most of the race, though they ended up finishing about a minute ahead of me.
The half marathon (and I assume the marathon as well) has great crowd support, especially along South Street and around Independence Hall. Another awesome thing about this race is that runners’ first names are printed on their bibs in large font, so I had a lot of spectators calling out my name, which was fun!
The race was, for the most part, pretty flat until we got to mile 8. But even then, the hills weren’t that long or that steep. At around mile 10, we passed a really cool mural of Patti LaBelle, which Sarah had told me about, then headed toward the Philadelphia Zoo. I had read beforehand that we’d be running through the zoo, but to be honest, by this point in the race I was kind of zoned out and didn’t even register that I was in the zoo. (It wasn’t like the Baltimore Marathon, where zoo employees are standing along the course holding animals.) I do know that after mile 11, the race was mostly downhill until the finish, which I loved! Downhill at the end of a half marathon is great! Downhill at the end of a marathon sucks — my quads are usually too beat up by then. Maybe that’s just me?
I kept looking at my watch, telling myself to maintain my pace and trying to figure out if a sub-1:40 finish was likely. It seemed like it was, but I had to remember that my GPS was off and that I was probably going to end up with way more than 13.1 miles on my watch. Overall, though, I felt tired (as one does around mile 12 of a half marathon) but like I could hold my pace without struggling too much.
We finished where we started, in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and since my watch hit 13 miles early, it seemed like the finish line was sooooo far away. It was actually kind of hard to see since it was so bright out, even with my sunglasses, making it rather difficult to do a final sprint to the finish (not that I am all that great at the last-minute sprint, haha!)
I saw 1:39 on the clock when I finished, so I was excited. A few minutes later, Sarah and my mom, who were tracking me, texted me my official time: 1:38:43.
For what it’s worth, here are my splits according to my watch, though they aren’t accurate:
Mile 1: 6:54
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 7:17
Mile 4: 7:18
Mile 5: 7:22
Mile 6: 7:22
Mile 7: 7:20
Mile 8: 7:26
Mile 9: 7:44
Mile 10: 7:37
Mile 11: 7:41
Mile 12: 7:14
Mile 13: 7:22
Last 0.46 miles (again, according to my watch): 3:19
I truly loved this race, from the easy race day transportation to the excellent crowd support to the course itself. I told Sarah and Staci afterwards that I was thinking of signing up for the full marathon in 2020. I’m running the Chicago Marathon next October, so I’d just have to maintain my fitness for another six weeks or so.
And a few days ago, I got an email from the Philly Marathon saying that registration for 2020 was open. Sooooo I took advantage of the low introductory registration fee and signed up for the full on Nov. 22, 2020. That means I’m running three marathons in 2020: Coastal Delaware on April 19, Chicago on Oct. 11 and now, Philly. I’m so excited, though! Life is short — why the hell not run all the races as long as I am healthy and able to do so?
I have one more half marathon left in 2019 — the Rehoboth Half Marathon this Saturday. I’m hoping to break 1:40 for the third time, and think it’s very possible with the assistance of a 1:40 pacer and the fact that that the course is pancake flat. Maybe I could even knock a few more seconds off my PR!
I have to also give a shout out to Staci for running her first 8K! She has run a bunch of 5Ks before (including this one that may as well have been run on the surface of the sun), but this was her longest race to date. I told her a 10K is next!