Last weekend John and I ran the Philadelphia Half Marathon. Once again it was a great weekend. Everyone had a great race and we had a great weekend. Even a somewhat disorganized race couldn’t ruin the weekend.
I picked John up at Saturday morning. John’s sister lives in Philadelphia so we had a place to stay. At five and a half hours for 340 miles the drive was a little long but it wasn’t boring as I had John and his Sirius satellite radio to entertain me. We listened to a lot of “Hard Attack” and “Octance.”
John’s sisters place is very nice. It’s on a nice block in a not-so-nice neighborhood. That might not make much sense but it’s true. Her place was beautiful as were most of the places around her but if you traveled just a few blocks away things were not as nice. John and I considered walking or taking a train to the race but were advised not to as we’d be going by the bad section in the dark. Luckily for us Katie came into town and “offered” to drive us to the race.
The expo was in a small indoor stadium. Upon walking into the building there were many sheets of paper posted that had bib numbers on them. The signs said you need your bib number to pickup your race packet. Armed with the memory of our bib numbers we headed into the inner portion of the building. There we found a line that snaked around the hall. While waiting in line a man who seemed to be from Philadelphia struck up a conversation with us. He said he only runs half marathons because he’s afraid he’d injure himself in a full marathon. Normally I would call that an excuse but since this man appeared to be about 60 I figured that there might be some truth to what he was saying.
When we revealed that we were from Rochester a girl directly in front of us joined in our conversation. She was originally from the Buffalo area (I think she said she was from Orchard Park) but now living outside of Washington DC. After about 30 or 40 minutes we finally got to the tables where the bibs were. We said our “good lucks” assuming we’d never see each other again but we were wrong. I gave the volunteer my bib number and he couldn’t find my bib. I had given him the wrong number. Luckily I had taken John’s idea and entered my number into my phone. Luckily for me John is a genius. Once given the correct bib number I had my bib and timing chip and was on my way. I found it absolutely ridiculous that packet pickup was not organized by name. Maybe I’m not very bright but I find it very difficult to memorize a 5 digit number.
Shortly after a nice pasta dinner with John, his sister, and her fiance Katie arrived. By this time we were all very tired even though it was quite early. After preparing everything we needed for race day we “hit the hay.” Katie and I both were allergic to the three cats that lived and slept on the couches that we were to sleep on. Katie is a walking pharmacy and I was fine after taking some of her Claritin.
At 4:30 AM we awoke to prepare for the race. For me this included eating a bagel, brushing my teeth, showering, and wondering how many shirts to wear while running. The race was only a few miles away and we didn’t get lost thanks to our impeccable navigator John “GPS” Ghidiu. Having arrived it was time for John and I to don our custom made mylar ponchos. At 43 degrees and overcast with wind it was cold! Our mylar suits did an amazing job keeping us warm. It was obvious that everyone thought were were brilliant. I’m quite certain that we have started a new trend in pre-race preparations for the sport of running. Remember that Greg and John started the mylar poncho bonanza.
Unfortunately the pre-race setup was only slightly more organized than the expo. It wasn’t clear where baggage drop-off was even though we were standing right behind it. There were plenty of toilets but the lines for them were not organized because they had signs on them asking people to form a line for each toilet. That just doesn’t work well with that many toilets lined up. Time doesn’t stop ticking even if you have to pee. Luckily the race start ran late and even though we were more than 10 minutes late to the starting line we started with everyone else.
We were pretty far back in the pack of marathoners and half marathoners when the gun finally did go off. It was not a wave start and so many thousands of people took off at the same time. John and I parted ways right from the start with our traditional “lost gladiator” salutes and then battled the crowds on our own. Arriving at the first mile marker I was amazed to find that I had run an 8:30 mile even though I was running along sidewalks almost exclusively to get past runners that were slower than I was. At about the second mile I discarded my poncho.
The course was tight in many places. It didn’t help that there were parked cars along the course in some places. They had been ticketed but not towed. My goal from the start was to run an 8 minute per mile pace. After 3 miles I was perfectly on pace at almost exactly 24 minutes. The second and third mile must have been pretty fast after logging an 8:30 on the first mile. After 5 miles I felt great. It was at that point that I started thinking about removing my second shirt and going topless. I didn’t really want to as that meant I’d have to carry two shirts. I wore shirts that I liked as I had no intention of running shirtless. After 7 miles I finally removed my last shirt after stuffed it into my fist.
The course itself was very nice. Running through the historic areas of Philly was great as was running through the modern parts of the city. Many times I found myself running with my eyes up in the air taking in the amazing scenery of skyscrapers. The first 8 miles were quite flat. The ninth mile had a significant hill or two. For miles 9, 10, and even parts of the eleventh mile the course was up and down. I blew by a large number of people on one very long steep decline on the eleventh mile. At every mile marker I checked my pace. I ran nearly perfect 8 minute miles though I’m sure the hiller miles were a bit slower and some of the more downhill miles were a bit faster.
After 1:44:14 seconds I made my sprint through the finish. I placed my foot on the timing mat and I slide across it like an ice-skater. Thankful that I didn’t kill myself or even fall I pulled off to the side to put my shirts back on. 1:44:14 comes out to a 7:57 average pace. Days later I still can’t believe I broke an 8 minute mile for a half marathon distance. I’m thrilled. I’m also very happy at how evenly I paced myself during the race. If I had to choose something to not be happy with it would be that it’s going to be hard to best that time!
After meeting back up with John and Katie we waited for Matt to finish the full marathon. Once again we almost missed a friend finishing a marathon. This time we just barely made it in time. We were watching the wrong race. Once we figured that out we got to the marathon finish just in time to see Matt complete a 3:30 marathon.
With Matt and his friends we decided to find a place to eat. We ended up walking around downtown Philly for a while before giving up and going our separate ways. We found a vendor on the corner and John bought Katie and I Philly cheese steaks. I don’t know how authentic it was but it sure did taste good!
To wrap up the day we all showered (separately, we aren’t that close!) and hit the road. The ride home was not as nice as the ride in. We were faced with traffic and bad weather. I don’t yet have snow tires on my car and my car is horrible in winter conditions. Mix in tractor trailers and the high and windy roads of Pennsylvania and you have a recipe for disaster. We made it home alive, in one piece, and thinking about our next race.