Race Report: A Cold, Windy Morning at the Philly Marathon

My goal race this fall was the Philly Marathon.

It was a frigid, windy morning. But it was a great race nonetheless. Here’s my race report.

Training for the Philly Marathon

I wrote an extensive post about my training for this marathon here. But here’s the short version.

I followed Jack Daniels 2Q, peaking at 75 mpw.

The first third of the plan, in the heat of summer, I had trouble hitting my paces. The heat was just horrible. But I did meet my mileage goals.

For the middle of the plan, things went much better. I had a few good workouts, and I ran 1:33 in a half marathon with very tough weather conditions.

But then, I tweaked my hip flexor. I struggled with some discomfort for the rest of the training plan. I barely did any workouts in the last few weeks, and my mileage dipped.

By the end, though, I was feeling healthy. I think the rest did the trick, I ran pain free throughout the final week before the race.

Setting My Goals

Coming into this training block, I had lofty hopes of maybe going sub-3. That dream quickly evaporated as the summer heat brought me down to reality.

But based on the half marathon result, I thought 3:10 might be possible. 3:15 should be pretty conservative. Then the injury changed my mind again, and I was questioning whether 3:15 was a good goal.

I went over things again and again in my head. I decided to go out a bit slow with an initial tentative goal of 3:15. But I was ready to drop off the pace a bit and hold on for 3:20 as a revised goal. That would be a significant PR over my previous best (3:35), and it would leave me in striking distance of a BQ in my next race (3:10).

Race Morning and Conditions

I woke up just before 5am on Sunday morning.

We were staying at the Element in Center City (read how I used credit card rewards to snag this room for free), and the hotel room had a little kitchenette. I had snagged a bagel from breakfast Saturday morning, and I threw it in the toaster. Brewed up some coffee, put some jelly on the bagel, and got back in bed to enjoy breakfast.

After getting dressed and taking a trip to the bathroom, I was ready to hit the road at 6am. One of my wife’s coworkers was coming down for the race, but he didn’t have time to pick up his bib over the weekend. So we had gotten his stuff, and I met him in the hotel lobby at 6. He pinned on his bib, and we walked out towards the race.

The weather forecast looked cold and windy, and the temperature was hovering in the low to mid 30’s. For the short walk to the start, I had worn sweatpants and a sweatshirt. It kept me warm enough, and I didn’t feel too bad. We avoided the main security lines on Ben Franklin Parkway, heading to the entrance at the southern part of the secure area where the shuttle busses were dropping off.

We were in line by 6:20 or so, and we got through security pretty quickly. I hit the portapotty next to the security line for a quick pit stop, because I spied the loooong lines inside. Inside we went our separate ways, and I headed over to gear check to shed my layers and drop off my bag. As soon as I took off my sweatpants, I started to question my sanity, but it was too late now.

I dropped my bag at the UPS truck, jogged over to the maroon corral, and joined the shivering pack of runners waiting to start. I was wearing shorts, a short sleeve shirt, and some gloves. I hopped around a bit to try and stay warm, but for the most part I just shivered and counted down the minutes.

The race started about five minutes late, but eventually it was time.

Starting Off Slow – Miles 1 to 5

My plan was to start off on the conservative side. At the beginning, I was lined up towards the rear of the corral. I saw the 3:15 pacer off to my right, and I thought maybe I’d try to keep them in sight or at least catch up with them partway through.

The gun went off to launch the elite runners in the gold corral, and a moment later we started to shuffle across the start ourselves. Things opened up pretty quickly on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and I just tried to ease into a cruising pace and warm up.

Almost immediately, I noticed my shorts pockets bouncing around in an annoying way. I had three gels in each pocket. They hadn’t bothered me before, but now it was. When I looked down, I realized that the drawstring on my shorts was loose. In my haste to use the portapotty, I hadn’t tightened down the drawstring.

I slowed down for a few seconds to re-tie it, and everything felt better. It probably cost me a bit of time, and the first mile was a bit slow (7:57), but that’s ok. I slowly started to speed up as I felt warmer. Shortly before the first mile marker, we turned onto Arch St and I ran past my wife. Her cheering always adds a bit of pep in my step!

The crowd started to thin out a bit as we approached Christopher Columbus Boulevard and turned south. But by this point, around mile 2, I was picking up the pace. The 2 mile split was 7:25 – right on pace for 3:15. I took my first gel around 3 miles in, and washed it down with some gatorade at the aid station.

After another mile and a half, we turned back into the city and headed north again. The crowds started to pick up the closer we got to center city. Miles 3-5 were on pace – 7:07, 7:18, 7:24.

I did a mental check. My hip felt good. My pace felt good. If this kept up, I could hit my goal after all.

From Center City to UPenn – Miles 5 to 9

A little after five miles, we passed by Independence Hall and turned onto Walnut Street heading west. This is where the crowd came alive.

The crowds had been sparse – but present – up until this point. But for about two miles down Walnut Street the crowd was shoulder to shoulder. The energy was high, and I soaked it in. Somewhere around the 10k split, I passed my wife again as we headed west through the city.

Mile 6 was fast (6:59), and mile 7 was on target (7:18). I was checking the math at each split, and my cumulative time was catching up to a 3:15 finish. Around mile 6, I took my second gel and washed it down with gatorade again.

We hit the bridge to UPenn, and things got a little tougher. The crowds thinned out a bit, and the wind started to kick up. I hadn’t really noticed it for the first part of the race, but I noticed it here. These were also the first significant hills that we faced.

But things weren’t too bad, and miles 8 (7:32) and 9 (7:07) went by fine. As we approached the zoo, I did another check in. Everything still felt good.

Past the Zoo and through Fairmount Park – Miles 10 to 13.1

I knew I was on pace, and I just wanted to get to the halfway point feeling good. I figured it would only be downhill from there – right?

From miles 10 to 13, we passed by the Philly Zoo and looped through Fairmount Park. There were a couple significant hills in the park, but I shortened my stride and powered through. As we entered the park, I ripped open gel number three and washed it down with a few more sips of gatorade.

Mile 10 ticked off a little slow from the hill (7:29), but 11 to 13 were back on pace (7:19, 7:13, 7:20). Just before the halfway point, we crossed over the bridge and I felt like the end was getting close.

My official split at the halfway point was 1:37:16. I knew my GPS was a little off (around two tenths of a mile over at this point), but it was pretty close. At this rate, I was on track to finish in 3:14:30.

I was a bit confused about the absence of the 3:15 pace group, though. I was on pace, so I expected to see them. But apparently, based on another race report I read, they were really the 3:10 pace group but they didn’t have the right sign. Makes sense now, but I kept feeling like I should catch up to them at any moment.

Did another mental check. Legs felt good. Hip felt good. The pace felt good. Let’s go!

More Hills In Fairmount Park – Miles 13.1 to 16

After crossing the halfway point, the route loops through East Fairmount Park and the athletic fields. There’s a long hill, and suddenly things started to feel a little bit harder.

I knew I was slowing down a tad with the incline, and miles 14 (7:32) and 15 (7:39) were a bit off pace. But I hoped that I could make up some time on the downhill and get back on pace.

Sure enough, mile 16 I rode the decline to a good split – 7:13. But then we merged onto Kelly Drive, and things went downhill from there – and not in the good way.

Straight Into the Wind – Mile 17 to 20

For the next four miles, the route goes north along Kelly Drive towards Manayunk. The crowds were pretty sparse, and we were running straight into the wind. It got hard, quick.

As I turned onto Kelly Drive and passed the Mile 16 marker, I started to see the leaders pass by on their way back to the finish. Hard to believe they were 8 miles ahead of me (Mile 24) and about the finish imminently.

I trudged along, one foot in front of the other. At the aid station, I grabbed some water and took my first and only quick walking break. Part of my plan had been to walk through the aid stations to ease any potential discomfort in my hip – but it didn’t really seem necessary. So I hadn’t walked any of the aid stations until this one.

After a thirty second walk, I picked up the pace and got back at it. Mile 17 clicked off at 7:46. A little slow, but not bad considering I walked part. Then Mile 18 (7:45) was still slow. And Mile 19 was slower yet (7:51).

At this point we were running into Manayunk. On the bright side, the crowd was getting much thicker and the energy was increasing. I passed a table full of beer, and I briefly contemplated stopping to drink one. The last stretch of Manayunk was amazing. But that last mile was also largely uphill, so it was a slog.

My watch clicked off 20 miles just before the turnaround point – 8:06. My slowest split yet. Eugh. This was getting bad, quick.

Pushing On to the Finish – Miles 21 to 26.2

Although I was exhausted at this point, I hit the turnround point in Manayunk and tried to speed up a bit. I was mildly successful.

I rode the energy back out of town – and hit 7:43 for Mile 21. Then 7:42 for Mile 22. I was slowly picking it up. My estimated finish time still showed that I could come in under 3:20, so I was hoping to slowly ease the pace back down towards 7:30 and finish in style.

But then around Mile 23 I started to have some digestive issues. Uh oh. I debated things for a minute, then I decided to just go for the next portapotty. I wasn’t going to risk it with three miles left.

I saw a row of portapotties coming up on the right, and I pulled off. But as I went to open the door I realized it was locked. I looked to the right and the left. The whole row of portapotties was locked! What the hell!

Somebody else slowed up behind me and came to the same hellish realization. I merged back into the crowd and ran off down the road. Thankfully, there was another set of portapotties just down the road and these were open. I hit the first one, and I got in and out fairly quickly.

I lost a little over a minute in the pit stop, and my split for the mile was 8:48. But when I came out, I felt much better and was able to speed up a little. Mile 24 – 7:29.

The next couple of miles, I just put my head down and tried to keep the pace. I didn’t have it in me to really speed up, but hell if I was going to slow down. At some point, I caught up with a small group of runners and realized they were the 3:20 pace group. I listened in on the pacer’s motivational speech, and I just tried to keep going.

Mile 25 – 7:37. Ok. Try to speed up a little. Mile 26 – 7:31. Better. The finish line should be just ahead, right? But at this point, I realized my GPS was a little further off (~.35 over), so after my watch buzzed that I was finished I had a full third of a mile to go.

As my watch approached 3:20, I knew I had too much ground left to cover. So I just kept the pace and I crossed the finish line at 3:20:30.

My results from the Philly Marathon, with a map attached.

The Post-Race Chill

I felt pretty warm throughout the race, but when I stopped that all changed. I had taken my gloves off to use the portapotty, and I didn’t put them back on. A mistake.

As I crossed the finish line, someone handed me a medal and one of those warm space blankets. Then I passed through the area with water and bananas, and grabbed one of each. Holding the cold water in my hand was not fun, and my hand quickly started to go numb again.

I grabbed a cup of hot broth and sipped it down. It was delicious. I hobbled over to one of the vendors with espresso and biscotti, and I sipped on the biscotti. I also took the time to tie the space blanket around me into a little skirt/wrap, and it kept my legs nice and warm. The only problem now was my hands.

A nice volunteer gave me a big paper bag to hold things, and I quickly dumped the cold water in there. I hobbled over to the gear check and picked up my stuff. I put on my clothes and warmed up, waiting for my wife. It took a while for her to find me, but eventually she found me over by gear check.

I was too cold to enjoy hanging out at the finish area too much longer, so we hobbled back to the hotel. That was a much longer walk than I remembered in the morning. But the hot shower was great, and once I had some clean clothes on we hunted down a cheesesteak. After a short nap, it was time to check out and head for home.

Reflections and What’s Next

Looking on the bright side, there was plenty to be happy about with this race.

I’d worried about my hip and my injury, but that turned out fine. That’s a good sign moving forward, as I was afraid I might need to take an extended period off after the race to heal up.

Although I slowed down along Kelly Drive, I powered through the last six miles. My pace was a little slower in the second half, and I definitely lost some time from miles 16 to 20, but I did a good job of turning it around in the home stretch and holding on for a decent finish. My first half was 1:37:16 and my second half was 1:43:14. About a six minute positive split, which isn’t too bad all things considered.

I also did this in bad conditions. I enjoyed the cold, but the wind definitely held me back. So I can take some solace in knowing that on a perfect day, I’d have definitely run a little faster.

But it wasn’t all great.

I was hoping to have a more even split, and part of me wonders if I was still a little too aggressive in the first half. Or maybe this was just a consequence of my training falling apart in the last few weeks because of my injury. Let’s hope the next training cycle goes better and I’ve got more consistency.

And I was not happy about having to make another pit stop. I made it farther in the race this year (~23 miles) than last year (~13 miles). But I still had to hit the portapotty. In retrospect, maybe I should have used water at the aid stations with the gels instead of gatorade. I’ll try that in my next race and hope for the best.

After the race, and the next morning, I felt pretty good. Much better than I had the year before. I was tired and definitely sore – my calves were especially wrecked – but I was still mobile enough to walk around the city and to go for an easy job the following morning.

I’m going to take it easy for the rest of the year, and then training starts again on January 1. I’m signed up for the Jersey City Marathon on April 23, and that’s the next big race on my calendar. I’ll probably hit up a couple shorter races along the way, but I need to work out when those will be.

I’m banking on breaking 3:10 in that race and laying down a solid BQ time so that I can qualify for Boston in 2024. I think 3:05-3:10 is a very reasonable target, given what I did in this race. I just need to stay healthy, stay consistent, and put in the work.

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