Our entire group woke up bright and early Sunday morning to party music and Beth serenading us with marathon morning greetings. I swear she was more excited than we were! I was blessed to be around a group of morning people so we were all moving faster than you’d believe.
We all sipped on coffee and tried to stomach some bagel, peanut butter and bananas as we danced to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song.
Meghann came over to Michael’s apartment at 6 and by 6:15 we were walking the mile from Rittenhouse Square to the race start. The walk gave us time to review our strategies for the marathon as a group and provide Nadia with some last minute motivation. By this point Kristin and I had decided that we’d start together and let our bodies and minds decide how long we stuck together. Our strategies for hopefully breaking 4:45 and at least setting a new PR was directly from Gia’s coaching:
- Start out slower than you believe necessary, absolutely no faster than 10:50.
- Treat the first 20 miles like a long run.
- Sip water every mile.
- Take fuel every 4.5 miles even when not in the mood.
- Don’t use music until I absolutely need it, hopefully in the second half of the marathon.
We stored our gear at the Pennies in Action charity tent, just steps from the start line, before parting ways with our cheer squad (Michael, Beth, and Ashley) along with Nadia and Meghan. Meghan chose to deal with the hell known as the Philadelphia Marathon & Half Marathon porta potty line. They need to add at least an extra 25 more toilets next year!
Having this charity tent as a meeting place was so convenient and took stress off all of us!
As you can tell from the above, we also decided to wear our NYC Marathon bibs on our backs. We figured that around mile 20 it’d be a nice conversation piece for other runners which would hopefully give us an extra push.
Just as we were heading over to the corrals around 6:45, a friendly woman ran up asking if she could run with us. It turns out she raised money for Pennies in Action and also reads my blog! She knew from the blog that we were all trying for the same pace. Elizabeth was such a fun surprise and she too was running her 3rd marathon. A mother to two young children her humor immediately made Kristin and I smile!
The 3 of us confirmed our goals for the race and that we’d stick together as long as possible but would save our energy and therefore not talk much, instead taking in the sights and sounds of Philadelphia.
After the National Anthem and some last minute pump up jams and stretching, we heard the start and knew our time was coming quickly. By 7:10 we were crossing the starting line giving Mayor Nutter a high five and running in the cool, crisp Philadelphia air, ready to enjoy the gorgeous weather.
The first mile was a bit cramped but we saved our energy by hugging the far right side and keeping around an 11:08 pace. The slow pace gave us a chance to take in the crowds and see our cheer squad at 18th street, right past mile 1. They were already screaming their heads off and at this point Kristin threw Beth her watch as the Garmin wasn’t working well.
This spur of the moment decision by Kristin was the best thing she could have ever done! She looked at me and asked if I would pace our group, keeping us on target and ensure our pace didn’t get too fast. I’ve never been a strong pacer and am guilty of going out to fast more often than not. But, knowing that I had other people’s races on the line made me focus on the pace.
For the next five miles we took in the sights, laughed at signs, thanked the Philadelphia marathon planning crew for changing the course to avoid cobblestones, reminded each other to sip water, and took our fuel. Around mile 6 we started watching for our cheer section which helped this mile pass quickly. As we ran through South Philadelphia I watched for the neon signs and finally saw Bo’s red hair jumping up and down. Thanks to my sparkly skirt he saw me far earlier than I saw him and had our whole cheer squad prepared to greet us.
I am so thankful that Theodora shared this sign with me via our Marine Corps Marathon discussions as Bo’s sign was definitely a popular one on the course. Evidently lots of people gave him high fives and laughed as they read the sign! During these first six miles the spectators were a bit weaker than I remembered, many people stood silently holding signs but not screaming. Clearly they didn’t get the memo from Beth, Bo, Michael, and Ashley on how to be epic cheerleaders.
When we passed them I told the girls that the next few miles were pretty important since we’d encounter hills and quickly part ways with the half marathoners who would also be sprinting towards their finish line. So far, for miles 1 through 7 we were holding our pace right at 11:07, never hovering more than a few seconds in either direction. Our goal was to hold pace through the hills, while making sure we respected the uphills, allowing our pace to drop some if we needed. We ran up past the Philadelphia Zoo and across to Fairmount Park and the hills near the Please Touch Museum and carousel. The leaves were gorgeous in this area but there were definitely not many spectators. During these “hills” I had my first few tears of the marathon as I told Elizabeth and Kristin that last time I ran the half I had to walk these hills which I thought at the time were impossible. While these few miles included hills, nothing was worse than Harlem Hill and I felt very prepared for them.
As we exited the park we headed down the Schuylkill River path towards Philadelphia. It was amazing to look across the river and see that there were marathoners already running back towards the city, around mile 22! At this point Kristin started to run a bit behind me and Elizabeth. I knew she was feeling tired and tried to slow to stick with her but was worried when I noticed our pace was closer to 11:20 than 11:10. It was at this point that I started to talk with Elizabeth, focusing on getting to know her better to take our mind off the run itself. In addition, I continued to play tour guide, telling them about the Water Works, Boathouse Row, and the Art Museum.
As the marathoners and half marathoners split ways, right past the mile 12 marker, I realized I wasn’t going to see Sabrina who was cheering on Trig and instead took a chance to take inventory of my body and mind. I checked in to see how I was feeling, knowing I was about to enter into the second half of the marathon. I wanted to smile from ear to ear I was feeling so great. I had fueled 2 times so far (4.5 and 9), sipped plenty of water, run my first half without music, was dressed perfectly for the weather, was enjoying the sights, and my pace was right at 11:09. I told Kristin and Elizabeth that I had done the math in my head and if I could keep an 11:09 for the whole marathon I’d have more than a 10 minute PR. By this point I wasn’t sure if 4:45 was feasible as I’d been pretty conservative in the beginning with our pace, never dropping to the 10:55 we’d discussed.
As we crossed the half marathon mark, I decided that my body and mine felt like 11:09 was feasible but I didn’t know that the 5 week taper and other training bumps would allow me to run a 4:45. I wasn’t upset at all. Instead I was more thrilled with how I felt at this point and had just run a stronger half marathon, mentally, than I have in ages. As Kristin’s pace dropped I knew that we’d be parting ways soon but instead told her that she should try and stay as close as possible. I kept pointing to the space next to me in hopes that she’d take her place again in our trio. But, I know how it feels to enter the second half of a marathon not feeling great and therefore didn’t want her to waste energy sprinting either or feel any less of herself.
I spent the 13th mile watching for Bo and our cheering squad, who we were supposed to see around the half point. Even when I realized we’d missed them, the smile from my face still couldn’t be removed. I was about to run the strongest marathon ever and 3rd time was going to be a charm.
….To be continued tomorrow as I have a Notre Dame to finish watching!
PS Thanks to Erica Sara and Ashley Byron for amazing pictures since I ran the race without taking a single picture!