I knew the second half of the marathon was when my mental strength would be tested. During my past two marathons, both in New York City, I’ve hit the wall on or around mile 17. I told Elizabeth, who was still by my side during the middle miles, that I wanted to use the Philadelphia Marathon course’s out and back style to my advantage.
I’m going to focus on the runners coming back my way and smile at them while watching for people I know. Hopefully this will make the miles pass quicker.
For the next 3 miles of quiet along Kelly Drive I did just that. I enjoyed the people watching while also taking in the sites of Boathouse Row. While there were very few spectators in this area, I was lucky enough to be spotted by 2 old Philadelphia friends from my time living in the city and 3 more blog readers. In the back of my head, knowing that someone I knew could see me at any point on the course definitely motivated me to run strong.
Little did I know how true this was as within the next minute we came upon the Lululemon Cheer Squad where Leslie spotted me! Seeing her huge smile and scream was exactly what I needed at this point. I knew that I’d see her again around mile 22 and was excited to have something to look forward to during this quiet part of the course. (photo courtesy of Leslie)
By mile 17, when we reached the Falls Bridge, Kristin was running her own race and it was now just me and Elizabeth. Our pace continued to click away right around 11:08 and we both couldn’t believe how strong we felt. Even going back up the hill to Falls Bridge after the short out and back on the other side of the river, around 18, our pace stayed on target and our breath came smoothly. We decided at this point that we’d do our best to start pushing the speed. We knew we’d have to start ticking off 3-4 seconds per mile if we wanted to break 4:45 still.
However, as we tried to push faster we both realized that this wasn’t the best time to do so. We could tell that the next few miles were a gradual uphill through Manayunk, where we’d reach our next crowd. Instead, we decided to keep with our 11:08 pace and our plan to run the first 20 like a long run and kick it in gear a bit for the final 10k. This area of the course was a bit more challenging than I’d expected just because the out and back seemed longer. The gradual incline never seemed to end and the crowd support came later than I expected.
At mile 20, just past the turnaround point, Elizabeth and I saw Meghan pass us looking wonderfully strong. I knew she was going to kick this marathon based on her strong training, including a 15 miler just 2 weeks previous which was such a smart decision on her part. As she passed I tried to catch up but couldn’t do it. I spent the next 2 minutes screaming for her, not realizing that she had on her headphones. I swear the amount of energy I exerted during this time felt as if I’d just dashed a mile. When I crossed the 20 mile marker I knew I didn’t have the energy left in me to keep up with her pace. Elizabeth looked at me and said she wanted to push it a bit faster and asked if I wanted to join her. Her original goal was a 4:40, faster than my goal, and therefore I feared going out too fast at this point. Who knows if I made the right decision or whether my body could have handled it. I’ll never know. I thanked her for her amazing 20 miles worth of support and told her that I’d do my best to keep her in my sights instead. She had just helped me accomplish something I never thought possible- run for 20 miles without a single stop or even water walk. That in itself was an accomplishment enough for me.
At that point, mile 20.5, I put my headphones on, took another Gu, sipped water, and promised myself that unless I felt injury, I would not walk. I’d trained for weeks and wanted to make myself proud. I wanted to cross the finish line with pride. I slowly started to focus on people ahead of me and do my best to pass them, one by one. My pace at the 21 mile mark was 11:10, according to my Garmin and my goal was to keep taking it down each mile. While I didn’t necessarily have the energy to push out 10:30 minute miles, I did negative split those next five miles. Below is just a glimpse into my thoughts during these last miles.
Mile 22: 11:00 (I can do this. If I just listen to Pit Bull’s I Cry a few more times I’ll keep from crying.)
Mile 23: 10:58 (Okay let’s keep the body relaxed and no waving as that uses energy. One foot in front of the other. Oh look at those people cheering. Act like they are your own fans and read their signs as you push past them.)
Mile 24: 10:58 (Hmm, you could see epic cheer squad at any point. Remember that Ashley has her camera ready. Look strong. Keep focused. Okay, let’s change the music to something a bit more upbeat. Hmm, Call Me Maybe?)
Mile 25: 10:49 (How is it possible that I haven’t seen the cheer squad yet? How am I not tired of listening to Call Me Maybe on repeat? Oh lord my lower back is so tight. My legs aren’t hurting but my actual feet are. Okay, let’s change it to Gangam Style and then finish out the marathon with a Reach the Beach Tribute.)
Mile 26: 10:23 (Okay, I have to keep exactly on pace to beat 4:55. I’ve worked too hard to not make that goal. Wait, let me spend this minute figuring out if there is any chance of 4:50. Oh no, these legs don’t have 7 minute miles in them. Okay, focus on running. Holy shit there is the sign. Oh my gosh Bo and Beth are screaming so loud. I love them. I love the entire cheer squad for being here and being so supportive. How amazing is Michael. I can’t believe he is still out here cheering for me. Maybe if I show them how much I love them they’ll believe me. I heart them. Oh wait, let’s finish this marathon. Just .3 mile left. Time to sprint for them.)
See below in order, thanks to Ashley’s amazing race day photography!
Mile 26-26.5: 8:22 (Oh lord. My quad hurts so badly. Come on sprint just end. I wonder if everyone else from our team is finished. Okay just cross the line, don’t look at Garmin and walk directly to the Pennies in Action tent. I really want a banana.)
Finish: Holy hell. I just ran 26.4 miles without stopping a single time. My left leg is so sore. My shoulders hurt. I’m sobbing. I can’t believe this. I have to call Gia immediately. Do I want to run another marathon again or is this a good way to go out? Wait, if I can run 4:53 here what do I have in me if I don’t have a 5 week taper? Wow, I can’t believe how steady I paced myself during that marathon. Wait if it had been 26.2 I actually would have done closer to 4:50. Shut up Ashley no marathon is exactly 26.2 miles. Just go celebrate and find your friends and Bo.
To everyone who made this marathon possible whether through generous donations to Pennies In Action (me with the founder in the above picture) or through your positive thoughts and motivation, THANK YOU!