A Fair Weather Marathon: Philly race recap

Finally! A fair weather marathon!

Overcast and in the 50s for the first 20 miles, then sunny in the low 60s for the last 5-6 miles, I finally had a marathon in good weather!  The city of brotherly and sisterly love was good to me.

Here are some of the high lights and then I’ll get into a more in depth recap:

I got to hear the Rocky theme three times on the course, I drank some nice cold beer at miles 19 and 21, and I got to high five the mayor at the finish! Oh and my big brother (sort of) surprised me by training down from NYC in time to cheer me on with my dad at the finishers shoot which put an extra wide smile on my face.

The crowds and signs were fantastic. The first half marathon through the city was sight seeing worthy and the second half along the river was beautiful and scenic. Philadelphia really knows how to put on a great city-wide marathon, and this year being its 20th year, had a gigantic bling-like medal to prove it!

And now for the more detailed report (skip to the photos if you don’t need the details!)

The origin of doing this marathon, if you don’t know, goes back to the week following the Boston Marathon bombing. A good friend of mine was running the marathon as part of our university’s charity team and was stopped well before the finish. Although the race organizers gave her a medal, the events of the day and the fact that she didn’t get that finality of crossing the finish line of her first marathon, left her feeling the need to sign up for another race. When she told me she was signing up for Philly, I jumped at the chance to run with her in a race where she  would officially be able to cross the finish line of a marathon. My own coping mechanism for what happened in Boston, along the finishing route of a race I had completed just a year before, was to sign up for another marathon. I also decided to run this marathon as a Solemate, raising money for Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina. My decision to run Philly was much more than just a decision to run another marathon.

I had only spent an afternoon in Philadelphia before this past weekend, a stopover on a drive from DC to NYC. What a great city! I could devote an entire post to the afternoon spent at the Barnes Foundation with my friend and my dad and another to the food I ate! I flew out of Asheville on Friday afternoon and got to Philly in time to meet up with my friend Cecilia, and the friends she was staying with, for some (veg) sushi. After dinner we spend some time walking around the city on a cool but not cold night, with City Hall lit up beautifully, and marathon banners hanging from every street sign.

The next morning I looked out my window and saw runners doing the 8k race and went down to breakfast surrounded by runners and their families – athletic wear and running shoes in abundance. I met up with Cecilia at the convention center for the expo, where we spent a very long time going from vendor to vendor and getting any last minute items we might need (she needed a new pair of headphones.) Working up an appetite we headed to a vegan pizza place called Blackbirds, recommended to me by some vegan friends. Holy moly, my beet salad and slice of pizza with spinach, roasted garlic and a pumpkin seed pesto base were amazing!

My dad joined us after he landed and after carb-ing up on delicious food, we headed over to the Barnes Foundation. If you are a fan of post-impressionism or just a fan of great museums, this is a collection that will blow your mind! It is unlike any other “museum” you’ve been to, arranged exactly how Albert Barnes arranged it before his death. That one collector amassed what is now valued at $25 billion is mind-boggling. If you want to know the controversy of the collection’s move to downtown Philly, Netflix has a great documentary online called “The Art of the Steal” that is worth checking out.

Next stop on the day was Whole Foods to grab some dinner and race day breakfast, then to the hotel for some caffeine free tea and early bed time.

Race morning was early. They wanted us to go through security at 5am, I was aiming to leave my hotel and make the mile walk to the starting corrals at 5am so I woke up around 4:20am. I had plenty of company on my walk, plus that hotel had some fruit and coffee/tea set up downstairs for us to take with us. After successfully making it through security I met up with Cecilia who had made a new friend due to her large container full of steamed sweet potato! (If you know my love of sweet potatoes then you might know why we’re friends!) This guy was a badass marathoner, having just run NYC marathon and many others as his base training before starting his training cycle for Boston. We talked with him and some other really cool sounding people, wished them luck and headed to the port-a-johns and bag check. We finally connected with our friend Sadie, who ran cross country at Tufts, who was running her first marathon – at a much faster pace than me… We got a nice little Tufts reunion photo (notice the background of the photo below, haha) and then went to our respective corrals.

My corral crossed the start line at 7:23am, to the Rocky theme! (1st time) There was a cool moment at the beginning of the race on Ben Franklin Parkway where the runners split right or left at a round-about and joined back together on the other side that kind of reminded me of cyclists in the Tour de France. The first half marathon wound it’s way through downtown, Cecilia and I marveled at how much of the route we had walked the day before. We were going at a very steady pace, the flat course helped with that a lot. We had talked before the race about our respective pacing strategies and decided to run the first half marathon together and maybe she would push the pace a little more on the back half. I decided since I wasn’t racing this due to my quad injury, that I wouldn’t push the pace on the second half but just try to evenly split the two halves, nice and steady throughout. So we ran together for the first 14 miles, waving at my dad at about the halfway mark.

The second half of the race was a gorgeous out and back along the river, so we were able to see the fast runners on their way back towards the finish and the packs of pace groups (seeing who was trying to qualify for Boston!) Spectators were along the river, running or biking to various points along the race. There was a scenic little detour where we crossed a bridge and came back over and at that point I got to high five Cecilia who was less than a minute ahead of me at that point. Another mile or two down the road, at mile 19, I saw a sign that said “Only beer up ahead.” Since I wasn’t pushing myself and since it wasn’t super hot, I thought that a gulp of cold beer would be nice, and it was! I hit them up again after the turn around on my way back, mile 21ish. The turnaround point was on the neat little Main Street of Manayunk where lots of spectators were out or were eating brunch at cafes. Not far from the turnaround I saw Cecilia coming back and high fived her again, she looked super strong, now a couple three minutes ahead of me. After the turnaround it was almost a straight shot back to the start/finish, which mentally was kind of nice, even if it was 6 more miles. I just kind of went into autopilot and cruised.

I ran beside this girl for a while along the river who had these two fans who kept biking a quarter mile ahead or so, getting off their bikes and cheering for her to pass, then they’d go a little further up the course and do it again! I asked her about it and she said they were her brother and sister-in-law, a nice cheering duo for her first marathon. I couldn’t keep count of the number of signs I saw that said they were out there to cheer for complete strangers (they would go something along the lines of “Way to go, complete stranger!”) Seriously, the people out cheering were awesome. Around mile 22 I got hungry so ate my mini-larabar, but until then had only water, and beer I guess, to fuel me during the run. With 5k left, I started up the White Album and tried to ignore that my feet were starting to hurt and that my left quad was stiffening up. Heading to the finishing area though I took off my headphones because I only wanted to hear the crowd!

With just a few hundred yards left to go I spotted my dad in the crowd, with my brother cheering next to him! I waved and got a huge smile on my face because although we had talked about him coming down from NYC, he hadn’t let me know if he was going to for sure, or if he’d even be there in time for the race! It was an awesome surprise! I picked up the pace and with that gigantic smile on my face, I high fived the mayor of Philadelphia and crossed the finish line of my third marathon, in four hours and 25 minutes, pretty good for having an injured quad and not looking at my watch for the whole second half of the race! Cecilia had finished just a few minutes before me according to my dad and brother. I was so immensely happy for her! I walked through the finishers area (which all the sudden seemed way too long of a way to walk!) and got my gigantic bling – a special 20th anniversary medal.

I met my dad and brother and we snapped some photos, I sat down for a little while, and then we walked the mile back to our hotel, I wanted a nice cold (full) beer! Back in the hotel room I took a cold shower followed by a hot soak in the tub, which I highly suggest as a recovery regimen. I rested for a while but then needed a walk and a snack, went and got some sweet potato fries from Hip-City Veg, another great vegan suggestion (anyone see a sweet potato trend?) After more rest, my dad, brother and I went to a great restaurant called Talula’s Garden, where my fennel, date and pear salad and my maple roasted pumpkin entree were a perfect ending to the day. Not only was it a great marathon, it was also a great and memorable trip overall.

Philly, I will be back, whether just for a visit or for another race!

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5 responses to “A Fair Weather Marathon: Philly race recap

  1. Well done 🙂 I agree that it was a beautiful day, though I was a little more excited about the first half than the second. While I do agree that it was a scenic ride, it was a little too … lazy, I guess. It’s a problem many big-city marathons face. They can send people through the crowded downtown but only in the morning, after that they have to open roads. It’s a necessary evil, I suppose.

    Anyway, well done on that second half — sounds like you cruised through it. Looking at your watch a lot is a sure sign of struggle, so the fact that you barely checked it out meant you were dominating it.

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