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What “Running Means”Race Report from the Philly Half MarathonPart II – Race Day

Posted Nov 28 2009 8:29pm

It was a cool crisp 40 degrees when BS and I escaped the comfy confines of our hotel room and began the walk over to the race start. Although it was still completely dark at 6AM and I was still shivering a little when we began our walk, I could already tell we were going to have perfect running weather for this race. I had slept well, ate well, and hydrated a ton the night before. Dressed in my race-ready NY Flyers shirt and shorts underneath my running jacket and tights, I felt more ready than ever to have a strong race.
The spirited raspy voice of Bart Yasso over the loud speaker welcomed me to the pre-race staging area. Despite the chaos of runners, volunteers, and race officials scurrying in every direction around me, I was calm and relaxed walking around the starting area and finding my way around. At around 6:30 or so, I said goodbye to BS as we went to look for our respective UPS trucks to drop off our bags. It wasn’t until I had stripped off my layers down to my racing shirt and shorts that I realized that my baggage tag was missing from my bag! Since it was only attached via an adhesive (and not pinned – their idea, not mine), it must have fallen off during the transit from my hotel room to hear. I didn’t think it was such a big deal until the baggage volunteers insisted that they could not take my bag until it was tagged! I complained vehemently to a nearby race official who told me that my bag cannot be checked and that my only option was to go to the registration area all the way on the opposite side of the staging area to get a blank sticker. It was now 6:45. I started to panic. I made a feeble attempt to get over to the registration area, but gave up when I couldn’t find my way around the port-a-john lines that were blocking my way. I went back to my UPS truck and begged the volunteers to take my bag so I could run my race. They said no. Right there and then, I wanted to scream because I was pretty certain my race was over. It was now 6:50. Right at that moment, out of the corner of my ear, I hear my name being called. “L, can I help hold your bag?” It was BH, one of my Flyer friends from back home who had traveled down to watch the race and take pictures after running a 60K in Central Park the day before! It was surreal. I thanked him profusely, gave him my bag, and sprinted like hell to find the maroon corral and get into place. I reached the designated area just as the national anthem was finishing and they were about to send the lone wheelchair racer off onto the course. A slight delay gave me a couple of minutes to catch my breath and reflect on what had just happened. It the mad dash to get over to the starting line, I had forgotten to take my bandanna out of my bad. So it looks like I’d have to run this one with a naked head! I chuckled at my own joke as I heard the final race instructions being given one last time. I was just glad I made it over so I wouldn’t have to be stuck in the back of the crowd. A few minutes later, somewhat unannounced, the starting horn sounded, and we were off!

Running means fresh and new beginnings –
For every race, every day, and every life.
Mile 1 – 6:19; Mile 2 – 6:15
It was a crowded start right out of the gate. Although I was in the second corral right behind the elites and everyone around me was running strong and fast, it felt as if it still took me a good chunk of the first mile to settle into my pace. I didn’t mind though. Running through the streets of downtown Philadelphia with all its historical tall buildings next to enthusiastic crowds cheering us on was a true runner’s delight. I took my time and space and fought hard not to weave or squeeze by the congestion in the early going. There were a lot of speedy runners out on these narrow streets today and the last thing I wanted to do was cause an accident.
The sun was starting to rise off the horizon as we turned off Ben Franklin Pkwy onto Arch Street near the end of the first mile. Along the way, we passed by the Reading Terminal where I had lunch the day before and the Convention Center where the race expo was held. It was eerie to think that I was running here in Philadelphia when 24 hours ago I was still in bed in NYC! I had a mental flashback of the emotional rollercoaster I endured the previous day (and this morning) just to get to this point that I felt extremely lucky and privileged just to be able to run this race. Because of all that I went through, I really wanted to run well here, more as a confirmation to myself that I was meant to run this race than as an exhibition or testament for others.
Although the mile pace for the opening miles was a little more brisk than I’d imagined, I didn’t react and hold back, but allowed my body and legs to dictate the pace. After all, I had run the Staten Island Half a month ago for a big PR by adopting that same philosophy and since this course is supposedly faster than any of the ones back home, I figured my best chance of success is to stick to what works for me.

Running means finding the inner peace and confidence
To be your own animal and travel at your own pace
Mile 3 – 6:16; Mile 4 – 6:28
Mile 2 ends with a Gumby-like cartoon character standing on the corner slapping high-fives to all the runners as we made the turn onto Delaware Avenue which overlooks onto the Delaware River. I can’t remember what he was advertising but I remember feeling so pumped after verifying my fast pace in the early going with my Garmin that I gave him a harder slap than I intended to as I passed by, causing him to fall back a step or two. Woops! I’m sure I got quite a few quizzical looks from my neighbors after that exchange.
Mile 3 was a little windy and quiet and there wasn’t as much crowd support here as in the previous miles. I was dialed into my pace now and was slowly settling in with a pack of veteran runners who looked like they’ve done this before. It irked me that from the back, I couldn’t tell who were halfers and who were fullers. I wanted this information to gauge whether I should consider sticking with them for the long haul or whether I would be better off setting my own pace and running my own race. I struggled with this decision for almost the full mile.
As it turns out, it was a completely speculative debate because by the time I left Delaware Avenue on a mild accent up to South Street, it became evident that I would not be holding on to this ridiculously brisk pace. I tempered my own expectations and drifted back as I allowed the pack to surge on ahead. I perused the window decorations on the surrounding small town shops to recalibrate my system and return to a state of relaxed running where I had been before I got myself tangled up with the elite pack from mile 3. I was slightly disappointed at my significantly slower mile time for mile 4, but figured that this was about the pace I expected myself to keep right from the outset, so in essence, I was back on track!

Running means love, community and support –
Even when you don’t think you are so deserving.
Mile 5 – 6:29; Mile 6 – 6:29
I settled into a groove at miles 5 and 6. Running through South Street and then Chestnut with crowds bursting out of shops, coffee houses and stores was simply exhilarating! I heard my name called out several times as I ran through here and it made me completely smile every time. I had to fight back the urge to turn back and acknowledge the crowd even as I knew I would have no way of identifying who was shouting what.
We also passed by Independence Hall and a group of guys dressed up as Patriots standing on the side. Some were handing out water, some were singing songs. All were cheering and clapping for each runner as we passed by. From my vantage point, it made me feel somewhat patriotic just to be running this race.

Running means challenging yourself
To be better than you think you can be.
Mile 7 – 6:30; Mile 8 – 6:43; Mile 9 – 6:32
These middle miles were the toughest miles for me today for several reasons. For starters, there were hills and steep climbs in each of these miles that I was not expecting. For the most part, I tackled each one the best that I could, by keeping my strides short, increasing my turnover and powering through with a consistent effort. This was a good strategy for me as I would pass by many runners on all my uphill climbs. The problem was that once I crested the hills, it took quite a while for my heart rate to recover and settle down. As a result, my pace and heart rate drifted erratically during this stretch and I really had to fight some demons here to prevent a midway meltdown.
Incidentally, this was also the part of the course with the least number of spectators. Emerging from the boisterous crowds in downtown Philly, I was surprised to find so many dead areas in these miles. I remember seeing lots of lawns and trees on my way through and wishing that I could just lie down there with a bottle of sunscreen!
Finally, the middle miles was demoralizing on me because I was fighting my pace the whole way. For some reason, I had it in my mind that I should be running faster than 6:30 miles so to see my pace hovering at 6:29-6:30 was a frustrating and disconcerting. At times, I experimented by throwing a few speed surges but still found that I was married to a 6:30 paces at the end of them. It was a bit depressing. I can’t even explain why I felt so bad about it, since prior to a month ago, 6:30 was my half marathon PR pace, but to be doing it here, in this race, so consistently mile-after-mile after starting out at a blistering fast pace just felt like a copout to me.

Running means living a passionate life
And inspiring others to do the same.
Mile 10 – 6:36; Mile 11 – 6:31
The final and the toughest hill climb came at the end of mile 10 next to Memorial Hall in Fairmont Park. This was a nasty ascent not only because it was long and steep, but also because you could see the entire length of the uphill trail all the way from the bottom as it winds itself up through the grassy field onto the overpass ahead. Although I had advanced notice of this section of the course from friends who’ve run here before, I still felt very intimidated by this hill when I happened upon it toward the latter stages of mile 10. I saw a couple of demoralized runners walking off to the side as I approached the ascent gingerly and relaxed my pace. I ran methodically with short quick strides and followed the procession up the hill. At the crest, I had to stop for a few seconds to settle my breathing and drink my water at the fluid station before continuing on.
After vanquishing the hill and crossing the 10 mile mark, I knew all that stood between me and the finish was a short 5K. Although I wanted to begin gradually increasing my speed, I didn’t know how much I had left at the tank after the brutal climb a half mile before. So I bid my time and waited until my breathing was less labored before considering a push towards the finish. We were at a short out-and-back now and I could see a few friends and Flyers coming up from behind me about a half-mile to a mile away. I gave each a wave and a cheer of encouragement. Just about everyone I saw looked like they were running really fast and heading for big PRs in their race. This was very inspiring to see. At the end of this mile, we left the out and back and I knew it was time for me to get down to business.

Running means breaking down limits and barriers
And discovering a better me
Mile 12 – 6:21; Mile 13 – 5:58; Last 0.1 – 0:42
My mile 11 time was both comforting and frustrating to me at the same time. On the one hand, I was glad to see that I recovered from the monstrous climb at mile 10 to reclaim my previous running pace. However, this pace was again 6:31. At this point, I had an internal debate with myself regarding how I should handle the last two miles of this half marathon. The safe, conservative approach would be to maintain 6:30-6:32 pace and come in at a respectable 1:25 or so. This result wouldn’t stand out but be commendable and respectable to everyone. Or, I could push the envelope, go for broke, and maybe secure a new PR. In the few seconds it took me to deliberate these possibilities, I thought about the events of yesterday and this morning. I thought about how close I was to not even running this race. I thought about all my half marathons of this past year and how I wanted this last one to be something special, to stand out. Once I realized what I must do, I started picking up my pace slowly and steadily. One by one, I began passing runners. This gave me fuel and energy to run even faster. At the one mile mark, I checked my pace and realized that I was now running 6:20 and right on par for a PR. I close my eyes and continue to push the pace. I’m now passing people in droves. They are all looking at me wondering how it could be that I’m running so fast. I don’t ask, I don’t try. In my mind, I’m running mile intervals around the Central Park reservoir by myself. When I’m a half-mile away from the finish, I crank it up another notch and begin my push to the finish line. I’m counting steps and watching the clock at the same time. At last, I see the sign for the finish and start my final kick. Upon seeing 1:24:XX as I crossed the finish line, I knew I had done it. Another half-marathon complete, another PR!

Final Time – 1:24:14 (PR by 0:11)

Final Thoughts
I know it wasn’t a big PR, but I’m really proud of how I ran this race. I allowed my legs to set the pace in the early miles, kept and maintained an even effort on the middle miles and fought complacency, inattentiveness and fatigue to run my fastest mile in the last mile of the race en-route to a half-marathon PR in the final race of the 13.1 mile distance this calendar year. It is shocking to realize that in just one short year, I have set 3 PRs and improved by more than a minute in the half-marathon. I’m excited to experience all of this again as I begin the chase to 1:23 next year!
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