Sunday I ran the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia. It was my second time as an official race entrant but I like to pretend 2008 didn’t happen (long story short — “ran” it was my then-gf to the tune of about 2 hours). This is a race I had been looking forward to and had a big star around since I registered in January. My goals for the Spring were to focus on shorter distances and set some PRs before again focusing on a half marathon this fall. Broad Street kind of falls in between that, considerably longer than 10k but not quite a half either. But it did present an opportunity to attain yet another of my goals for the year — the somewhat arbitrary but nice, round sub-1 hour 10 mile.
I know I haven’t posted much about the day-to-day (or even week-to-week) training that’s been going on lately. Suffice it to say, it has NOT been ideal, not even close. I’ve been battling the sore achilles since March and my only real quality workouts have been races and the random pick up on a day I feel particularly spry. The rest has been a heavy dose of cross-training and walking that tightrope between enough volume and too much. The two weeks between Pikes Peek and Broad Street were even more interesting. Somehow, my achilles issues seemed to have abated considerably after the 10k and that was encouraging as I began my weeklong excursion to North Carolina. I managed to run 50 miles that week, but not the normal way. Back-to-back 14 milers Tuesday and Wednesday(the first hilly at Umstead State Park in Raleigh, the second flat as can be on the American Tobacco trail in Durham), running up a mountain on Friday (literally — 9 miles up and down Mt. Rogers, the highest point in Virginia), and a 5 mile sloppy, hilly, trail race in a thunderstorm in Baltimore on Saturday. Oh and did I mention those back to back trail runs resulted in a fairly well sprained left ankle. Yup. Sunday it was swollen and painful to walk on. With one week to Broad Street I was a bit worried.
Fortunately, after convincing myself it was just sprained and not fractured, last week I was able to wrap it and run on it with only a minimal amount of pain. And as the week went along, the pain continued to abate. By the weekend, it was almost not noticeable when I ran, and only particularly bad in the morning upon first waking.
Jess and I headed up to Philly Saturday afternoon and managed to get through the Phillies and Flyers traffic reasonably well. The expo was unspectacular. I resisted the temptation to try to win a free pair of shoes by doing more than 41 pull-ups, got some free Swedish Fish and we were out. I decided to shake out along the river. This was my first shirtless run of 2011. It felt great, we were jogging along, my ankle felt fine. In fact interestingly, the outsides of my hamstrings were the only things particularly sore. On the way back I did one quarter mile pick up to what felt like 10 mile pace and was pleased to see it was right about 90 seconds. I also thought I saw Galen Rupp stretching along the path at some point on my way back to the car.
After the shake out we headed to Ruby Tuesday to have dinner with some Livejournal runner friends. It was nice to put some faces to names, but I wasn’t in the mood for anything there. No, I had already made up my mind that if I couldn’t get Noodles & Co, I wanted pizza. So after dinner, it was time to head to Ardmore where I had two slices from Peace A Pizza — mac n cheese and fresh mozzarella. Perfect. Next stop, my friend Becca’s aunt’s house. They were so nice to let us stay there, just a few miles north of the start area. Bex had been in South Africa for a year so this was the first time I was seeing her since she got back to the states and it was so awesome. After some catching up, I got my stuff ready for the morning and got to bed.
5 am rolled around and I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed. I guess 8 hours on Friday night and about 6 on Saturday night will do that. Got dressed quickly and we were out the door by 5:30, right on time. It took about a half hour to get down to the stadium area where we’d park the car and take the subway back to the start. There was already quite the crowd at 6:15 and when the subway doors opened, it was a crush to get on and find a spot. No seats for me unfortunately so I was forced to eat my breakfast (the usual cereal noms) standing up — a feat that impressed those around me.
We got to the Broad & Olney station around 7 and I stopped to put on my compression socks before heading outside. I know it was predicted to be slightly on the warm side but at that hour it was still a bit chilly to me, even in my sweats (Yankees sweatshirt AND sweat pants, totally on purpose, SUCK IT PHILLIES!). Once outside, the first thing that hit me was the sheer mass of humanity everywhere. There were SO. MANY. PEOPLE! I’m pretty sure in terms of amount of runners, this was the biggest race I’ve ever done, by far. In the ensuing hour and a half before the start, I made three or four trips to the bathroom. About fifteen minutes before the start, I stretched out my hips, jogged around for a few minutes and then worked my way all the way up to the red corral, just behind the elites and seeded runners. I’m not gonna lie — it was pretty cool to see so many people there and be able to start right up near the front. Not to mention, doing so I didn’t have to deal with ANY crowding issues.
I was in the corral with about three minutes to go and looked around at all the other runners near me, looking super fast and super serious. Before we heard the airhorn I simply reminded myself that I put in the work and I belong up here too. Looking straight ahead along Broad Street I could make out City Hall in the distance and it seemed like quite a far way away. Then we were off.
The start was a bit of a blur. It only took me a few seconds to get over the line. This felt like possibly the most downhill part of the course and I focused on not getting caught up in the mad dash and blowing my race right away. There were a few people who definitely didn’t belong up there that I weaved around (including one big dude with an ipod and a fuel belt trudging along — I looked right at him and said, “What the fuck man?!” I’m not hating on slower runners but why would you start right in the front, especially when your bib puts you much further back? They do that for a reason!). There were people going past me, there were people I was going past. And then I hit mile 1. It was a 5:48 which would be my fastest of the day. It didn’t feel too taxing. OF COURSE it didn’t feel too taxing, it was mile one of ten, it had BETTER not lest I was in big trouble. More importantly to me at the time, I noted that my ankle felt fine. There was no noticeable extra pain anywhere actually, my legs were All Systems Go.
Mile two was much like mile one. Broad Street is billed as a flat, fast, net downhill course and it is basically. But it is not ALL downhill start to finish. There was some very gentle, very gradual rises as the road makes it way to the Navy Yard. Trying to run as fast as I can highlighted some of these. I made a conscious effort to easy up everysoslighty during the second mile and was pleased to see I came through it in 11:46 (a 5:58 mile). While I was mostly fine physically, at the end of mile 2 is the first time mentally things got tougher. I remember thinking to myself something along the lines of, “well shit, EIGHT more just like that?” and then getting all meta on myself and thinking, “if you’re already thinking this is getting tough, you’re in some trouble.” So I convinced myself I was fine (because I was mostly) and carried on. I was mostly focusing on some of the people who had settled in around me. I was slowly moving up on a couple and every so often someone who come up near me. There were a few fire hydrants on the course that had been opened and spraying water. I avoided them, especially the one around here because the prospect of chafing didn’t sit well with me.
I grabbed a Gatorade at the water stop after mile 2 and right around mile 3 (17:48, 5:57 mile) I took a Gu Roctane. Early? Sure. But I wanted all the help I could get. I wasn’t feeling particularly good here. Weather-wise, it was fine. Not great but not bad. I remember wishing the sun would go behind a cloud. I remember thinking the wind is slight against us today (and apparently I was right, there was a slight headwind) which felt sorta nice more than annoying. I passed Temple University, I high fived a giant red mascot mostly because it would have required too much effort to get away from it. I hit mile 4 in 23:37 (5:54 mile) and told myself it was less than 10k to go. I then told myself if I’m counting down already, again — trouble. Despite the mental bickering, I WAS quite pleased to see four relatively consistent miles and started getting confident that if I could just get to City Hall alright, I could suffer through the last few miles.
A little after mile 4, out of nowhere I started to feel pretty good. This would easily be the best I felt the rest of the race. I think partly it was starting to trend slightly downhill towards City Hall, partly I was feeling the GU, and partly the crowds and the shade from some of the taller buildings. I picked it up a little bit and so did some of the guys I was running around. For almost the entire race I wasn’t really aware of my surroundings as far as buildings, landmarks, people, signs, etc but it was hard not to notice as I approached City Hall. I went through halfway in 29:27 (a 5:50 mile) and knowing I could run over a minute slower for the second half and still meet my goal was a boost. I did a very good job running the tangents around City Hall and actually caught up to a group doing so. But as I began heading straight down Broad again away from the building I stopped feeling so strong. Even though this felt like the densest collection of spectators, I was very much in my head here, trying to keep myself moving forward. I definitely entertained thoughts of just stopping; asking myself why the hell I was doing this, how the hell was I going to go another FOUR miles like this, that I was all set to blow up and have an epically painful and slow trudge to the finish.
I went through mile six in 35:24 (a 5:57 mile) and shortly after I might have taken another water (although most of it went up my nose). I remember thinking how crazy I must’ve looked with saliva and snot and water all over my face, but I was too tired to wipe it. Just before mile 7 I defiantly took my second Roctane. I say defiantly because I was having an internal argument about taking it. Part of me thought it was overkill and wouldn’t help much at this point. Part of me didn’t give a shit and wanted it just because it was annoying in my hip pocket. That part won. I choked it down right before mile 7 (41:19, a 5:55) as I passed an elite who looked like he was having left hamstring issues (I empathized). The eighth mile was the toughest of the day, mentally. I was in the darkest place in my head, thinking how even though I was well ahead of one hour pace, I couldn’t slow up all that much or I’d blow it. I think I heard Eye of the Tiger somewhere along the way and I hated whoever was playing it. I got to the 8th mile marker in 47:19, which meant I’d run a 6:00 mile. Seeing my first 6:xx of the day was an “oh crap” moment because I figured the wheels were falling off. But then I started reasoning with myself. Telling myself that I’ve done countless threshold workouts where I’d run 2.5 miles @ 6:00 pace. That’s ALL I needed to do now.
The last two miles, physically, were the toughest of the day. I started to recognize things — the park on the right, the stadium areas on the left, the subway stops. I knew it wasn’t MUCH more but looking straight ahead I saw a slight incline and I couldn’t see the Navy Yard gates. There were more people now and I’m pretty sure they were cheering and being supportive but I just focused on the guys around me and on not stopping. As I approached mile 9 I saw a fairly large group ahead of me and they were gradually coming back to me. I hit 9 in 53:15 (a 5:56 mile) and now there was only one to go. I told myself that I’ve run so many runs at 6:40 pace, let alone ONE measly mile that fast. Instead of focusing on not slowing down I tried to reel people in. I caught some and there were a few right ahead of me, or next to me. FINALLY the Navy Yard gate came. As we passed it, the guy in front of me looked up and raised his hands. I was out of it and confused so I glanced up in a daze. Seeing the photographer up there I stupidly raised my right hand and gave this weak thumbs up. As soon as I did I had no idea WHY I did. I told myself how stupid that must have looked (and I can’t wait to get the pictures for confirmation of that). I glanced at my watch and saw about 4:11, meaning unless I was hit by a meteor, chances were I was going to break 60. They SAY it’s a quarter mile to the finish. I think that’s bullshit. I didn’t slow down. I sped up in fact. I tried to run down a the guy with the “RV” on his singlet who had been around me the whole race. I saw the clock about 200m away and I went into a really bad, really painful place. I didn’t want to question whether I gave it my best effort. Hurt. Just. A. Little. More.
And line. I strode past the line at top speed, crossing in 59:07, a 5:52 last mile. I was done; not just with the race, but for a few minutes mentally I was done too. The next five or so minutes, I was in a dazed stupor. I remember just stopping for a second, hands on hips, and staring down at the ground or my toes or something (actually my friends Tony and Lee captured this!)
Yeah, I'm tired. And out of it. You would be too.
For the last few miles I had been aware of some hotspots forming on the inside of the balls of my feet. I thought about them then, they hurt much worse than I remembered while I was running. I just stared. And took some deep breaths. I might have looked back at the clock. Internally I finally allowed myself to be happy with what I had accomplished. I SMASHED my goal, by almost a minute. I wasn’t upset with the fact that I had come so close to 59 minutes, I was (and still am) 100% positive that 59:07 was the VERY BEST I could have run.
The rest of the day was spent refueling, finding Jess (a task that took twice as long as the race itself), eating about half a pound too much froyo, enjoying some time with Tony & Lee, and making our way back to Baltimore while sharing tales of our success (Jess ran a great race and a PR too). I’ve already started to think about what’s next but that can wait for a different day. I’ll allow myself to enjoy this one a bit longer.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!