I haven’t told many people this, but when I ran Eugene back in Spring 2013, I wasn’t very happy with my race. Of course I was glad I qualified for Boston, and I felt like a tool saying I was displeased with a 10+ minute PR, so I kept it to myself that I felt like I had a better race in me.
But ever since then, I’ve longed for a different kind of marathon; one that left me proud and satisfied that my execution, training, and heart were all acting in harmony for 26.2 miles. It’s a tall order, no doubt, but I refused to believe it wasn’t possible.
Going into Philadelphia, I felt incredibly calm and prepared, but not prepared in the same way I felt before Eugene. At that point in time, I knew I had a BQ in the bag, and because I was so confident in that goal, I let the disappointment of the secret A+ goal (sub 3:30) overrule the achievement of qualifying. With Philly, I was hesitant to make time goals – not so much for fear of being disappointed, but because I didn’t really know what I was capable of in the same way I used to be. I trained loosely for a goal pace, but that pace never felt very easy or like I could keep it up for a full marathon. So, when pressed for some tangible goals, this is what I decided:
“A” Goal: 3:3x on the clock. Of course I wanted to re-qualify for Boston, but because I was so unsure of how the race would go, I thought it would be more realistic to go for a time frame instead.
“B” Goal 3:4x on the clock. It wouldn’t be great, but it wouldn’t be too bad. Not to mention it would still be 20 minutes under my time from Boston this year.
“C” Goal: Faster than my Boston time (4:08). I wasn’t really concerned about beating that time, but you never really know with these things.
So those were my goals. A very wide range, but they gave me some room to work with and kept me from being too stressed about pace or splits.
But there was one thing I didn’t really tell anyone, and in hindsight I probably should have paid more attention to it; I had an incredibly good feeling about this race. I don’t know if it was the amount of visualization I did ahead of time (there was a lot), the solid training cycle, or just a gut feeling, but there was something telling me that something special could happen.
So as not to bore you with all the details leading up to race morning, let’s just kick things off right from the get go.
We woke up around 4:30 am on Sunday, and I was fairly pleased with my sleep the night before. After some breakfast, our pre-ordered cab arrived at 5:30 on the dot. We were only about 1.5 miles from the start, but I didn’t want to waste any energy walking there. We arrived, went through security, and checked our bag really quickly…too quickly. We had just over an hour until the race started, and it wasn’t exactly toasty in the waiting area. Note to self: the next time I choose a late-November marathon, buy more throwaway clothes! We were freeeeezing, and I started to panic I would shiver off all my extra tapered energy before the race even started. While standing in the port-a-potty lines, Adam and I were “that” couple holding each-other way too closely just for warmth purposes. And speaking of…my PRP seriously left something to be desired. WTF? Luckily, this didn’t cause any issues during the race 🙂
After a few times through the bathroom line, it was time to line up in our start corrals..the race was about the start! I proceeded to strip down, toss my throwaway fleece directly into some dude’s face (we all had a good laugh about it), and take some deep breaths. And just like that…off we went!
Very standard crowded race start. I didn’t want to do any weaving, but it quickly became clear that people didn’t exactly start in their assigned corral. So I wound my way around some folks, trying to stay as streamlined as possible, but oh baby did it feel good to just be running! The sun was rising, and we were running right toward the Philadelphia skyline – good stuff! My goal for the first few miles was to stay around 8:15-8:20 pace, so I tried to sneak some peaks down at my watch early on to get into this rhythm. I managed to get pretty comfortable right around there, and I tried to just relax, soak it all in, and enjoy the city. Miles 1-4 or so wound all through the downtown streets and they were pretty packed with cheering crowds. It was awesome! There was such great energy, and I was feeling really calm and collected.
I don’t remember a ton in those earlier miles, except that I kept trying to remind myself to stay smart and stay boring. I would shake my hands out by my sides and wiggle my jaw loose to keep out any tension, and generally I was just trying to run by feel and keep my breathing easy. I wanted to just stay in the moment and not get carried away with the miles to come or the emotion I knew I had invested in this race. There was plenty of time for that later on.
In the back of my head though, I knew that running a negative split meant that the second half would need to be run under an 8:00 pace. I tried to block that out, although there was definitely a lingering feeling that at some point soon, I was going to need to step it up.
Mile 1: 8:15
Mile 2: 8:17
Mile 3: 7:54
Mile 4: 8:03
Mile 5: 8:14
I took my first two Shot Blocks and grabbed my first water cup at the 5.5 mile aid station, and it was the perfect time to start gearing up for the “hill” portion of the race. The first major hill of the course came around during mile 7, and this was the first time I definitly noticed the training-at-altitude advantage I had; it was no problem! I cruised up, and despite having planned on that mile being a bit slower, it ended up being right on pace with the rest of the race. I was definitely thankful for all the stair climbing and trail hills I managed to include in my training at this point. I also tried to capitalize on the downhill that followed, which always gives my turnover a good boost. Miles 9 and 10 had another up and another down, more water and Shot Blocks, and although I felt a little energy drain on the uphill effort, I was able to recover quickly and get back in the zone.
Mile 6: 8:11
Mile 7: 7:59
Mile 8: 8:10
Mile 9: 7:44
Mile 10: 8:15
At this point, we were running along the river, heading back toward the city. I knew that once we got close to the halfway point, everyone running the half-marathon would peel off toward the finish line, so I tried to keep focus and not think about the fact that I’d still have an entire half to run (with many fewer people along for the ride.)
Mile 11: 7:34
Mile 12: 7:47
Mile 13: 8:02
I clocked the first half right around 1:46, which is exactly where I’d hoped to be in terms of first-half pacing.
There was actually something kind of magical about heading back out along with the other marathoners; a shared battle we were all ready to take on together. Things were also spread out enough at this point that I could keep step with some people around me, and I started to listen in to some of the conversations happening. I had my iPod with me and had actually planned on plugging in once we completed the first half, but it didn’t feel necessary yet – so I stayed tuned into the race around me. The second half of the course is essentially an enormous out and back, with a small out and back tagged on in the middle, which I thought might be a little tedious, but again – I was just trying to stay in the mile. Mile 14 went by, mile 15 went by, and I still wasn’t interested in my headphones. I continued to shake my hands out, take deep breaths, and continue on at the pace I was holding. I felt good; strong, controlled, and ready to let my heart and emotions play a bigger role.
Mile 14: 7:40
Mile 15: 7:51
Right around mile 16, a girl saddled up next to me and asked if she could hang onto my pace for a bit. Indeed, new friend! I’d overheard her talking to someone else earlier, so I knew she was after a BQ, and after I told her I’d run Boston this last spring, I think she trusted I knew what I was doing. Ha! But fake it til you make it, right? I could tell she felt strong and ready to race the rest of this thing, so I figured for however long this lasted – we could help one another out. I learned her name was Sadie, she was from New York, and this was her second marathon. She had some sass, and I loved it. Around mile 17 or so, we started to see the lead runners coming back on the other side of the road, which was super fun. We both cheered everyone on, and these miles seemed to go by pretty quick. My watch was decently behind the mile markers, but since she was doing manual mile lapping, she read off our splits whenever we hit one. We were averaging right around or right below 7:50 miles, which at this point was exactly on par with my negative splitting ambitions.
Mile 16: 7:57
Mile 17: 7:44
Mile 18: 8:01
Mile 19: 7:43
At one point, we saw a man on the other side of the road with a Central Park Track Club jersey on and Sadie yelled, “Way to go NYC!” She explained that he was part of a big Central Park running group, and I had to stop myself from saying, “Homegirl, I read hella running blogs and I know way too much about both that club and some of its members already.”
Around mile 19.5, we were getting close to the major turnaround and Sadie was clearly rearing to go. After she got a couple strides ahead of me and I noticed our pace was around 7:35s, I told her to go ahead. She’d definitely helped me out, and I wanted her to have the kickass finish I could tell she was after. Sadie, if you’re out there, I’m pretty sure you killed that BQ goal! Thanks for carrying me along.
We turned around right near mile 20, and I still felt great. I had grabbed some orange slices from a good samaritan a little while beforehand, and I could feel them kicking it. Time to finish this thing! It was a definite energy boost to be heading back toward the finish line as opposed to away from it. And although the crowds weren’t as thick as they were in the city, I was so impressed with the people that were out. Without my iPod I could hear all the times people yelled my name or “Go November Project!” which was so helpful. Speaking of, around mile 22 I ran by what had to have been the Philly NP cheering station. One guy (maybe the leader?) saw me and yelled, “NP DENVER! WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU!” I wanted to accept/give so many hugs, but their high fives and cheers would have to suffice; I couldn’t stop now!
Mile 20: 7:53
Mile 21: 7:45
Mile 22: 8:00
I refused to do any mental math in my head in terms of finishing time, but I was certainly running at this point with the hope that something awesome could happen at the finish line. I kept reminding myself that I was in control; the was my race, my story, and I was the one in charge of the outcome. I’d told myself for 16 weeks that I was capable, and now was the time to bring all that visualization to life.
So on I ran. I kept waiting for my pace to slow, for the wall that I knew all too well to smash right into me. But there was no wall, and although my legs were aching and my feet were killing me, I kept pushing. I continuously replayed over and over in my head the mantras I’d told myself all through my training, and I let those emotions I’d kept in check all week beforehand and throughout the first half of the race pour energy into my legs. I was writing this story, and I was going to make it a good one.
Mile 23: 7:52
Only a 5k to go. That was once around Green Lake in Seattle, right? I remember running that loop when I first started running again in February; it was the first time since being sick and injured that I kind of felt good again.
Mile 24: 7:52
Ugh, I’m .2 miles behind on my watch! So is that 2.2 miles to go? Or 2.4? I don’t know anymore. Keep running!
Mile 24.5: Are those gummy bears? Yes! Gummy bears! GIVE ME!
Mile 25: 7:56
Wait a minute, holy shit, I might be under 3:30. How long have I had these gummy bears in my mouth? I can’t swallow them, I can’t spit them out, I guess I’ll just carry them in my mouth.
Mile 25.5: Less than a mile. Make this happen, Robyn. This is the race you’ve been waiting for. This is yours. Go get it.
Mile 26: 8:07
We saw that mile marker flag this morning! It looks so much prettier now! There’s the finish line! Goooooo.
I was flying. Without even thinking about it, my finishing kick came from somewhere else; an energy source that was stored away just for this moment. I peaked down at my watch just in time to see that with enough gusto, my finishing time wouldn’t just be faster than Boston, wouldn’t just be a PR, but would be under 3:30.
Final .38 (clearly ran the tangents like a boss): 7:24 pace
With 50 yards to go, I spotted Adam in the crowd, waving and then motioning for me to finish the damn thing (he knew I was within seconds of that 3:30 mark). I strode and strode, realizing that the dream I didn’t even know was possible today was coming true, and I had made it come true.
I heard my name, raised my arms in the air, stopped my watch, and let out some sort of exclamatory yell.
Official time: 3:29:49. Booyah! I was elated, overwhelmed, and in a daze. Did that actually just happen? Who was that person running for the past 10 miles at a faster pace than they’ve run in almost a year? Holy shit, that was me! I did it!
The trudge back through the recovery area include a little eye mistiness, a lot of looking for my fiancee, and a quick realization that everything, literally everything, hurt. While I may have been able to block out the pain while running, it was quickly catching up with me.
At some point I got a bag of food and some water, and after calling Adam on a random cell phone, I finally was able to meet up with him – at which point it all came out; lots and lots of tears. Adam killed the half too, finishing in 1:54, way under what he expected for the day! So proud.
I’m still kind of processing the entire experience, and I still can’t really believe it. It was the race I’d been picturing ever since I started running marathons, the race that I visualized when I needed inspiration throughout the past year, and the race that kept me training and kept me pushing even when none of it felt worthwhile.
I have a lot of thoughts on the things that I felt I did well in terms of both preparation and race execution, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I’ll just say thank you to all of you; your encouragement, your cheers, and your support over this past year in every capacity was in the front of my mind for all 26.2 miles. I feel unbelievably lucky to have a system of friends and family who without question have supported this crazy sport, and none of it would be possible (or fun) without you.
Now, when’s the next one??