I didn't sleep all that well, but when the alarm went off on Sunday morning I was excited to finally run the race. Fortunately I had no problems meeting up with Katie, Thom, Beth and Jon, and after checking our bags and hitting up the porta potties, we split up and Thom and I headed into the green corral, while Katie and Beth headed up to black to start the half marathon of awesomeness. We got into the corral just a few minutes before 7:00, so we didn't have too long to wait before our wave walked up to the start. Then, finally we were off!
Miles 1-3: 9:44, 9:29, 9:12
My plan for this race was to run the first 5 miles around 9:30 pace and then work on picking it up from there. Thom and I focused on staying relaxed at the beginning and letting everyone around us take off. I decided to carry a disposable water bottle so I could avoid the crowds at the early water stations and just toss it when I had emptied it. I wanted to make sure that I drank enough in the first half and the disposable bottle ended up being a great decision. Our third mile was a bit quick, but it did include a long downhill so I tried not to worry about it.
Miles 4-7: 9:18, 9:18, 9:14, 9:07
I knew the one thing that I didn't want to do was pick up the pace too much early, so I tried to make sure I was running comfortably and not pushing the pace. Around mile 5 we turned onto Chestnut Street where the crowds started picking up and the support was great. There was a bit of an incline, but I didn't feel like it was affecting me. We hit the 10k at 58:02, which was a little faster than planned, but not by much. In the first mile or two Thom and I discussed breaking the first 20 miles into 5 mile pace segments of 9:30, 9:15, 9:00 and 8:45. We wanted to hit 20 miles around 3 hours (9 minute mile pace). These miles were a bit ahead of that, but not by much.
Miles 8-10: 9:21, 9:34, 9:23
This section contained the bulk of the hills found on the course. I knew that they were coming, but they were definitely bigger than I had expected (in particular the largest one right after mile 9). The downhills were particularly steep, which I think took a toll on my quads that would come back to haunt me in the later miles. I tried not to worry too much about pace in this section and just worked on staying controlled and steady.
Miles 11-13: 9:01, 8:45, 8:45
The steepest downhill on the course came after the 10 mile marker and took us back down to the river. I was glad to know that the rest of the course was pretty flat. Since Thom and I had discussed being right around 9:00 pace for miles 11-15, I conciously tried to pick up the pace once we were back on flat road. Before the race I was concerned about getting too focused on my watch, so I avoided paying too much attention in this stretch. I just tried to increase my effort level a bit. Unfortunately, somewhere around mile 12 Thom told me he needed to back off the pace a bit and we separated. I had hoped that we would be able to stick together longer, but we each needed to run our own race so I forged ahead. I figured I might see a number of people I knew around mile 13 so I had that to look forward to in this stretch. Somehow I missed my friends, but did see George and managed to give him a thumbs up as I went by. The race splits say I hit halfway at 2:00:08, but the timing mat was actually at the 13 mile marker, not 13.1. So I imagine I actually hit halfway right at or under 2:01. It's not that crucial, but it matters to me that I actually ran more or less even (or possibly slightly negative) splits.
Miles 14-17: 8:54, 8:40, 8:50
This was probably my favorite part of the race. I had just gone through the half right on pace to break 4 hours and I was feeling so strong. The course was heading out Kelly Drive which was pretty flat and the views were nice. It reminded me of running on Hains Point, which I love. My goal in this section was to just get to the turnaround point (right before mile 20) because then all I would have to do was run back.
Miles 18-20: 9:00, 9:08, 9:06
It was around mile 18 that things started to get painful. Both of my quads started to hurt and I can only guess that the hills (and steep downhills) in miles 9-10 had really taken their toll. Still, I was able to more or less maintain my pace so I figured I had no reason to be concerned. I realized that I might not be able to hammer home the last 10k like I had hoped, but I knew that if I could hold pace, I would still be able to meet my sub 4:00 goal. One of my friends was going to be somewhere in Manayunk and the thought of seeing her kept me going. She ended up being right by mile 20 and I saw her on the way out to the turnaround and when I came back.
Miles 21-22: 8:49, 9:05
I had decided before the race that I would put in my music after mile 20. When Thom and I split up earlier than planned, I thought about starting it earlier, but I'm glad I waited. As you can see from my mile 21 time, initially it really helped me pick up the pace. Coming out of Manayunk I was really starting to hurt. I just kept telling myself that I had come to far to give up and to just keeping pushing and holding the same pace. I knew that the last stretch was going to be really tough.
Miles 23-26.2: 9:30, 9:46, 10:11, 11:28 (for 1.2)
Mile 23 is where I really hit the wall. I could feel myself slowing but there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to cry and I wanted to walk, but I knew I would never forgive myself for walking when I still had a shot at sub 4. I only had my watch displaying my current lap pace, distance in that lap and overall average pace. I knew that I was about 6 minutes behind the race clocks, so I had a general idea of my overall time, but I had avoided focusing on it during the race. I could tell though as I passed miles 23 and 24 that my shot at 3:59 was slowly slipping away. At mile 23 I calculated that I had roughly 30 minutes for the last 3.2. Normally that would be reasonable, but I was slowing and didn't have the energy to pick up the pace. When I passed the 25 mile marker I switched my Garmin display to show my overall time. I was at 3:50. I knew that realistically there was no way I was running the final 1.2 miles in 10 minutes. But I knew I had to try to get as close as I could. Beth jumped in with me somewhere right before mile 26 (I never saw the marker) and I was so angry and tired that I couldn't say anything. I just needed to be done.
Since my Garmin distance had been off on most of the miles (and I missed the 26 sign), I couldn't be positive how much I had left until I could finally see the finish line. Then I really tried to sprint in to the finish, though my legs really didn't have much kick left in them.
Final Time - 4:01:23
A 39 minute PR and I could not be more thrilled! Yes, it would have been nice to break 4 hours but this race showed me that I have it in me and I have no doubt that I will get there next time. I ran the smart race that I wanted to run and left it all out there on the course. To be honest, while I knew that I should be able to run sub 4, I wasn't totally confident that I wouldn't run the first half on pace and then blow up in the second half. I've never run close to that fast for that long. I knew that I needed to trust the training and run and I'm so happy that I was able to do just that and not let my brain get in the way.
In some ways it still feels a bit surreal. As recently as a few months ago this was not a time I thought I would ever get to and now I know that I can go even faster. I can't wait for the next one!