Fresh off the Richmond Marathon on November 12, 2016, I headed home to Cayman to wash clothes, repack, kiss my cat Mendoza and pick up my husband before heading back to the US for the Philadelphia Marathon on November 20, 2016. For the first time (and likely not the last), I ran marathons in back to back weekends, something I know many people in the Marathon Maniacs group do, but it was my biggest challenge for the year in terms of my running. After months (many months) of not really thinking about it, suddenly I was in the week between these races and it was all too real.
I ran a strong race in Richmond, happy with my effort and satisfied that I didn’t go all out in an effort to PR. I left that weekend thinking I something in the tank for Philly. So much of running is a mental game; I knew the physical fitness was there, but it was the mental chatter that could make or break this race. When I planned to run both races, I told myself that I was going to treat it like a fait accompli, just assuming that I would make it through the experience because that was the only option. If I kept thinking that, I felt that it wouldn’t be such a daunting idea when I got to the moment. This is how I approached Philly, and it is also how I crossed the finish line – as if there was never a doubt that I could run it.
We touched down in Philly the Thursday before the race, and we stayed at the DoubleTree hotel on Broad Street. It was a pretty good location: a 20 min walk to the start/finish area of the races, which I thought was pretty good for a warm up or cool down walk. Our room was on the top floor, which provided us a beautiful view of the city, albeit not the part of the city where the marathon course took us. Of course, the DoubleTree also has their signature warm chocolate chip cookies they give you at the front desk. I felt like we were winning all around!
A first for this race, the half marathon was separated out from the full and it would take place on the Saturday, with the full marathon remaining on the Sunday. With this change came a new entry: the Rocky Challenge. People could choose to run the half marathon on the Saturday AND the full marathon on the Sunday. Having just run the previous weekend, I was not eager to pile on that many more miles.
Between the two marathons, I took basically the whole week off from any sort of physical activity. Except to run the Rothman 8K the day before the marathon. Because I went to Philly to run, so why not run as much as possible, right? This is now how I think!
With the half marathon starting early on the Saturday, I was rather happy to have a nice late 10:45am start for the 8K. Or so I thought. What I didn’t plan on that day was unseasonably warm temperatures, so by the time we got on the course, it felt like I was running at home! (Well, not quite that warm, but it was warm!). I believe the temps were in the mid to high 70’s that day, so you can see it was truly a warm day for late November.
My husband Chris ran this race with me, which was a nice experience. He has never run more than about 3.5 miles with me, so this was a bit longer than he is used to (an 8K is just shy of five miles). With the warm temps, I definitely wanted to take it easy, and I started off running a little faster than I planned, but it felt fine. So I went with that pace. Also in the crowd was another Marathon Maniac, Chip, who I met when running the Dusseldorf Marathon in April 2016. We found each other in the pre-start line up and had a nice time catching up. Chip is a bit faster than I am (as are most people), so we parted ways about a mile and a half into it, promising to meet up in the morning before the marathon.
The course started a bit in front of the Art Museum (Rocky steps), headed toward City Hall for a half mile before turning back around and running across the Schuylkill River for an out and back that ended again in front of the Art Museum. I enjoyed the chance for a shakeout run, and my husband receive his first race medal (which is now displayed on his dresser at home). We had a nice energized start to the morning, but my sights were already looking towards the marathon.
As warm and sunny as Saturday was, Sunday arrived with the coldest day of the season (to date), blown in with 30mph winds and topped with 40-50mph gusts. This island girl was not thrilled to be running in the weather that showed up. Apparently not many others felt the same, and we heard that a number of people had switched to the half on Saturday because of the weather forecast for Sunday. I flew in to run the race, and unless we added a torrential downpour to the misery, I was going to run the race.
My alarm went off very early, and I got up to eat, get ready and stretch, leaving myself plenty of time to walk to the start line and visit the port-a-pot before the gun went off. Trying hard not to wake my husband as I got dressed, I went through my pre-race routine, kissed him goodbye and headed to the lobby, where I found dozens of other runners all bundled up in heavy sweats and other ‘throw away’ clothes. However, they all were getting on a bus that would shuttle them to the start line. By my calculations, they would be standing out there for about an hour in the cold and wind. However, if I took the 20 min to walk or so, I would only be standing out in the cold for about 35-40 min and I would have had a warm up. Wishing everyone good luck, I headed out to trek the distance to the start, grabbing my bright orange bathrobe and holding it close around me to keep me as warm as possible. With in the first block, I saw a homeless man who took one look at my attire and started laughing. I could hear him laughing as I walked the next two blocks. I’m glad I gave him a good chuckle.
By the time I made it to the start area, I was fairly warmed up in the legs – but cold pretty much every where else. This would be the theme of the day. In fact, I ran at least 3/4 of the race not being able to feel my face or my hands. I’m sure I had snot dripping from my nose most of the run, but I couldn’t feel anything. I only realized this was probably the case when I saw about half a dozen places where spectators were holding out tissues for the runners. Ugh.
Port-a-loos were plentiful but the lines ahead of the race were still long. I slowly made my way toward one, looking around for Chip the whole time. As imagined, it was a busy place and finding someone specific was not going to be easy. Then I saw him – clad in the white hazmat suit he told me he would be in. We stopped for a selfie and headed to our respective corrals, wishing each other luck.
Corrals were started in waves, and being in wave five, I had a while to wait before I could get going. Which meant I was really C-O-L-D. By the time they got to me, I just wanted to start moving, and move I did! The cold amazingly helps me to run faster than normal, and while I tried to hold off on my pace, I needed to warm up a bit. So off I went, running through Philly, past the convention centre, Chinatown and heading toward Independence Hall. We took a turn and eventually made our way to the Delaware River before circling back around to Front Street, where a couple we knew lives. They had told me to look for them shortly after the mile four marker, so I had my eyes pealed for them at this point. Sure enough, they were out there in the cold, waiting for me! I stopped to snap a selfie and say hi, getting a nice boost from seeing a familiar face in the crowd. Crowds were patchy through here, but the scenery was nice and I enjoyed this part of the race, especially as we circled back and ran past Independence Hall a second time (this time was much closer).
The course turned onto Chestnut Street, and the crowds grew thicker as we came back into the city centre. We ran by a few places my husband had mentioned to me the previous day: Copabanana (burger restaurant) and Milk Boy (not the one we went to, but I believe this is the one that is known as a Ravens bar for all the Ravens fans). A silent laugh to myself for paying attention, I knew my husband would be looking for me around the six mile marker. To this point, the wind wasn’t really a factor, but as we got back towards Broad Street, we started feeling the wind. I saw Chris, gave him a kiss as I ran by.
This marathon then takes you across the Schuylkill River and through Fairmount Park, running past the Philadelphia Zoo, around the Please Touch Museum and up and down a few hills. I knew this would be challenging, not only the hilly parts but also because it was a quieter section than the city centre. In all truth, I did enjoy the scenery with the fall colours and the leaves falling from the trees. One thing I miss most of all about living in the mid-Atlantic is the change of seasons; I especially miss the fall. Between Richmond and Philly, I certainly had a nice shot of it – colours, cold and all!
You cross the half marathon mark while on this side of the river, then you cross over to come up behind the Art Museum. Remembering this section from the previous day’s run, I told my husband to look for me around this point, where they had set up bleachers. I was running pretty well at this point (the wind, while blowing was still not really a factor), although, my lag had started to hurt and I could tell the back half of the marathon was going to be a challenge of the mind. I saw him taping me and at that exact second when I went to wave. a swirling wind picked up and blew some leaves and dirt right into my face. Oh boy! This was not the only time on the course this happened.
Running along Boathouse Row was really beautiful; however, this section is basically an out and back, which can be oh so very demoralizing. As I was passing the 14 mi marker, I saw people who were coming up on the mile 25 marker – about ready to finish. They were impressive to watch, and such a reminder of how far I still had to go. I gritted my teeth and pushed on, enjoying the view of the river as I continued along Kelly Drive toward Manayunk. I knew in my head that the 20 mile marker was at the turn around, so I had about an hour of running to get there – and then an hour of running to get back and finish (a little longer in reality since I slowed down in the second half of the race). I tried not to think about how far I still had and instead focus on looking for Chip to pass me as he was aiming for a 3:35 run. About mile 18 is where I saw him and he was looking strong! Searching for him in the crowd was a welcome distraction. I tried to get a picture of him, even taking my phone out of my pouch much earlier and trying to capture the moment when I saw him, but my fingers were so frozen at that point, and the picture I took was primarily of my gray glove because I couldn’t move my hand to another position to get the shot.
Kelly Drive is not flat. Gently rolling ‘hills’ was the theme of this stretch. Well that and serious gusts of wind that I was dismayed to realize was a head wind. ‘At least,’ I thought to myself, ‘this will be a tail wind when I am heading back on the other side of the road!’ On the downhill before getting to the town of Manayunk, there was a beer aid station (thank you kind spectators!) that I was able to enjoy both heading to the turn around and as I was heading back to the finish. Manayunk was another highlight; the entire town was in on the action, and you heard music, had fantastic crowds and lots of encouragement here. I even grabbed a brownie at one of the aid stations because why not? I’ve never seen that before, and that chocolatey goodness was the only food I had the entire race. It was also in Manayunk that I experience wind gusts so strong that it literally pushed me into the other side of the road into the runners heading in the opposite direction. The wind was no joke.
Turn around done, I was in the final six miles of the race and couldn’t wait to get back. Onward I ran, walking only back up the hill where I saw the beer stop. I knew the end was getting close with every step, and I was already thinking about my post race shower, dry clothes and beer!
And remember those headwinds I thought would be tailwinds on the return? Ha! No such thing. They turned into headwinds and crosswinds, so I was fighting the wind for almost the entire back half of the course. The longer I was out there the more the wind picked up, and the colder everything felt. My mantra was to just keep going. I’d make it eventually.
Mile 25 is where the crowds started to get thicker, and the energy level rose. By the time I got to the 26 mile marker, I had put my headphones away (I enjoy listening to the sounds of the crowds for the last 1/2 mile of a race) and was ready to burst toward the finish. As I started to kick it up, I saw a guy slow down and walk. He was exhausted. I slowed down and said something like ‘you’ve got this’ or ‘you can do it’ and he said, ‘you’re right’. Immediately he started jogging again and I decided to hang with him those last 0.2 miles. He was running his first marathon in seven years, and said it was a rough one. I told him that would all be in the past in a couple minutes, once he crossed the finish. All the time, I was trying to scan the crowds for my husband. He saw me (and my yellow flower) and shouted my name as I ran by. I blew him a kiss and took my final steps of marathon #9.
After crossing the finish, I got my sweet finisher’s medal (Independence Hall), my mylar sheet to somewhat keep warm and was funneled into the post-race area to grab some water and food. They had a nice selection of food at this spot, but far and away, I appreciated the hot chicken broth the most. I took that along with a few snacks to eat on the walk back to the hotel and went to find my husband.
He was frozen, I was frozen, my teeth chattered and my body shivered as he took my photo in front of the Rocky Steps. We tried to walk as quickly as possible back to the hotel, where I would be rewarded with heat and a shower. After getting cleaned up, we headed to a brew house where a couple post-race beers awaited me, helping me celebrate my feat of running two marathons in two weekends!
- fantastic medal
- beautiful course
- hot chicken broth at the post race area
- several chances for spectators to see their runner
- plenty of aid stations with water and powerade
- fun crowds throughout the race course
- no ‘real food’ on the course (once again, gels were handed out at 2 or 3 spots
- the wind and cold
- the out and back – I am not a fan of these in general
I forgot to mention that Philly does a special offer for the first 500 people to register for the race – a very low price of $85 (when this is full, the price jumped to $105). I somehow made it in to be one of the first 500, so I definitely got not only a great race, but also the best price! Not sure if I’ll run this again, but as I’m learning, I won’t say ‘never.’ We visit Philly for Thanksgiving every other year, and this is always run the weekend before Thanksgiving. I’m sure it will be on my radar again at some point. It just makes sense.
Have you run Philly? What did you like about it? Will you run it again?