2016 Philly Half Marathon recap: The good, the bad and the not so pretty that happened on the way to a personal best.
I’m not really sure where to begin this race recap. I still feel a bundle of conflicting emotions so bear with me. It’s a long one.
The Philly Half Marathon was my goal race. For the first time, I explicitly stated a time goal — I wanted to break two hours. At the same time, I knew (and know) that anything can happen on race day, that in the grand scheme of things, race day is just one day. I knew all that going into it and yet… (Spoiler alert: I still let the outcome of this one day consume me.)
So, here’s the story.
Going into Saturday, Jess and I talked about a race plan, focused on effort level because let’s face it, I can get obsessed with pace and I knew that wouldn’t be good for me.
The plan was simple: Run 7 miles relatively easy and pick it up a little during the next 3 miles. Then, run the last 5K as a progression run. I also had a time check for 10 miles, to give me a sense of where things stood.
Race morning was gorgeous. Sunny bluebird skies, low/mid 40s. Perfect. I felt good and remember thinking, “This is a good day for a race,” as we approached the start line (and hoping that I didn’t just jinx myself).
Off to a good start
The first 3 miles were super crowded as we made our way down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to downtown Philly and back. But I felt in control and like I was running well within myself for the first 5 miles. I didn’t know my pace since I only had total miles and total time displayed.
Around mile 5, I felt a side stitch starting to make itself known at this point but tried to put it out of my mind, focus on my breathing and hope that it would go away.
This year, they changed the Philly Half Marathon course. Previous years (including when I ran it in 2014), the course was pretty much flat except for one decent hill around mile 9. This year, there were three hills. The first came as we approached mile 6.
As we rounded the bend, I recognized this stretch of road. This first hill — now the smallest on the new course — was previously the “big” hill on the old course and my heart started to collapse. My legs didn’t have any spring to them as I trudged up the hill. I stopped to walk briefly near the top as the thought of the two remaining bigger hills loomed in my mind. I wanted to conserve some energy.
The next set of hills started just after the mile 7 marker. You reach the highest point around the mile 8 markers, come down a huge downhill and then climb another hill up to mile 9.
My stomach started cramping more here and I felt nauseous, which has never happened to me before in training or in a race. I tried to focus on the runners ahead of me and have them pull me up but it felt more like a traffic jam (the road narrowed at this point) and I couldn’t get my momentum going. My legs felt like lead. I started walking hoping that the cramps would go away.
The climb up to mile 8 was reminiscent of Perry Hill at the Leaf Peepers Half in Vermont and I started to feel defeated. So much for a flat and fast race. As I ran down the other side of the hill, I got what felt like a charley horse in my right upper trap. Awesome.
At the point, I kept running numbers in my head, trying to calculate what my time would be at 10 miles. When I realized that I wasn’t going to make my time check, not even the more conservative goal, my heart broke.
These miles were really dark, darker than I’ve ever experienced in a race and I couldn’t shake it. I tried to pull myself out of the funk and focus on the positive and putting one foot in front of the other. But frankly, I didn’t want to. I wanted to scream. It wasn’t fair. I kept thinking that I wasn’t going to make it under two hours.
Somewhere between miles 10 and 11, I actually pulled over to the side and called my husband to tell him I quit and to come pick me up. I was done. I knew that I was putting too much importance on a stupid time but I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to end this misery
When he didn’t pick up, I texted Jess with a panicked message: “Can’t do it.” She asked if I was OK and I told her about the cramps and my dead legs. She reassured me that I did my best and take it easy and finish with my head up. And so I kept running. And walking.
I kept doing the math in my head and at some point I realized there was an outside chance I could still make it under 2 hours. If I put my head down and put one foot in front of the other. But it was really hard when I felt like my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.
When we made it on to Kelly Drive, there were about two miles to the finish but I literally felt empty. Through some combination of running and walking (and sulking), I kept going. I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line. And I crossed the finish line of the Philly Half Marathon at 1:59:50 (according to my watch) / 1:59:54 (official).
I’m really proud of my training cycle. After a year off from running due to injury, I only started running again this spring. And I’ve come a long way this year. I’ve felt stronger as a runner and faster too.
I broke 2 hours. That was my goal and I achieved that. And those first seven miles were right on target: 9:10, 8:40, 8:40, 8:33, 8:40, 9:01, 8:39. Geez, even two months ago I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to string together 7 miles like that.
Looking back at the race, there are a couple of things that I think affected me.
I wasn’t well hydrated heading into the race. I wasn’t drinking as much as I typically do in the days leading up to Saturday.
I missed the memo that you couldn’t bring open bottles of water into the start area so for the hour before the race started, I didn’t drink anything. Probably not a huge deal but it meant I started off already feeling a little parched. Plus, it was a warm(er) day.
I didn’t take in nearly as much during the run as I needed to. Maybe 5 sport beans during the course of 2 hours — or about 50 calories. Not enough at all. I couldn’t really stomach it and everything felt really sticky sweet. I already felt a tingle of side stitch and stomach cramps early on and part of me was afraid that adding more sugar and water would make it worse. Dumb decision, I know but…
While I reached a better place and more confident place as I entered taper, the last two weeks have been a doozy. My mental state and self-confidence took a hit in other areas of my life and I didn’t anticipate how much this would carry over to running and into race day.
When I started getting cramps around mile 6, self-doubt found a crack to start chipping away at. And it kept chipping away and chipping away until a huge wedge opened up between mile 7 and 8, as I was trying to climb the biggest hill on the course.
I didn’t recover after that even when my cramps let up. I let those thoughts get the best of me and everything started to snowball from there.
Here’s the thing. If my time was the result of giving it all I had, I would be satisfied with my effort and the race. I wouldn’t care if I was six seconds under 2 hours or more. I would know I did my best.
While there were challenges and circumstances beyond my control, there was one thing that was in my control — belief in myself. I gave up on myself at mile 8.
That’s the part that disappoints me the most. Not that I didn’t run a faster time but that I gave up on myself. And that’s the part that I need to sit with and figure out.
Even looking back at the rest of my splits, they weren’t horrendous except for miles 8 and 11: 9:59 (mile 8), 8:27, 9:09, 9:44 (mile 11), 9:11, 8:54, 8:28 (last 0.35 miles). But they felt terrible.
It goes to show how much our mental fitness and our brain affects perception of effort and pain, and how much we’re willing to keep pushing ourselves or not.
Thank you to everyone who has cheered me on and let their support during this process. Thank you for your post-race tweets and comments on Facebook and Instagram. They were such a huge boost. I can’t even express how appreciative I am. You inspire me and helped me to believe in myself and in this crazy thing called running.
I’m happy to trained for this race.
I’m happy I ran the Philly Half Marathon.
I’m happy I finished.
I’m happy for my PR.
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