Last weekend I travelled to Philadelphia and took part in the festivities for my first half marathon! My excellent husband agreed to watch our kids and our friends’ son so that the three of us (my 2 friends and myself) could stay in Philadelphia overnight since the race began at 7am.
We arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon and checked into our hotel which was about a mile from the race start. As soon as we arrived we started to get excited- there were signs everywhere welcoming us to the race weekend. We were given our useless breakfast vouchers (breakfast opens at 7, even on “race weekend”) and dropped our bags into our room.
We walked about half a mile to the expo where (much like the 5 boro bike tour expo), rows upon rows of vendors were selling highly specialized running gear. But, unlike the 5 boro bike tour expo, the poor vendors at the marathon expo were somewhat hamstrung. The gear needed for running is pretty limited so there was a lot of duplication– there were at least 10 booths selling compression socks, for example. There were a few interesting products, though, including:
5am! Wake up! Ted went to get us some coffee from the WaWa and I ate a kind bar and considered my clothing options. Because of Global Warming and El Nino it was bizarrely warm in Philadelphia on November 22nd. I had brought long tights, short tights, a heavy hoodie, a light hoodie and a short sleeved shirt. After trying on the short tights and heavy hoodie, I went with the long tights and the light hoodie. I attached my crumpled race bib to my fabulous spibelt and I was ready! I ate a kind bar and we left for the race at 6:15. It was fun to walk through a city at dawn with 10,000 strangers headed to the race. People were alternating between antsy and groggy.
We got to the security check point and realized that we had actually cut a huge line… maybe. The signage was AWFUL! We didn’t have bags so we were able to go through the expedited check point, and it wasn’t clear where, in the mass of people, the line for the expedited check point actually was. So we just nudged forward until we passed through the gates. Behind the checkpoint people thinned out, but it had gotten a little bit late.
When we signed up for the race we had to tell them what time we estimate that we will finish. Two of us (me!) were in the slowest group, and one of us was in the next group up… so we walked what felt like a mile to the Blue Corrall to get in line.
and then heard overhead that the race start was delayed, so we milled around getting cold and using the restrooms. Eventually I got the sense that the race must have started (you couldn’t really hear) because we started edging forward. The race started at 7:15, according to the website but I didn’t cross the starting line until 7:45. And we’re off!
Running, and running, and running.
A half marathon is a long run. You start running and then you run. And then you run. And then you run. I started the race at 7:45 in a mass of people, some of whom were walking (note, if I ever do this again, I’ll estimate myself at a faster time to get a little ahead of the walkers). About 3 miles in you’ve most hit the group you are going to be with for the rest of the run and then it’s just a matter of running. I don’t know enough about Philadelphia to really tell you where we went, but we ran past monuments, along a highway, through some neighborhoods… and then through what appeared to be a little taiwan or chinatown or something. It smelled SO GOOD and I realized… I was painfully, painfully hungry! Apparently one should eat more than a kind bar at 5am if one is planning to run between 7:45 and 11:15 am. I ate 3 of my fuel gummies and powered on trying not to think about it.
At around 7 miles I have to say, THANK GOD there were finally some hills. It was at least an interesting challenge. Between miles 7 and 9 it was mostly up hill with a few downhill quarter miles. The hills were not that intense, but people started acting crazy! People who had been running along beside me for 7 miles were suddenly walking. It’s somehow de-motivating to keep running when others are meandering. But it was worse to think that I would have to be out there for longer if walked… plus I mean, really- I trained (BADLY) for months! I’ll just keep going. I can do this!
But then there was moment at the around the 8th mile where you enter this park and the run goes in a figure 8. So you run into the park and directly across from you are people running out of the park, but that’s (as far as the race is concerned) about a mile or so away. It took ALL that I had not to just cut across the field and decrease the race by a mile. But I did not… and I guess I’m glad because there was a band at the top of the figure 8 that was dressed as clowns. That was kind of fun. After that park (around Mile 9),we ran mostly along a river and it was quite pretty. Philly looks to me a little bit like a mashup of DC and Pittsburgh.
At 10 miles I was in new territory- I had run for 10 miles before, but never more than that. This was definitely more. It takes me 2 hours to run 10 miles and so the longest time I had ever run was for 2 hours… that last half an hour was a bit brutal. I honestly just felt like… am I still running? Am I STILL running? Oh, God. I’m STILL RUNNING. Just as I was about to get super irritated, though, we got to the inflection point where the marathoners peel off to do ANOTHER 13 MILES (crazy town) and the half marathoners run into the finish chute. About 15 yards later the FINISHING marathoners enter through their chute and we all cross the finish line together.
I have to say that my favorite part of the marathon was crossing the finish line with the elite marathoners. They are super human or something. In order to cross with me they had to run for 26.2 miles going around 5 minutes per mile. That’s CRAZY! And they were BANGING IT OUT on the last mile. I was so busy watching this girl speed across the finish line that I didn’t realize that I, myself, had sped way up! I had been running about an 11’30” minute mile for the past 4 miles or so miles and I look down at my watch just as I cross the finish line to see 8’34”. She inspired me!
As soon as I realized I was going that quickly I also realized that I had better stop it because I was extra, super, insanely tired. I slowed to a crawl and then walked up to a guy giving out medals. He puts mine on for me as he can see I am discombobulated and exhausted. “You did it” he says. “I did.” I sigh. He smiles, and I skulk away trying to figure out what I was supposed to do now that I wasn’t supposed to be running. I take a selfie to send to David, and then spied the line of people getting bananas and bagels and soup. I had just one thought: I NEED A BAGEL WITH PEANUT BUTTER NOW! My hunger had not be satiated with a bag of fuel gummies, it turns out. There were no bagels, but there were pretzels and little packages of peanut butter that I ate in the shortest possible time.
In the food line I find my friends and we all get our bag full of post-race food and join the hordes of people recovering from the race. The post-race scene around the finish line was so crazy. It looked like a crisis situation- we all got these tinfoil blankets when we crossed to keep us warm and hundreds of people were laying on sidewalks and benches wrapped in these “blankets” and drinking hot broth from a cup. We were a sad crew, despite the fact that I guess we were happy?
The three of us walked back to the hotel and slowly got our wiggle back. We talked about the fact that our ankles were broken, that marathoners were NUTS, that maybe 10k was enough for a while, that we should come back to Philly some time, and the slow mile back to the hotel left us cheerier. We showered, grabbed our bags and headed back to New Jersey where our families were waiting to hear all about it.
Summary: Sure, do a half marathon if you want to, it’s not terrible. Was it as awesome as a triathlon? NEVER. Would I do it again? I guess…. if you want me to. 🙂
Amanda Crowell, PhD is a cognitive psychologist obsessed with how people make change. She is best known for translating cutting edge research into practical strategies that can be used right away.