On Sunday, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon - my second marathon. Over the last few months, I've been trying to fight off the tendonitis I developed back in April, so I was sorely undertrained. As assumed by my unfortunate lack-of-training-ability, this race absolutely trashed me. Things fell apart that haven’t fallen apart in years, and things that I expected to fall apart (my feet, mainly) stayed blissfully perfect. I did manage to partially recover from this trashing before the race was over, which was an unexpected surprise. Anyway –
Pre-race was fairly normal, for what was expected. Our group came out of the subway at around 5:45AM and made our way to the security checkpoints. They had increased security this year, and had a full perimiter around the start line. You had to go through checkpoints where you would be searched in order to get in. Jason, myself, my mom, and my dad got through with no problem - my hydration vest was searched, Jason’s backpack for our stuff (that my parents would be holding) was searched, my mother’s purse was searched, and my dad walked straight through because he didn’t have anything. For some reason though, they didn’t want to let my sister in over her tiny little Vera Bradley clutch that she had her phone and ID in. Luckily, one of the head guys there noticed she was with two runners, and told them just to let her through. …Okay then! We hung out for a bit and used the port-a-johns before the lines started, until it was time to head to the corrals. Jason was in the first corral after the elites, and I was in the very last corral to be sent off. As usual. We offered our ‘good luck’s and lined up in our corrals. After a delayed start, my corral was finally walked up to the start line around 7:45AM. They shot the starting pistol, and we were off! ….at our speedy 10 minute pace.
Mile 1 was my ‘winging it mile’, and wing it I certainly did. I tried my best to just focus on what felt comfortable and not look at my watch or the mileage. I read all the signs I passed, checked out all the buildings, took note of all the flags – the things I don’t normally notice when I’m running the beginning of a race. Around a half mile (a freaking half mile!@#$%!!) my hip started hurting. My brain was screaming, ‘SERIOUSLY? A HALF MILE IN?!’. I wasn’t expecting to have to deal with hip pain until at least mile 13 or 14, so this was a bit of a pain. From that point on, I had to do my stupid crescent kick every mile or so to pop the ligaments in my hip back into the place they should be, where they wouldn’t hurt. Annoying.
Other than my hip, miles 1-7 felt amazing. Sometime during this stretch, I ran my fastest mile, at 9:59 pace. The buildings and shops were so cool, and the crowds were awesome – the guys at mile 3-ish handing out the tissues were certainly my MVP’s of the race. I have never been happier to get a tissue. There were so many great race signs in this stretch, like ‘You’re running better than the government’ and ‘hurry up, the Kenyans are drinking your beer’. I passed so many awesome restaurants that Jason and I had been to, and was thinking about all the delicious food that we needed to come back and eat. By the end of mile three, I was trying to figure out pace and timing, since I was feeling so great other than my hip. Luckily, mile 4 came at a great time, and I remembered that I was simply focusing on having fun that day, and not PRing or finishing in any certain time. I spent all of mile 4 telling myself this whenever I’d pop pace or average times into my head, and eventually quashed those thoughts completely. This was a big thing for me, since normally, math is what keeps me going during races. But, it also keeps me distracted – distracted from my body, distracted from whatever hill I’m running on, distracted from the runners around me. I wanted to experience a race without being distracted, so no math (other than miles down and left) it was! This was an enormous help to me over the whole race, since I know I would have become extremely discouraged later in the course if I still had an ‘I need to do good’ goal in my mind. I focused instead on what was around me and saying thank you to every person that cheered for me.
Miles 7-10 started rolling terrain on our trek from University City over through the Please Touch Museum area. I hit the hill at mile 7 and started my walk to the top, as I knew I didn’t need to be pounding up hills in my under-trained state with 19 miles to go. Somewhere along this stretch I heard my name and saw my friend Amy and her daughter Morgan cheering on the sidewalk. I was totally surprised! I waved, said hi, and kept heading up the hill, a little more pumped up than I was before. The downhill at mile 8 was awesome, but I couldn’t seem to get my legs to open up as much as I wanted to. This wasn’t much of a concern for me though, because we were running alongside the Philadelphia Zoo! I spent most of my time looking at the walls of the zoo hoping I’d catch a glimpse of an animal, and listening to all of the different noises that were coming from behind the wall. I passed a door that said “Rhino Enclosure”, and spent the next few minutes wondering what else was behind the wall next to me. Mile 9 brought the last big hill to walk, at which point we were at the highest point on the course (just under 150 feet – save your oxygen!) – the Please Touch Museum. They had some fun bands and drummers up top, which were awesome to run to as you headed around to the start of mile 10. While I was walking, I pulled my phone out to check Jason’s splits – he was doing amazing! I started getting excited for each time I could check my phone to see his tracking updates, and hoped I would see him on the out-and-back section on Kelly Drive.
Just before mile 11, we made the turn to start heading back down Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard towards the Art Museum and passed a fantastic cheer station – trippy music, people in costume and drag dancing… It was super awesome. They seriously pumped me up and my pace quickened for the start of mile 11. By the time I hit mile 12, the wheels were starting to come off a little. My feet hurt, but not my tendons – just the beginnings of soreness from being on them for the time I had been so far. My legs were starting to feel heavy. My hip was getting worse. It was at this point that I realized I was soon going to hit the split for the marathon and half-marathon, and that I could tap-out half way if I wanted to. The second I thought it, I instantly told myself, ‘you can’t!’, because I had dedicated mile 13 to Jason, and I wanted to make sure I made it to the end of that mile. I walked up the hill to the Art Museum, and stayed to the left for the Marathoners, watching the half marathoners speed past me to their finish line. At the top of this little hill, I saw Amy and Morgan again! In that moment, I wasn’t quite sure how they got from University City to the Art Museum in that short amount of time (it wasn’t actually that short). I smiled for some pictures and headed on my way around the museum to the half marathon mark on Kelly Drive. I hit the half mark at 2:45:40 – not too shabby for me, considering I had walked some hills. I hoped that I’d be able to hold that kind of effort for the rest of the course, but (spoiler alert) that wasn’t in the cards, as I would soon find out. Shortly after the half way mark, I saw a bright orange and yellow shirt running towards me. It was Jason! He was running down mile 25. I yelled his name, and he saw me just as he was about to pass me. He cut across the course (sorry random guy he ran in front of!) to stop on the yellow line and give me a hug. As he hugged me, he said, “Can’t stay too long, I’m on track for a PR!” (personal record), to which I said something like, “OMGWHYAREYOUSTOPPINGRUNNOWGO!”. I was so, so, so excited to hear he was doing well, got a little emotional over it (oops), and ran-walked the rest of the mile to try and get myself back on track. I was really starting to feel the mileage. Just at the end of Boathouse Row, I heard my name again – it was another friend, Marty! He walked with me for a bit, and we talked about the rest of our runners. Once we hit the Marker for the returning side’s mile 25, Marty headed over to hang out on the curb, and I ran/walked my way through the rest of mile 13 and 14. 14 was much more walking than running. I started to get nervous.
Mile 15 is when I crashed. And I crashed hard. I could only run for short sections. My other hip had started acting up. I would pop my left one, and the pain would come back within a quarter mile. My feet were sore. I tried to put it out of my mind and keep run/walking my way down the course. But by 16, I knew I couldn’t keep running. I was in too much pain. I sat down on the curb and tried to stretch my hips out. I got some relief from it, and decided to walk mile 16 (a gradual uphill) so I could try and loosen them up and not put too much uphill stress on them. I got to the top of the Falls Bridge, crossed it, and saw (what I thought would be) a blissful downhill on the other side. I started up into a run… and felt a horrendous pain in my left knee. My IT band. An issue that I haven’t had for almost two years. All I could think was, “Really, this too!?”. Luckily, I couldn’t feel it at all while I was walking. I speed walked the rest of the downhill, turned around, speed walked the uphill, and tried to run again over the bridge. The pain shot through my knee and I drastically limped. Nope. I realized that I had a lot of walking in my future.
I spent the next four miles walking. Other than that short attempt at running near the falls bridge, I ended up walking all of miles 16-20. Instead of getting discouraged, I tried to look at the scenery around me and think about how close I was to the turn around. Once I turned around, I knew I’d be able to make it back, one way or another. I allowed myself to do some quick math and realized that even if I had to walk the whole rest of the course, I would still finish within the 7 hour cutoff time. I relaxed. Closing in on mile 18, a man caught up to me that had my same hydration vest on. Because of this fact, he decided that we were going to be best friends. This guy was a chatterbox on legs. I’m usually not a very chatty person in the first place, but at this point I was deep in the pain cave and did. not. want. to. talk. He told me all about his friends that were running, what he did for work (IT Implementations), the projects he had coming up, the conferences he had, the different companies he implemented systems in…. He wanted to tell me everything. He began noticing other people passing that were part of his running group, and he started talking to me as if I knew them. He seemed to point out people every quarter mile and tell me things like, “Bob’s test last week went great! Which is really fortunate for Susan”, while I had no idea who Bob, what this test even was, or why the hell it was so awesome for Susan. He let me know that the leader of his group had told him to train to 28 miles as a first-timer for the marathon. He had done it successfully, but had done something give out in his leg around mile 16, and now could not run without pain. He was content to walk the rest of the course, but was hoping he could run it in for the finish line photos. He walked with me for the next three and a half miles. I started to feel obligated to walk with him, because I thought it would be rude to try and start running again in the middle of someone’s life story to you. I didn’t like the feeling.
By the time we got to Manayunk, I was listening to my fourth description of a company IT software installation (all of which I understood exactly none of), and was desperate to get away (sorry dude, you were quite nice, but I throw things when I even need to CALL IT, and listening to stories of it for an hour during late miles of a particularly painful marathon were a very polite form of torture). In addition, I had seriously started feeling like I developed some sort of Alzheimer’s during the past few miles - this guy had pointed out SO MANY PEPOLE as if I knew them, and I was partially wondering if I actually DID know them, and they were all somehow connected to Montco (they weren’t, this guy was just a chatterbox). At this point, and I realized we were at the top of a hill with a long downhill in front of us to the turnaround, where we would be three quarters through mile 20 and headed on our way back to the Art Museum and finish line. This was my chance. I told my new BFF4lyfe that I was going to run the downhill, stretch at the bottom, and then walk the uphill. He said he’d catch up to me while I was stretching. I was selfishly hoping for my own sanity that he didn’t. I told my knee to STFU and ran probably my fastest quarter mile in the course. I stopped at the bottom to stretch as promised, and began walking up the hill once I was finished. I passed him before he hit the turn, and he let me know he was going to stop at the port-a-johns at the bottom. “I’ll catch up with you if I can!”. He was stopping for a bit. Oh thank god. In a way, I’m slightly glad I met this guy, because he was my motivation to keep pushing forward and run as much as possible to stay ahead of him catching up to me. However, my knee was still really bothering me. Once I got to the top of the hill, I ran for another tenth of a mile or so, limping along. I decided to walk for a bit longer and figure out how I could get myself ready to run. Around this time, I happened to hit the beer stop at the end of Manayunk. A guy handed me a cup of Yuengling and told me, “You got this, and you definitely want this!” I figured Beer couldn’t hurt by now. I grabbed the cup from him, said thank you, and heard, “Get moving, Potts!”. It was friends from my traithlon team, JJ and Kimberly! I waved and said hi, feeling boosted by seeing familiar faces. I drank half my beer, threw the rest out, and started my limp-run towards the 21 Mile marker. Just before I hit it, I realized, WAIT A MINUTE! I KNOW HOW TO FIX THIS! Duh. It’s fitting that at the end of the mile I dedicated to doctors, I finally realized that I had the skills to fix my IT band. I plopped down on the ground and did some ART and hand combing on my IT Band. While I was down there, I chided myself a bit for not thinking of this four and a half miles ago. I finished up, stood up, started to run, and viola! I was fixed! I beamed ear to ear, mentally thanked my Doctors, and started on my way through my last 5 miles.
Miles 21 through 25 were fairly uneventful. I ran/walked most of the miles, and drastically lowered my pace compared to miles 16-20. I had a conversation with a woman about my hydration pack, and stopped every mile to do my routine stretches and ART/comb out my IT Band. I mainly enjoyed the scenery, relished in the fact that my knee wasn’t in exploding pain any more, texted my family when I got to each mile marker, and tried to ignore the aching pain my legs and feet. My tendons still felt fantastic, and I was becoming more and more thankful for that with each step, but also more and more nervous that the tide there would turn. There were very few spectators left, but each one of them cheered for me by name and told me that I had it in the bag. I thanked every one of them.
Just after starting Mile 25, I saw a familiar orange and yellow shirt on the side, waving at me. It was Jason again! I ran up to him and gave him a hug. He let me know that he had gotten a PR! I was so excited. I asked him if I could give him my hydration pack, since it was starting to hurt to carry, and he wonderfully said yes. He couldn’t keep up with me on the way back (probably the only time I will ever type that), so he let me know he’d meet me there after I finished, and that my family was waiting for me. I walked/ran to the top of the long but gradual hill, until I could see the Mile 26 flag off in the distance. At this point, I stopped for a bit and really laid into my IT Band to make sure I could run the whole rest of the way in. A woman on the sideline noticed me grimacing and got nervous, and kept telling me “Slow! Slow!”. I could tell that she didn’t speak much English, and didn’t think it was the greatest idea for me to run it in. I smiled at her, said thank you, and took off at a run for the finish.
After 6 hours, 16 minutes, and 11 seconds, I finally crossed the finish line for the Philadelphia Marathon. I finished all smiles, happy that I was about to be able to sit down and relax. No more pain cave. Just hobble cave to get home. A volunteer put a finisher’s medal around my neck (arguably the coolest finisher’s medal I’ve ever gotten), and I slowly made my way over to my family, who were waiting at the chute exit. Our running group friends caught up with us shortly after, and Jason hobbled back to us in one piece. After some group time, we all headed back to our respective homes, where Jason and I went to dinner with my family and then promptly fell asleep at 6:30PM.
An afterthought - I’m TENTATIVELY saying this because I believe in repeat verification…. but… my new medicine worked! At NO point during the course did I have breathing issues, even when I got emotional (which usually sends me gasping for air). My breathing felt fantastic the whole way through. I’m hesitant to declare it a full victory, however, as it was only one occasion and I wasn’t pushing myself to my hardest potential. But still – I comfortably ran a 9:59 mile somewhere in there with no breathing issues?! That’s amazing. I’m intending on using the same med combo for a 5k this Thanksgiving, and if it works just as well there at a higher intensity, then I’ll declare it a victory, accept the Mast Cell Activation Disorder diagnosis, and see will talk about where I go from there. Here’s hoping!
Hope you guys somewhat followed along and enjoyed the recap.
Until next race,