Race: ODDyssey Half Marathon
Location: Fairmount Park/West River Drive, Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 26 May 2011, 0700
Distance Travelled to Compete: 6.6 km (4.1 miles)
Weather Conditions: 70 degrees and humid at gun time, rose to 80 degrees with full humidity. Very little wind.
Course Conditions: Hills at miles 3, 9, and 12.5. Flat otherwise. Two large turnarounds, start/end at Memorial Hall in the park.
A half marathon exclusively in Fairmount Park; this is Philadelphia’s main spring race. It is a laid back race that encourages runners to dress up and awards pint glasses and finisher medals when runners complete the race. The main downfall here is the extremely warm weather, even with a 7am gun time. The post-race party consists of a band, a beer garden, with Megabus sponsoring the bag check in stations and transportation to and from Fairmount Park, as well as shuttle service for NYC residents from NYC to the Crowne Plaza, the official race hotel.
Last year’s race expo occurred at the Liberty Place, for which the space was extremely small. This year, with a slightly larger draw than the 1800 the race drew last year, race directors elected to have the expo at Lloyd Hall on Boathouse Row, which has a lot more room and has had triathlon expos. It was in the gymnasium, which had ample room, and plenty of staff to answer questions.
I ran into my friend Vee (@DancinRunnerVee) who was volunteering at the t-shirt pickup. This year’s t-shirt allowed people to black out certain parts of the yellow digital writing to reveal the participant’s time.
We caught up a bit, but unfortunately with a doctor’s appointment within the hour, I had to take off. Overall, I’d say this was an improvement over last year.
My friend and neighbour Caroline and myself left our residence building around 6am, having booked the 6:15am bus leaving Crowne Plaza and although we got to the main entrance, the flood of participants prevented us from finding a seat. If you had pre-registered, you would have gotten on the bus except they weren’t collecting forms or checking registration. As a result, the bus operator had told us to wait until the next bus – 6:30am – to board and head off. Some participants, worried that they wouldn’t have enough time, took a cab to Fairmount Park; we decided we would wait for the next bus and take it up. In the meantime, we ran into Vee, who donned her Demons suit from last year and mentioned to us that knowing the race director, she would not start the race without the busses being there on time and no worries to be had upon getting there.
Once we boarded the next bus, we took the Art Museum route through Sedgeley Drive and what did we see – a 5k for diabetes FINISHING up as runners were finishing in the finishers’ chute. It was 6:45am…I could only imagine. The heat and humidity seemed forboding and it only served to our anguish during today’s race.
Before the gun: Once we reached the concourse, we flew through baggage check in – matching color coded ribbons and all – hit the loo and with just seconds to spare, got in our corrals. I had gotten SOME time to stretch, which was better than nothing. But all the while, I was worried about the heat and with good reason.
The race started very promptly at 7am, and like that we were off.
Mile 1: I had my hydration kit on myself and the first mile we were trouncing through the concourse. No big deal. Anticipating excessive water loss, I started at my slowest base pace as the humidity intensified.
Mile 2: Back into the park, this time, towards the Japanese garden, a slight incline here as we wound closer again to the starting point. Going up the first hill, we saw already the leaders taking down Mile 4 below us, making me wonder when they’d slow down. We progressed towards Lancaster Avenue with much being uneventful. Caroline at this point passed me, but I knew she was a much faster runner than I. I passed the first “obstacle” I saw, a balloon toss.
Mile 3: Rounded Lancaster Avenue and now we were back on the way out towards West River Drive, and the main part of the course. At this point, I was feeling the heat rise in my body, and my midsection was starting to soak up in sweat.
Mile 4: We started taking down the hill and underneath the bridge. Several participants reminded each other to not rejoice on how easy this hill was, as we’d be going right back up it again for 12-12.5 into the end. I was still pacing at my slowest 10 minute pace and early on water loss was starting to take its toll. I decided to hedge my bets though and took in my first endurance gel, which proved to be a good move.
Mile 5: Started into the beginning of the first turnaround on West River Drive, headed north towards Mantua. The Philadelphia skyline soon became visible and we saw the leaders soaring on their Mile 7. It was the first of two very long turnarounds, the same ones that were so last year. There were I think one or two more water stations on this course, which proved to be a very good thing. The mugginess intensified as we ran facing the traffic on I-76 and making our way closer to the museum we saw several casual runners trying and struggling to run, several masses of spectators cheered us on near the museum crossing.
Mile 6: Way back up the West River. The turnaround was marked by multicolored cones instead of the single cone I’d be accustomed to touching for good luck (yes, I said GOOD, I know some people out there think it’s BAD haha). Paced myself up the bridge, and took in the water. No problems with my muscles at all, but the heat was starting to get to me. It had to be closer to 80 and closer to 100 humidity at this point. Either way it was insane. I saw the Jenga blocks around the halfway point and skipped it, as I did all obstacles. And then, the halfway split clock. 1:05. Oy, not anywhere near my best time, but not having the air to breathe didn’t help.
Miles 7 and 8: We soldiered on past Montgomery Drive and several bridges, with a few unofficial volunteers spraying runners with water. Some runners complained they hit them in the face, as for me, he got me in the waist.
It was then I saw the lagging vehicle pass on the opposite side of the road.
And then there they were, the first signs of the heat taking a toll on people. I saw a couple runners lying down, presumably of heat exhaustion, with a few police officers taking their pulses. I reminded myself to keep going on, keep hydrating and not to go faster than I could breathe and everything would be alright.
Miles 9-10: We passed the beanbag toss before coming up on an incline that signified the second and final turnaround in the course. Even if there was a chance we’d win some money or a gift card, I really needed to use energy to focus on finishing and not to allow myself to dehydrate, which usually happened if I stopped abruptly. No issues with my calves though, or the rest of my body.
Mile 11: On the way back towards Mantua and the concourse. Spectators screaming “you’re almost there!” “Two more miles to go!” I saw Vee coming the opposite way on her Mile 9.5 or so and I saluted her and her group: “DEEEEEEMMMMMMOOONNNNSSSSSS!” It was never too hot to lift the spirits.
The final water station. And then I heard the dreaded words, “We’re out of Gatorade!”
NO WAY, I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me, there was still a lot of people well behind me. I felt really bad for those coming up much later than I.
Damn, people must have taken two glasses per person or something.
And then by a miracle, I saw a young boy holding up two cups of a substance that looked yellow. It was Gatorade – the last two cups. The lady in front of me took one, and I took the second, and presumably the last cup of Gatorade on the course.
(It was something I would later write in the race’s feedback survey that they needed way more Gatorade for that hot day.)
And then we saw Montgomery Avenue. The turn, back to the concourse. And there it was, the hill from hell.
Mile 12: I’m not sure what it was. At this point, my entire singlet was soaked in sweat, ditto for my running cap and sweat was glistening on my body. But somehow, I found within me the ability to run up that punishing hill, despite the heat, and all, maybe it helped that I was forced to run slow but now it was paying off, as I passed several runners walking up that hill. I got to the top with little incident and veered a right back onto the concourse.
Mile 13: The finish line. The cheering spectators and the blasting of music by band Flower Power. I forced myself to pick it up a little even knowing my time was nowhere near where it should have been.
But it was okay. I can refocus for September. I crossed the finish line, glad it was over.
Post-Race: After the Finish Line
Filing in the chute, we received our medals and a host of goodies from the race’s sponsors. We were given a bottle of BodyArmor, a Gatorade-like drink that I’ve never heard of, among other things.
I made a beeline for the Phila Massages area to receive my massage, which I needed so badly. I saw my friend Caroline who finished roughly 15 minutes ahead of myself. I promptly signed up for the massage, raced to bag checkout and got my stuff back without incident. The massage was well worth it and I managed to get my friend to join me in the beer garden, an achievement as she is not a big fan of beer in particular.
The beer last year was provided by Triumph Brewery, which was decent, but this year’s brewer was (I thought) better: SlyFox.
We filled up our glasses and well, bottoms up!
Overall, given the surge in participants, the organization had a few things they could improve on – enough Gatorade and the bus system – but overall, they did a good job, and with the right feedback, they will be able to put on a good show. The weather is a factor that dampened my spirits beyond belief, and although the Odyssey organizers have billed it as that 3 mile extension of Broad Street, it may need to rethink its strategy if the heat in late May gets progressively worse.