Wrapping (and Not Scrapping) It Up In Philly

Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap and Race Report

Start line at dawn.18 Nov 2012.

Race: Philadelphia Half Marathon
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 18 November 2012, 0700
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible – 1.8 km (1.1 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear to partly cloudy; temperatures started high 30s and rose gradually but sank lower as wind chill kept up.
Course conditions: Flat through most of Center City and South Philadelphia. Turned into Powelton Village and Mantua, where a hill picked up at Mile 8 and another at Mile 10 leading into the concourse at Fairmount Park. Wrapped around MLK Drive and finished back at Eakins Oval, in front of the Art Museum.
Preview: In my preview, I focused on how I was fortunate not to have to scrap the entire race after suffering health issues most of October. I managed to recover and put in the mileage needed for a baseline run in the Philadelphia Half.

The Race:

Art Museum at dawn. 18 Nov 2012.

Before the gun: For the first time, my parents were aiming to catch a whiff of this race and my dad in particular wanted to catch me at multiple points. (Note: Since last year’s brouhaha (and I don’t mean the injury but my mother’s reaction) at MCM, my mother has ironically accepted that running and fitness is a vital part of my identity, even if she still disapproves of it fundamentally. But it’s largely mainly because she now knows she cannot particularly stop me now from doing what I love doing. Best saved for another time though.) My dad did not want to deal with the parking situation but this go he did not expect how bad it would be trying to ramp it up from 60 miles first thing in the morning. I had offered them to stay at my place the night before but my mother opted to work late. Ah well.

So they started up early Sunday morning, aiming to be there by 7am, if they were to miss gun time, they would meet me at the Rittenhouse Square checkpoint, or around it, at 21st and Chestnut, which is where the 10km (6.2 mile) split would be.

I had no problem suiting up, packed a few extra clothes, gloves, bandeau, leggings, double layers and all. Hydration kit, check. Got there an hour beforehand, with the temps exactly freezing, extra stretching for me was necessary. No hassles whatsoever with bag check in. Corrals were all clearly marked as well and I found soon enough that trying to call my parents to update them on my status would be an exercise in futility.

And then the anthem came. It was the last update I could give them before mobile reception went dead. Maddening.

Starting corrals. 18 November 2012.

Mile 1: Parkway to Chinatown. Like last year, we started going southeast on Ben Franklin Parkway and veered left on Arch Street into Chinatown. Spectators were cheering everywhere. There were a LOT of “That’s what she said” banners and “quit your complaining, making these banners was just as hard” slogans and other cheeky stuff to keep us amused along the way. I tried looking for the first of my supporters at the Mile 1 marker but neither of the ladies were to be found amongst the throngs of people. Then again I had also started way back in the orange corral, but it would turn out to have been a good idea in the end.

Mile 2: Chinatown to Columbus Boulevard. This is where potholes can get annoying on the Old City end if you are not careful. There are still too many people around you and it’s still too distracting when you need to look straight down. This was more critical as the race was running TWO additional corrals due to the cancelled NYC marathon and our takeover of some of the runners for the NYCM. This brought the race up to 29200 runners, well above the 20000 they would normally run.

Mile 3: Columbus Boulevard. South on Columbus Boulevard into South Philly and Pennsport neighbourhoods. Plenty of honking from traffic in the opposite direction. I kept normal pace, baseline 10s as I did not want to compromise my fragile self. I noticed several running couples pass me (or vice versa as I passed them) with several complementary and cheeky slogans: “He made me do it/she made me do it” or “I’m with stupid” or “Thing 1/Thing 2”. One couple tried to “dress” as Barack and Michele Obama. Seriously?

When we reached Washington Avenue, the wind chill got more annoying. The cheer zones on the boulevard were sparse but there was a lot of police staff in South Philly minding the course.

Miles 4-5: Pennsport. Very run of the mill, very relatively flat and fast through South Philly. Still crowded and was still paranoid about tripping. Still the potholes and the threat of tripping were just as aggravating. The music in my brain, from Matt Hires to Linkin Park to Taio Cruz to Ryan Cabrera…whatever needed to keep me in my happy mood, there it was, playing in my head. We got onto South Street and some of the runners were not sure where the route went. I told them we’d veer right onto 6th Street soon. They then asked if we went into any unsafe areas of Philly like Southwest Philly. That next question nearly made me gag, as Mile 8 would take us through Mantua, one of the worst areas closest to Center City, but safety would not be of concern during early Sunday morning and with a lot of police control for a major sporting event such as this. I told them not to worry as roads are cordoned off by vehicles anyhow. I asked them where they were from, turns out they are from the suburbs. Figures.

Mile 6: Washington West and Rittenhouse Square. There’s nothing like the home crowd cheering you on and especially when your parents are there to see you just shy of the 10k marker. I felt a burst of energy at first on 6th Street with the music getting louder. Then we turned left on Chestnut Street.

I had told my parents to wait somewhere between 15th and 21st Streets on Chestnut which turned out to be quite a broad swath of area to search for people. Luckily with the crowd picking up, I had to not only look for them but for other supporters who mentioned they would be at or near the actual 21st Street checkpoint.

At 16th Street…well that’s where I saw them. My dad beamed at the sight of seeing me, and my mother showed a different reaction than she did at MCM, granted she actually was looking for me this time around. He tried to take a few pictures of me but with others clipping at my heels, I would not – and could not – stop.

I continued with the pack all the way into University City.

Mile 7: University City and Powelton Village. I recalled where I needed to go for the pit stop last year, but yet again, the queues were longer than ever before. No worries. I kept chugging along, and somewhere around here I popped the second gel to keep me going up the hill on Mantua. We came across the Drexel Marching Band.

Miles 8-9: Mantua. This hill was not as bad as I had expected it to be, although ironically I would notice the even worse hill at Mile 10 even LESS. North on 34th we headed to Fairmount Park’s concourse. Across the river we saw people going on Mile 14 of the course, and I kept on thinking, darn, one day when school gives me frigging more time, I will be as fast as them. I know I need to make the time, but school is sucking everything out. That darned feeling. Ugh.

Miles 10-11: Concourse, Fairmount Park. The so-called hill from hell. This is the one that always gets us at Odyssey and it’s no different here. But ironically I hardly noticed it. I mean I knew I was going up a hill, but the pressure was off so I just leaned slightly forward and kept a steady pace whilst breathing very slowly. Came up the hill and hung a right, that was it. Now I had to look forward to the Clif Shot station, where I had to be very careful to grab the vanilla tubes, if not those, then the raspberry tubes. Mocha and Citrus are out of the question because my body – as I learnt the hard way last month – is still reacting VERY badly to caffeine so I sure will not be taking my chances in this race. Each of those flavours have 1 cup (or the equivalent) or 1/2 cup respectively.

Luckily they made it easy: no caffeine, stay left; caffeine, go right. Zing. Breezed through with two tubes, one in my back pocket and the second to keep the blood in my hand’s veins flowing. No kidding. The cold now is starting to be a real problem.

Miles 12-13: Back on MLK Drive. I kept my pace as normal. A few scares saw some ambulances tearing down the right side of Mile 12 to help out students who were trying in vain to finish the half marathon.

Like last year, full marathoners were to keep to the left, and half marathoners were to keep to the right. Now, I had registered for the full but I had asked to switch to the half, which was permitted as I had paid more than what half marathon registrants had paid. For those of you new to running, if you are running a half concurrently with a full (particularly if both have the same start and ending point) typically it is considered okay to run the half if you’ve registered for the full but NOT the other way around. Running a distance longer than what you’ve registered for is considered banditry (or being a bandit…my English is probably messed up) because you did not pay the full marathon fee.

If you run shorter distances than what you register for, an individual race’s rules may stipulate you take one type of medal versus another or still be eligible or not for awards/timing. If you are someone who competes for AG or cash awards you should check the rules…always.

Now why does this all matter? Well I’m coming in on the bridge towards Mile 13. And the stewards started barking at me: BLACK BIBS STAY LEFT. The announcer in the background was blasting it as well in both English and Spanish: Full marathoners stay left, half marathoners stay right.

Well as a full registered I had a black bib, and halfs had a maroon bib. Go figure I had to tell the USATF steward not once but three times that I was sticking to the half. And as it would be, because I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, I knocked someone else over in the process…in front of the throngs of crowds at the divide.

How. Utterly. Embarrassing.

I apologized to my fellow runner who thankfully did not make much of it at all as I helped her onwards. Good grief, surely someone HAD to have caught that on film or camera.

The finish: Straightforward. I saw my parents off to the right, screaming for me to slow down. Figures. I’m not slowing down for the camera, who are they kidding?

Unofficial: 2:22:xx. Something. Still better than my banged up 2:28 performance from last year, 3 weeks after MCM, but NOWHERE (lol?) near my PR. Still for absolute minimal baseline training, this could be MUCH worse.

If there’s one thing I CAN be proud of? Recovering to salvage this experience after getting sick for most of the last month.

Post-Race Thoughts:

Well, it’s a wrap for the year. As for this race, another successful failure but I am also one to roll with the punches. What I want is something I cannot realistically have until I graduate and until then I have to be patient, but that aside, the Philly Marathon race experience is something I can not regret. I won’t.

The expo was sorely disappointing….MORE DIVERSITY DARN IT! But otherwise no complaints….except for the wind chill.

Finally an interesting shot I saw on the Philly Marathon FB account that I thought I’d share, at first I thought this lady was throwing up at Mile 19 but it turned out she was getting the biggest moment of her life.

Special moment at Mile 19. Source: Philadelphia Marathon FB site, 18 November 2012.

Many more miles together for this happy couple!

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