Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap and Race Report, Part 2
Race: Philadelphia Half Marathon
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 23 November 2014, 7am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible – 1.8 km (1.1 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear to partly cloudy; temperatures started high-30s, warmed to low 50s. Became sunny.
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: My third time running the Philly Half, and in a bittersweet twist, most likely my last. I didn’t have a great training season, and I was content to get to the starting line in one piece.
Part 1 of this recap can be found here.
Warming Up at the VIP Tent
The VIP tent was an area on 20th and Race Streets that included separate bag check-in, private restroom, early morning tent/hospitality, select seating near the band post-game, separate massage area.
Runners could get on the VIP tent listing for any number of reasons, either by buying a certain amount of merchandise, being a GORE-TEX Associate, key sponsor, or affiliated with City Sports.
I immediately went to the tent area where I met others from the City Sports run club plus a few people I recalled from university. Everyone seemed nervous trying to warm up. It felt reassuring seeing many of the faces I’ve gotten acquainted with over the last several months if not longer. I grabbed a very small amount of hot chocolate and chatted with another lady I’d met at City Sports, a cancer survivor who was making her comeback race. She was a much slower runner than I was, but that didn’t matter. She had recovered from chemo and the like more recently and seeing her every Sunday pushing herself was an inspiration.
I checked in my bag at another set of black tents, for which the staff gave me a special number to identify it. Signed in my name and then I headed off back on the Parkway towards the starting corrals.
I tried in vain to find several of my other friends from City Sports; most of us were in the fourth, or grey corral, but to no avail. I saw how long the queues were for the toilets and thankfully I didn’t have to deal with that. (They weren’t much better than the race either.)
I ditched my gloves, wore one layer with a heatsheet for pre-race and then threw it aside, long black race leggings, Balegas, and my usual Asics GT-2100s. Race belt around me with a Clif vanilla shot or two in case things got rough before the 9 mile mark. I decided to not think about time, so in an unprecedented move, I ditched my watch; at the same time I carried a water bottle in case I had dehydration issues.
Before the gun: The anthem played and one by one, corral by corral moved up. I took one last snap of the starting area and then started up the Nike Running App on my Android. Except I misjudged what our corral was going to do, I thought it would come up to the starting line but no, the gun had already gone off and we were on our way. I should have stepped aside and put my phone in my Amphipod, but I wasn’t able to and within the first mile I had to step aside on Logan Circle for about 15 seconds to do so. That was annoying.
Mile 1: Parkway to Chinatown. Like last year, we started going southeast on Ben Franklin Parkway and veered left on Arch Street into Chinatown. The crowds were their usual on Logan Circle and the Parkway and I wasn’t feeling too cold. I caught sight of an engaged couple who were wearing kits identifying themselves as getting married in six days. I can only dream of finding someone nice, let alone a runner, but I tried purging those thoughts as I turned left onto Arch Street.
Mile 2: Chinatown to Columbus Boulevard. Normally is where potholes can get annoying on the Old City end if you are not careful, but public works had since cleaned this up. This was around when a friend of mine from City Sports, who was dealing with massive knee issues, passed me. I asked how he was doing and at Mile 2, his knee was questionable at best. And he was signed up for the full.
Mile 2 was straightforward even with plenty of crowds in Chinatown. Flat road, left on (I believe) 4th Street and down to Columbus Boulevard where the first water stop was right on the corner. Holy cow, talk about absolute chaos.
Mile 3: Columbus Boulevard. South on Columbus Boulevard into South Philly and Pennsport. The first water step being on a corner created absolute chaos – I actually skipped this station because of the massive pileup of (I presume) newbie runners. Plenty of people also cheered us on from the bridges above us and the open road allowed runners to spread out a bit. Flat, and no complaints. Until we got all the way to Washington Avenue. There was our second water stop and again, it was at the corner turn. Good grief, this was ugly.
Miles 4-5: Pennsport. Very run of the mill, very relatively flat and fast through South Philly. Unlike previous years, the crowd support was significantly better. The roads were cleaned up, unlike two years ago. I looked for anyone I knew cheering in the crowd but I didn’t know anyone. I tried to keep my spirits up, it was race day after all.
Then we hung a left on South Street. So many memories. I wanted to take them in just in case I wouldn’t be back next year.
Mile 6: Washington West and Rittenhouse Square. We turned right on 6th Street, and then left on Chestnut Street. Home hood rally as I called it, Rittenhouse was the area with the greatest (by far) amount of crowd support. Random spectators here called and cheered your name (it was on the bibs) as you passed. This was quite the uplift I needed. The 10k split was roughly at 16th and Chestnut. And that’s when I knew that I was already halfway home.
Just two weeks before I’d done a 12 miler covering this same route but it felt so much better to be doing the real thing.
Mile 7: University City and Powelton Village. The queues for the toilets here were insane – I did not need to go, but 2 years ago I remember losing about 7 minutes to waiting here. Also skipped the water stations here with plenty of fluid in my bottle. Slight uphill as we progressed past Drexel and on the NE corner of Penn’s campus at 34th and Chestnut before making a right on 34th and headed to Powelton and Mantua. Deep in Drexel’s campus, one of the frat houses was blasting 80s music, and what did you know – at the time I passed it, Come On Eileen was on as the boys sang.
Miles 8-9: Mantua. This is one of the poorer communities in Philadelphia and even this area had many supporters lined up cheering runners on as they headed towards the Philadelphia Zoo. Steady incline took some wind out of me but I steadily pushed along. Continued up 34th Street and up the Girard Bridge.
Miles 10-11: Concourse, Fairmount Park. The so-called hill from hell. This somehow did but didn’t take the wind out of me. I remembered what I was told at Nike’s Women’s last year: lean in and breathe slowly. It’s a very slow yet steep hill and despite having trained on it thanks to City Sports, it still was utterly annoying. Came up the hill and hung a right, that was it. Several spectators held up signs urging us on.
Many people were on the concourse cheering us on. They were out of vanilla Clif Bar energy gel, and I had used mine up already, so I had to settle for raspberry. Mocha and Citrus are a no-go for me, as they have caffeine, and my body is hypersensitive to it.
Black Road was soon up and I was surging past a lot of runners. I felt strong, I felt good, which was odd, my training had not been the best this fall.
Miles 12-13: Back on MLK Drive. The loop was straightforward and then the hairpin turn. It was at this moment I realised that this race was coming to an end for me. I tried not to get too emotional, but as I’ve said many times on Twitter, I wasn’t so sure I’d be back next year if I move out. At the same time I wanted to do the full, and illness in 2012 prevented me from running the full that year.
I kept pushing forward as we saw the traffic soar our opposite direction on 76 West. And then I saw a Clif Bar Pace group pass me.
That’s when I noticed how fast I was actually going. I kept powering forward as a PR was in sight but I didn’t notice how well I had been doing until I saw the sign pass. Closing in on Eakins Oval, the throngs of supporters grew until you couldn’t hear much of anything. Instructions in English and Spanish were being blared for the full marathoners to stay left and the half marathoners to stay right. Once I veered right, I kept my eyes peeled for any supporter I could ferret out. No one I knew.
And like that, I crossed the finish line. 20 second PR. Holy smokes.
After crossing the finish line, we queued up for Mylar heatsheets, our medals, water, soup, a load of other goodies we received in a Macy’s bag, granola bars, and the like. To my left, I noticed the massage tent was backed up for a ridiculous amount of time, even more grateful I had access to the VIP tent.
After I filtered through the queue and got past 21st Street, I had to fight loads of spectators waiting for their loved ones. I trudged back to the VIP tent where I grabbed hot chocolate and recovered, listening to the bands play at the finish line festival.
I spent about an hour recovering there, trying to mentally pull myself together. I went into the VIP tent’s massage area, where staff from Phoenixville Massage and Bodyworks worked on runners (Phila Massages, whom I have gotten treatment from, worked the main massage tent on the parkway). Much shorter queue, and I told the guy working on me to focus on my shins, as they felt fragile after the run. Shins and knees.
That felt so good.
I went back to the tent area, and started texting and congratulating my friends, most of whom also either PRed, or did very well. It was a day of stories, a day of triumph for a lot of people and a day of bonding for me, or rather a weekend of bonding. It is difficult thinking I will be missing this come next year….or maybe I might return to enjoy this one last time. Just maybe.