Autumn Whirlwind

It has been a busy and interesting summer and the same can be said for how the fall is going so far.

My pavement related and offseason training goals this past summer were all but shattered when I caught a severe cold bug from (presumably, not 100% sure) a friend who was in town to visit and the result was severe bronchitis – at one point we suspected pneumonia, but thankfully the X-ray came back negative – that kept me from training or even excercising most if not all of June.
I returned to basic exercise (i.e. anything that didn’t involve running) only the final week of June and running the first week of July. And this was after SEVEN weeks of not running – I had taken two weeks off after Broad Street and was planning on light training when I contracted the bug. So coming back in the thick of the heat after seven weeks of no running?

Ugly. Just it was hilariously ugly.

I struggled to even run quarter mile intervals on the treadmill and my first run back with City Sports was a nightmare in nearly every sense of the word. Thankfully keeping at it, by the end of July I was back to basic distance, but pace, I was still off (slower) by roughly a minute/mile pace, and I was slow enough to begin with by most people’s standards.

At the same time, with work burning me out, I had taken a few short holidays to recharge. I screamed for a European vacation, especially with both the pound sterling and euro falling dramatically, I could afford RT to Ireland for 550. Yes, you are reading this correctly. $550.

Strangely, at the same time, I was also concerned about my moving expenses going to DC – especially if I took on a new job, absorbing (in most cases) relocation costs. As a result, my longer holiday for the summer was spent in Quebec. Amtrak train trip was entirely free for myself, along with a few nights in a Marriott hotel, thanks to the points I’d accumulated from my own work travels. Canada was a double edged sword – it was an aggressive agenda, seeing both Montreal and Quebec City in 6 days, 2 of which consisted of the Amtrak ride through the Adirondacks. It was a scenic ride, but overall the trip meant we were constantly on the go. It was great for keeping me in shape, but my mother was more exhausted after that week (despite my multiple warnings about the agenda and pace of the trip – several times I offered her to prolong the trip to ease the pace, but she refused as she had a religious pilgrimage the days following our return). Still I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the sights, the food and everything in between.

But breathers aside, it has been a busy summer. I visited my friend Caroline in NYC, who is training for the NYC marathon, spent a few weekends with other friends exploring the city and just overall doing fun stuff. But now a lot of the fun is slowing down – or stopping altogether – as the fall gets even crazier.

Thankfully I did not schedule myself for any half marathons at all this coming fall, between my anticipated job search, a wedding that is taking place abroad and a few other things I would have to tackle personally, scheduling my long runs for the Philadelphia Marathon was tough enough.

Training for the fall came slowly and steadily, and strangely enough, I’ve been training conservatively enough that the chances of injury to my shin are very small compared to what I encountered in 2013 when I tried to train for the half and the full and maybe leaving out a half and structuring around it might have been the answer here. Although I have been trying to keep my runs to no more than three times a week and only in excess of 14 miles for my long run do I increase to four, but never five times as my shins need longer time to recover from the longer runs. This still gives me a day to do weighttraining and a day to rest entirely. And so far it’s been fine.

My family continues to use my passion for running and travel – nothing new – as a lightning rod and sadly that has not changed. It has made things more difficult for me mentally as I cope with other issues and stress in general. Somehow, that passion will carry me through the finish, through the end of the marathon, and my time altogether in Philly. Ironically this is my last opportunity to ever run Philly and see the city in its utmost passion neighbourhood by neighbourhood – although Broad Street has done a pretty bang up job of that as well. Looking ahead to next year, I am slated for the DC marathon in March 2016, but after that, I’m looking at a general focus on my body strength and less so on endurance. I am thinking 2 races ranging between 10-13 miles – easier to train for and a much easier ability to adjust for, as personal priorities shift with my scenery.

To put it frankly, aside from focusing on my new job – wherever or whatever that might be – I will place a much heavier emphasis on my social/personal life – at my age, it is very difficult to meet new friends, although in DC, with many people my age, single, adventurous and ambitious, I won’t feel as out of place as I ever did in Philly. I remain optimistic I will find a crew of people with interests similar to mine (fitness overlapping or not) and maybe a few developing closer connections with. A stronger support network that I never really had living in Philly, that’s for sure. And even more critical now with my brother taking a position in Minnesota, much further away and moving further away myself from my own family, even as fractious as our relationship can be sometimes.

Things are complicated, but somehow I’ll sort it out.

For now, the pavement brings me peace, a peace that still, little else and only a number of people that I can count on one hand, can bring. Even on the upswing, with my first slew of interviews in November, the pavement helps me to calm the nerves before the storm.

One thing at a time. For now, the pavement helps me digest both the good things and the bad. One step at a time.

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Garden Spot Village Race Recap

2 start line

Garden Spot Village Race Recap

Race: Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half Marathon
Location: New Holland, PA and surrounding boroughs
Distance: 21.1km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 11 April 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 98 km (61 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear, started at mid 40s and rose to mid 50s and sunny
Course conditions: Rugged roads through Amish country and with inclines and rolling hills. First hill is mile 5 and second hill for those running the half will be mile 8, a very steep incline. Unfortunately for those running the full, this same hill is mile 21. For those running the full, the course goes further west into Leola, PA, otherwise, half marathons make a turnaround on Peters Road at mile 7.
Preview: My first race back in Lancaster since 2010. The good news is that it was in much nicer weather. The bad news is that the hills and overall the course were extremely challenging.

Race Preview

I took Amtrak into Lancaster Thursday night and stayed with family for what was probably the first time in ages.

1 cover tent

On Friday, packet pickup opened at 2pm. If you are staying in Lancaster County, expect to spend at least 20 minutes on PA 23, as that road is a very slow road through Leola and New Holland. As I stayed in the west part of the county with family, it took us close to 40.

We arrived around 4pm hitting rush hour traffic. Check in was located on Weaver Road at the central part of Garden Spot Village, a retirement community that consisted of many complexes and apartment buildings and duplexes.

Check in was quite seamless. Check your name against your number, collect your bib, your kit and your bag and be on your way. Definitely though the shirt and bag were well done.

The Race

2-1 start

When we arrived Saturday, the start was right where packet pick up was, right in the middle. Off to the side was a slew of concessions, behind that was a tent where runners could get post-race massages. Next to that was a runners’ only post race meal tent, which awaited after we crossed the finish line.

3 band

Pre-game festivities included a band (above) and of all things, an invocation. Being agnostic, I had to remind myself where I was and almost shook when the crowd resounded with a huge “Amen”.

4 mile 1

But soon all the festivities were over and we were on our way. The gun went off and the crowd roared. I was frozen enough to wear an old mylar sheet pre-race. I would soon find out later that the sun would heat us up quite nicely.

5-1 somewhere in the middle

Mile 1
The first mile was on campus, then through another neighborhood before heading out on the first country road. I was feeling the ruggedness of Lancaster County already. Men in suspenders and women in bonnets suurounded me as did your average everyday local. It was mostly flat and fast.

Mile 2
We ran into the first slew of Amish families seated outside their homes and supposedly cheering on their loved ones. It was up an incline and hung a right as we headed toward a few houses covered by trees. First water stop was here as well.

Miles 3-4
More open farmland. We headed toward another development and down another rolling hill. Crossing a bridge that separated a farm and a junction that would lead us toward the finish line, we saw a second water stop. Amazingly I was losing water in my body at the rate that I had to use multiple cups to fill my bottle. I should have run in short sleeves, I was running in my Love Run kit from this year. Damn me.

Mile 5
Speaking of that shirt, another man dressed in that kit ran right by me. “Nice shirt!” he remarked. At least we had that badassery in common doing two half marathons in two weeks.

We went up our first large hill which was more long and rugged than steep. It took a bit of time and wind out of me, but I did manage to recover and take a first pass at an old classmate of mine who also lives in Philly now. A bit ironic because she is more fit and fast than I am. She probably was not having a good race.

After this part of the course the course opened up to traffic although caution signs were pretty much everywhere and any traffic was restricted to one way traffic.

Mile 6
Entirely downhill. It would be our first sighting of the lead male for the half, and first sighting of Mile 8, the hill from hell. The latter part took us such a steep decline that I needed energy to slow down and not run over people.

Mile 7
This was the turnaround point, marked by a large red flag. Those of the pack running the full marathon would continue past this flag, and the rest of us would turn around.

6 mile 7 turnaround

I was a bit winded at this point and stopped at the water station and the bathroom (having drank so much fluid) before the turnaround. Incidentally, my parents were right at the turnaround, but given the ruckus and the official at the turnaround point shaking her cowbells as she yelled at us to turn around, I’d completely missed them as I turned around and headed on the “good” or return side of the road.

7 horse and buggy

We passed a horse and buggy at Mile 7 as well, incidentally the horse lost the plot but thankfully it didn’t interfere with the runners.

8 amish girl mile 7

Mile 8
This. The most hilariously difficult part of the course. After we turned around, we faced the same hill we’d come down for Mile 6.

It was too steep to even try running upwards. I tried leaning forward but my calves instantly felt a nasty pull from behind. I was forced to walk and even then I felt that calf pull. I’d seen the 7min/mile runners also struggle earlier so I didn’t feel so bad. No runner around me bothered to run.

9 mile 9

Mile 9
This climb took us back through another development which thankfully meant another water stop. The last hill forced me to exhaust my water bottle, I was forced to refill.

The next incline was gradual and we went through another tree covered area. Several patrol bikers passed us by.

10 mile 10

Mile 10
Finally, another downhill. The same slow hill we acsended when approaching Mile 5 but in reverse. I passed my classmate yet again (who I’d presumed had passed me whilst at the bathroom). A great scenic view of the farmland, but the ruggedness of the roads made me want to get this run over with. We passed our second to last water stop then set off in the final part of the course.

Mile 11-12
Two flat roads on our way back to Kinzer Avenue. We went through more farmland and through some rail tracks. At Mile 12 I passed my classmate one more time and this time I left her behind.

More Mennonite families cheered us on the way back. And with that I could taste the finish line. THAT post race meal.

11 mile 13

Mile 13
Kinzer Avenue to Weaver Road to the finish line. I wanted to jump for joy when I saw that street sign. Unfortunately, I did not know how long that final mile would be – compounding that feeling was a massive headwind. We ran the final mile entirely against the headwind.

We passed an ambulance past the final development, knowing that was a key safety distance from the finish, I knew we were quite close to the end. One more bend…

….and then Weaver Road. The bright orange shirts of the volunteers. Finally. The end was near.

We made one final turn to the right and off to my left it was my parents and not far behind them, the finish line.

Boom. Complete. Not my worst time ever, managed to survive.

The Finish Line and Post Race

The first thing I saw were volunteers handing out medals. Half finishers received a silver medal with a purple ribbon and full finishers received a gold medal with a green ribbon.

12 medal

The next thing we received was a water bottle and mylar sheets. I then saw my parents direct me to the runners’ food tent, where only those with a bib were permitted inside.

The first thing we were given was chocolate milk from a local dairy. Next, we could serve tea, coffee, hot cocoa or further electrolytes if we needed. After this, we had our pick of oatmeal with toppings, turkey, chicken or veggie hummus wraps, trail mix in cups, banana or orange slices. And yes, the best part were the omelets (our pick of egg or cheese) and strata (eggs or ham).

14 meal

It was an insane amount of food and furthermore, I didn’t know of any other race that had such a post race meal. The hot food was much prepared by the kitchen staff but much of the other food plus any concessions outside were given or sold by local businesses.

15 post-food

I also caught up with my classmate.

16 post race

After leaving the tent, I queued up for the massage tent. It was a good 20 or so minutes but with 12 local therapists under the tent the queue moved quickly. I was given a chiropractor who helped stretch my quads and hamstrings and calves. It wasn’t going to fully accomplish the job but her stretches really helped.

Once I was through the tent, it was time to call it a day and head home.

Overall this race was extremely well run and supported by the community. At $75 for early registration it might seem pretty steep for a small race but the organisers really take care of the runners and the post race meal was so good. Race shirt was of good quality and design and really liked the swag bag itself.

The course was brutal but scenic and for such a well organized race with Clif gels at every water stop to boot, this race is well worth it.

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 2

1 title - stadium

The Love Run 2015, Race Recap, Part 2

Race: The Philadelphia Love Run
Location: Center City, Fairmount Park and Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 29 March 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible
Weather conditions: Very chilly, start temp of 27F, windy. Rose to mid-30s by 10am
Course conditions: Course was changed from last year partially because of the regatta. Flat downtown and mile 5 Fairmount hill remains the same. Mile 9 climb to the Strawberry Mansion bridge was new and circle through Dell Music Center was new.
Preview: CGI Racing, a NJ-based race company, runs their second iteration of the Love Run in Philadelphia, with a course change and way more awesome perks this year.

Race Preview

The forecast was clear unlike last year’s rainy quagmire but the downside was the silly low temperatures. Below freezing to be exact. Also because of a regatta, the organisers were forced to change the route of the course – it was certainly different and the second hill into Strawberry Mansion would prove to be quite unkind, though a good preview of a training run for an even more difficult course in Lancaster in two’ weeks time.

The first half of the course took us through Center City and back on the Parkway and through Fairmount Park and the Please Touch Museum. The second half went hairpin on Martin Luther King Drive but took a detour into Strawberry Mansion before getting back on MLK Drive and down to the finish on Eakins Oval.

The Race

Walking up the parkway en route to the start line, my fingers were freezing and freezing fast, despite wearing gloves. I searched in vain for City Fit Girls, but despite searching the group tent area, they were nowhere to be seen. Bag drop off was straightforward, and the corrals were set up the same they were last year, on the East end of the Eakins Oval.

1 start line

Announcements, the anthem, and a loud roar started as the race got underway.

Mile 1: Chinatown

Within the first mile, I passed several Chessie Photo photographers and tried to feature prominently such as to get captured in the moment. We passed throngs of spectators on the parkway and through Chinatown. Right on 6th Street, and another right on Market Street. Potholes on this first mile were quite annoying. Actually they were very annoying.

Mile 2: Market East

Just like last year, a DJ spun tunes as we passed the Mile 2 marker at 7th and Market Streets. It was a routine sprint back to City Hall and back to the Parkway. I recalled nearly missing this water stop last year, so I positioned myself on the left to collect my first bit of water. Steady and straightforward I proceeded, around City Hall, to JFK Boulevard, and then back on the parkway.

Mile 3: The Parkway

An increase in spectators occurred as we hung a right back on the Parkway, through Logan Circle and back towards the Art Museum. I tried to take note of some of the more funny signs, including the Grumpy Cat memes. On the way back up, I caught a few more photographers and I veered as far to the right as I could to again catch the cameras. I always enjoy looking through the race pictures 🙂

As noted in last year’s review, the key difference between this course and the Rock n Roll course was that instead of veering right to Kelly Drive, you made an immediate left to Martin Luther King Drive and then onwards to the hill that laid into Fairmount Park. This is a race that for once, does not touch Kelly Drive and it is a good way to mix things slightly up from both of Philadelphia’s fall races.

Mile 4-5: Martin Luther King Drive

Also like last year, Martin Luther King Drive took on a long stretch, crossing underneath several bridges before heading through the hill leading into Fairmount Park’s west end. As we came onto the slow and gradual painful hill leading up to the Please Touch Museum, I managed to push through and only stopped once when I felt my heart rate whirl out of control. I continued steadily up the path without too much trouble after that.

Mile 6: Please Touch Museum

We hung a right on 41st Street, which to my chagrin, like last year, was pothole central. Honestly, this race reminded me exactly how terrible, no how beyond terrible, the roads were in Philly. We passed two groups of cheerleaders as we snagged more fluid before heading the long downhill back to MLK Drive.

Mile 7-8: Montgomery Drive to Strawberry Mansion

Once we veered left from Montgomery and back through MLK, we eventually hit the second hill that led upwards to Strawberry Mansion. One part that irked me about this was that I was completely unaware of the course change – totally my fault – but also that the gels were right behind the water and Gatorade and I had hit them without warning. I actually had to TURN AROUND and nearly hit two runners as I backtracked. I was honestly pretty annoyed at the lack of warning – there honestly need to be signs on course indicating what amenities are on course.

And if that weren’t bad enough, I was staring another slow steep climb up the way to the bridge. My legs were just not feeling this climb but I forced myself up.

We crossed the bridge across to Strawberry Mansion, and wound up circling near an outdoor music hall before getting back to the bridge we’d come from. Then another right down the ramp off the bridge where we came from. Back onto MLK Drive.

Miles 9-10: Hairpin Run

We kept going up MLK Drive until the infamous hairpin turn. Normally I touch the cone at the very end of the turn for good luck but unfortunately for me, a lady was standing right above it. Darn.

2 mile 9

The way back, my lungs started getting congested. Just awesome. Not really.

Then I had to remind myself yet again that this was a training run. And that time really didn’t matter as much. Not today.

Miles 11-12: The Stretch Home

Last few water stops. I started playing a slew of music in my head. Skillet, Radiohead, Alanis, everything that could move me. It did get harder by the foot and at points I felt like I was overheating. I had taken my gloves off at least by the halfway point, but my chest felt that overheating sensation and I was out of fluid entirely.

Mile 13 and Finish: Eakins Oval

As I crossed the bridge, the spectator crowd grew. Up the last climb. One last push.

3 finish line

And like that, it was over.

Aftermath

Like last year, the first thing I saw were the medals. Quite a nifty design, though I’ve preferred some of my other medals a bit more.

6 medal

I promptly picked up my medal and then a mylar sheet to conserve heat. We made our way down to the main tent, where water bottles were set off to aside and there could have been more volunteers handing out water bottles. Our bags were small plastic lunch bags with tastykakes, a Smuckers circular peanut butter jelly sandwich, a banana, an orange and another bottle of water. Quite similar to last year.

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 1

1 title - stadium

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 1

Race: The Philadelphia Love Run
Location: Center City, Fairmount Park and Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 29 March 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible
Weather conditions: Very chilly, start temp of 27F, windy. Rose to mid-30s by 10am
Course conditions: Course was changed from last year partially because of the regatta. Flat downtown and mile 5 Fairmount hill remains the same. Mile 9 climb to the Strawberry Mansion bridge was new and circle through Dell Music Center was new.
Preview: CGI Racing, a NJ-based race company, runs their second iteration of the Love Run in Philadelphia, with a course change and way more awesome perks this year.

2 entrance top deck

Race Preview

For the second year, NJ-based CGI Racing comes through with even more perks for the 2015 edition of the Love Run. The key thing that caught me off guard was the course change, which I will elaborate on in Part 2. The expo was relocated to the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park, which had the perfect space for a smaller expo, and wasn’t so static as the PA Convention Center can be. Only downside is that part of the expo was outdoors, or rather in the open stands, and given how windy it was and how cold the spring had started, proved to be unpleasant on that front.

The Expo

The expo was at Citizens Bank Park, which for some people, would prove quite convenient whereas drew complaints from others. Personally, living in the city, getting to the stadium is easy using the subway, though the walk from the subway to the first base gate proved quite annoying. We took a few escalators up to the clubhouse level where we were greeted by the welcome arch. I checked in with registration (given that I had a complimentary bib) and then proceeded to the very end of the bib line to pick up my bib. Quite easy and the area was loaded with volunteers. Downside? It was outdoors and quite windy. Thank GOODNESS it didn’t rain!

3 bib pickup

The bag certainly served its purpose, though some said on Facebook that the bag smelled of the worst PVC imaginable. Well I had to try to sniff the thing, but I could see why people were complaining.

4 bag pickup

Once we picked up our bibs, we headed into the club level area indoors, where a few of the race’s main vendors were set up. Mamma Chia, Philadelphia Runner, 2XU and a few others were lined up with their wares. I socialised with a few people that I knew and then proceeded to collect my mug.

7 mug

Pretty awesome.

We were told to go down one floor to check out more vendors and we grabbed a few more goodies. Vendors were lined up along the bottom floor.

6 lower floor expo

Also on the lower floor, was the coveted Phillies’ 2008 World Series trophy, apparently made by Tiffany and Co.

5 THAT trophy

I took a picture of it and with it. Quite a nice treat for the Love Run participants and visitors.

When I got home, I took a good look at the race shirt, which I really liked, although some runners on Facebook complained of the sleeves being too short. They were on the shorter side, but not terribly short for me.

8 shirt front

9 shirt back

Shirt was perfect thickness for a spring marathon.

The expo was on the smaller end for a 10,000 person marathon but the space for the expo was pretty good. Being at a ballpark allowed for a different atmosphere not to mention it was perfectly appropriate given that the Phillies in our race packet dropped two free Phillies tickets up to a $38 value in our goody bag. I redeemed my tickets that day so I’ll be taking the parents out in a few weeks as we always enjoy going to Phillies games. They don’t get any cheaper so this was quite a nice perk.

Expo was better set up in my opinion and those that took advantage of the ballpark tours were in for a real treat. Wind and weather aside, a very fun pre-race beginning!

2015: A Crazy Winter

2015 has brought a number of things both running and non-running related to the forefront.

On the non-running end, is the realisation that my life is in need of a serious change and a lot of change simply won’t be happening until I get myself on the move literally to DC. The job search is underway and I’m open to a range of positions in both the private and public sector. As I’ve said to many of my friends, Philly was great the last almost 15 years, it’s great and practical for graduate students to live, but as a permanent place to live, no way. I’ve met a lot of friends over the years, but only recently have I made 1-2 friends that I could see myself forging long-lasting relationships with.

Even then, the ones that I’ve been extremely fortunate to know have introduced me to new adventures – skiing, travel, more cooking adventures, and ironically, the impetus to move on to DC.

instructor

The ski adventure in Blue Mountain was pretty scary – it look me a bit of time – a bit too much time to pick up the basics of skiing, and I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that I’m not used to moving with my hips and the motion of road running my body was used to moving in one direction. The lesson itself was quite aggravating as I continously was the one to struggle in the class. After the lesson was over though, a few hours later I was slowly getting it. I was fearful of injury though, so I didn’t take too many risks taking on some of the more complicated hills.

$90 was enough for us for a lesson, and access to the beginner and bunny hills. The more complicated ones required more expensive rates or passes, etc. Not that it mattered, the way the day went I was sticking to the bunny hills for quite some time.

ski shoes

The shoes were extremely uncomfortable and almost painful to walk in. Still all in all, a good day, and a good bonding experience. But unfortunately these memories have been a bit too few during my time here, and as I get older the lifestyle amongst people here is very different from the path that I want to take in both career and in life. So it goes. Happy hunting to me.

That said, my moving away has made my spring race schedule pretty solid, cut and dry, although courtesy of several running events, I’ve gotten the chance to secure complimentary entries to both the Love Run, which will be in NINE days…

Love Run free entry

and the Perfect 10 Miler in central New Jersey in October, courtesy of a Valentine’s Day event at Philadelphia Runner.

Perfect 10 free entry

Participation in the latter is VERY much up in the air as it’s in the thick of when I’m looking to move to DC. I had explored car rental, which would pretty much exceed what I’d pay for Broad Street, so it looks like I’d have to pray someone local is also doing that race and hitch a ride or I’d wind up passing my bib off to someone else who I know was at the event, which thankfully I know several people. Everything else aside, though, I do want to run the Philadelphia Marathon. Yes, all 26 miles.

I’ve lived in Philly for 15 years, and been running in Philly for the last six. Graduate school was largely to blame for being unable to run – the one year (2012) that I was slated to run the full, my body broke down under a crazy school load and I had only recovered in time to run the half that year.

I’ve kept up running with City Sports and I’ve had a number of awesome memories with this group. I definitely want to stick with them until I move for good, and seeing as they have 2-3 run clubs with their stores in DC, would hope that the same camaraderie exists with their DC groups.

candy

But most of this winter, my training’s been indoors due to the snow and my long hours at work. The Love Run half will essentially be a training run for my race in Lancaster on the 11th of April.

Broad Street is what I’m pumped for, as nearly everyone and their mother I know is running it. And it is most likely my last chance to be running this race, so I will enjoy every mile.

The training continues, onwards and upwards. And so I continue to work towards my goals, on and off the pavement.

Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap, Part 2

Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap and Race Report, Part 2

5 corrals 1

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

1 VIP at dawn

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.

4 start

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.

The Race:
6 corrals 2

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.

Post-Race Thoughts:
7 finish

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.

8 massage queue

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.

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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.

10 ff 2

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.

11 medal

More Miles and More Friendships

The autumn has proven to be extremely busy for me, many miles clocked in various cities for business, and followed up with two weeks in cold London. I’ve been running everywhere figuratively and literally, seeing the world and the country…all whilst keeping up with my Philly Half training. I’ve posted pictures of my excursions on Pinterest for both my UK trip and the downtime on my business trips to Atlanta.

Note: More details on the trips to follow in separate posts…

Atlanta’s miles were brutal, the place is very hot and hilly (hence its nickname Hotlanta) and the drivers are so terrible that running can be a leap of faith unless you are near the Botanical Garden in Midtown. London on the other hand was colder (about avg 50F) and rainy half the time.

Upon return home, I attended more running events as I ramped my training. Somewhere in there, I’ve made more friends and built relationships through events held by City Sports and Philly Runner, two stores whose running groups have been key to my training discipline and sanity and social world. A few smattering of pictures:

Halloween run with City Sports:
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The “candy” we got post-run – VERY yummy, the caramel ones taste more like chocolate. No wonder they do, given the ingredient list.
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Costume Run with Philly Runner, part of their Halloween tradition.
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Philly Runner’s 10 year anniversary party – congrats to Ross Martinson and his crew for boosting the running community in Philly the last decade. Even after I leave Philly, I won’t forget all the fun memories. I only wish my schedule would have allowed me to parttake in a training team for one of the Philly races, nearly everyone I know has greatly benefitted from it!
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Getting photobombed at the 10-year party:
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It’s been quite a busy yet fun time meeting more people and I’m happy that I will be celebrating an early Friendsgiving with them! Here’s to more awesome memories over the next year racing and training in Philly and beyond!

Have you travelled anywhere interesting recently? Where have you gone? How did you get the miles in?

Any questions about the destinations I’ve been to, just give me a shout!