Oddest Half Contest, 22.5.11

Please Touch Museum and the start line. 22 May 2011.

Race: ODDyssey Half Marathon
Location: Fairmount Park/West River Drive, Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 22 May 2011, 0700
Distance Travelled to Compete: 6.6 km (4.1 miles)
Weather Conditions: Cool and clear, 61F/16C
Course Conditions: Hills at miles 3, 9, and 12.5. Flat otherwise. Two large turnarounds, start/end at Memorial Hall in the park.


My first half marathon at home; this is Philadelphia’s main spring race. However, unlike both of Philly’s fall majors (the ING Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon and the Philly Marathon and Half Marathon) which start and finish at the BFP/Art Museum area, this half starts and finishes in Fairmount Park. As such, Fairmount Park is familiar territory; in addition to Philadelphia Runner training runs, I had also previously run the Justice for All 5k here last October as well as part of the NERR tuneup half marathon, my first true half marathon.

The ODDyssey Half bills itself as Philly’s spring race, although it is overshadowed by the Broad Street Run, one of the country’s most famous 10-milers. But that’s the thing, it’s a 10-miler. Just a few bits shy of that half marathon. However, it is a laid back race that encourages runners to dress up (I will avoid this as this is a late May race likely to draw a bit in humidity) and in the previous iteration of this race, awarded pint glasses instead of the traditional finishers’ medals. As of last month, due to great demand from runners, the race directors opted to add medals in addition to the pint glasses.

The Expo and Community:

A smaller draw compared to Philly’s fall races, this year’s race drew approximately 1800 runners; last year I was told roughly 800. The expo was held in the Shops at Liberty Place, in the Rittenhouse neighbourhood, strangely enough during the same day as the Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival. Outside were my friends Vee (@DancinDuathlete) representing Ragnar Relay and through her I had met her friend Kathy, manning the booth for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training. I took the chance to catch up with them before I met up with Paul (@paulvid) and Natacha of Phila Massages, both runners and at one point, my neighbours as well. Paul had decided to run the race at the last minute; Natacha in the meantime had signed up for the Rock n’ Roll half in September and we’d train after this race.

Being a home race, I knew loads of people either running or volunteering to help out at this race, including several on my street and even a couple in my building, as well as my colleague, Sergio, who had come off running Long Branch 1 May. Since ShamrockFest, I had joined up with RLPG (Run Like a Philly Girl) which is an all-women’s running group that accommodates female runners of all paces, and has runs splitting the entire group between the Fairmount and Rittenhouse neighbourhoods.

The Race:

Having missed the Megabus at the Crowne Plaza Hotel by mere seconds (epic fail considering the proximity of my residence to that race hotel) I had managed to catch a ride with the Phila Massages crew. After finding ourselves shut out of nearly every entrance to Fairmount Park, we managed to convince a police officer to let us swerve around a police barricade (she did not want to move it for us, go figure) and enter the park. Of course, it was quite a feat for Paul to maneuver that cargo van around…but he did it.

Once we were in and parked, I queued up for what I thought was the bag check-in. There were two long lines, and go figure, I queued up for the bathroom line instead (the two lines were right next to each other and it was hard to tell which was going where). Oh well. I had plenty of time to spare, getting my bag checked in orderly fashion at the Megabus.

Before the gun: Vee was posing for shots with her Devil teammates. It was then I ran into Sergio, who was looking for me in a tutu. I had posted on Facebook that people were asking (and which they were) if I would be running in a tutu. Go figure.

Mile 1: I was off with Vee. A slow start through the alcove of Memorial Hall. As I had had an injury-riddled spring, I would like a PR, but I was NOT going to kill myself for it. My bigger goals were proper conditioning and strength-training for MCM, and hurting myself even more severely wouldn’t do me any favours, even with a 3 week offseason and a 2 week vacation out of the country. I paced myself more slowly, aiming for my usual negative splits.

Crossing the start line. 22 May 2011

Mile 2: I started to pull away from Vee, which was understood (she would later finish with her Devils teammates) not to mention she had also come off running Long Branch 1 May and was still in semi-recovery mode. There were a few slopes and twists as we made our way through the park. I had a sickening feeling I would not particularly care for this route (which at the end, my conclusion held true) given the twists, the hill placements and the two long turnarounds. Nonetheless, the route of the first few miles reminded me of my 5k last October as I had trained up for my first half in Lancaster.

Mile 3: First of a few setbacks. Sergio goes down. I can’t believe what I saw – or just heard. I was pacing around the first sharp turn when I heard the fast-paced thunder of a sprinter. As images of my near-disaster in Virginia came to mind, I wanted to avoid a repeat of this mistake so I darted to my right…

“Hey!” It was Sergio.
“What are you doing back here?” I responded.
“I’m pulling out. I’m injured.”

I was shocked. I knew he had run Long Branch just three weeks before, but he had come into the race with a shin injury. I’m not about to tell other people how to run, and I’m not about to presume that I know more about someone else’s body than they do. But at the same time, rudimentary judgment would tell me that if he or anyone for that matter were to 1) run a race 3 weeks after a full which they’d PRed in 2) run said race incurring an injury or nursing a moderate injury, that person to begin with, should be playing the race VERY conservatively, and at the VERY least, running slower to start. Sergio, on the other hand, psychologically, is not a big fan of negative splits, and rolls his eyes every time I have brought them up. He admits that he cannot stand when others pass him at the beginning.
He would later text me that he started the race running 7 minute miles – the fastest I’ve ever heard him do – and eventually aggravated the injury. I don’t fault him for being ambitious, but when you’re moderately injured, it may not be the time.

Mile 4: Another round by the Please Touch Museum. Started going downhill slightly. I swear these loops are getting old. Heck this was the first time I was running the Odyssey and I swear this course was already getting old. And yet, I had slated myself to run a half in Philadelphia, twice more, albeit originating on Ben Franklin Parkway and not in Fairmount Park. I started to hasten my pace slightly as my muscles started to loosen.

Mile 5: Started into the beginning of the first turnaround on West River Drive, headed south towards Mantua. There it was, the Philadelphia skyline. And there they were, the absolute leaders of the pack already hitting the halfway split clock. Holy crap was this a long turnaround, and it would be the first of two.

Mile 6: Way back up the West River. The turnaround cone was a guy dressed up in an orange suit. And on the turnaround was a guy playing cover songs. And then…the split clock. Halfway home.

Mile 7: Past Montgomery Drive. Heck we went a while past Montgomery. I remembered several bridges. Our first few obstacles. I felt some tingling in my calves, but I figured I could cruise even faster to cap a negative split. (I’d find out shortly that I’d be dead wrong on that count.)

Miles 8-9: A HUGE turnaround going further up the West River. And we’re going up a hill. At this point, my calves start to tighten. Not good. And then my lung capacity went in the crapper.

Oh yeah, and to top it off, kids on the sidelines heaved water balloons at us. (Note: this was part of the race in addition to the obstacles.)

There was one obstacle that required you to climb up something and slide down. I had opted out of all obstacles. At this point, with my calves tightening this early I had to use my energy for the remainder of the race.

Mile 10: Survived the second turnaround. Back south on West River towards Mantua again. Dear goodness, I think we’ve spent 5 miles on freaking West River. It’s getting annoying for me. We pass a water stop. At this point I’m really struggling, and I feel my knees ready to give out.

Mile 11: Pass the kids throwing water balloons at us again. And then…Montgomery Drive. Could this be it? Right on Montgomery and we’re home free!


No…we went past it. The course took us PAST Montgomery…to the hill from hell. Mile 12.

And it was just then, a searing pain tore through my left knee.

Mile 12: Another injury. I kid you not. And then the ultimate hill from hell. This was not a good combination at all. It started with a slight slope. Then we hung a right…and then…the hill. And a curvy one at that. It was both physical and mental torture. I tried to push myself, but the pain was too great, that I found myself walking up the entire hill. Lord, did that seriously hurt my time, but I was too close to the end to DNF.

Mile 13: The finish line. My calves were searing. My knee was throbbing. The alcove of Memorial Hall again. The Please Touch Museum. It felt good to see these structures again.

Just finish. Finish it now. Walk if you have to, but just finish…

I managed a 10 min/mile pace to trot in finishing without furthering that injury.

And like that, it was over.

Post-Race: After the Finish Line

Received my medal. Received my refreshments. And made a beeline for the Phila Massages area to receive my massage, which I needed so badly. After I signed up, I had texted Sergio about his injury and told him about mine.

Vee and the Devils. 22 May 2011.

I waited for Vee to finish; her friend Cintia also asked me where she was. In the meantime, I received my massage from Phila Massages. My mate Caroline, who lived 2 floors above me helped stretch my body as the masseur gave me a good massage.  Lord, I needed that. My body was so sore. Incredibly sore.

Finisher's souvenir glass. 22 May 2011.

In the queue I had picked up the finisher’s pint glass. I made my way over to the beer garden, where runners were carded to take on the recovery Ale, made by Triumph Brewery.  It is not often I drink to begin with, and I imagine this will be the first and the last picture of me on the net chugging beer. But after 13 and change, can you really blame me? I mean, come on.

Chugging down the so-called Triumph Brewpub's Recovery Ale. (Dammit Vee!) 22 May 2011.

Overall, the race was much better run than last year, although it was a bummer that the race shirts were cotton shirts as opposed to actual tech shirts (as is the norm for most halfs) although to its credit, the design on them was freaking awesome. Nonetheless, I still had fun, the race was well run, more sponsors (Megabus, Phila Massages, etc) made it all the worthwhile. Race director Carrie answered the few questions I had regarding logistics, and to her credit, she is quite enthusiastic about organization of this race. A must for any Philly local, although a challenge at mile 13!


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