That's simply the way it is. It's not that I'm anti-social or even anti-group running, really. I'm just embarrassed. My biggest fear while running with people is always that they will hold back simply to stay with me out of pity. You know, "poor little slow runner has to be waited upon." I don't want to be that guy. So for 99.5% of my running journey I have tackled the road by myself. Just me, my music and Butthead (My Garmin). That changed on November 23, 2014.
Followers of this blog already know the back story regarding this race: I set a goal this year to run a sub-3 hour half marathon. Then, things didn't go well. Missed goals in races, training troubles and finally injury and sickness. It's been a bumpy ride.
It was under these circumstances that I was talking to several fellow members of Team run Disney on Facebook about the Today.com article and the fact that it was gonna be near impossible to break 3 hours after all my recent troubles. That's when it happened.
Out of nowhere comes this person, telling me that she was from Philly and she was running the marathon. She too had been having trouble with her knees and was aiming to reach the halfway point "around just under 3 hours". I put those words in quotations because they are her words. I should have asked what "just under" meant. She offered to run with me if I wished. At first I didn't answer. Running? With people? I don't know... Then I did the math. To come in "just under" 3 hours you have to run 13:30 minute miles. Hmmm... "I'm not too far away from that." I thought to myself. Maybe I can run with her as far as my body will allow then, when the wheels come off (and I was certain they would) I tell her to go on and I continue with my turtle stampede pace. Game over. Everyone goes home happy. So after writing back to her and giving her all sorts of warnings to "ditch me as you would the ten plagues of Egypt" the minute I started to flounder, I said I would do it.
Training-wise, even though I was way behind, I managed to get in a rhythm after the doc cleared me to run that allowed me to gain some momentum back. My final long run was promising given the situation. It got my hopes up. Then a final 3 miler before leaving for Philly confirmed that even with all the snags, I was in decent shape for this. I thought: "not perfect, but we'll get through it. I'll be OK."
Flat Frank looked more confident than I was
Goal A: A sub-3 - Discarded due to unforeseen circumstances.
Goal B: A Half Marathon PR - Given my progress from my first half a year ago (Divas Half Marathon - 3:26) I thought this was totally doable.
Goal C: To beat my Half split from the Disney Marathon (3:19) - I thought that, while doable this one was gonna be tough.
Goal D: To come close to my Disney half split - This is what I was aiming for.
Goal E: To finish. Screw everything else. Walk, crawl, slither or whatever to the finish.
Keen readers will notice something is missing from Flat Frank up there. For the big races I always count on my trusty NY Jets shirt. But lets face it, I was in Philly. I didn't want to start an international incident. Also, why get on the volunteer's bad side? (They were awesome by the way) And, let's face it, the Jets are stinking so bad this year it's not even funny.
Now, you all know I'm from a tropical island right? You know that if I run and it's 80 degrees, that's a cold day right? Well folks, it was cold! Just below 40 degrees when I left the hotel then hovered around the 40's for much of the race. I was counting on the cold for a bit of a performance boost but to get it you have to start running. All that time before, you are just freezing your face off waiting for the starting horn. I only had my running shorts and the world's thinnest shirt (at least it felt like it). I also had a light jacket but I had to turn it in with my checked bag since I didn't want to lose the only piece of warm clothing I had.
Just in case anyone still has doubts about how incredible the running community is, let me say this: My hotel was far away from the city. Very far. To get to the race I was gonna have to take the hotel shuttle to the airport, then a train to get to the city then walk 3 miles to the start. I was just about to get on the shuttle when this couple, who sounded like they were from India, walked up to me and told me they had a car and were driving there and were more than happy to give me a ride. Awesome! They drove all the way from Ontario so the husband could run the full, his third overall and his first "big city" marathon. I of course thanked them profusely all the way there. Sadly, we got separated at the bag check and I didn't see him again at the hotel but guys, wherever you are, thank you so much.
Natalie was running late so I left our arranged meeting place at the Rodin museum and headed to the corral. On the way there I got another surprise. I knew that Cynthia, writer of the blog You Signed Up for What? was in Philly to run the full. I was hoping to meet her as I love reading her blog. She has done Half-Ironmans! I mean, how cool is that? But with 30,000 runners, really, what were the chances? Well, she walked right by me on the way to the corral! Luck, it seems, was on my side this day!
It was easy to smile here. My face was frozen in place.
After that pic, I hurried to check my stuff and head to the corral. Apparently I took the wrong way because I couldn't find a way in. The first corral had been released when I finally managed to get in. The start/finish line by the way, was right by the now famous "Rocky steps" that lead up to the Museum of Modern Art so prominent in the Rocky films.Then, through texts I got together with Natalie. We were dead last in the very last corral. Behind us were the volunteers and the guy who juggles while he runs. I was a bit worried about this. If I fell behind, it would be very easy to get swept. But there was not a lot of time to ponder this, as they kept letting the corrals go and soon it was our turn.
We begin running, and it becomes immediately clear to me that we are way above my definition of "just under" a 3 hour pace. Being dead last in the dead last corral also meant we were passing people like we were from Kenya and had arrived late to the race. We passed my buddy Al (who, you will recall, is to blame for all of this) We skipped the first few interval beeps to allow the crowd around us to thin out. I think we turned on our watches at different times when we started because Natalie's watch was calling the mile markers ahead and my watch was right with the race signs (incidentally, it's the first time that has EVER happened to me in a race. My watch usually goes long.) but we were going by Natalie's. She calls the first mile: 12:14. What??!!! There is no way I can keep that pace for an entire Half! Natalie asks me if this pace is alright. I tell her it's fine.
No, that is not a typo. I did tell her I was fine. You would think I was lying but I wasn't. I was feeling fine. No, really. My legs felt a little weird because of the cold and my brain was in total panic but I was feeling very good. I reasoned that since we skipped a couple of intervals it would be natural for that first mile to be fast. Then came the second mile. 12:29. Oh, boy. I was thinking along the lines of 13:30, with the 14's coming in later in the race. But as we crossed the 3 mile marker it was obvious I was in a whole other league. I check my watch and thought I was a couple of seconds short of a 5K PR but I was wrong. It was an actual 5K PR. In the middle of a Half Marathon.
And it wasn't just the speed that was unusual. I was running with Natalie, talking and chatting, not listening to music (my first time) and having a great time reading the spectator signs, cheering and even dancing to the music some DJ's were playing in different places. I was giving people high fives... Usually I just listen to music and concentrate on my own thoughts. This was an absolutely different experience from anything I have done to this point and it was very fun.
But deep down, I was concerned that I was blowing this too early and that eventually all this super-powered running would have to end in a spectacular bonk at some point. As we crossed the 10K mark and notched my second PR of the race (this time by more than 2 minutes) I decided that if I was going to go down, it would be in flames. I was having way too much fun and had a very good thing going running the intervals with Natalie to hold back now. If the wheels came off, so be it. I had banked enough time to crawl to the finish if it came to that.
It was around that time that we ran by Morimoto. Chef Masaharu Morimoto's restaurant. Yes, Iron Chef Morimoto from the Food Network show. He's a culinary hero of mine and although I probably can't afford to eat there, at least I got Natalie to take this pic.
Shortly after that, I passed Al's family and they cheered us on. Al and his family were great support during the weekend and are in a very long list of people I have to thank for making this race so special.
|The Support Crew with Al and his Sister|
Then came miles 7 through 10 and with them, the "hilly" part of the course.The first ones were OK but being hills they slowly zap your energy. Natalie also had some issues with her knees at this point and we were careful going downhill to protect them as well as mine. The last hill though, was brutal. At least for me it was. I couldn't wait for the run intervals to end while on this part but with that last uphill came a huge downhill and only a very flat 5K stood between me and the finish line. By the way, fastest 10 miles I've ever run? Yup, ran it on this race.
As we started running on flat ground again, my legs began to let me know I had been living in the fast lane for way too long. The top of my calves felt like they were gonna cramp and a couple of times I thought they were going to for sure and the feeling intensified with every mile we advanced. It was becoming very hard to run at this point but it was too late for it to be a factor. I was in the home stretch. As the Half/Full split came, Natalie and I ran our final interval together.
As she started to run, I told her to keep going. I wanted to walk a bit so I could be able to run at the very end. But Natalie was having none of that. We had come this far and she was not gonna let me slack off so I started running as we went our separate ways. She would continue on to do the full marathon. I was a bit concerned about her but she ended up finding other Team run Disney members (we are an awesome group, really) and finishing with them. I turned right and ran down the final stretch to finish the hardest-run race I have ever done. Not to mention the most fun. While the last 2 miles were a bit tough, the proverbial wheels, never came off.
I mentioned to Natalie when she posted this pic above, about how happy we look. I had just pushed myself to run in a way I thought was not possible for me at this point in my running journey and yes, I was very proud. As I neared the finish, I knew I had the sub-3, but when I looked at my watch, I still ended up with a dropped jaw. I looked again to make sure and then pulled out my phone to verify the official result to triple check. It was the same as the watch.
Not only had I gone sub-3, but 10 minutes under 3 hours. 36 minutes below my previous Half. 29 minutes below my Half split at Disney. I believe the term is I killed it. Oh, and I broke every record for every distance I have ever raced except the marathon on the way there. So, yeah... it was a somewhat productive day for me.
We ran slower than a 13:30 min/mile pace for only two miles of the whole race and it was during the big hill. The rest of the race was faster than that with much of it in the 12's Average pace for the whole thing? 12:58. Here is an interesting stat: We started the race dead last. According to the race results, I placed six thousand and something for the half. That means, according to the race results, that we passed over a thousand people on our way to the finish. Wow...
Now, I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't expecting a performance boost from the colder weather. I was. But I was thinking it was gonna be more of a "squeak below 3:19 to get a PR" boost, not a "crush absolutely every single record you have set in the last two years" boost.
So I cross the finish line incredibly happy and get handed a space blanket which was useful for the first time ever. I was handed the medal which is awesome. I walked down a line and was handed a bunch of great stuff! Two huge pretzels (Philly style of course) Bananas, Juice, Chips, peanut butter, water, oranges... I could have made a meal out of the whole thing and then some! Then I sat down and waited for Al to cross the finish line. He did very well, crossing the finish line with his sister. I am so happy for him. After the race he took me to lunch at a great place but that's another post.
|The Finishers - Don't ask them to move too much please|
And that was it. Just when you think you got things figured out, you end up surprising yourself. I had no idea I could run that fast for that long. But I would be stupid to not realize what a huge factor running this race with Natalie was. If I would have run alone, I would have run a very different race. So, Natalie, I cannot even begin to express how thankful I am that you invited me to run with you. I learned some very valuable lessons and even a whole lot more about myself and what I'm capable of.
I can't begin to tell you all how nice this race is. Great expo, well organized, awesome volunteers, an incredibly awesome crowd and a course that can't be beat. We saw the city, historical sites (we ran by Independence Hall and Ben Franklin's grave), residential and college areas and the final stretch by the river... it was all beautiful. The hydration stations were about every 1.5 to 2 miles and were well stocked with water and Gatorade even by the time we passed and we started in the back. The medal is pretty cool with a deep relief of the Museum of Art on it. If you are thinking of a destination race to do, this should definitely be on your short list.
While the schedule for this trip was pretty tight and sometimes it felt like I had no time for anything, I did get to eat at a few very interesting places and got to met some pretty cool people so be on the lookout for upcoming posts detailing my experiences in the City of Brotherly Love.