Race Recap: Philadelphia Marathon 2012

There’s something a little overwhelming about writing a marathon recap. My thoughts on the race seem to change every day and I wanted to give myself a little time to process before I commented. To start off, I’ll say that I’m very thankful that I was even able to run a marathon at all this fall (Thanks for nothing, Hurricane Sandy). And even better? I was able to raise $550 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand/Childhood Cancer in less than 3 weeks, so if you donated -THANK YOU! I had some serious anxiety leading up to this race, probably abnormal levels of anxiety. I’m not sure if it was the extended taper or…if 26.2 miles just scares the shit out of me. Probably the latter. Unlike 5ks, 10ks, and half-marathons, I still don’t feel like I have the distance mastered. There are so many unknowns that can surprise you two or three hours into the race (dehydration, low blood sugar, “the wall”, muscle cramps, oh my). Nervous and unsure what to expect, I decided to lower my expectations. Instead of gunning for a PR (3:18:xx), I thought it best to focus on qualifying for Boston in 2014 and running a smart race. In retrospect…I wish I had some more confidence in myself. I ended up running 3:22:24 without too much difficulty, but I wonder how much faster I could have run if I had been in a better state of mind. But…all things considered, I’m pretty proud of the time. For comparison sake….in 2010 when I ran my marathon PR of 3:18:17, I raced a July 5k in 19:55. This year, I ran that same 5k….in 21:57. Let’s just say that summer 2012 featured a lot more fun…and a lot less running. I needed the break after Boston, so I don’t regret it, but I definitely was behind in my training. I did a pretty good job ramping up mileage, but it felt sort of rushed. I went from barely cracking 40 miles at the end of July to 80 miles in mid-October (just 10 weeks later). I worked with the time I had, but in retrospect, I wish I had more of a base-building period. I think this just underscores the fact that, for me, one marathon a year is more than enough. With two marathons (Boston in April and Philly in November) it’s tough to balance all the different components of training – base building, speedwork, peak mileage, tapering, resting…and then doing it all over again. Anyway, it’s a learning process right? Every time I train for a race, I learn something that will hopefully help me to become a better runner next time. Ok, ready for the actual race-recap?!

Pre-race: My hotel was less than a mile from the start, so it was one of the easiest pre-marathon mornings that I’ve ever had. I woke up around 4:45am, drank some coffee, and then dined on a buffet of bagels. I didn’t intend on having 3 bagels, but the first one that I picked up was spinach and not whole wheat like I thought. Since I had already put it in the bag, I decided to get an egg bagel as well. These bagels didn’t seem super fresh, so after dinner I also got a multi-grain bagel from Dunkin Donuts. I ended up nibbling about 1/2 of each bagel with a few small spoonfuls of nutella. In total I probably ate about 2 complete bagels and a Tablespoon of nutella for roughly ~700-800 calories in carbohydrates. Even though I didn’t have an appetite that early in the morning, I’m really glad that I ate this amount. My blood sugar levels were steady throughout the whole morning and I never felt like I hit the wall during the race. I’m not a registered dietician or a medical professional, but in my own personal experience, more carbs = better on marathon morning. There’s a good Runner’s World article about pre-race breakfast that I found to be helpful. After breakfast, I got dressed, applied my pace tat, sipped some water, and headed out the door. I expected the porta potty lines to be pretty crazy, so I made sure to use the facilities before I left the hotel. My plan was to stay in the (warm!) hotel for as long as possible and get to the corral about 20 minutes before the start. I definitely preferred this method over waiting outside for 3 hours in a start village…

Miles 1-6: The race started right on time (7am) and I had minimal problems with crowding. The first few miles felt easy and relaxed, however…the mile 2 sign/clock were not in the right spot. I freaked out a little bit when I thought I had run an 8:10 mile, so I picked it up. It wasn’t until mile 3 that I realized the previous mile marker was in the wrong spot. This was really my only gripe with the marathon – isn’t this the 19th or 20th time that you’ve run this race? Shouldn’t there be a very specific spot for mile markers, especially in center city? And it wasn’t just off by a little bit…it was  probably close to 200m farther along the course than it should have been. That’s a lot!  I went through the 10k in 46:51 (7:32 pace) which still felt easy, but was about 30 seconds ahead of where I wanted to be that early in the race.

Thanks to Erica Sara for snapping some awesome race photos! She took this one at the 10k mark and some great finish line shots. See that 3:15 pace group just behind me? Oops. Someone went out too fast…

Miles 7-10: After the 10k mark, the crowds thin out a bit and the course hits some hills. Nothing too crazy, but at this point you’ve been running for over an hour, so the incline is noticeable. I started feeling a little tired around mile 9 and so this is when I took my first Gu (I had also been drinking a small cup of Gatorade every 3 miles). If I had been following the 10-10-10 plan (first 10 miles slower than goal pace, second 10 miles faster than goal pace, last 10k with whatever you have left), now would be the time to pick it up. At mile 10, my running buddy told me she was going to speed up, but I decided I wasn’t going to try for it. Going out too fast in the early miles made me a little more tired than I should have been at this point in the race and I was very afraid of a crash and burn. I’ll never forget my 2009 Boston marathon experience. I (stupidly) ran the first half of the race was way too fast for my fitness level and by mile 16, I was toast. Nausea, dry heaving, dizziness, dead legs, walking breaks…arguably one of the worst experiences of my life. So, instead of picking it up at mile 10 in Philly, I just tried to maintain 3:20 pace (about 7:38/mile).

Miles 11-14: The miles leading up to the half-way point were okay. I still had that little voice in my head saying “You have to do this for TWO MORE HOURS! You’re tired. You won’t make it”, but I tried to ignore it and just run evenly. I went through 13.1 miles in 1:40:04 (7:38 pace) which was right on pace. Side note: I paid special attention to the half-marathon/marathon split and while I didn’t have any issues this year…I STILL don’t think it’s super clear. Sure, there are signs…but it’s not like the half-marathon finish line is close to the split. You still have to run down the parkway a bit. If you haven’t run the race before and are running with a pack of marathoners (ahem, my 2011 race), I still think it’s fairly easy to miss veering to the right. And that is all I will say about that!

Miles 15-20: By mile 15, I was feeling less anxious and got into a good groove. I took my second Gu around mile 17 and continued taking Gatorade ever 3 miles or so. My pace was a bit slower than I would have liked (I went through the 30k mark in 2:23:06/7:41 pace), but I felt strong, in control, and was more or less enjoying the race. There are even some smiley race photos to prove it! These miles were run along fairly flat Kelly Drive, with a turn around in the town of Manyunk. At times the course was a little lonely – especially miles  21-24, but I had plenty of other runners around me, so I was fine.

Miles 20-24: By mile 20, my butt, hamstrings, and feet were starting to ache, but it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. (I had been having some serious pre-race anxiety…). Still, I was tired and so I started playing some mental games with myself. By mile 20, I knew I had less than an hour of running left. I also knew that I would see some friends for the 4th and final time at mile 24. So…I started telling myself: “Only 4 miles until you see them, only 3 miles…, only 2 miles…”. At this point in the race, I was really looking forward to finishing and I thought doing something a little silly might make those final miles a little more fun. When I spotted the person I’m dating, I veered over to the left side of the road, threw him my gloves, and gave him a quick kiss. A super serious way to act at mile 24 of a marathon? No, not really, but it made me happy and it distracted me from how tired I was at that point in the race. And in retrospect, I doubt the kiss took any longer than grabbing a cup of Gatorade.

Miles 24-26.2: The last couple miles of a marathon are never easy, but I felt strong and in control this time around. I made an effort to pick it up during the last mile, but I really have no idea what kind of splits I was running since I didn’t wear my Garmin. I crossed the finish line in 3:22:24 (7:43 pace), which is 4 minutes off my PR, but still my second fastest marathon. Am I happy with this marathon performance? Yes, mostly. Am I second-guessing myself, wondering if I could have, should have gone faster, especially during those middle miles? Of course. Marathon-ing is such tricky business…the difference between a smart, strong race (and an enjoyable experience) and hitting the wall/cramping up/crawling to the finish can be a matter of a few seconds per mile  (or a few cups of Gatorade). It’s not always easy to know if you’re making the right decisions. In retrospect, I wish I had been gutsier, wish I had more confidence in myself. But at the same time, I enjoyed myself during this race. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard, but for the most part, running those 26+ miles, smiling at the crowds, and giving someone a quick kiss mid-race made me happy. And in the end…if something isn’t making your life a little better, a little more fun, why are you doing it?

Thanks to Erica for another great pic!

And Island Photo…please don’t sue me.

Post-race: For all my talk of feeling “strong” and “in control” throughout the race, I still felt like death after I crossed the finish line. Pretty sure I felt worse AFTER the race than I did DURING. I sipped on some Gatorade and walked down the shoot collecting my foil blanket, medal, etc. I thought that a cup of chicken broth (electrolytes!) would be a good thing to sip…but the smell made me nauseous, so that was quickly disposed of. Luckily, I started to feel a little better after about 15-20 minutes of sipping water and walking around.

After a hot shower…those 26 miles were rewarded with THIS! A Philly Cheesesteak from a little pizza and hoagie shop near my hotel. Almost made me want to do it all over again…

Was I sore post-race? Yes, definitely. Marathon-sore is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, but I think this time around it wasn’t so bad. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it? In any case, last week was a pretty good week. I ate whatever I wanted (which let’s be honest…I do all the time anyway), slept for 8-10 hours every night, and my only exercise in the past 8 days was two short jogs on Thursday and Friday. I have some running plans for 2013, but am still figuring them out while I enjoy my rest. In the meantime…what are your racing goals for next year? Any race recommendations? 

p.s. Thank you for all the cheering – both on the course and via twitter/text message.

  • Penny

    Aaaah, GREAT recap and well done on a fantastic, smart – and still mega speedy! – race. You are so correct about those few seconds per mile being the difference between strong/smart and dead/buried. Cant wait to see what you do in 2013! 😀

  • Nice work! Do you always race sans-Garmin? I can’t even imagine that…

    I am training for the Austin Marathon in February, which will be my second marathon, and my first post-baby. I think I’ll be a lot better prepared this time around, since I am training with a group instead of DIY-ing it. My coach has already warned me that my initial goal of feeling strong during those last miles probably ain’t gonna happen, so I’m shooting for feeling strong-ER during them. 😉

  • runnerskitchen

    Thanks Penny! After a slew of mishaps (missed finish line in Philly 2011, heat wave for Boston 2012, and cancelled NYCM), it felt good to have a decent race! 🙂

  • runnerskitchen

    I’ve never raced a half or full marathon with a Garmin…it sounds silly, but I know I won’t run perfect tangents and so my miles will likely be different from the official mile markers. It stresses me out when my Garmin tells me I just ran a 7:30 mile, but the official mile marker is still 20 feet down the road. I have considered turning off the auto-lap and manually hitting the lap button so I can have the data afterward. Perhaps in 2013! The Austin marathon is on my radar – I’d love to visit that part of Texas and run a race. Good luck!

  • Cathleen (sweatykid)

    Nice race and great recap! You captured that “butterfly effect” idea in the marathon so well. It’s nuts how a teensy-bit ambitious pace early on can be the difference between finishing (relatively) strong and completely trainwrecking through the last four miles… I have found it hard to strike the appropriate balance between taking pace risks and playing it safe, but I learn a little more every time.

    That 2-mile marker gave me a total WTF moment too. At least two people running near me swore and took off on these little speed bursts as they checked their splits for that mile.

  • runnerskitchen

    Gah! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was confused by mile 2. Also…I stalked your race time. Very speedy! Hope you celebrated with lots of pumpkin pie. 🙂

  • Congrats on your race, and what a great finishing time!
    So far my running plans for 2013 are to do 6 half-marathons. This will keep my training consistent, as I want to do Goofy’s Challenge in 2014!

  • First of all, congrats! I’ve ran Philly twice and I agree that the half/full split is misleading. If you really want some hills, come do the San Francisco marathon in June. Great weather and beautiful scenery (I say this as I plan to move back to Philly in August! haha) Oh, and next time you’re in Philly, definitely treat yourself to Underdogs after a race (best. hotdogs. ever.)

  • Dena

    Congrats on the race. And really, I am most impressed by the fact that you raised $550 in less than 3 weeks. I am supposed to run in a half marathon on Sunday, my second race ever, but the charity I am running for requires that you raise $3600 and I barely have half of that so I am afraid they will kick me out of the race. Fundraising is hard. Maybe one day I will be rich enough to solely sponsor myself for this race 🙂

  • embenton

    Congrats! Even if not a PR, that is a solid marathon time. I would have been pissed about the misplaced mile marker, too, argh!

    My recommendation is of course the Houston Marathon in 2014! Though if you’re running Boston, I’m guessing January might be too close…

    I’m bummed that I most likely will not be running the full Houston Marathon in 6 weeks. (injuries suck, yo). If it’s a no-go, I will likely run the Newport Marathon in OR, where my dad lives, in June. It was ranked as one of the top 10 fastest marathons in Runner’s World last year, and the race director is my former high school cross country coach and he’s been nagging me to do it for years, haha. The Oregon Coast is Rain Central, though, which makes me nervous…

  • VegRunnerRK (Ruthie)

    I’m glad you enjoyed that race! And, the mid-race kiss had to keep your energy going 🙂 That’s fun! I’m thinking about doing the New Orleans 1/2 in February and the Big Sur 21 mile race in April…both to make mini-vacations and give me a break from the NYC races. Enjoy your rest 🙂

  • you looked strong when i saw you!

    when i veered “right” for the HM finish, i did think about you and your wrong turn last year 🙂 i think they have gotten much better about that. when the HM was introduced years ago it was just awful – they literally relied on race volunteers to herd runners towards the HM or full!

  • your writer’s voice is so genuine, megan. i really feel like i was experiencing the race with you! except of course i skipped all the grueling training and mile 23 and whatnot 😉 anywho, as always i am so impressed by your rock stardom. and that’s all.

  • runningseal

    Congrats!! I told you you would have no problem!! You sell yourself short! I am just trying to be smart and do a full training cycle for the first time for Boston, with base building and everything. Have always skipped that step because I just came of another marathon and jumped right back in. The course makes me nervous though :/ Trying not to do anything stupid to F things up.

  • One of my coworkers was like, “Gosh, it must really suck for those who signed up for Boston and then NYC!” I was like “yeah I know someone who can tell you a little about THAT!” You approached it with a great attitude though!!

  • Emily

    CONGRATS!! I love your recaps! Almost like you take notes while you are running. My marathons are such blurs!

  • This is an awesome race report! You are such a talented runner, but also a talented writer. It’s interesting to compare this race to the Boston one you linked to in this post– your improvement as a runner has been pretty darn amazing and inspiring!

  • runnerskitchen

    Thank you! Best of luck in your half-marathons, 13.1 is my favorite distance!

  • runnerskitchen

    I really like visiting Philly, so I’ll have to check out Underdogs the next time I’m there!

  • runnerskitchen

    I’m not sure it works like this for all races, but the organization I raised money for allows you to continue fundraising for a month after the race. Good luck, I hope you can run your race!

  • runnerskitchen

    Houston is definitely on my radar, but you’re right – if I run Boston in 2014, I think it would be a little too close. I’m sorry to hear about your injury (they do suck big time!), but a marathon in Oregon sounds pretty great. I think I remember seeing Newport listed as one of the fastest courses in the U.S….

  • runnerskitchen

    I love the idea of combining a race with a vacation (not sure if my travelling partner feels the same…)! I think New Orleans is pretty flat, so I bet that will be a welcome change from the hills of Central and Prospect Park.

  • runnerskitchen

    ahaha, I do not think I will ever live down that wrong turn..but it’s definitely a mistake I won’t make twice! My work computer strangely blocks your blog, so I couldn’t comment, but CONGRATS on your 1/2 marathon PR. Sounds like you ran a really strong race. 🙂

  • runnerskitchen

    Thanks friend! I am really looking forward to our double date involving beer + pork (slope). Yum yum yum yum.

  • runnerskitchen

    Try not to be too nervous about Boston. The start is definitely downhill, but it’s more rolling hills than a straight drop. I think as long as you go out conservatively, you’ll be fine. And since the weather sucked last year – that race is due for some good weather!

  • runnerskitchen

    ahaha, yeah….this was not my year for marathons! but…I think it worked out okay in the end. thanks again for donating to the cause!

  • runnerskitchen

    Thank you! Sometimes I’m not sure if what I “remember” is all that accurate. When I reflect on the race now, I think I felt strong and the pace was more or less comfortable…but it’s also very possible that I felt awful during the second half of the race. It’s runner’s amnesia! I think if we remembered how painful some parts of racing are, we would never do it again….

  • runnerskitchen

    Thank you Katie! Sometimes I think about deleting old blog posts (especially ones featuring old boyfriends, bad writing, oh my!), but I think it can be beneficial to re-read them and reflect.

  • ar

    HAMILTON HAMILTON HAMILTON HAMILTON

    You can’t do the hotel before the start, but its fast as hell.

    Also, its really hard to find the balance of “strong effort” and “fuck, am i going to fast”, especially when you’re not confident in your training for whatever reason. personally, if i ate three bagels? I wouldn’t be confident i could finish without shitting my pants. truly, you are a bad ass. <3

  • MealsforMiles

    Megan! Congrats on a really strong race – I’m so glad you got to run a fall marathon after all that has gone down. I love your smiley race photos – you look so happy!

    I’d love to do the NYC Half in March, depending on what NYRR does about the marathon/guaranteed entry. Also planning a spring marathon but still have no idea which one I want to run… gahh!

  • runnerskitchen

    true store: i just googled “best spring marathons” even though i told myself i was going to take a break from 26.2 for awhile… 🙂

  • runnerskitchen

    haha, if nothing else, i have trained my stomach well. it is like a rock. next time i see you (hopefully soon?!?) i will regale you with the tale of how i put oreos in my sports bra during a h.s. cross-country race…and ate them at mile 1.

  • Eileen

    Great post, and congratulations on a great race! Nice work on the fundraising. I can’t even think about Alex’s Lemonade Stand without tears welling up; it’s a wonderful organization.

    I did the half that day, and I agree about the split. I was paying attention because I was getting really tired and anxious to get it over with, but it would TOTALLY be my style to miss the sign and keep on running. Overall, though, I thought it was very nicely organized.

  • runnerskitchen

    I agree – the race is very well organized! If I don’t run a marathon next fall, I think I want to race the 1/2 again.

  • Kate @ Naturastride

    GREAT RACE, Megan! Was so happy you were able to run a marathon. I was so psyched when I saw you run by at 14 – you looked great. Sorry we didn’t to meet up afterwards, yoga is taking over my life these days.

    Honestly? Next year I’d just like to run some races and not get injured at all. Just being “in the game” for the entire season would be nice.

  • runnerskitchen

    I was so excited to see you! Any cheering at that lonely point of the course was much appreciated. 🙂 I’m looking forward to hearing more about your yoga instruction, very cool.

  • bethp262

    Congrats on a smart, strong race! The marathon distance is definitely the toughest to master…I’m still trying! 🙂
    Have you looked at Pocono for a spring marathon? I have run it twice; the course is similar to Boston (but on a smaller scale) in that the beginning is downhill and the hills come towards the end. Not the race to run if you need lots of crowd support, however but overall a really nice race. It was my first BQ race, too!

  • runnerskitchen

    I have considered the Run for the Red! (I think that’s the Pocono marathon you’re referring you to…) I’ve heard the course is great and my family lives very near by. Still not sure if I’m going to run a full marathon this year, but we’ll see. 😉

  • Jess

    congrats! PS—i nominated you for a Liebster award : ) http://keepingitrealfood.com/2012/11/30/random-facts/

  • bethp262

    Yes, that’s the one I was referring to. I remembered that you are a PA girl, too so figured the location is fairly convenient! They also do a marathon relay (2-person) along with the marathon.
    I usually do a spring marathon but don’t know about this year either, mostly due to family/scheduling/husband traveling/etc. Still lots of time to decide.

  • Shayne

    This is belated, but CONGRATS! You are my running hero. And I love the photo of you double-fisting bagels. So fitting.

  • runnerskitchen

    <3 Soon I hope to be double-fisting rare beers.

  • alrussella

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