As promised, a race report from 40,000 feet [although I'm not getting to post it until now]. Its somehow unfair that there is this great race in my backyard in the morning and I have to fly out to Denver in the afternoon like some fitness tourist.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Philadelphia Distance Run, it is one of the premier US half marathons, drawing 12,000 people this year to a fast course. Eight of the 13.1 miles are run on MLK and Kelly Drives – run on my home turf where I know every rise, dip and pothole.
Got a call from Allen yesterday, who blew back into town after spending the summer off in various points west. Me, him, his girlfriend and another friend who’s running headed down to the race together. I get there and hook up with Bill, the fearless leader of the team I’m running for, and we warm up a bit, running into folks we know along the way. The day is sunny and warm, a bit too warm but nothing to complain about after Virginia Beach.
A strange calm comes over me as I’m in the corral waiting for the start. I just keep repeating “patience” to myself in a mantra-like fashion as the National Anthem gets sung and the wheelchair athletes start. The gun sounds and there is more congestion around me than I’d like, but my chants pay off and I wait. We are going down the Ben Franklin Parkway from the Art Museum past Love Park to City Hall, and the city looks gorgeous to the point where I’m proud to be a local. About this time mile 1 ticks off in 5:38 and it feels easy. Mile 2 continues to wind its way through Center City and clocks in at 5:28. This is fast, ordinarily too fast, but I’m calm. I feel great and my gut is unequivocal – go with it.
The race now becomes a familiar scene, I’m steadily overtaking clusters of runners and somehow miss the 3-mile mark (5k in ). Mile 3 & 4 pass in 11:21, a bit slower and still comfortable. Going up 15th Street and the stench of garbage greets us; the dark side of this (yes) beautiful city. Around this point I pick up another guy and we’re working together like an amoeba, continually gobbling up folks – he overtaking on one side and me on the other.
Mile 5 (5:33) and now we’re on the Drives. We pass Emily around this point. We run halves at about the same time and this is a good benchmark that I’m running strong. I can now anticipate all of the mile markers, and know that I need to hold steady here and prep for the only real hill on this course located just before Falls River Bridge at Mile 9. Mile 6 in 5:28 and the 10km chip checkpoint passes in 34:40. This is only seconds off of my personal best for this distance and I get the feeling a pitcher must get when he realizes he’s got a no-hitter going. And I’m hardly breaking a sweat.
My plan now becomes to hold it steady until the crossover to Kelly Drive. This means I lose my buddy #1, who picks up his pace and is gone. But a second guy steps up and we start working together. Miles 7 & 8 in 5:31 and 5:38 respectively, and I hold my own on the hill and across the bridge to hit mile 9 in another 5:38. Just another tempo run up MLK, I tell myself. I get a boost when I turn right on Falls River bridge, a welcome break from having to make the left turn that I usually do when I work out on this stretch and take on the painful ascent affectionately known as Bloody Nipple hill.
By now all I have to do is hang on, and a personal best is assured. I am, however, starting to tire. Buddy #2 pulls ahead, and I can’t hang. Mile 10 in 5:41, with the mile 10 checkpoint showing 55:58. Still in the no-hit zone. But I’m alone now and starting to slow. Footsteps start coming up behind me. Mile 11 in 5:45 and that will be my slowest mile of the day. A guy is coming up on me hard and I find I can still dig deep to respond as he overtakes me. For the rest of the race we swap surges and pass a few folks. This I later find out is Greg Watson, a local masters triathlete and better known as husband of local celebrity/weather person Cecily Tynan. Mile 12 drops back down to 5:33 and I know this will be big. Mile 13 passes in 5:43, due in part to the insidious uphill Kelly Drive takes on after Lloyd Hall. And then it’s a sprint to the finish. Watson outkicks me but we overtake two additional guys in the process.
I glance up at the finish clock and its ticking off in the 1:13’s. This is rarefied air for a guy with a previous best of 1:15. The official (chip) finishing time is 1:13:35 (1:13:43 gun).
1:13! I am stunned. In my best case scenarios I had hoped to dip into the 1:14s. I finish with Duncan, who usually finishes well ahead of me, and he immediately recognizes the hugeness of this for me. He gives me a sweaty hug and warm congratulations and I babble something incomprehensible back. Duncan, if you’re reading this, thanks for your presence there, it was just what I needed. I find Allen, who ran what for him was a pedestrian 1:12 something, and deadpans that had I overtook him, he really would have known he was in trouble. Others cross, Kevin F. and Bill, the next finishers on our team, both go sub 1:30, and Mike, our fourth guy, has a tough day (for him) and finishes somewhere in the 1:30s. Various Philly Runners come in and Stan makes this PDR number 29, having run every single PDR since its inception and also goes under 1:30. On the other side of this continuum, Jody runs his first half ever.
Then life becomes a cocktail party on the street. I run into various folks I know and chat, give and receive congratulations, and go home to shower and pack.
Now you’ll have to indulge me while I end by reflecting upon how huge this is for me. At this point in my running “career” to PR by over a minute and a half is unimaginable. It changes my perception of myself and what I can do. It also has a vague air of redemption to it. Look at what I’ve written on these pages over the summer and you’ll see that I poured myself into my training. I had no choice. Psychic pain and emotional turmoil provided fuel for my training as much as anything I ate, and the drive to finish strong took on new proportions. My training responded by burning up the baggage I brought with me in a way that alcohol never could have. More mornings than I can count I told myself “this will be hard” before going out and, upon finishing the workout, I was able to acknowledge that I was now stronger. In writing that I just made myself cry. With outcomes like these I gotta hope that things have turned a corner. We’ll see.
For the geek stuff, I scored 88th place and third masters finisher. Watson, the second finisher, was two seconds ahead (damn!) and Darren DeReuck (Olympian Colleen's husband) was top master about 45 seconds ahead. This means I should now be getting two age group trinkets from Elite Racing. But I will hang on to this one. We also finished first in the Masters team competition and sixth team overall.
I get back from Denver and it’ll be marathon training. Cal International Marathon, in Sacramento in early December, is now the favorite for my target race. But in the meantime, for the first time in I don’t know how long I have not packed my running shoes on this trip.