Sunday I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, my second full marathon ever. My first was the 2011 Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, where I ran a 4:17:30. I trained a lot harder this year, and shaved almost exactly twenty minutes off my time, finishing in 3:57:31. My primary goal was to beat four hours, which also happens to be faster than both Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan (in reality, not in his imagination). Someday I could be among the fastest runners ever to lose a campaign for Vice President.
For those who don’t know, I have been running for only about 30 months. I took my first steps as a runner in June 2010, running for thirty seconds and then doubling over to suck wind. Before that, I hated running. I was never a runner in high school or before that, and actively avoided running of any kind for at least a decade. I ran my first marathon nine months after I took those first steps. I say this not to brag about my accomplishment, but because I hold myself up as an illustration that anyone can do this, if they have the desire and the discipline and follow a good training plan. If you’re looking to get started, I strongly recommend the Couch to 5K, which is how I got started.
Originally the plan was for Liz to pace me, as she did at the Shamrock. Unfortunately, she injured a tendon in her ankle running the Harrisburg Marathon on November 11 (and finished in less than four hours, mind you, after injuring herself at mile 12) so I was running solo. I was surprised how comfortable I felt at this news–I had done all my training solo, after all, and my long runs had been going really well–but I had another moment of panic when, standing in the corral five minutes before the race start, my iPod shuffle crapped out on me. As I was grabbing my cell phone from Liz and mentally preparing to run at least part of the four hours without music, a lady next to me mentioned that her Garmin wristwatch had similarly chosen to die right at the start of the race. Now, having only recently brought my own Garmin back from near-death, I knew exactly how to resurrect hers, which brought her such joy she nearly cried. As she gleefully called her husband to give him the good news (yes, little things like your satellite watch breaking really are that big a deal before a marathon) the gods of electronics paid back my karma, and my iPod came to life.
Since my goal was a sub-4:00 marathon, I had trained to run a 3:50, reasoning that if there were unforeseen delays (like potty breaks, which have ruined a couple of my longer races) I would have a nice buffer to fall back on. A 9:07 per mile pace is what I needed for a sub-4:00 race. I planned to set a pace of 8:40 per mile for my first half marathon, and then drop as slow as 9:10 for my second half. I’m pleased to say that my first half felt so good, I stayed around 8:50 all the way through mile 20. Around mile 20 I was thinking a 3:53:00 might be a realistic finish, which would mean crossing the finish line before the clock read 4:00:00. As always, the last six miles were about a million times harder than the first 20, as my legs started to burn and tighten up, and my brain starts insisting that stopping really wouldn’t be such a bad idea. There’s also the mentally-challenging sight of other runners around you slowing to a walk. Early in the race, I told myself I would stay positive and encourage those around me, but when you’re just trying to push out those last few painful miles, every person who is walking makes the race seem harder, and you don’t want to encourage them–you want to yell at them.
In the end, the dedication that I showed to my training really paid off, and the race felt much easier than my first. Liz cheered me on at the 14 mile mark, and again at the 26-mile mark, and though I didn’t spot my parents in their spot near the finish, they met up with Liz and I afterward. I high-fived Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at the finish line, as did about 20,000 other people (and may I say how awesome I think it is for our mayor to stand there in the cold for over four hours, congratulating people as they finish the race?) and then got a little weepy as I collected my medal. I’m normally pretty buttoned-down, emotionally, but after a race that length, there’s this incredible endorphin rush and sense of achievement, and because you’re so physically and mentally exhausted, it’s really difficult to hold in any emotion. I cried a little when I found Liz, and again when my parents joined us. Then I shuffled like a 90-year-old on our way to get food.
When I started training this past July, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to run another full marathon, but I figured I could train and see how it went, and if I didn’t feel up to the full I could run the half instead. I’m glad I ran the full. Philadelphia has been my home for the last five years, and the marathon is considered one of the best courses in the country. I expect to be a full-time New Yorker pretty soon, and though I could come back for a marathon any time, I’m glad I got to run it at least once as a home-town guy.
I’m not sure how many full marathons I see myself doing. I like distance running, but the half marathon really is my preferred distance. A full is about an hour too long for me, and the training just consumes your life. But there is an incredible sense of achievement that follows, because no matter how many marathons you’ve run, the next one always seems sort of impossible. As I started writing this, I realized for the first time that, while they were twenty months apart, I technically ran two full marathons in two years. I don’t think that’s a pace I will keep up, but then again I used to say I would never fun a full marathon at all. So who knows?
For the running geeks, here are the details of my marathon, courtesy of my Garmin Forerunner.
I, with most of Philadelphia, survived Hurricane Sandy unscathed. I spent two days huddled in my third-floor apartment, my kitchen jammed with bottles and pots full of reserve water, listening to the wind howl while I kept my cats company. I even managed not to eat all my hurricane provisions the first night – no small feat. I never lost power, and even my satellite TV kept a strong signal through the whole storm. I did, however, learn my kitchen windows leak.
Family and friends in New York City report varied results. Liz did fine in Astoria – like me, she stayed dry and never lost power. Relatives in Howard Beach, Far Rockaway, and Massapequa did not fare as well. Many of them still don’t have power, and are stranded away from home. Two of them saw four feet of floodwater enter their homes. And of course everyone in New York is impacted by limitations on the MTA, bridges and tunnels, gasoline shortages, and more. No one I know went through anything as tragic as the fires in Breezy Point, however, so we should all be thankful because it could be worse.
I’m heading to NYC tomorrow night to cheer Liz on as she runs the New York City Marathon. A lot of people have questioned whether it’s appropriate to hold the marathon in light of all the people who are still without power, still flooded out of their homes, etc. I have mixed feelings, but my opinion (not that it’s important) is that unless stopping the marathon really is going to get power restored faster, they should do it. One group I’m really thinking about is food service near the finish line, who probably get a big cash infusion from the 40,000 runners who finish a 26-mile race hungry. I’m sure sales haven’t been good in the last few days, and they’ll be happy to see customers, even if the race attendance is greatly reduced. Anyway, I’ll be riding one of the first Amtrak trains up late tomorrow night, and returning home early Monday morning. Fingers crossed for minimal complications.
Like everyone else, I have been watching the extensive news coverage, which has taken a political turn recently. I’m very, very impressed at the way Chris Christie has conducted himself. I’m not a fan of his policies, but I’ve gained a lot of respect for him as a person. I’m also a little disgusted not only at the usual Obama-slander coming from the usual sources, but by the particularly venomous criticism Romney has received for his ham-handed-but-good-intentioned response to the hurricane. Yes, it’s been dopey, but the level of vitriol I see from fellow leftists is clearly motivated by partisanship.
That’s about it for hurricane news. To update other news, Shadow is still kicking, though he is dwindling. We thought it was over a day or two ago when he stopped eating, but in the last 24 hours he’s started eating a bit again, and even his activity level is a bit higher. Last night he climbed up onto the sofa and snuggled with my mother for the first time in a week or two. It’s still near the end, but every day he has left with the family is welcome.
Poor guy made it through Hurricane Sandy and Halloween night, and he’s no worse for the wear.
Made a quick trip to NYC this weekend so Liz and I could attend my cousin’s wedding, which was a lot of fun and he and his new wife seem really happy. I got up early Saturday so I could squeeze in my long run in Central Park before the wedding. It was a beautiful morning for a run, and though my gastrointestinal tract was quite unhappy with me (six beers the night before a long run is rarely a good idea) Central Park is always a fun place to run and people-watch.
By far the most memorable part was the older woman who was out for a training run, pooped herself, and kept going. So when I came up behind her, she had streaks of liquid shit running down the insides of her legs and soaking into her socks. This is a common sight at marathons. Among tens of thousands of people running three to four hours each, one or two are going to get the runs, and after several months of hardcore training (and the cash one lays out for a major marathon) it’s common to keep running anyway. On a training run, though?
Afterward, Liz told me that woman is sort of famous in Central Park for doing that. Gross.
I’ve started to alleviate the tedium of travel by taking photographs. They’re just camera-phone shots, but at this point camera phones can take some pretty nice photos, even without Instagram filters. I’m sharing a few here, and I’ll save some of my favorites so they can have their own posts.
One fringe benefit of dating an actor: last week Liz was cast in a commercial production in Atlantic City, which meant a free hotel room for a couple of nights. I hopped a train from Philly and met her, and we got in a few hours at the casinos.
I managed two things I’ve never done before in a casino: a straight-flush on a video poker game, and hitting a number (17) on a roulette table. Unfortunately, both times my bet was only one quarter. I’m not exactly a high roller. I’m one of those people who stretches his money out as long as he can, to maximize the free drinks. At least Liz and I left the casino about even.
In the morning before Liz went to work and I got a train back to Philly, we went for a run on the Boardwalk. For those of you who know AC, we started at the Tropicana and ran East, past Revel, to the end of the boardwalk and back. Atlantic City is funny in the way it juxtaposes the glamour and scale of big casinos with the tiny beach-style houses of the Jersey Shore. Around the Absecon Lighthouse, on the East side of Revel, AC is empty and desolate. Julius DeAngelus, a fellow author and head organizer of the Philadelphia Writers Group, grew up in that part of Atlantic City. His blog, Dancing on Seaside Ave, chronicles his life experiences as well as the recent developments in Atlantic City. After following Julius for a couple of years, it was interesting to get my first in-person look at the neighborhood he’s written so much about. It was easy to spot his childhood home – it sticks out a bit, the only structure left standing on that strip of Seaside Ave.
Liz and I are talking about a longer trip back to Atlantic City at some point in the near future. Maybe while I’m there I’ll take some time to explore the forgotten sections around the Absecon Lighthouse.
That’s me there in Philadelphia Weekly‘s Philly Beer Week issue, well-known beer aficionado that I am. A co-worker referred me to them a couple of weeks back. At the time I didn’t realize the kind of company I’d be keeping. It’s humbling. Maybe I should have mentioned that I’m also an author.
I await my free case of Yards Beer.