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.