Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Half a loaf at the Philadelphia Half Marathon

The long fall season finally came to a finish yesterday at Philly, and I wanted to make it close out with a big result. But in the end I settled for something less than the PR I was seeking, although it was still a very solid result. I also used the race as a reason to put some money towards Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, which coexisted nicely with the 1700 New York City Marathon refugees that the Philly organizers allowed into yesterday’s race.

Sunrise on Ben Franklin Parkway, with a few thousand nervous runners in the foreground.

Leading up to race day I had a solid taper week. When I did my last bit of tempo work on Wednesday I hit 6:30 paces easily and that had me feeling confident. All I needed to do was get myself up to Philadelphia and run. But first I had to get through a very busy week at the office, and the long hours didn’t do wonders for my sleep cycles. Still when I got up Sunday morning I felt ready to go. I headed out of my brother’s house in Roxborough at about 5:20 am and got down to Center City easily, before most of the traffic would arrive. That gave me plenty of time to walk casually up to the start area, visit the port-o-potty and warm up a little before checking my gear. As I stripped down to my singlet and arm warmer sleeves it felt really chilly, more so than at the Windy City 6 weeks ago. But of course once I got in the corral and it filled up with other runners, that sensation ceased.

The cannon went off a little after 7am and being in the maroon corral I crossed the start seconds later. The first 2 miles at Philly are always a little bit chaotic; it’s crowded and you have to negotiate some tight turns at Logan Circle and then again in Old City. Through those miles I was 6:47 and 6:45, actually a little bit slower than I wanted to be (6:40). In mile 3 heading south down Columbus Boulevard I was a 6:39 and that had me feeling like I was in a groove. I slipped back into the 6:50s though as we started heading back towards Center City and the long stretch on Chestnut Street. When I hit 7 miles there things were looking good again, only to slow again in Mile 8 as we started climbing up 34th Street towards the Philadelphia Zoo.

And so it would be today, a roller coaster ride of sorts. It was becoming clear to me this was going to be a day where any PR was going to be difficult and that more likely I would be just fighting for the best result I could get. I don’t know if the cold conditions had something to do with it but it seemed all the way through that my energy level was just not high enough for what I wanted to achieve. I kept asking myself to give more, to dig deeper but I knew the 1:27 goal was out of reach and the 1:29:03 PR was slipping away. That was confirmed when the 3:00 marathon pacer caught me just past the 8-mile mark. Three years ago, that same pace group didn’t catch me until 10 miles, and then when it did I stepped up my pace and ran away from it. This time I could put up little resistance, though I held out hope that maybe I could make it up with a strong finish. Next I was caught by DC Roadrunners club teammate and club president Brian Danza; we chatted a bit before he moved ahead en route to a 3:04 marathon. Perhaps that chat helped motivate me to a 6:53 9th mile.

Mile 10 is by far the toughest mile on this course, as it takes runners up a long steep climb in Fairmount Park. In the years when I have run the marathon here, I haven’t had to worry about it too much; it’s just one hill on a 26.2 mile course. But in a half marathon, when I’m running significantly harder it’s a much stiffer challenge. Sure enough I fell back badly here, logging my slowest mile of the day in 7:26. Ouch.

Then it was downhill out of the park to MLK Drive and a turnaround leading to the 11 mile mark. I started thinking of it as “just a 5k” and tried to step it up again. Things got a little better but I was still on the wrong side of 7 minutes per mile at 7:04. As I passed 11, the time for excuses was gone. There was open road ahead of me and work to be done. So I pulled out to the right, away from the crowd and got busy. The fight was still in me, even if I was tired.

I went through mile 12 in 6:50, my best split in about 5 miles. I was laboring but I was going to finish strong, no matter what. As we crossed back over the Schuylkill River, past the art museum and towards the finish on Ben Franklin Parkway, I pushed as hard as I could. I took one last peak at the watch on Eakins Oval and knew there was no way I would break 1:31 but I was determined to make the best of it. As I crossed the line in 1:31:37 I knew I had given all I had for the day. And that is really all you can ask for.

So…it wasn’t the spectacular result I had craved but it was a very solid finish, my best half marathon time in over two years and an age graded result of 71.2%. Perhaps that means I am on the cusp of something big in 2013. We shall see. But first it’s time for a little off-season break, a couple of weeks to recover from a season that included a marathon and half marathon only 6 weeks apart from one another. By late December I will no doubt be chomping at the bit to start training for Boston.

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2 responses to “Half a loaf at the Philadelphia Half Marathon

  1. Shirley Selleck November 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    I didnt search this, but I really like this, found it enlightening! Keep up the great work!

  2. Pingback: I’ll be home for Christmas…and training « Striding Through

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