I went into this weekend knowing that racing the half was almost an afterthought - I wanted to be there to support my friends and see them finish their race, and in my eyes, getting to run my sixth half marathon of the year was just the icing on the cake.
And now that it's all said and done, I'm really glad that was my outlook, because even if I hadn't run the half at all, I'd still count this as one of the most fun race weekends I've ever had.
I had another fabulous race weekend away just a few months ago, with another great friend, and I still can't believe that I was able to turn around and do it all over again this past weekend - thank god for supportive husbands : )
This was also the farthest I've ever traveled for a race, and certainly the biggest group of people I've ever gone to a race with, so I couldn't wait to get on the train and get moving.
Once we arrived in Philly, we hit the expo, where I was really happy to discover the Flip Belt, which a few of us purchased. I haven't tried mine yet, but two friends wore theirs for the marathon and loved it, and I think it's going to be the perfect solution for carrying my epi-pen and phone on my runs!
We ate dinner early and went to bed early, since the race start was at 7am, so our alarms would be going off at 5.
After checking bags and waiting in line for the porta-potty, it was a mad dash to the corrals, and I actually had to climb over the barricades to get into my corral.
This was by far the largest race I've ever run - about 22,000 runners total. I think it's really good that I did it - a good way to prepare myself for the crowds of Boston. And although I'm obviously really excited to run Boston, and will gladly put up with the hassles of the overcrowding to do so, I also decided that I'm not really a fan of the super-big race. It was all just a little overwhelming.
But that atmosphere does definitely intensify the experience, too, and of course it means a lot more people cheering you on, which has its benefits. And two major pluses for Philly - it may have been very large and overwhelming, but it was very well-organized, with great volunteers - and as a bonus, everyone's bib had their name on it, so as you ran, people were actually able to cheer specifically for you, which was awesome! I've never had so many people shouting my name during a race!
My corral wasn't too far back, so I was over the finish line in just about 2 minutes, and the first mile was crowded, but it thinned out fairly well after that. It was relatively crowded the entire race, but not so bad that I felt stuck. And even the more-crowded first mile didn't slow me down too much. First three miles were 7:32, 7:14, and 7:13.
I was trying not to focus too much on my time, but I did wonder if maybe I was pushing it too much with those 2nd and 3rd miles, but since I didn't have any serious goals, I also felt like I wanted to just go with it and see what I could do. If it worked out, great - and if it didn't, so be it.
I did end up slowing down a little bit, though, and miles 4, 5, and 6 were 7:27, 7:26, and 7:24. At that point I took my gel, and kept trucking along - 7:18, 7:37 (one of the two hills on the course - the rest was flat as a pancake), 7:22, 7:35 (the other hill).
I had crossed the halfway point at 46:09, and was on pace for a PR of at least a few seconds. And I was feeling tired at mile 10, but with only 3 miles to go, I figured I'd maybe push it a bit and see what I could do.
And then, as we rounded a turnaround, out of nowhere, I felt like someone had stabbed me in the side. I've gotten maybe two side stitches in my whole life, and apparently the one I got on Sunday was making up for lost time, because it was a doozy.
I could barely breathe, I was in so much pain. Maybe I should have stopped, but I was afraid if I stopped, I wouldn't start again. So I continued, kind of shuffling along as quickly as I could. I felt like I was running a 9-minute pace, but somehow managed to stay at 7:27 for mile 11.
But it wasn't getting any better. And mile 12 slowed to what felt like a glacial pace of 7:52. My side was still killing me, and I was hunched over as a result, so my back and shoulder muscles felt like they were seizing up. It was not a pretty sight, and I really contemplated stopping.
I do NOT like to quit, though, so I fought on, and finally the pain let up just enough that I felt like I could actually run again, rather than just shuffle. I was able to pick up the pace to 7:41 for the final mile, but there was no smile on my face when I crossed that finish line. I just wanted it to be over.
My PR was gone, as I crossed the finish at 1:39:07 (which I was pretty happy to find actually put me 8th in my age group out of 708 - not bad at all, for what was kind of a crappy day for me).
But at that point, I honestly did not care one bit what my time was. My race was done, and now it was time for the real fun - spectating!
After a quick shower at our hotel (conveniently very close to the start/finish line), I made it back to the start to see the first of the NRA members coming down the chute. I had my cowbells and my signs, and I was screaming my head off, and I was able to see everyone as they approached the finish.
It was, without a doubt, the most fun I've ever had at a race. The finish line of a marathon is an incredible place. Seeing the expressions on the faces of the runners - some grimacing, some grinning ear to ear, but all completely and utterly determined to finish what they started - it's inspiring and humbling all at the same time.
And having been through it a few times now, I knew what they were all feeling. I know that mix of elation and exhaustion and even how surreal it can feel to be just steps away from crossing that line.
Watching the crowds was just as amazing, too. There were cheers and encouragement for everyone, but when someone spotted their runner, it was just an explosion of screams and waving and happy tears.
Which is exactly what it was for me every time I spotted one of my friends. I teared up as I saw them coming, and tried to lean out over the barricades a bit so they'd be able to spot me, and I screamed for all I was worth.
I joined these ladies for many of their long training runs, and some of their track workouts, and heard all about their goals and their plans for this race, and it was so incredible to be able to be there and see them do exactly what they had set out to do.
As I stood there waiting and cheering and almost crying, my race was completely forgotten. This was what I had come here for, and this was what mattered.
I used to run alone all the time, and I was fine with it. And I still do run alone several times a week, and that's ok.
But now that I know what it's like to be part of a group of runners who are there for each other, who inspire each other, and encourage each other, and celebrate each other - it's completely changed my outlook on running - and it's also given me an amazing group of friends, for which I am truly thankful.
So proud of these women, who set PRs, got BQs, and ran some blazing fast times this weekend, and so happy that I could be there to share in the excitement : )