Monday, November 23, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon race report

I'll try to keep this one to the facts and save the emotion for a separate post.

Quick stats:

13th marathon
6th Philadelphia Marathon
3rd marathon in 2015
Finishing time: 3:01:06 (PR)

Here goes the long version...


The race was set to begin at 7am.  I woke up at 4am and showered, which I always do before a big race to wake up and loosen up the muscles.  I got to the train station in time for the 4:40 train into Philly and arrived at the entrance to the secure zone around 5:20 and breezed right through security.  I'm told the security line stretched a half mile long as it got closer to the race start, so thankfully I showed up early.

I made it to the starting line by 5:30 and just sat around by gear check for awhile since I didn't want to warm up for the race so early.  I would have run up and down the art museum steps to psych myself up for the race, but there were about 400 security fences in the way.

At about 6 I started getting ready.  I taped my nipples (using duct tape, natch), applied Body Glide, stuffed Gu packets into my shorts pockets, and stripped down to what I would be wearing at the start: shorts, shirt, throwaway hoodie, gloves and hat.  I handed my bag into gear check and got in line for a port-a-potty, then ran about a half mile warmup and did some dynamic stretches.

To my horror, around 6:35 I realized I still had to go to the bathroom, but the lines were outrageous at this point and I never would have started the race on time.  I walked around and found a small group of port-a-potties hidden away with only a small line, but after getting in line I found out these were only for elites.  A large and loud woman started yelling at runners to show their bibs and that only elites were allowed in this line.  I managed to hide behind two other runners as she came by and was able to use the port-a-potty here after all.

Once in my corral I had to endure the usual banter between the MC, Mayor Nutter and other people onstage.  I really wish the Philadelphia Marathon would consider just playing music before the start.  They then announced that the start would be delayed due to a car accident somewhere up on the course.  Great.  I love getting myself psyched to start a race only to have it be delayed by 15 minutes (no I don't).

The Start

They sang the French national anthem to honor those affected by last weekend's terrorist attacks in Paris, then the American national anthem, then the wheelchair division started, then the elites, then my corral - the maroon corral.

The first mile was a nightmare.  My garmin told me I was doing a 6:28 pace, which I found hard to believe, then beeped well before the first mile marker.  This completely threw me off my game, and I ended up having pacing issues for the entire race.  I just could not keep a steady pace.  I would look down at my watch and see I was going way below a 6:50 pace, so I would slow down, only to see a second later that I was doing a 7:18 pace.

Mile 5

By mile 5 I could already feel a twinge in my shin, and around the same time I started to feel the familiar pain of a side stitch under my right rib, same as the half marathon three weeks ago.  Great.  So this is how it's going to be.

I saw a few people from my running club at mile 6, and a few employees from the Haddonfield Running Company at mile 8.  Also, Bryan from Twitter snapped a picture of me around this point.

I was sticking to the plan and keeping within my time goal, but it was anything but smooth and easy, and I was already worried about how I was going to fare in the latter miles.

Mile 10

The worst hills of the course were now behind me, and I knew I would have several miles until the next hill, so I tried to settle into a comfortable pace and take advantage of the relatively flat and straight course.

Around mile 10 I saw Brandon from the South Jersey Athletic Club.  We exchanged a few words and ran together for a few minutes, but he was doing the half and ended up picking up his pace.  I was trying hard to stick to my pacing and save some for the second half of the race, so I stayed behind.

Mile 13.1

Just before the halfway point, the half marathoners veer off to the right to the finish line while the full marathoners head left, past the art museum and out onto Kelly Drive towards Manayunk.  I passed the halfway mark in 1:30:17, which was exactly where I wanted to be.  I was trying to negative split this race, so I wanted to run a slower first half and save some for the latter miles.

At mile 14 I made a tactical decision and stopped to go to the bathroom.  I was surprised that I had to go at all as I hadn't had much to drink that morning and in addition to using the port-a-potties a few hundred times, I had also watered every nearby tree before the start.  I would estimate this cost me about 15 seconds.

Normally this is one of my favorite parts of any Philadelphia race, because gone are the hairpin turns of Center City and the hills of Fairmount Park.  Runners are sufficiently warmed up at this point, but it's still before the real pain begins, so it's easy to lock into a consistent pace.  Most runners hate this section, though, for its lack of spectators, but I enjoy the solitude and the chance to zone out.

But the wind.  I have never felt wind this bad in a race before, including last year's Boston. Heading along the Schuylkill, we were repeatedly smacked in the face with wind gusts coming off the river.  It was torture and incredibly dispiriting.

Mile 17

The worst part of the entire course.  The course ends its pleasant ambling along the river and hangs a sharp left across the Falls Bridge, down an incline, hangs a complete 180 in the middle of the street, then back up the incline and back across the Falls Bridge.

Manayunk (19-21)

The sidestich and the hills took their toll in Manayunk, and I purposefully slowed down to help ease the pain and keep myself in the game, if only for a minute.

I remember loving this section of the race the first few times I ran Philly, because it's one gigantic block party with music and food and screaming spectators lining the sidewalks.  But particularly in yesterday's race, it was all a blur as I was too deep into my own world of pain. My eye was on my watch as I desperately clung to the hope that my goal was still feasible. The math worked out in my head, but just barely.  I ditched my gloves and kept pumping my arms and legs as hard as I could.

Mile 21

I must have caught another wind, because this is when I really thought I could do it.  I was still running a 6:50 pace and knew the headwind coming out to Manayunk would now be a tailwind heading back to the art museum, and the course would level and straighten out again, allowing me to cruise to the finish.  It would be close, but it was doable.

I also knew that I had my two friends meeting me at mile 24, so I began focusing on them.

Imagine my frustration, then, as gusts of wind continued to blow in my face as I headed back. It would appear the wind had changed direction.

Mile 23.5

I had put out the call on Facebook two weeks earlier looking for someone to pace me in the last two miles of the marathon.  The catch was that this person would have to be capable of running two consecutive 6:50 miles, which limited the number of people.  Lo and behold, not one but two of the women from my Wednesday night running group Who's Up? volunteered to help out.

Robin and Kim met me earlier than expected and fell into step with me.  I must have been a peach to be around at this point, muttering monosyllabic complaints and negative thoughts, but both of them continued to tell me I was doing great and that I could make it.  They were an absolute Godsend, and I just can't thank them enough for the help they offered.  While I didn't make my goal of sub 3, I have no doubt I wouldn't have run a PR without them.

I was struggling but still hovering around 7 minute miles.  The math I was doing in my head told me if I kept up a 7 minute pace, I could make it, but I knew the .2 miles at the end would take at least a minute, and that that was probably going to make the difference.

Mile 26

As the crowds thickened and the security fences started, Kim and Robin veered off the course.  I had warned them ahead of time that they wouldn't be able to finish with me, so I knew this was coming.  I had to do the final .2 on my own.

I watched as my watch passed 3 hours with the finish line just around the curve.  Somehow, amidst the hundreds of screaming spectators and the emotion of the moment, I heard my dad call my name as I kept pushing, muscles screaming and all the pain, sacrifice and hard work of the last four months spilling forth onto the course.  I high fived Mayor Nutter as I crossed the line and keeled over, gasping for breath.  It was everything I ever wanted in a marathon finish, only a minute and 7 seconds too slow.

Post Race

After finishing I drank some Gatorade and collected my medal, and wanted to get some food but the line was incredibly crowded with half marathon finishers, so I kept moving.  I did manage to grab a cup of chicken broth and a bottle of some sort of fruit infused water, but no food.

I found my dad at the family reunion area in front of the Franklin Institute where we took some pictures.

Immediately post-race
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

With my dad at Logan Square
Photo by some guy who recognized me from YouTube

People from my running group were all meeting at nearby Tir Na Nog for drinks, so we stopped in there for a few beers before heading home.  It was a blast hanging out at the bar swapping stories over beers with everyone and celebrating everyone's successes.

At Tir Na Nog with members of Who's Up?
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

My first beer in 2 months!
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

With my amazing pacers, Kim and Robin
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

I was a little disappointed that I missed my goal, and by such a close margin, but I'll get more into why in the next post.

At the end of the day, I still ran 26.2 miles faster than I ever have before in my life, and got to bond with my dad and running friends afterwards.  Four months of hard work ended not in disappointment, then, but with laughter and friends and good beer.  Success.

And with that, the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon comes to a close.  Thanks for reading.

Photo by Wayne Partenheimer


  1. Scott, great post and a great race. 6:54 a mile for 26.2!! Aside from a PR and another BQ time, you were 316th of 9,159 runners.

  2. PR's don't come along every day. I'm glad to see you appreciate this. Great perspective, Scott.
    And I 'm jealous that you have pacers! How cool is that?
    The sub 3 is gonna happen. And happen soon, I think. Congratulations on a great race!
    tom k.

  3. I know you're disappointed in not meeting your goal, but I'm incredibly proud of you!

  4. Tom, Dad, Kirsten and Leah/Malinda, Thanks for reading and leaving positive comments! I appreciate it!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...