Four years ago, I decided to run a marathon. One marathon.
After much deliberation, I picked Philadelphia. My mother was raised there, my sister lived there. It was home. I ran the race and had the time of my life. I reached what I long thought was an unreachable goal.
Last weekend, I returned. And yep, it was well worth the wait.
As always, I stayed with Meri, who decided to run the Philadelphia half marathon after years of cheering and volunteering at the race.
We hit the expo midday Saturday, collected our goodies and connected with Dimity of Another Mother Runner. We even managed to leave without spending too much money. Huge success.
day’s weekend’s highlight, however, was meeting friends old and new.
Katherine (left) Jen, Karla and Meri
We all gabbed like old pals for more than an hour…. and then we met up with broken chick Kyle, who planned to run Philadelphia Marathon with us until she sprained her ankle.
We three carb-loaded at our beloved pop shop in NJ before we all attempted to settle down on marathon eve. A great chat,lots of laughter and race-morning planning filled our evening.
Fast forward to marathon morning. The 4 a.m. alarm woke us in time to catch the 5:40 train into Center City. We walked about a mile to the start area, where we dropped our bags and wished one another a great run and headed into our respective corrals.
Somehow, in a mass of 30,000 runners, I connected with my training partners Gary, Traci and Jen in the purple corral. We all planned to start together with the 4:15 pacer, but race our own races. While waiting, Gary met Justin, a man from Allentown who joined our running crew for the day. (More on him later)
Soon enough, we hit the road. The first few miles flew by and pretty soon Gary, Justin and I were all running as a well-oiled 10-minute-mile pacing team. I jabbered along much of the first half, pointing to landmarks and sharing stories. Running through Center City was fantastic, between Independence Hall, several bands and streets lined with cheering fans and volunteers.
The miles clicked by and I felt fantastic. My Garmin watch was acting up, clearly giving me false readings as I ran by skyscrapers, so I went by feel. It totally paid off. Looking back at my stats, I ran a solid 10-minute-mile pace nearly the whole race. I slipped a bit in those last two miles.
I was feeling it Sunday. I powered up the hills at miles 7 and 9. I flew on the straightaways. I was in the groove.
At the half, I felt invincible. I spotted three cheering friends near the art museum and Boathouse Row. Childhood friend Kelly, who ran the half Sunday morning, waved me down and ran alongside me for a bit. Her words of encouragement carried me for miles.
I pulled ahead with a smile on my face. This was the race I’d been waiting for.
Around mile 20 in Manayunk, running pal Cynthia waved me down as I started to get the inkling that my legs felt heavy. Her smiling face motivated me to keep moving forward. (Thank you!)
I started to struggle around mile 21. Justin ran a bit ahead and I recall thinking how nice it was to see him get a surge of energy. It was that moment I knew he’d reach his own goal, no matter how hard those last few miles were.
Several times he circled back, checking to make sure I was holding my own. Thank you Justin!
We ran into Traci around mile 22-23 and the three of us pushed on together. I walked longer at each water stop, but didn’t throw in the towel, even though I desperately wanted to. My legs were on fire and my breathing was labored. I was doubting my training.
Then we approached the art museum and the crowds carried us in. With a high five from Mayor Nutter, Traci and I crossed the finish line together at 4:25. We both PRed and were thrilled we were done. Justin waited for us on the other side and also ran his best time. Triple PR!
We each received a beautiful medal, rivaled only by the soft pretzel handed out in the runner food line.
Eventually, we found the rest of our group and started learning about everyone’s races. LOTS of PRs in our running group! I cannot wait to hear all about everyone’s adventures.
From left, I’m with Traci, Brittany, Charlotte, Aileen, Gary and our new pal Justin
Philly is a tough course, but there really is nothing like it. I loved my first 26.2 in Philly for just that reason – it was my maiden marathon and showed me I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Five years later, I completed a far different training cycle that included multiple missed runs, illnesses and other demands taking away from my training time. I went into the weekend feeling strong but told myself not to overshoot or stress over a goal time.
So I didn’t. And it paid off. Philly, you’re my city. Running the Philadelphia Marathon the second time is like coming home.
Did you run Philly? I want to hear all about your race! Ever meet a new running pal and run a race together?