I ran the Philadelphia Half Marathon last year with a time of 1:57:48, finishing 3398th out of 12,478 finishers. It's remained my fastest Half Marathon (just a scant six or so months before, I'd finished my first half in 2:37:17 -- so there's a definite trend of improvement). I tried to beat it at Odyssey this year but came in at 1:58:10 after beating myself near to death on the final hill. I'd complained about this to Peter Sagal, whose become my running mentor who said something like "well, if you want to get faster, you need to do speed workout" -- previously I'd been improving by just running more, running longer, which builds up cardio and endurance, but the best way to get faster is to run faster. In speed workout you run shorter distances AS FAST AS YOU CAN.
So, I signed up for Monday Night Speed Workouts with the West Philly Runners and we met up every Monday and ran fast and it totally, absolutely sucks. While running is Not Generally Fun, speed workout is awful, but I saw some incredible improvements and the Monday Night Speed people would occasionally call me up and shout "METAL RAID!" into the phone, meaning that we were all signing up for some small 5k somewhere and trying to win by running our guts out (there is sometimes puking involved). And while I was never the fastest person overall, I was occasionally one of the fastest people in my age group and suddenly, I wasn't finishing I was ... winning. Small victories, but improvement nonetheless.
The first 5k I ran was two years ago this December. trillian_stars wanted to go Xmas caroling after and I was so wrecked by running that I couldn't walk with everybody, I was, seriously and truly literally, a block behind everybody, hobbling like an old man, squeaking in pain like an over-boiling tea kettle every time I bent a leg. My first 5k was finished in nearly 60 minutes -- which is now a bit baffling to me since it seems I could walk quicker, but the pain was real. I ran my fastest 5k this summer on a West Philly Runners Metal Raid in Delaware in 23:22. It was awful the entire time and I almost barfed at the end, but I'd cut my time by two thirds, plus I'd dropped like 40 pounds. Imagine running a race carrying four gallons of milk. So there's that.
In any event, I trained to try and beat my PR (Personal Record) but missed a bunch of runs in mid-summer because it was hot and awful and in the past few weeks I'd had some not-quite-injuries but things-that-could-become-injuries-if-not-t
Then it turned out that the Philly Half fell right in the middle of an incredibly busy weekend that I'll write about at another time, so my plans were to feel it out and decide somewhere along the race if I was going to run hard or run fun.
On the one hand, I didn't want to have wasted all those times at speed workout, but more importantly, I didn't want to turn into one of those guys who goes into a roid-rage and has a miserable day if they miss their goal time by 30 seconds.
I optimistically signed up for the Black Corral, which is the second fastest group of ordinary people, and projected my time at one hour, fifty minutes.
It's ON Philadelphia! Clickenzee to Embiggen
I got up at 4:00 am for a 7:00 race start. Had breakfast, cleaned the house while watching Rocky, got dressed, made an inspirational playlist that would have the Rocky Theme start right as the finish line should be approaching and then, also optimistically, nothing after that song. If I didn't finish within 1:52 I'd be listening to shameful silence as I crossed the finish line. The race expo on Friday was unremarkable, in that it was pretty much exactly like every other race expo I'd ever been to -- all the same clothes being sold at the same fake discount ("Everything on this rack, 20% off marked prices! Always! Every expo you go to!") and also like every other expo, you had to run the vendor gauntlet to pick up your bib -- which of course makes sense -- race people need money from sponsors who will pay to have you walk past their stuff. The race t-shirt was nice, if a little wordy. But people seemed excited and happy and I was excited an happy to be at a point where I knew how all this worked now. I met Robert Barone, one of the official race photographers who chatted me up about my Leica and we exchanged photo-geek-talk and business cards.
Me and Rich Harrington in the Black Corral. Clickenzee to Embiggen
I rode my bike to the starting line and walked up to my optimistic corral and ran into Rich Harrington, president of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. Rich is one of those guy's who's been running since high school and who always says "ah, I'm getting so slow, you're going to beat me" and somehow I always see him blasting past halfway through as he puts the hammer down. He always waves and never seems like he's working hard. So, I was very excited to be in the same corral as him. "You'll probably beat me this time," he said, "I haven't been training" and he headed off to run with some people from the Moore College of Art and Design. (He ended up finishing 11 minutes faster than me.)
The race started, I saw Robert Barone crouched on the ground at the start, snapping photos, I shouted his name but it was a jumble of feet. I also saw Joe Kaczmarek, a Philadelphia news reporter on a riser right past the start. I waved and shouted, he snapped a photo. Eventually I'll know every photographer working the race and I'll have the best photos.
The most challenging bit was the Godzilla attack. Clickenzee to Embiggen
The race wound through the city and I found myself often trapped behind people running slower than I'd like -- I decided to use this as my pacing method. Everybody in the black corral was fast, I could keep myself from burning out by not racing around people and only waiting until an actual hole showed up to move ahead. I changed my watch from "pace" to "time elapsed" so I wouldn't worry about how fast (or slow) I was running. I figured that if I was around an hour and twenty minutes at mile ten I'd be ok for my goal time. One thing I did do was not brake on the downhills -- I figured why spend energy holding myself back? The sun was rising as we hit the river and Godzilla was splashing around the Delaware, seemingly uninterested in the bridge, but he'd eaten a couple small boats and was eyeing a barge full of shipping containers. A couple of tanks on the shore were firing artillery at him but he seemed not to notice or care. We turned right on, I think, Front street, and came to the first set of port-a-potties I remember seeing. As we passed, a woman in black tights running in front of me changed her mind quickly, abruptly turned up onto the sidewalk, eyed the line of people, and darted behind the row of toilets. This is why I got up three hours before the race.
Front street was lovely, the sunrise was lovely. At some point a guy in a hoodie was standing on a corner shouting "WELCOME TO SOUTH PHILLY!" -- I did feel welcome. The race looped around and ran up South Street. Last year I was struggling hard by this point and didn't remember South Street at all, in fact, I pretty much blacked out until we got back to 34th. But this time I enjoyed the run up South which was lined with people cheering and ringing cow-bells.
The rest of the race was uneventful -- I felt good (as opposed to feeling like I was going to die, which is the usual if I'm running hard) -- I knew I was running strong but not hard. As I passed mile ten, the West Philly Runners were all on the corner with a cheering squad -- they hi-fived me as I went past, re-energized by their support I checked my watch and saw that I could make it and put a little extra in, (mile 11 was my fastest at 8:11).
As the art museum appeared, the Rocky theme came on the headphones, I crossed the finish line just after it ended.
Finishing time: 1:52:14. Clickenzee to Embiggen
I knocked four minutes off of my PR, missed my goal time by 2:14 but I didn't go blind at the end like I did last year and while I felt I ran aggressively, I didn't run hard it was a relatively easy race this time around.
Me and Kiprono Kurgat who won the half. He'd been there for nearly an hour when I rolled in. Clickenzee to Embiggen
I spotted Kiprono Kurgat from Chapel Hill who'd finished in just over an hour. Which is freaking nuts. Someone wrapped a space blanket around me which was nice. Then someone else said "congratulations Kyle," and put a medal over my head. It was done. Around me were a sea of people in Black Corral bibs -- I'd kept up with the fast people, finishing just barely in the top 20% of people overall.
There's my medal!!! Clickenzee to Embiggen
At the end of the race you walk down a long chute where people give you all sorts of food, pretzels, bananas, oranges, water. You probably have to walk a third of a mile before you can get out of the fenced in area and back on the street. I ate half a pretzel, a banana, and an orange.
Race is over, now what? Clickenzee to Embiggen
Dressing had been a bit of a coin toss -- the temperatures were supposed to range between 28 and 50. I opted for a short sleeve over a long sleeve with a Nike Element jacket. The Element is relatively warm, has a hood, and a gaiter which you can put over your face if it gets bitterly cold. This turned out to be the right setup. I took the jacket off around mile 4 and tied it around my waist. After that point 'proper running attire' would have been shorts and a long sleeve shirt but when you stop running, it gets cold again, so I sucked it up with the extra layer. The space blanket helped, but eventually I put my jacket back on and felt properly warm. On the whole, I survived the temperature changes pretty well.
Watching from the bridge. Clickenzee to Embiggen
I felt pretty good. Walking back down to the skate park I picked up my bike and watched the race from the top of the overpass for a while, clapping and cheering and watching the stream of ants. Heading home I passed through a trickle of people still coming up on mile seven. One of the great things about this sport is that out of 30,000 people who sign up for it, only about ten have a snowballs chance in hell of actually winning the race. Everybody else is there to win their own race. No matter how good or how bad you are at this sport, there will always be someone who finishes before you, and someone who finishes after you. It's not something you win, and it's not something that you lose. Your race is with you and with whatever you bring with you. Like Luke in the tree on Degobah. I brought my 40 pounds, my sedentary lifestyle, my 1:57 from last year and that's what I beat crossing the finish line. Everybody else brought their own things and won or lost against them.
Me, Roswell and MAH MEDAL. Clickenzee to Embiggen!
I weighed myself and discovered that I'd lost five pounds during the race. I'd hit about every other water stop and let thirst dictate how much I drank. Did Gatorade once around mile 8 rather than eat a gel, just because it was there and someone was offering it. At home I took a shower and ate about ten pounds of food, looked at my medal in the mirror and went right back to the Extraordinary Busy Weekend That I Will Write About Later.
I hope you all had a lovely weekend.
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