It's a funny thing when success takes you by surprise. You work and work and work toward this one goal, and then, sometimes, if you're lucky and the stars align, some other totally unexpected wonderful thing happens.
I wasn't trying to PR a half marathon this marathon cycle. I felt tired coming out of the Chicago Marathon and, realistically, I was doing considerably less speed work to prepare for the Boston Marathon than I'd done for Chicago. Honestly, I'd only signed up for the Philadelphia Love Run as a sort of "fitness test," and also because my teammate T-Pain wanted some company. (That's a nickname for an actual teammate, not me pretending I run with a hip-hop artist. Although in New York, I suppose it's possible.) At practice the week before, I'd asked my coach Squatch, "Am I racing this?" His response: "Why not?"
Even up until the night before the race, however, I wasn't totally sure how much I had to give to this race. "You have two choices," Squatch told me on the phone. "You can either see what you've got here, or do it at Cherry Blossom." The Cherry Blossom race was two weeks later and three miles shorter--a 10-mile race rather than 13.1. However, the prospect of waiting in suspense for two weeks to see what my body was going to do didn't sound good for someone as obsessive as I am. So I said, "I think I want to race tomorrow." And that's what I did.
You know when you have those blissed-out races where you feel 100% amazing from start to finish? (Okay, I think I've only had maybe one or two of those in my life, but still. They do happen.) Well this race was not like that.
Standing at the starting line, I was shivering wishing I had brought better gloves, and T-Pain was crunching around in her throwaway mylar suit. When the gun went off I opened the first 5k at an average pace of 6:44/mile, somehow still ending up behind the 7min/mi pacer by the end of that third mile. (I'm now convinced that he was running entirely too fast. But at the time, I was seriously concerned.)
I knew that to hit my coach's "conservative" expectation (1:27:00), I had to average 6:38/mile, so I set about doing my pickups: running the first 90 seconds of each mile hard and then settling back into an easier pace until I reached the next mile marker. There was wind hitting me squarely in the face, and my legs did not feel effortless in the slightest, especially when we came to the main hill of the race. T-Pain had told me about this hill, and while not a mountain, it was certainly still an obstacle. My pace increased--because I stink at running hills--but I tried to talk myself down by reassuring my brain that my legs would go faster on the downhill, just like they always did. And lo and behold, they did.
There was one more pesky, shallower hill to conquer, and then, after a nice gradual downhill, we were suddenly coming into the last 5k stretch. My legs finally felt pretty decent, and I recognized a man in a blue shirt who had been jockeying with me earlier in the race. He seemed to be running a pretty even pace, so I decided, "Okay, if I can keep up with him for a while, let's see how that goes." So I settled in beside him.
Mile 11 clicked in at 6:15/mile. "Wow," I thought, "this is really working!" Almost simultaneously, the guy looked my way. "Nice pace," he told me. "Thanks," I replied. "But don't fall back. I'm counting on you!" He shook his head. "I think that was my fastest mile ever." We could already see the marker for Mile 12. "Well," I told him, "get ready for one even faster!" We clocked mile 12 at 6:13/mile. And my legs--they still had more to give! "Here we go," I announced and took off.
I crossed the finish line essentially by myself. There was one guy in a florescent green jacket who I'd been gaining on in that last mile, but he dropped me handily in the final 800 meters. And there were no other women in sight. But as I rounded the bend and saw the finish line, I knew I had it: a PR. And a great one at that.
My half marathon before this one was my fastest to date: 1:27:21. And I was really proud of that race. I'd worked hard to break the 1:28 barrier. By comparison, though, this race was almost staggering. Dropping almost two minutes? Running the last mile of the race in 5:57? I couldn't have asked for more.
And then I got a medal in the mail. 3rd place Female 25-29.
Thank you Philadelphia. I love you too.
Age Group Place
73 / 40,567
9 / 6,305
3 / 907