Today was my 7th attempt at breaking 2:50 at the marathon distance and I am happy to report that I finally got “the monkey off my back” by finishing today’s Philadelphia Marathon in 2:49:19. I chose Philadelphia because it is supposed to be one of the flattest courses in the US, and usually has good weather. It ended up being hillier than I thought it would be, but it’s certainly one of the flattest marathons I’ve run. Also, despite a pesky head wind the last 6 miles the weather was very close to perfect – 5 degrees at the start, 9 degrees at the finish, and virtually no wind for the first 20 miles.
My plan was to go out at 6:25/mile and try to maintain that pace for the entire race. Unfortunately, likely due to all the high rise buildings in downtown Philly, the GPS readings on my Garmin 910 were off from the start. I ended up averaging 6:27/mile, even though my Garmin indicated my average was 6:24/mile. That may not sound like much of a difference, but 3 seconds per mile at the marathon distance is well over a minute (enough to ruin someone’s day if they are close to their goal time). These Garmin problems would normally stress me out, but for some reason they didn’t this time. Thankfully I had written each of my target mile splits on my arm so that I could check to see where I was in relation to my goal at each mile marker.
The day didn’t start the way I had hoped. I spent most of the final 30 minutes before the start of the race in the porta potty lineup. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to warm-up. I would have been more concerned if this was prior to a 5k or 10k, but I tried not to let it get my down. I also didn’t get to the front of my corral, which meant I had to be really aggressive in the first few miles to find my goal pace. I went through the half in 1:24:41, which I was very happy with considering the slow start I had. Once the first half was behind me, and there were fewer runners on the course (the runners in the half were finishing), I could really relax and settle into my pace. Miles 13-20 felt like they went by in a flash and my body showed surprisingly no more fatigue at mile 20 then at mile 13 –likely due to the abundance of miles I did in training at/below marathon pace. That all changed when we made the turnaround at the 20 mile mark. As mentioned, wind had picked up by mile 20, and the few hills this course has are unfortunately, in the final 5-6 miles. So, I took a deep breadth, confirmed at the 21-mile mark that I was still on target to break 2:50, dug deep, and went for it. Matt (my coach), cautioned me about dropping the pace too early if I felt really good. Consequently, I focused on maintaining my pace and kept telling myself that I would try to pick up the pace at the 24-mile mark and perhaps try for sub 2:49. I attempting exactly this, but my legs had other plans. Within a few seconds I came to the conclusion that I would do good to maintain my pace over the final two miles. These 13 minutes ended up being one of the toughest stretches of running I’ve ever experienced. My heart rate rose above 170 for the first time all day (to 180 in fact) and my quads started to sieve up. However, I was able to tough it out and get the job done. I’ve learned a lot from today’s race, but what sticks out in my mind in the hours after my race is that if I want something bad enough, I will get there (it just might take 5 years J).