Friday, November 27, 2009

Lessons Learned While Running The Philadelphia Marathon

On Sunday, November 22nd I set out to run my sixth marathon – this time through the historic city of Philadelphia.

Race morning was just about perfect: crisp cool weather with plenty of sunshine. I felt pretty good and despite a few blunders (forgotten GU, a dead battery, no safety pins for the bib number) made it to the start intact, semi-focused, mostly healthy, and perhaps best of all, on time.

My training for this race started back in early August and went reasonably well. I could have gotten in a few additional training runs and I probably should have swapped Thursday morning “coffee & donuts” for “Gatorade and tempo runs,” but that said, I was fanatical about my weekly long run, occasionally getting up at four o’clock in the morning to squeeze in a 20 miler prior to work, and I was devoted to my speed work.

So when I queued up at the starting line I felt confident and ready to wallop the notoriously fast course, Rocky Balboa style. It’s worth noting here that when I signed up for the race my primary purpose was to drop a few pounds and get myself back into shape. I did not intend to run a personal best. The aim was simply to run – and finish smiling.

Conventional marathon strategy is to start out slow… 26.2 miles is a very long way and the marathon has never been won in the first few miles. Alas, I set prudence aside and set out at a brisk pace from the get go. Foolhardy perhaps, but hey, you never know!

The first ten miles clicked by in the blink of an eye and at the halfway point I was running a pace just shy of a personal best (if you subtract the two minutes needed for a bio-break at mile eleven).

If fact, I ran well right up until I hit the wall. And by “hit the wall” I mean hurling oneself at terminal speed into a reinforced cinderblock wall.

The mile splits tell the story just…

Mile 1 - 8:05
Mile 2 - 7:38
Mile 3 - 7:33
Mile 4 - 7:54
Mile 5 - 7:52
Mile 6 - 7:56
Mile 7 - 7:38
Mile 8 - 8:10
Mile 9 - 7:53
Mile 10 - 8:15
Mile 11 - 10:17 (bio break)
Mile 12 - 7:57
Mile 13/14 - 16:21 (whoops!)
Mile 15 - 8:05
Mile 16 - 8:24
Mile 17 - 8:13
Mile 18 - 8:01
Mile 19 - 8:31
Mile 20 - 8:54
Mile 21 - 8:51
Mile 22 - 9:53
Mile 23 - 9:30
Mile 24 - 9:40
Mile 25 - 10:13
Mile 26 - 9:41
Mile .2 - 1:54

Miles nineteen through twenty-four were U-G-L-Y! I was exhausted, defeated, and reduced to a grimaced shuffle/walk. I’m not sure what hurt worse… my pride or everything else. The confidence that so thoroughly filled me at the start was now entirely spent.

Only three things kept me moving forward: momentum, a stubborn will, and a little mental game I play called Just a Bit Further. Fortunately for me the last ten kilometers of the course are lined with parking regulation signs that read: No Stopping Any Time.

The signs are spaced out every few hundred meters so I’d fixate on one, telling myself “just a bit further… just to that sign ahead.”

And then repeat. And then repeat again. And again. For miles…

Even though the last few miles were just a slow as those that preceded them, I did bounce back mentally and crossed the finish line with a smile (at least on the inside).

My official finish time is 3:43:26 a pace of 8:31/mile. Certainly not my best marathon time – certainly not my worst either.

In hindsight, I could have stuck to my training program more closely, I could have been more mentally prepared, and I should have done my long training runs at race pace. But I don’t regret going out hard – it’s important to test oneself by pushing the limits of ability because, hey, you just never know...

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."


justrun said...

Isn't it funny what gets us through a race? Congratulations to you! A finish is a victory, that's certain.

Morrissey said...

congratulations at philly. i think in marathons, theres so many variables that could go wrong. one can be totally prepared for it on race day and something may be wrong and the result would be the other way around. i think sometimes, you just have to take a risk and see what it may bring. at least you would know that hey ive took the risk and whether or not it worked in my favor, at least im able to own up to it, and take away what you learned on this marathon and carry over to another race. also, if you held back, you would think of all the what-if scenarios after the race. good job!

Yvonne said...

Congrats again Josh, nice acheivement considering how incredibly busy I know you are. I disagree with the going out too hard in the beginning though, I really do...but I wont get on my soap box ;) Next time, I'll join you I hope...

Deene said...

i'd consider myself a run goddess with a finish time like yours. Congrats on finishing and thank goodness for the no parking signs!

Diana Pittet said...

Great blog post, Josh, and great effort in the race. No matter what, you rock!

Anonymous said...

We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull, Some have weird names , and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.............................................