I have always been lucky to have a companion who would travel with me for the marathon trips. Having a designated driver, not participating in the marathon allowed me to book a hotel further away from the frenzy of the event and have an easy access to the start line.
For the Philadelphia marathon, the entire family boarded our Ford Taurus station wagon and landed at the Marriott hotel in Plymouth Meeting, about 20 minutes away from the Philadelphia Museum. The Philly marathon is an early start kind of the marathon. On the race day, I nuked the oatmeal, made a mug of coffee, grabbed the bag to register, and my wife and I sneaked out of the room while the older kids were in charge of the younger kids who were still asleep.
An unexpected street closure diverted our planned route and raised my pre-race tension. My wife, knowing the area very well though, solved the detour without a delay and dropped me 2 minutes of walking distance away from the start line. I performed the usual ritual of bandaging both middle toes, greased areas to prevent chafing, and licked a bit of salt. I registered the bag with the UPS. The bag was the best I have ever seen provided by marathon officials. It was manufactured out of a nylon fabric, sewn together with a netting mesh, and featured string ropes and a zipper pocket. On the contrary, the worst bag was provided at the Boston marathon this past April. A thin plastic bag that was tearing apart before I had time to register it.
I liked the 7 o’clock marathon start. Psychologically, it’s much better to get up, eat, and run in a fast sequence, rather than wait hours for the start. I was in my designated corral few minutes before 7 A.M. and, to my pleasant surprise, I spotted a 3-hour pacing group. It was for the first time in my marathon history, that there would be an official group pacing runners for the 3 hours finish. I kept my eyes on the pacer the whole race. We started slowly to warm up, a little under 7 min. a mile pace for 2 miles, then we kept the goal pace of 6:51 or 6:52 with the exception of the uphill at the mile 8 where we ran slower. I lost the concentration and the pacer got about 100 m away from me. On the downhill side, we caught up the lost time and I managed to get back to the group. We crossed the half marathon mark together at 1:29:29.
My daughter, Jacqueline, jumped in and ran with me on Kelly Dr till mile 17. The little detour at the mile 17 across a bridge surprised me, as I didn’t remember seeing it on the course map. It’s so short and easy to overlook on the map, but at this stage it seemed very long. At mile 20, on Main St, my family was cheering on me both times, when I was running outbound and inbound. Janette, my other daughter, handed me a cup of water. It was the 3rd and last one during the race.
Remembering my being bloated at the Boston marathon, I hydrated and fueled very conservatively. I used 3 gels in the first half and felt fine for the rest of the marathon. I also swallowed 3 IBs on the course and licked a bit more of salt. I felt the best ever during this marathon. The weather was very favorable for marathon runners.
At mile 22, Jacqueline jumped in at the spot where she left off when we were running outbound. My plan was to continue to run with the group and, then at mile 25, speed up away from the group. But shortly after mile 23, I got cramps in my right hamstring and had to stop to stretch. The same hamstring delayed me at the Boston marathon 2 years ago. This time, I knew what to do, though. As I was stretching, the 3-hour pacing group was running away and I was thinking that my ambitions for sub 3-hour marathon vanished.
After I stretched and resumed running, Jacqueline was pumping the adrenaline. I knew that the lost distance of about 100 m to the group at this stage of a marathon was too huge to overcome. Yet, I also knew that that moment might be as close to my sub 3 marathon as I would ever get. So, I dug deep thinking this is when they talk about a marathon being mainly mental matter. For the next 2+ miles, it was a struggle with the idea to give up. Jacqueline was wise and was increasing our pace gradually until we reached the group just at the mile marker 26 and left me fight the rest. I got few meters ahead of the the pacer and finished the marathon in 2:59:19.