No words: the Philadelphia Marathon

Yeah ok, technically there will be lots of words, since it’s kind of difficult to write a blog post entirely devoid of words.

Anywho. What was I talking about? THE PHILADELPHIA MARATHON!

Those are the Rocky steps in the background (aka Museum of Art).

I’ll largely skip over the festivities of the weekend (check out The Lady’s race report for a more in-depth take on the events surrounding the marathon itself), but I will say that we stayed with her cousin Laura, Laura’s husband Guy, and their adorable 17-month-old daughter Lily, and they were wonderful, awesome hosts. We’ll definitely have to visit them again, next time without a race to worry about!

We arrived in Philadelphia Friday afternoon and nabbed our packets at the race expo. The evening was ours, and we enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner at a pretty swank local restaurant. Saturday we spent in the company of Laura, Guy, and Lily, and it was pretty fantastic. Unfortunately, I barely slept that night: a bad combination of night-before-race jitters, unfamiliar surroundings, and a really cute cat with a very loud purr. I estimate I got about 3-4 hours of sleep at most. A rather auspicious start to race day.


I should mention here some things about the weeks leading up to race day. September had been a pretty grueling month–the Zombie 5k, the Air Force half marathon, Ragnar, and the Great Race 10k–but through it all I’d felt fantastic. This feeling carried into October, culminating in the first 20-miler feeling awesome.

It’s difficult to pin down when things started going south; there are a lot of elements that go into training for a marathon, and it’s nigh impossible to point at one particular feature and claim with certainty that it was 100% responsible for a bad day. But I’d have to say that this botched tempo run played a disproportionately large role. It took me out of running for a week, threw a wrench in my training rhythm, and largely shook up my routine. I completed our second 20-miler in an even better time than the first, but it didn’t feel nearly as good.

Other warning signs included: a really brutal month of graduate school leading up to the marathon, and generally feeling run down during the taper runs. At the time, the project I was working on felt like a complete dead end, and mentally it was crushing. Running is often a nice release, but this was seeping into my psyche to the point of affecting everything.

Upshot: come race day, enthusiasm was in shorter supply than usual.


Though it’s hard not to feel all warm and fuzzy when you have company like this:

Aptly-named “Porter”.

and this:

Lily liked to greet every passer-by. Especially the canine variety.

So! Race day! The Lady and I were set on running this one together, so we huddled together with a twitter friend of hers until we crossed the starting line.

I had been somewhat-kinda-maybe-possibly hoping for a sub-4 hour marathon, particularly given how well we completed our 20-milers. But almost as soon as we started running, I shifted my thoughts entirely to finishing.

If you run and train long enough, you pick up little intuitions here and there. This one was a feeling that sub-4 wasn’t going to happen, so don’t stress yourself out about it. Unlike some previous races, I listened to it this time and just enjoyed the slow start. We were crammed in with all the half-marathoners, so the first 13 miles were pretty tight. Nonetheless, we made pretty solid time: came in just over 2 hours for the first half of the course.

But I knew for a fact by mile 7 that the galactic dice hadn’t given me a particularly good roll that day. By all accounts I was feeling ok, but something wasn’t clicking. I can’t really explain it better than that.

Its first salvo slammed me around mile 15. My legs and lungs were still ok, but for some reason I was sucking wind. The Lady was great about being ok with losing some time, as I slowed to a walk for a bit.

The elevation really wasn’t bad at all, so that definitely wasn’t the problem.

No more than a couple hundred feet in elevation, and mostly all in the first half.

Around mile 19 I needed another stop, though this time it was an equipment issue. I’d worn my ankle braces almost religiously since the botched tempo run as an insurance against the same thing happening again but in such proximity to the marathon that I wouldn’t heal in time. I wore them again today “just in case”, though what exactly could be used to complete that statement became less and less clear to me as the miles stretched on, and all I could feel were the braces digging into my feet. So we halted yet again so I could–as quickly as possible, since the physical strain was starting to hit–remove them.

The last 10k was, in a word, painful. The Lady asked me yesterday if I recalled any other amusing signs from the crowd, and while I definitely recall that there were amusing signs, it’s all under a layer of pain that I have a difficult time piercing in my memories.

Physically, my body held up pretty well until around mile 23 or so. Mentally, I was almost entirely out of the game by mile 18. It was a bad, bad mental day, for reasons I can’t fully enumerate beyond my best guesses above. So with my body on the verge of giving out, and my head long gone, the last few miles were really, really hard.

I can’t give enough praise to The Lady on this. I honestly don’t know if I’d have been able to finish without her there. I know as the miles stretch on, it gets harder and harder to start running again once you’ve stopped to walk for a bit, and I’m sure my frequent walks were frustrating in that regard. But she kept what little mental discipline I had left from giving up entirely. She knew how to appeal to my motivations and keep me engaged when every cell of my body was screaming to stop.

The finish line. Oh, that beautiful finish line.

I put all the energy I had left into looking happy.

Drained. So very drained of everything. You can see from my Garmin data how much of a battle the second half, and in particular the last 10k, was.

The breakdown clearly wasn’t physical. The fact that I blasted through both 20-milers is pretty convincing evidence against it. Physically, I was ready, but something mental was seriously off. Hindsight bias has a powerful effect, but there appears to be a dearth of reasons why I wasn’t mentally ready.

But here’s the upshot, ladies and gentlemen: I finished the marathon. It was hard, it wasn’t pretty, and I actually became physically sick 48 hours later (100.2o fever over the Thanksgiving holiday, w00t!), but I finished. 4:17:31 is our official time.

So would you do it again?

Yes. With minor reservations.

I’m still not sure I’ll even run marathons with as much zest and pizazz that I do half marathons. But I’m set on running at least one more, this time with two goals:

  1. Finish feeling good.
  2. Finish in under 4 hours (under 4:10 as a B-goal).

I think #1 is more or less attainable by virtue of simply doing a second marathon. I know what to expect now: I won’t lose so much sleep to nervousness the night before, hopefully  I won’t injure myself four weeks prior, and I’ll work on better work/home separation to keep stress levels lower.

#2 isn’t as far away as one might think, either. Considering how much walking we did, and the stop for my ankle braces that was easily at least 3 minutes, under 4:10 should almost be a given for a second marathon. Coming in under 4 hours, given our 20-milers, shouldn’t be that much of a reach either. Another round of training should be the ticket.

The event itself was phenomenal. Apart from one malfunctioning race timer (it was 2 hours long, reading 5 hours and change instead of 3), I can’t pick out a single mishap, minor or major. Crowd support was also incredible; it stretched along every part of the course, keeping us flagging marathoners focused and entertained. The trails along the river were beautiful; The Lady mentions in her post (and I agree) that some of the small out-and-backs were a little annoying, but overall the race trail was awesome.

I have more thoughts in terms of “lessons learned”, but I’ll make those on a guest post on Megan’s blog sometime in mid-December!

If nothing else, this marathon gave me motivation to do it again. I still enjoy half marathons a lot more, but I really did enjoy the training. It, like the marathon, was hard, grueling, and ultimately rewarding. And the lovely folks of Philadelphia sure do know how to host a race!

About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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4 Responses to No words: the Philadelphia Marathon

  1. Pingback: Bad injuries and bad timing | Where are the pancakes?

  2. Pingback: MCM Week 16: Runner Singularity | Where are the pancakes?

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