Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rock 'N Roll Philly Half Marathon

I've taken an unintentional break from the blog world. I haven't been writing in my blog or reading other blogs. I've been busy with work (yes, even on the weekends) and in my free time I've been more interested in playing Candy Crush Saga relaxing with my husband.

This weekend, however, I'm back to report on my experience at the Rock 'n Roll Philadelphia half marathon. I've run this race twice before-- in 2006 and 2007. The weather has always been pretty good and the course is relatively flat. It's well organized and about 25 people from my team were also running it, as well as a few other friends. Greg unfortunately was unable to run it this year due to a hamstring pull on Wednesday of this week. Thankfully, it's much better now and he'll be running again next week, but it was far too much of a risk for him to race on it. Last year, I enjoyed cheering him on, as I had just recently recovered from mono.

The stress reaction in my shin took me out for the entire month of July. The first two weeks of August were spent run-walking my way back to normalcy and I only resumed "real" training in the third week of August. I only had three weeks of solid running under my belt going into this race. Mileage totals had been 26, 31, 37 (and 38 this week). So this race was going to be primarily about the experience of it all, including practicing my pacing, my ability to push myself, and my hydration.

Unlike my most recent half marathon last April, where I got a sum total of 2 hours of sleep the night before the race and ended up barely hanging on at the end, I felt very well rested for this one. Even though I wasn't in peak physical condition, I had done a great job with my sleep, my nutrition, and most importantly, keeping my anxiety levels down. I had a strategy and my goal was to execute it well. I was so wrapped up in work this week that it didn't even feel like a race was approaching.

Greg and I opted out of the team dinner to meet my friend, Sara, who had flown in from Boston to run the race on my recommendation. We had a great time, and then walked back to our hotel. Before going to bed, Greg and I played Candy Crush Saga relaxed and I read to him from the book that we've been reading together.

I slept remarkably well. I typically have trouble sleeping the night before a race, but not last night. In fact, ever since my"Over It" revelation, I've been consistently sleeping well, so I wasn't even worried that I might not get a good night's sleep. The next morning, I ate my typical bagel with peanut butter and got ready for the race. Our hotel was just a five minute walk to the start, which was really nice.
Before the race

Once we got to the start area, we met up with some teammates and I made my way into the corral. I re-played my strategy in my mind. I would start out at a pace of around 8:05 for the first 3 miles and then try to run sub 8:00 for the remainder of the race. I had no idea if that was possible given my lack of training, but I thought it was a reasonable place to be.

Miles 1-4
The race started and the pace felt very easy. I wondered why it is that race pace feels so much easier on race day then it does in training. I guess there is something to that whole "race day magic" thing. I hadn't remembered that the sun would be shining directly into my face during most of this part. I suspected that the tall buildings would provide shade, but then again in years past I remember the race starting earlier. Today, it started at 8:00 which meant the sun was high in the sky from the get-go.

Mile 2 was when the sun was shining directly into my face and all the runners ahead of me looked like black silhouettes. I started to poor some water from my handheld bottle onto my head and thought that this would be a hot one. It was in the upper 50's, so it was by no means "hot", but I melt when it's sunny out so I told myself to just hang on until mile 6 when we'd run through a shaded park.

During the 4th mile, some of my teammates passed me. I knew that these girls would be running faster than me, but I tried to keep them in my sights at least for a little while. One of them asked me how I was doing and I told  her I was struggling a little bit, but I knew things would get better once I got into the shade.

I took my first gel at mile 4 and it went down easily. I used to always carry G2 sports drink in my handheld,
Mile 4
but after having stomach issues in my most recent marathon, I switched to water, and that worked really well for me today.

Mile 1: 7:57
Mile 2: 8:03
Mile 3: 8:10
Mile 4: 7:54

Miles 5-9
I saw Greg shortly after mile 4 and blew him a kiss. Some of my teammates were with him, cheering me on and it was a huge boost. At mile marker 5, I saw my coach and he told me to pay close attention to the tangents while running through the park. I heeded his advice, but ultimately ended up with 13.24 miles on my Garmin. The good news is that the discrepancy started with the very first mile marker so I think I did a decent job of not adding too much extra distance through the park.

Immediately after my coach was a good sized downhill and into the shade. Hallelujah! My race turned around almost instantly. I suddenly felt like I had hit my stride. The shade had a lot to do with this, but one thing I have always noticed about half marathons is that the race doesn't start to feel "good" until about mile 5-6. And then it gets hard again at mile 10. If my race goes well, then miles 5-10 are the glory period.

From mile 6 onward, I felt like this race was a net downhill. I felt like I kept running downhill and that sooner or later, I would pay for it with an uphill. The last mile was uphill and there was a short hill during mile 9, but otherwise, I didn't notice hardly any ups. This must have just been a mental thing, but I really felt like I was running downhill for most of the second half of the race. (This would actually be impossible because you finish very close to the area where you start.)

I really enjoyed this part of the race. I did look at my Garmin from time to time, but it was for informational purposes only. I knew I was running at the right pace for me.

Mile 5: 8:17
Mile 6: 7:57 (thank you, shade!)
Mile 7: 7:57
Mile 8: 8:02
Mile 9: 8:24 (this was the mile with the hill)

Miles 10-13.24
I was expecting it to get hard and I thought I would come out of the shade at mile 10. I was pleasantly surprised that the sun didn't hit until the last mile and that I actually felt really good! I think I could have pushed harder, but I was content with my pace and I didn't want to kill myself at this race and not be able to put a strong week of training in the following week. It definitely hurt, don't get me wrong, but I didn't have that death feeling that typically comes at the end of a half marathon. Maybe that's a good thing!

I actually surprised myself with my endurance. In training for this race, I had done a 12-miler and a 16-miler. And that was it for long runs. I was relying on my cross training and the long runs I had done in June before
Just before the finish line
my injury. I was able to hang onto my paces quite well, despite the minimal training and despite the rapidly rising temperature.

The last mile was uphill and in the sun, but I hung in there and pushed to a strong finish.

Mile 10: 8:05
Mile 11: 8:02
Mile 12: 7:58
Mile 13: 8:12
Last 0.24: (7:59 pace)

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
I liked this race and I thought I did really well! I was well rested, I didn't have stomach problems, I felt energized throughout, and I didn't let the negativity of how I felt during those early sunny miles determine my fate.

I enjoyed the experience of racing (although there were those hard times when I asked myself why I enjoyed putting myself through this!)

It was a good confidence booster for the Chicago marathon in four weeks. I will also be under-trained for that race but I am confident in my ability to execute well and have a positive experience, regardless of the finish time.

Oh, I should probably mention that my official time was 1:46:58. I slid in just under 1:47. I'm happy with it, given my minimal training and the fact that it was a sunny day in the upper 50's to low 60's. The cool thing is that I haven't even thought about my time much. It's just a number and it doesn't reflect how great I felt or how much fun I had!

I'm definitely glad I did this one and I look forward to going back next year.

My zebra loves my medal!


  1. Congratulations on a strong, happy race!

  2. I've been wondering how you were doing... glad you are back running strong. Congrats on a great race! Keep up the good work. You never know; you might really surprise yourself in Chicago!


  3. Hi! I was there in Philadelphia too. I liked the race too. I was supposed to start in corral 10 but waited in line to use the bathroom for about 45 minutes. :-(

    I ran most of the race and was happy with my time because I felt pretty good as I was running. Plus, I was determined to stay focused and positive.

    Good luck in Chicago! I am planning to be at Mile 19 (Pilsen) so I'll be on the lookout for you.

  4. Glad to see you back and running strong!

  5. Congrats! Solid 13.1! Happy to read that you're enjoying yourself during races lately.