Back in 2018, on the heels of running my first two 50k races, I decided I needed to run a marathon. I had never run one, and it seemed like it wouldn’t be too difficult to get ready since I had just run 50k. I signed up for the Philly Marathon, for November of 2018. That summer, when my training should have been ramping up, I was having trouble with warts on my feet. Getting them treated really messed up my training, and I found myself in October attempting to cram in months worth of training into about six weeks. I made it to the traditional marathon training plan staple 20 miler, and got through okay, and figured I was good. Well, about a day after the 20 miler, I had some odd pain in my foot. I kept expecting it to go away, but after about a week it kept getting worse. I got into an orthopedist, and was diagnosed with a stress fracture. I got outfitted with an air boot and told no running until further notice. If you were around me during that time, you can probably attest that I was cranky, disappointed, and generally not too fun to be around. The doc told me if I could do a workout with my boot on, I was allowed to do it. I did a ton of upper body workouts until he eventually cleared me to add yoga, and then it was yoga and upper body lifting. Gradually I was able to add cycling, and by January I was running again. I managed to get a medical deferral for the race to 2019.
My friend Brandi is an ambassador for Another Mother Runner, and over the spring, I saw her post a deal for their marathon training plans. I had never used one of their plans before. In fact, I’d never paid for a training plan before. I decided to spring for it, and get going! The plan started off pretty easy. I included a good mix of different types of runs – tempo, speed intervals, negative splits, and of course long easy miles. My training went pretty smooth, with only a few little speed bumps. I was having some weird pain and went back to the ortho, who referred me to PT for a little while. That was sufficient to straighten out the imbalances that were giving me grief. My training plan included two 20 mile runs. The first one was a little weird because I tried to do it on a weekday, cut it short thinking I needed to go to work, then realized I didn’t need to go in, so I went back out to finish it off. The second one, I started with friends and probably a bit too fast, so that by the end, I was mostly walking and pretty whooped.
Leading into race week, I felt pretty good. Normal nerves, of course, and extreme paranoia about getting sick! Fortunately, everything went pretty much as planned. I didn’t get quite as many rest days as the plan called for because I teach group fitness and had two classes that week. On Saturday, I took my whole family to the expo, and they had a cool little kids area, so everyone got balloon animals and face painting, and had a good time hanging out. Then we headed to Reading Terminal Market for some Beilers Doughnuts. I can’t pick up a race packet at the Philly Convention Center without paying Beilers a visit! Highly recommend the salted caramel.
During the day, I kept checking the weather and Dress My Run to figure out what to wear. Dress My Run was saying a short sleeve shirt with capris. I was skeptical that would be warm enough, but in my experience, doubting Dress My Run usually doesn’t go well. The weather was calling for highs in the mid 40s and probably some rain. When I got home that night, I got my gear together. I decided to stay with the short sleeve shirt. I went with my "We Run For Amy" shirt, that was in honor of my friend Amy who recently beat breast cancer. I love this shirt because thinking of her helps me dig deep for the strength to run went it gets tough. I had some fabric paint, so I wrote my name and “1st marathon” on it. I set up all my gear, and the snacks I planned for the run (CLIF Bloks, one Honey Stinger waffle, a bag of Swedish Fish).
Morning of, I ate a bowl of oatmeal, took a banana and yogurt to eat while I was standing around waiting, and loaded up my pockets. I was wearing my Skirt Sports Pocketopia Capris, and the pockets are huge, so I fit all my snacks (Snacks? Am I supposed to call it fuel? I guess fuel sounds cooler) on one side, and my phone plus a charger on the other side. I greased up all my usual chafe spots with my Tip-to-Toe Calm Balm. I had a sweatshirt on that I planned to ditch. One PATCO ride and a short walk, and I was at my race. I hit the port-a-pot, wandered around a bit, ate my second breakfast of yogurt and a banana, and eventually meandered over to the start corral. I was in the last group to start. The beginning of the course takes you through Center City, out to Delaware Avenue, then you make your way across South Street, taking a few turns to get to the Walnut Street Bridge. This part of the race had some cool scenery, great crowds with funny signs. Writing my name and “1st marathon” on my shirt was pretty brilliant, because people all along the course were congratulating me on my first, and cheering for me by name. To this point in the race, the weather was good; overcast, but dry, and I was comfortable in my short sleeves.
Once you cross Walnut Street Bridge, you get into the Fairmont area, and run around Memorial Hall, up the Avenue of the Republic, eventually getting to MLK and following that back to the Art Museum. The half marathon mark is along MLK. At the half mark, I pulled my phone out quickly to check my time – about 2:34 – and text a quick update to my husband. I was feeling pretty good so far. I had signed up for an app called RaceJoy that the Marathon had recommended, and my friends and family could track me on it, and send you “cheers” along the way. It worked a little weird for me – I couldn’t tell who was sending me cheers, but it was cool to know that I had people who cared and were watching me from home.
Once you hit the Art Museum, the whole rest of the race is an out and back on Kelly Drive. If you’ve run any races of any distance in Philly, odds are you have run on Kelly Drive. It can be pretty some times of the year, but it is hard for people to get there to cheer, so there’s not a lot of crowd there, and in November, it honestly just isn’t that interesting scenery-wise. By this point, I’m hitting the 15-ish mile mark, and feeling pretty good still, but getting tired. I mostly watched the folks coming the other way to look for people I knew. I very nearly missed seeing my friend Bob running the opposite direction, until he shouted my name. I was grateful to see my friend Joan who was volunteering handing out waters at mile 16. The out on Kelly Drive is mostly a low grade uphill that ends with a turn-around in Manayunk. Some people get excited about Manayunk because there are some unofficial aid stations that hand out beer there, but I don’t drink alcohol so that wasn’t really a bonus for me.
This stretch of the race definitely was getting mentally tough, and then, the weather turned. First, it started raining heavily. Eventually, the rain turned into sleety snowy mess. The temps were still in the 40s, so it didn’t stick to anything, but it felt really cold. My arms were warm enough, but my hands started to get really cold. I was struggling with a bit of frostbite, I was soaked to the bones, I was tired… and then my headphones stopped working around mile 21. I futzed with them for a bit, but my hands weren’t working too well, so eventually I gave up. I was definitely slowing down, but I tried to keep a “run” going and not just walk. My run became more of a shuffle-jog as I kept moving. At mile 24, I saw Joan again, and I guess I was looking a little rougher than I had the first time I saw her because she walked with me for a minute to make sure I was okay. After that water stop, I set my mind to push it out as best I could to the end. I picked up that shuffle-jog and did not walk again until I crossed the finish. As I got towards the finish line, the crowds were out in force despite the crappy weather. Right near the finish, I saw my husband in the crowd, and seeing him there to see me finish made my whole day. They announced my name as I got close, and the emotions hit me, I was ready to cry and laugh both at the same time. I couldn’t believe I did it!
Post-race, a few lessons. I do wish I had a long sleeve shirt; that cold really messed me up once the rain picked up and my hands started getting super frosty. Writing my name and “1st marathon” on my shirt was awesome! Highly recommend. I was overall really pleased with my training plan, and the support of the Train Like A Mother community. For my next trick, I’m training for a 50 mile trail run, and I’m using another TLAM plan. My snack strategy worked great. Bringing a little something extra to eat pre-race stopped me from being ravenously hungry a few hours in, and eating the waffle at the halfway mark gave me a little extra in by belly to keep moving with. The Tip-to-Toe Calm Balm worked flawlessly to prevent chafing, even with the rain.
I am happy and proud to have redeemed myself from last year. I know better than to say never, but I’m not sure I’ll do another road marathon super soon. The trails are definitely more home to me. That being said, I finished in 5:30, and I just know I could get under 5 hours if I worked at it and had better weather! Next time maybe I’ll pack some gloves!