The theme from this year’s Philadelphia Marathon/Half Marathon running series was “Running Means…” which was a peculiar question to ask, I thought, because if anyone really wanted to know, they could’ve just consulted Webster’s, Oxford, Google, Wikipedia, or any of an assortment of on-line and off-line resources to find the answer. (BTW, if you had to look it up, all it really means is to put one foot in front of the other in some sort of coordinated fashion that is faster than walking!) Haha!
All kidding aside, one of the main reasons I wanted to run this race was to define running for myself. What does it mean to me? What does it mean to others? Is this something I do, or is this something I am? I not only wanted to know the answer to this riddle, I wanted to experience it firsthand. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, feel it with my own feet, and hear it with my own ears, so that if a non-runner asks, I can accurately describe what running personally means to me.
Arrival in Philly, The Expo, Pasta Dinner, and The Night Before
The Saturday bus trip to Philly from NYC was pleasant and uneventful as we entertained ourselves with stories, gossips, and of course, facebook updates and race day forecasts every 5 minutes. I was traveling down with Flyers JT, JB, and BS and each of us had our own expectations and reservations about the race. JT and JB were running their goal marathon while JS and I were just running the half as an excuse to bask in the race atmosphere and cheer on friends. We made a pact that we’d keep ourselves to half the food and half the drinks this weekend because unlike everyone else, “we weren’t the real runners; we’re just running the half!” That would become our rallying cry for the rest of the trip.
We arrived at Philly in the early afternoon after a faster-than-average two hour ride. Although the bus trip was short, it was still over our lunch hour, so we were starving for some food by the time we got into town. Since none of us were too familiar with Philly, there was a lot of humming and hawing about where exactly we should eat. During this little confusion over which location seemed most appropriate for a pre-marathon lunchtime meal, I excused myself to use the restroom in the visitor’s center across the street. When I got back, they were still at the same point in the discussion as when I had left! This prompted the funniest comment of the weekend from BS who said “Yeah, in case you all didn’t know, he pees at a 6 minute pace too!” Absolutely hilarious! After some iPhone consulting and JT suddenly remembering that she went to UPenn and things don’t change that much in six or seven years, we headed over to the Reading Terminal which was situated right next to the convention center where the race expo was. This was the perfect choice because we all wanted to save our legs as much as possible for race day.
Although the servicing was a bit more delayed than we were used to back home, we got a table quickly, ordered, relaxed, and chowed down our meals (when it finally came) at race pace. I had my first Philly Cheese Steak in well over a year and savored every bite. The others were a little suspicious of my meal choice until I reminded them again that “I was just running a half!” the next day, so no double-decker club sandwiches for me!
After we ate, we went to the race expo to pick up numbers and bibs. Upon reaching the race area, I felt so excited just to be in the vicinity of marathoners and running gear that I literally jumped and knocked my head on top of one of the fixtures. Ouch! Now, it was time for me to remind myself not to get overly excited myself because again, “I’m just running the half!” We all splitted up at this point to get our own numbers and race gear. I felt all sorts of weird looking around for the “kid’s table” to grab my bib. I half-heartedly expected some race official to jump out in the middle of my search and say “Excuse me, Sir, we couldn’t help but noticed your application for the half and given your times and veteran marathoner’s status, thought you were probably better suited to run the full, so we made the switch on your behalf. There’s a marathon race bib with your name on it waiting for you on the opposite side.” But no that didn’t happen. Instead, I walked over, picked up my half-marathon bib, asked the overly enthusiastically lady working the gear area whether it was too late to ask about the full marathon option (she said there wasn’t such a thing) and I left it at that. The only solace I got was that the gear bag and race shirt both looked pretty sweet and definitely useable for future races. What was even nicer was the pair of technical running gloves I found later hidden within the gear bag. Sweet! I’d never gotten running gloves as a souvenir from a race before so finding those instantly lifted my spirits about the race.
After checking out the rest of the race expo, saying hi to Bart Yasso for about the fifth time this year and successfully pulling myself away from signing up for five spring marathons that all seemed so enticing from the race ads, I left the convention center with BS to find our hotel where we’d be staying that night. We were staying within walking distance of both the expo and the start so it didn’t take too long for us to find the place. Once we did, we quickly checked in, unpacked, changed, showered, and laid out all our race gear for the next day. We chilled a little bit in the room and before we knew it, it was already time to head out to meet the rest of the Flyer crew for the obligatory pre-marathon pasta dinner.
There were roughly about 15 Flyers who showed up for dinner that night at a homely family-style Italian restaurant that rivaled Sambuca or Tony’s DiNapoli in NYC. DK, our master dinner planner extraordinaire, had picked the setting and called ahead for reservations so we got seated almost as soon as we got in. By the time BS and I arrived at the festivities, JT was already seated at a table with a bunch of her relatives, so was runner26 with her husband and parents seeming as nervous as I’d ever seen her. BS show to sit with a bunch of other Flyer contingent at the far end of a long table while I chose to sit at a new one with DK and JB who had shown up just as we were able to order and eat. Because we were all split up into different tables, we ordered individually according to table size. Being I was in the smallest table and running the shortest distance (both DK and JB were running the full despite having done NYCM 3 weeks ago just like me), I really didn’t eat all that much since I was sticking to my guns that halfers should only carb up half as much as fullers! (I had to look over to my half partner BS to make sure we weren’t cheating!) But what I did eat was pretty delicious and actually quite filling so I had no complaints.
After dinner, we all gathered for some quick pictures before scattering off to our individual hotels to prepare for an early wakeup call the next day. Before I left, I was able to catch up a bit with runner26 who told me about her pre-race anxiety and nervousness and phantom ankle pains she was having all week. I responded by telling her to use her past marathon experiences to channel her nervous energies to running a good race. I also told her that I never believe in phantom pains that crop up only on race week. From what I know about the way the body works, phantom pains is just a misrepresentation of recovery mechanisms that the body isn’t used to and don’t know how to interpret. They will invariably disappear once the race starts. I don’t know if she quite believed me but I was pretty confident that my diagnosis was accurate and my impromptu treatment plan would work wonders for her race. As we parted, I wished her good luck, even as I knew she only had to trust herself to run a great race. (As an aside, she took my advice and ran an amazing PR sub-4 race the next day! Big ups to runner26!)
As for me, I trampled back to my hotel room, checked and double checked all that I would need for the next day and went to sleep. As I laid quietly in bed, I thought a lot about all my Flyer friends who rocked their 60Ks in Central Park earlier in the day and those that were about to run the full marathon in the morning. I wrestled with my own feelings of inadequacy even as I know I am in no way prepared to race a full marathon even if permitted to so soon after NYCM. Yet, I also knew I had to ultimately forgive myself and focus on my own race if I was going to have any chance of success the next day. This proved to be a harder task than I imagined as I fell asleep subconsciously still scheming of possible ways to escape my fate of “only” running the half-marathon on race morning. Little did I know something unexpected would happen just prior to the race start that would make me ever so thankful just to be able to compete in the half marathon distance.