On Sunday I ran perhaps what may have been the best race of my life.
Wait...what? A race report that is positive? Actually being pleased with a performance? No way, not here. As rare as hen's teeth, or packs of Marlboro menthols, that's exactly what is about to happen.
I love the Philly Distance Run, even if it did sell out to the evil Competitor Group and become a Rock n Roll event. I love the course, I love the weekend, I love racing in that city - something about Philadelphia is just phast. I first ran the race in 2006, running alongside Chima as he ran his first ever half (and potentially one of his first road races, I don't think he had run in the years following his collegiate running). We ran 1:30:xx. I thought the race was just awesome, and I signed up for it the next year (for something like $50). That was the year that we were blessed with Arjun and Melissa, so the two of them joined myself, Ben and Hollywood (and Terence) for the 2007 edition. I ran terrible, I had been having some issues with my piriformis and sciatic nerve and after 10k just completely broke down. I was in pain from early on, but the pace was fine - 29:49 through 5 miles and then after 6 I had to stop and stretch, and then go to the bathroom. I was in agonizing pain after 9 miles and walked a lot of the rest of the way, ultimately finishing at 1:35:36. Not indicative of my fitness, I was disappointed and frustrated with how it had gone.
I came back again in 2008, and once again was a little dinged up. But, I was fitter, and felt like I could still have a good race. My goal had been to run something in the 1:16 range, which seemed reasonable. I ran most of the first 10k with or just behind Arjun, but then the mile splits started creeping up and up. I held it together as best I could, but by mile 10 I couldn't keep it up and faded to 6:18 miles 12 and 13, and ultimately finished at 1:18:42.
And that's where my half marathon PR has stood, and it's the last PR I had recorded, as that following summer I was knocked out of commission. I still went to PDR in 2009, on crutches, and hobbled around the course as much as I could. It was exhausting. In 2010, unsure whether I could run that far or not, I decided to not sign up, and instead bandited to a 1:28 and change. When it came to running this year, I wasn't sure what I would do. On one hand, it was just three weeks after the Ironman and I didn't want to put the pressure of racing on myself, but on the other hand it's one of my favorite events and I could just do it to run 13 miles that day. Ultimately I decided to just sign up - for the outrageous cost of $95 - and plans were set. Making it even more significant, it was the day before my 30th birthday, so it was going to be the last race as a 20-something for me.
Having run a 1:21:49 at Miami Half earlier this year, and the just-over-an-hour Club Challenge 10 miler in February, I felt like 1:20 was a reasonable goal. I feel like I'm in at least that good of shape, but I just didn't know how my legs would respond to the effort. Additionally, I'd raced a 5k the Sunday prior (17:47) and then ran a medium-hard 13 miles on Monday, and then broke my legs even further doing my favorite track workout - 10x1000 with a minute rest - on Tuesday. That workout boosted the confidence a little bit. I ran all of my 1000s in between 3:29 and 3:25, with most between 3:26 and 3:28. Generally, under 5:35/mi for 10k of intervals with short rest. I felt good about it, but I was also cooked. I took it easy on Wednesday, and on Thursday I attempted to ride up to Oregon Ridge to ride with Alyssa. 20 miles, uphill, into a storm that was ripping me to shreds. It was a terrible decision, and when I got there, Alyssa and I decided to bail on the ride and just go home. Friday morning was rough, I felt sluggish on our 7 miler through the hood, and then my parents and brother came down later in the day for a little birthday celebration.
Alyssa's dad had given her his tickets for the Orioles game, and in turn she gave them to us to use, so we went to the game. It was a great night for it and they appreciated it a lot. Saturday was a bit cool and drizzly, and I didn't have a chance to run before we headed up to Philly. Traffic in the city kept us from getting to the expo until 15 minutes before it was set to close, and I was too tired to run at that point. Ed, Alyssa and I hit up my favorite PDR pre-race dinner spot, Continental Midtown, and then called it a night. Unfortunately, thanks to the Penn State game in town that day, all hotels were booked or absurdly expensive, so we had to stay 15 minutes outside the city, near the airport.
Morning came and we drove in, dropping off Ed as soon as we could. Ed was running his 23 miler, so he had done 6 miles at the hotel, and then hopped in the car for the short 15 minute drive, and then continued on to run another 9.5 before the start of the race. Alyssa took care of parking the car while I went to jog over to the start. It was cool - the first time in a while I've had pants and a long sleeve on. I found Pat, and dropped off my stuff at his car, and then continued warming up. Along the way I spotted friends Dave Berdan and Jake Klim, and chatted briefly with them. At 7:45 I hopped into my corral, and was surprised with how few people were trying to barge their way to the front. I took a reasonable spot and as the National Anthem was being sung, I heard a loud "O!" - looked to my right and sure enough it was my main cholo, Ed. Frank Shorter shot off what I guess was supposed to be a gun, although it sounded like a cap gun, and we took off. In other years I've really had to be aggressive in the first half mile, pushing my way and weaving through the masses, but this year was pretty easy, and pretty soon we were in the clear.
My goal of 1:20 predicated an average pace per mile of 6:06, but I was really not confident in running that fast. I was hoping to run under 6:10 for the first mile, 6:15 at the slowest, and go from there. As we pass what may have been about a half mile, Ed said he felt like we were running slower than 6:15. I disagreed, and said if it is that slow, so be it - I'll adjust from there. Sure enough, the mile comes up and I realize we are going to be way fast - 5:57. Surprised, but not shocked. I must have let up a little in the second mile, as we came through in 6:02, and this was where the day's booty highlight came in. Straight from a wet t-shirt contest at Senor Frogs, this girl did not look like she should be running this far up, but she was, and I commended her effort. She was racing in navy blue bunhugger/bikini bottoms, and was wearing a white Michelob Ultra singlet type thing that she had then tied up so her abdomen and back were both exposed. It was cool. I passed her, and then passed the mile 3 mark in 5:56.
5k - 18:32
I was running comfortably, but when the pace was upped in miles 4 and 5 (5:53, 5:54; 29:43 at 5), I was a little concerned that the pace was slightly suicidal. We had gone back over the start line and were now careening down the north side of the Skully-kill River (thanks Alyssa for that gem). Mile 6 was tough for me, and was my slowest to that point at 6:02.75.
10k - 37:01 (18:29)
I was now sure that I was going to see the times creep up, like they normally did for me at this point of the race. As fast of a course as this is, I don't like running the same stride the whole time. Ed peaced out at 10k, so I was now on my own. And literally, on my own, as I seem to find myself running solo in the middle of a 17,000 person race where I am literally running within a second or two of the same 6 minute miles each mile. But then something happened - mile 7 was just under 6:00. Whoa, really? It was a mental boost, and just as I was finishing a little Gu Chomp, a group of bandits ran by me, super easily, out on their Sunday run. I felt like it would be prudent to run with them for as long as I could hang. Which wasn't tremendously long, but long enough to come through mile 8 in 5:54. I was focused on making it to the bridge, as I knew mile 9 was going to be on the other side. The bridge has always been tough for me, and since I couldn't see the clock, I thought it was going to be a slow split. Fortunately, the clock was really just on the other side, on a little downhill, and I came through in 6:03.
15k - 55:33 (18:32)
Now I've strung three even 5k's together, and have 4 miles left. I'm all alone, with nobody passing me and nobody to pass except the odd fast chick who is now slowing down. At this point, I'm focusing on one mile at a time, each little 6 minute section by each little 6 minute section. I had eaten another Gu Chomp, and decided I really don't like trying to eat them while running. I made it to 10 in 59:43 (5:58) which meant a 30 minute 2nd 5 miles. 5k to go, 5k to go. I had made a conscious effort to surge in this mile, which lasted just a few minutes and then I was pretty tired. Now the shade was starting to disappear and we were going full on into the sun. I still had two Gu Chomps left in my little bag, which I was just holding in my hand, and I ate the last one around 11 (6:08). Shoot, 6:08? Was this the end for me? I knew that I was going to be under 1:20, barring a major meltdown, but now I could see the real light: the possibility of a PR. I ditched my last little Gu Chomp so that I could have free hands, and passed mile 12 in 6:08, which meant I was at 1:12:00 with 1.1 miles to go. I've go to basically run a 6 minute mile and then sprint 160 meters (I also mistakenly though my PR was 1:18:40, which probably helped).
I am working hard, and now it's like the wind wants to blow hard in our face just to ruin my day. I can now see the art museum, and with every foot strike I get closer and closer to what could be an awesome moral victory. I see my friends on the side of the road - Alyssa, Klim, Ed and a half sober Z - who are yelling at me to push. I click my watch - 6:00 for mile 13 - so I am right on 1:18:00 and have just a tenth of a mile to run...uphill. Normally not a problem, except when you're trying to run as fast as you can and you've been in the same stride pattern for miles. I got across the line and stopped the watch - 1:18:38. I was full of emotion, not even for the time, but for what the small 4 second PR represented. I didn't expect to run this well, and "for all intents and purposes" I shouldn't have. I ran even splits, and when I was slowing down, I managed to limit my loss. I was even able to pick it back up to the pace I had been running in the last mile. Even in other races I've run that were much faster, I've never been able to do this. I had run a smart race, and I was finally rewarded.
Maybe it was from all the suffering I've done, I can just endure it a little better than I once could, or maybe it was because I was turning 30 the next day. Either way, I needed that one. I needed it for so many reasons, but it helped me realize that maybe my time isn't over just yet. On that day, I ran as fast as I could have. I could not have squeezed and extra second from anywhere. There is no me, saying that if I had run smarter, maybe I could have run faster. I could not have. If I had actually run 6:10 for the first mile, I think I would have just run slower. I had to go out at that exact pace and keep the pressure on.
Needless to say, I'm really pumped.
After the race, I caught up with everyone else. Ed had ended the day with 24.5 miles and said he felt great, which is awesome. Berdan ran a 1:05:53 - a PR but short of his goal of sub 1:05. A few other people we know had great races too. The fastest times for a half marathon by both genders were achieved, with Matthew Kisorio running a 58:46 (1 second ahead of runner up) and Kim Smith of NZ running a 1:07:10. It was just the day to run fast, I guess.
We rolled out of Philly, cleaned up at the hotel and headed to Newark, DE, for breakfast/lunch. Then it was back to Baltimore, where I rewarded myself with the rest of the day off.
I woke up on Monday, officially a 30 year old, and was determined to make it a great day. Originally I had thought about riding my bike TO Frederick, doing my ride out there and riding back, but the prospect of 130+ miles on tired legs seemed a little much. Instead, I decided to drive to Frederick and do the ride. It was cool, 66 degrees maybe, and overcast. I had ambitions of a course record, but understood that I was a) doing it solo and b) tired. I made good time to Hamburg, and made decent time up (19:38). I think this is within 40 seconds of what I rode in early May there. I blazed to Harp, and that was hard. I didn't think I was going to make it. I descended into Boonsboro, greeted now by a headwind for the 17 miles home. That was going to make it even tougher. I climbed South Mountain in a respectable time, and tried to go as fast as I could, but knew that it was likely out of reach. As I crested the day's final climb and dropped into Frederick, I saw the time go by, but rode hard to make sure I got under 3 hours (2:58:07) which is pretty fast.
I zoomed back to Baltimore, and had just enough time to get into the pool for a splash (1500m). Then it was over to Fed Hill Runners for our Monday night jog, and I felt surprisingly decent, although my legs did feel like bricks. 40 minutes for 6 miles there, and the day was done. We got back home and I was going to go to eat with Alyssa and Ed, and when we got to the place, I was surprised by some of my other friends, who had come out to celebrate (thanks guys!). It was really nice of them to come out, and it was a fun night. Alyssa and I then went and I SHUT IT DOWN at karaoke. It was a really great day, and an excellent weekend. I now feel a lot more confident in my running for this fall, and am excited to see how training goes from here on out.