The journey was long and sometimes difficult to get to the starting line. So it was very sweet to run this marathon and have a race of a lifetime. I was registered for the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon and sadly never made it to the starting line as I was badly injured for that fall and most of winter. These injuries haunted me while attempting to train for the 2012 Boston Marathon thus forcing me to give up this pursuit as well. It was a hard and rather melancholy winter to say the least. But by the middle of spring I was running more regularly and started my official training in June for the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon.
My marathon training went very well thanks to my coach, Jack Pilla and my running pain advisor, Monte Hueftle . While I did experience various aches and pains along the way, I was able to get through everything with good advice and rest when I needed it. The summer went relatively smoothly and early fall was shaping up too. I even ran a very successful half marathon on Sept 30th, the Smuttynose Rockfest Half. However due to some recent struggles in my personal life, I have had to manage heartache, stress, anxiety, loss of sleep and loss of appetite. While I blame no one but myself, this was all very challenging. It was also very bad timing just weeks before a major “big city” marathon. And to add insult to injury, I developed a nasty head cold 5 days before marathon day, most likely due from all the stress! It seems that no matter how bleak a situation may appear, we can always push through and succeed if we want something badly enough. This was another important life lesson I am grateful to have experienced.
By Thursday I was trying to decide whether I felt like I got hit by a bus or by a truck. My cold was bad, my throat was very sore, and my sinuses were not letting up. I was having second thoughts about even going to Philly. This was so heartbreaking after all the hard work. Luckily Scott thought that I still might feel better by Sunday so we packed our bags and decided to leave on Friday morning as planned. Scott told me I would have been devastated if I didn’t run the marathon, so I’m so glad we made the right decision.
The drive down to Philly from Vermont was VERY long with painfully slow traffic in NJ!! Next time there will be direct flights booked from Burlington! I was feeling a little better on Friday morning and actually hopeful I might be better in time. Scott was my hero for driving the whole way! I made a bed in the back seat with some blankets and pillows. This was fantastic!! Once we were on I-87 I dozed off and on in my little sanctuary happily listening to the satellite radio. The back seat was probably a funny sight with me and my “bed-head” hair, tissues and blankies. I’m glad Scott didn’t take any photos of this! I’m sure my little pillow-fest and the resulting relaxation was helpful in getting me to that starting line.
We got to the Cornerstone Bed and Breakfast which was less than a mile from the starting line on Friday evening. This was a really great place with all marathon runners as guests. The owners’ daughters were doing the marathon too. The owners were super accommodating for our running needs and made it a pleasant experience. When we arrived we found a list of vegan restaurants. They even bought us Silk soy milk for our morning coffee! Thank you! We then had a nice dinner within walking distance of the B&B and got a good night sleep thanks to Nyquil and pure exhaustion. On Saturday our main task was getting to the Convention Center to pick up our numbers for my marathon and Scott’s half marathon.
The Expo was fun but we didn’t spend as much money as we had predicted even though I love shopping for running gear! We did find some great reflective winter running hats and gloves. And I got a cool black fitted shirt that has the “Philadelphia Marathon” printed on the front. Nothing like a little retail therapy to get through the day. My cold was a little better than Friday, but I still couldn’t be without tissues for my runny nose. After a visit to the Reading Terminal Market and a vegan cupcake splurge, we made our way back to the B&B for a big lunch close by. And then it was time to do an easy run to the start line and then back to keep the legs loose. We ran with one of the B&B guests, Jonathan who was doing his first marathon and ended doing great! It turned out to be a very easy and nice run to the starting line. It would be perfect for the morning!
After a very wonderful dinner at a great restaurant (details below in Food and Beverage Report ) we got to bed early. I was feeling a little better and got to sleep around 9pm. After the fire alarm incident in Hampton Beach it really didn’t come as a surprise to what would happen around 11pm! It turns out that the B&B is on the main drag from the Penn State campus and the Philly bars. We were awoken by mobs of college kids walking back and forth with open containers. And trust me, these kids were not using their “inside voices”. Even Scott who is more mellow about situations like this, found it amazing. Luckily by 1am the moving party had settled down outside and I was able to fall back to sleep.
With a 7am race start we decided to get up at 4am in order to eat our breakfast. This would give us plenty of time for the food to digest. We both ate 2 of my special pinole chia seed waffles that I made on Thursday evening, a banana and some vega sports drink. At 6:30am we met Jonathan and did a nice easy run down to the start line. The morning gave us perfectly cool weather at around 39F with some clouds. And I don’t think it got above the low 50s for my race. We were dressed in our warm “throw away” clothes which we would peel off right before the marathon start. It was so exciting to be at the race start. We made our way to our corals and enjoyed the scene of thousands of colorful runners. I was in great spirits and excited but not terribly nervous. My cold was under control and I was ready to run! I had done it! I had made it to the starting line
My goal that Jack felt was reasonable was running a pace of 7:15 minutes per mile for a 3:10 marathon. And I also felt this was very realistic with all the hard and smart training Jack gave me. But having the cold made this seem a bit daunting. When Jonathan asked me about my goal I told him I would just see how I felt and determine if a 3:10 was possible. I wasn’t going to put pressure on myself. I just wanted to do my best that day. So I was thrilled with a 3:09! The course was hillier than the Vermont City Marathon and it felt a bit harder too. According to my Garmin downloads there is about 400 more feet of climbing than the VCM. Of course not being in perfect health on race day may have made the course feel that much tougher. It’s a fantastic race course overall with great scenery, interesting roads, crowd support, city excitement, awesome volunteers and superb organization.
The first mile took us down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the heart of Philadelphia. This was so exciting and exhilarating. I almost felt tears of joy forming as I was running. The morning was cool and beautiful. The city was spectacular and there were thousands of runners all around me sharing this most amazing experience. It was like we were all “one” for a few special Zen moments . Then Scott ran up next to me and I knew he was starting off too fast. I told him he should slow it down and I also took the same advice as it was a fast pace! So after shutting it down a bit, my first mile was a smart pace of 7:17. Running down Arch Street towards the Delaware River had a very slight downhill which was fun and a bit speedier. After a few turns we were on Columbus Boulevard which took us along the Delaware River for mile 3. These last two miles were a little bit faster but reasonable and I was feeling fine and enjoying myself. My calves were a little tight but I wasn’t worried.
Miles 4-7 left the Delaware River and took us through more city streets. Chestnut Street was a great stretch through the heart of the city and there was lots of great crowd support. One thing I loved was having my name on my racing bib. Complete strangers were cheering me on and it was so great to hear my name! “Go Joyce” was just amazing coming from so many people. Random acts of kindness come in various capacities! I think every race should have our names on the racing bibs! While it’s great to have the crowd support, it’s also important to pay attention to your pace at the same time. I was not supposed to be kicking it in until mile 20 according to Jack. So I kept these miles between 7:12 and 7:16. My calves were still a little tight but I knew the upcoming hills might sort them out which was the case!
Mile 8 took us up the first significant hill of the race which was 34th Street and I was prepared for this. I read about the hills in various blogs and race reports and about Philly NOT being a flat course as advertised. Jess and Kathy had also warned me about the hills. And I hope someone who stumbles upon my blog will learn about the hills too! I ran the first hill conservatively as advised in one blog and wasn’t worried about a slower pace which really wasn’t bad at a 7:19. (Jack asked me about this mile after he saw my garmin data ) There was a good downhill for recovery on mile 9 and then another small hill after that. The longest climb of the marathon came at mile 10 on South Concourse Street through the park. Again I was conservative for this one too and ran calmly and smartly almost savoring the experience. Now in Vermont we eat hills for breakfast, but it’s always tough having hills in a marathon or half marathon! Luckily there was plenty of time after the hill to make up some speed through some fun twisting and turning roads and my pace ended up at a 7:15 for mile 10. “Good job” I thought to myself and this lifted my spirits. I enjoyed miles 11 through 13 which had some more good crowd support. I loved the people dressed up in costumes and the music on Martin Luther King Drive. This was a good road that brought us to the halfway mark. I was still running well and enjoying myself. Just to be clear, the first half of the marathon was great but it was never easy. It was a lot of work and effort maintaining a good smart pace and managing the hills. I was running well and feeling strong, but for me anything under a 7:30 pace is still HARD!!
At the halfway mark my Garmin told me that I had just run slightly over an hour and 35 minutes. Yikes! This was going to be close if I was going to make my goal of a 3:10 marathon! I decided to try and kick it in just a little. The biggest hills were behind me and the long stretch along Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill River would be a good opportunity to get myself into the “zone”. Unfortunately the downhill after the last big hill took it’s toll on my quads. I might have run down this hill too fast since I was feeling fatigue settling into my quadriceps muscles at around mile 14. Not good news but it wasn’t tragic either. I was eating my GUs every 30 minutes so I was well fueled and drinking plenty from the water stations. What I have learned from my USCF bike racing days is that you can go on for hours even after that fatigue and lactic acid starts to plague your quads. So I soldiered onwards! Mile 14 and mile 15 had a good pace of 7:09 and a 7:10. However at this point the race was getting very hard for me. I was wondering if I was feeling the effects of my cold at this point. I then decided to wait until after 20 miles to “kick it in” as Jack had advised. So miles 16 and 17 were slower at a 7:15 and a 7:13. There were highs and lows during these miles but I know that you just have to keep pushing onwards, taking each mile one at a time.
This photo makes me smile!
Once I reached mile 18 there was a tough left hand turn that took us on this tricky out and back route. There was a small bottleneck on the turn which went over this bridge. I looked at my Garmin and saw a pace of 9:20! Eeek! That is not good! So I picked it up on the downhill which still felt difficult. Luckily the uphill wasn’t too bad and I finished out this mile at a 7:25!! (Jack asked me about this mile too ). I wasn’t too worried as I was now back on Kelly Drive heading into the famous Manayunk area. I did my first International bike race in Philadelphia back in the 1990s that did many laps up the famous Manayunk hill. Spectators used to party like rock stars during the race and the cheering and music were epic! Luckily the marathon didn’t take us up that infamous hill. But the cheering and crowd support was still pretty festive and fun. It was so great every time someone yelled out my name! This part of the race had some smaller but manageable hills or rollers and having the crowd support was so helpful!
After completing mile 20 I left Manayunk and headed back down Kelly Drive for the last 6 miles. At this point I took inventory of myself. I had taken my electrolytes after 2 hours and was still doing well with my GUs and water. My quads were shot and I was definitely hurting at this point. But I wasn’t really that bad when I compare myself to bike races in the past. I still had some fire in me and knew that I am very good at suffering . I hadn’t hit the wall, but I was not feeling like a million bucks either. I still decided to kick it in a little for these last 6 miles. There was a nice man who thanked me for pulling him the last 10 miles. I then asked how it felt to run the last 6 miles. He wasn’t sure and said his legs had seized up. Sadly I never saw him again but hope he was OK and had a good finish.
Miles 21 and 22 were surprisingly good and strong and it was as if I had a second wind. My pace was a 7:05 and a 7:06 for those 2 miles. However they ended up taking a lot out of me. I decided that I would take the last 4 miles one at a time and manage my pace the best I could. I was hurting but still in the game! I could still make my goal! Luckily the course was still following the river along Kelly Drive and there were no significant hills and the roads felt fast. Miles 23 and 24 were a 7:09 and a 7:06. I was suffering but still hanging on. Then I remembered to do my last gel which was Mocha Cliff Shot with more caffeine. We had picked up a couple at an EMS store the previous night. This helped a bit but mile 25 was still painful. I remember someone screaming out that I looked awesome and to keep going! I did and managed a 7:10! Yes! I was going to make it!
I splurged for some professional race photos
Mile 26 was tough as there was a small hill that felt hard after all that time running. At this point I had caught up to a couple guys running together. One said to the other one, “watch out, we are going to get chicked”. It was definitely said in a friendly manner and the guy then said to me we should work together. The other guy dropped back and I could barely keep up with this fellow runner. But it did make me smile hearing that expression Luckily I hung onto a 7:15 pace for mile 26. I was actually surprised my Garmin reported such a good pace as my legs were fried and very heavy. That being said I did manage a fast and respectable finish for the final stretch. Wow! what an amazing feeling to cross that finish line! My Garmin told me I ran a little over 3 hours and 9 minutes. OMG!!!! This was the race of a lifetime for me! I was so grateful and incredibly happy. Words cannot adequately express what a great feeling and experience it was to cross the finish line in 3 hours, 9 minutes and 9 seconds especially after all that I had been through!
Scott’s half marathon went very well too! He had been sick with a bad head and chest cold for weeks. And he was still slightly sick for his race too. We kept referring to ourselves as “Sick and Sicker” on the ride down to Philly . Scott rocked his half marathon which went over the same course and hills as myself! He ended up with a Personal Record and a time of 1:38:07! Congrats Scott! You are getting fast!!
Post Race Celebration:
Sarah P and Eric D are another couple from the GMAA in Vermont who also did the marathon. They are both super nice people and awesome athletes who excel at running, triathlons, skiing, swimming, cycling and probably many more sports. We met them doing the weekly Catamount races in 2011 and other GMAA races. Because both Sarah and I had gotten sick before the race we didn’t make any plans until after the marathon. Sarah and I both ended up with Personal Records so we wanted to celebrate with some beers! Thanks to facebook we were able to make this happen! We met at a fun local beer bar called The Bishop’s Collar. The place was packed with runners but we lucked out with a table and plenty of good beer on draft. After a couple beers and some pub grub we said our good byes. It was so great to hang out with both Sarah and Eric. I would love to hang out with them more in the future!
Great beer and company at Bridgid’s!
Scott and I decided that we were still thirsty for more beers. My head cold had turned into a chest cold with endless coughing fits. Beer seemed to curtail my coughing, so it seemed logical to continue with more beer consumption and celebration. We found a great local bar called Bridgid’s. This was another place full of runners who completed the marathon and half marathon. We enjoyed a few yummy locally brewed Stouts and good conversation with some local runners. I really didn’t want to leave this place but we were again starving and took a cab to a Vegan pizza restaurant across town. I had discovered this place online and knew Scott would be thrilled as he loves pizza. More on that in the food and beverage report
On Monday after the marathon, we decided to walk around Independence Hall and check out the Liberty Bell before heading to NJ to visit with Scott’s relatives. The last time I was in Philly was for the Liberty Classic bike race back in the ‘90s. With the high heat that day I never had the energy afterward to see many of the sights. So this was my opportunity. Here are a few photos:
Food and Beverage Report:
While being a vegan is said to be tricky when traveling, we always seem to find good food wherever we go! For the long drive to Philly we stopped at our local bakery, On the Rise and picked up our bagels and tofu scrambles in a wrap which were delicious and so welcomed later that day. We discovered that on one of the rest stops off of I-87 in NY there is a Moe’s Southwest Grill with vegetarian options. We had very yummy black bean and rice burritos with salsa and guacamole. It was really good and filling! I had plenty of other snacks in the car for carb loading on the way down so I was happy to be doing well with my food intake on Friday in spite of being sick. On the drive back home on I-87 we found a Quiznos that offered a guacamole vegetarian sub with bread that didn’t have eggs or dairy. Score! It was yummy too!
On Friday night we walked from our B&B to a really hip and eclectic café called Sabrina’s that had several vegan options for us. We had this nice Penne Pasta tossed in spicy roasted red onion-cranberry chutney with sliced apples, sun dried tomatoes and fresh spinach.
After we picked up our race numbers at the Convention Center we headed over to the Reading Terminal Market and found some vegan chocolate chip cookies and vegan cupcakes at a bakery called the Flying Monkey. I love eating baked treats like this for carb loading! I’m serious! Sugar is my friend when doing half or full marathons!
For lunch we were back at Sabrina’s Café for the big meal of the day which Jack says is the most important before a marathon. I had the Crispy Tofu served over a soba noodle salad with a peanut sesame sauce, mango salsa and avocado. Scott had a delicious tofu scramble.
For Dinner we found a very nice restaurant called the White Dog Cafe that served local organic food with a vegan option on the menu. This was such a great place with excellent service and a live piano player in our dinning room. We both had the Stewed Tofu & Seasonal Vegetables with tomatoes, onion, garlic, dried fruits, and toasted Israeli cous cous. This was sooooo good! We only ate half as we were very tired of carb loading and feeling very full. So the leftovers after the marathon were most welcomed! Luckily the B&B had a guest fridge!
After our little pub crawl on Sunday night we took a cab to Blackbird Pizzeria, a totally vegan pizzeria! This place was awesome and the pizza was delicious with Daiya non-dairy cheese! I highly recommend checking this out whether you are a vegan or not. They even had baked vegan goodies. I had a cupcake and Scott loved the mint whoopie pie!
I had the pink cupcake! Yum!
Overall it was a great racing experience! I learned so much and had an amazing race. Thank you Philadelphia Marathon! It was the “best time of my life”