November 20, 2005


That was a good way to end the running year. A 4:15 marathon PR in Philadelphia.

It may sound odd to then say I didn't think I had a great day, but I'm happy and it was a good race. In some ways the marathon PR was kind of soft, dating from 1999 and my first marathon. But it also dated from a year when I went on to run sub 34:00 for 10000, and chase the 5000 time into the low 16s. In that marathon, without the benefit of such modern things as gel (this was the twentieth century, kids) I cruised through 20 miles--following the instructions of running friends to not do anything stupid before then. Feeling great I picked it up a little and found out what the wall was a couple of minutes after 37km (23 miles).

The dirty little secret of marathon running is that up to 18 or 20 miles it can be great. Sure, some pain is to be expected in the last 2-8 miles as the mind pushes the body through what it really was not designed to do: race on asphalt for 26 miles and 385 yards. But the first 20 miles can hold some of the sheer delights of running, of running along at a fast pace you can sustain for mile after mile.

Today I didn't get that. But I'll be back for more cracks at the distance. The first mile was ok, but then it was slightly downhill and mile 1. Nothing should be read into how you feel at mile 1. Of course, feeling bad in mile 1 can save you from charging out too fast. Never a bad thing. But mile 2 on, oh my ... Never quite settled down. It was mostly my feet telling me that the shoes were laced just a little too tight, but that discomfort always seems to spread up the leg. Maybe, just maybe from 12-13 I had a taste of that glorious marathon feeling, but after 13 I was applying myself to the task. It wasn't coming as naturally as I'd hoped, but each mile kept ticking over in pretty much the same time so I stuck at it.

But here's the rub: I never felt awful, and that was the making of a 1:24/1:25 PR. I kept on expecting it to feel awful, but it never came. After a first mile that was a tad too quick things settled down into a steady routine of 6:22-6:28 miles that saw me to half-way a sprightly 1 second faster than at Grandmas. The 6 mile haul (14-20) out to Manayunk was enlivened by three things; the first at 16 when the guy I'd just passed (looking a little ragged) ran into the cone and hit the road, then at 18 the woman who eventually got fifth caught up to me. Since at that point I was generally passing others, it was good to have someone to run with in the dead spot before Manayunk and the spectators there. And at 19 I saw the famous Duncan Larkin powering along back to the finish.

Having clocked consistent miles around 6:24 through 21 I knew that I had a good chance of running somewhere in the upper 2:40s if I could hold it together. The 22nd mile was a little slow (6:44) with the hill that Duncan had mentioned and then a sharp little ramp back to Kelly Drive--the riverside road you are on for miles 14-18 and 22 to the finish. But hey, I was at 22 and I had not hit the wall. I could follow the advice in Pfitzinger and Douglas's Advanced Marathoning and take increasing risks all the way to the finish. The 23rd and 24th mile both ticked over in the low 6:30s, so I was losing ground on 2:48 and any brief thoughts at 20 about a negative split were gone. But slipping just 10 seconds a mile in these miles is way better than in previous marathons where I was wondering how 6:30s turned into 7:30s and worse.

The moment you know to expect, where all you can think of is the finish came about half-way through the 25th mile, and I see from revieiwing the watch that that was another 6:44, but with less than 10 minutes to go I was happy to keep telling myself to keep the stride rate up, just focus on getting from cone to cone, and pulled through the last mile and 385 yards in 8:06 (6:39/mile).

I could see the high 2:48s ticking by as I came down the straight, and it was a momentary disappointment not to get there in time. But on a day I never quite settled into it I was happy to take the PR, the decent splits, the renewed enthusiasm for the marathon that comes with it, the prospect of an easy couple of weeks, and then a build-up for a possible half-marathon in Duluth in June, and then the Chicago marathon. If I can push down into the low 2:40s I'd be happy, but to do that I need to spend spring and early summer working on the 5km - half marathon end of the range.

late updated random thoughts I took gels at the start, 7 miles, 13 and 20, and credit them in part for not hitting the wall. All those tempo and marathon pace runs probably helped too.

What's with the silly medals marathons give out? The t-shirt at least is functional, the medal not so much.

Philadelphia has a decent marathon with a nice course that is pretty quick. The major ups and downs are all over by 12 miles. Worth thinking about it for your late fall marathon schedule. Interesting mix of downtown urban with parkway. Kelly Drive was as pretty as any area on the Twin Cities course, "most beautiful urban marathon" and all that. But in Philly you also race down South Street, past stores like Condom Kingdom and Erogenous Zone. How many miles of changing leaves, lakes and rivers does any race need? Great variety at Philly, which I preferred. Of course most-to-all people will have to give up racing the ubiqituous Turkey Trot on Thursday if you do this marathon. The mid-40s with sun they organized for today was also a treat. If they can just manage to order more porta-potties for the starting area they could become an even bigger national marathon.

Amazingly I am able to walk down stairs facing forward with minimal discomfort. I expect that this will change by tomorrow morning, and I will be hobbling around for a couple of days. Maybe I didn't run hard enough?

Posted by robe0419 at November 20, 2005 03:50 PM | TrackBack


Not the PR you wanted, but shaving 4:15 off your previous time is no small feat. Great job of bouncing back after Grandma's. I look forward to hearing about the race in-person. Enjoy the rest of your trip and I'll talk to you when you get back.

Posted by: Zeke at November 20, 2005 08:53 PM

Evan, congratulations today on one hell of a time! Sorry I never saw you other than at mile 19 when I couldn't remember my own name. Best of luck on your recovery.

Posted by: Duncan L at November 20, 2005 08:55 PM

Congrats on the great time. Sorry it couldn't be the perfect day for you, but like you say, you'll have a few more cracks at it.

Posted by: Dylan Wiek at November 21, 2005 12:46 PM

Congratulations on the PR, Evan, and thanks for the kind words about our oft maligned city.

Posted by: seebo at November 21, 2005 04:47 PM

How bizarre, you actually recognized me for that photo on my blog? Mildly creepy, but even odder since I ran Grandma's this year too. Did I cheer for you as you went by? I'm afraid in that huge, monsterous purple fleece I was wearing, I was frightening the oncoming runners as well as getting in their way. Well, good job on the PR. I'll add you to my reading list.

Posted by: Chelle at November 23, 2005 02:43 PM
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