Philly Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, previously known to many as the Philadelphia Distance Run will always be a special race to me. The course is one of my favorites, the weather is always amazing, the time of year is perfect and my only big complaint is now that it’s organized by Competitor it’s just gotten too big and too expensive.
Crowded expos are NOT my cup of tea, so I made plans to go Friday on my lunch. Even though I got there a mere 30 minutes after it opened I still had to wait in a decent line to pick up my bib number. Organizationally it was great, signs were clearly posted w/ corrals etc. but they probably could have used a bigger space for the bib pick-up. Shirts were nice, but women’s sizes ran SUPER small. It seemed like they really knew this was going to be an issue and had a table solely for shirt size exchanges. Here’s the thing that really irks me about Rock n’ Roll races, and all things sponsored by the great empire of Brooks. Look Brooks are great shoes, Ralph runs in them and has nothing but love for them. I’m sure they’re clothes and things are great too although I don’t personally own any and I love that they are a running only focused company BUT I am not a Brooks girl. I am an Asics girl tried and true and it’s kind of disappointing that so much floor space is dedicated to one brand. I mean I get it, that’s what sponsors are for and all, but just saying. I kind of breezed through the rest of the expo as I wasn’t looking to spend any money and I had to get back to work.
The Race Organization:
I am going to be really honest after running this race a few times and it only getting more crowded one of my biggest fears was that the start was going to be so congested I would have to spend the 1st half just dodging around people. (Side bar – you are assigned your specific corral for a reason. If you’re predicted finish time is 2:30 you do NOT belong in a corral of people who’s predicted finish time is 1:45. Just saying.) The wave start between corrals was really helpful and I didn’t ever feel like there were too many people. There was only one water stop (the 2nd one) that was completely miss-managed (people were stopping and pouring their own cups of water) but otherwise they were really well staffed and supplied. The finish area was really well staffed with volunteers and I loved that the medical tent was literally right next to the finish line. I would know this only because I got sick as soon as I crossed the finish line and was immediately whisked into the tent to sit down and get water. As far as post race food there was plenty of water, Gatorade, the chocolate milk was a great touch and lots of snacks. Some kind of bag to put all the food into would have been great, it was kind of a hike to get back to Ralph with all that food. I also noticed something weird with the mile markers and heard a few other people along the course mention the same thing, the mile markers seemed to be .1 mile off (aka my watch showed me hitting 1 mile and then .1 miles later I hit the mile marker). I kind of chalked it up to take a lot of outside corners but who knows, maybe the course was really miss-marked?
Mile marker issues aside, my main draw to this race has always been this course. 8 miles of it run along Kelly Drive and West River drive in Philadelphia, which was pretty much the only place I ran when I first started running. What could be better than a race right in my own backyard? One where I had the course engrained in my memory. The other cool thing is the race starts semi-downtown which means spectator-city. Tons of people come out to cheer and support runners it’s such a rush running through all those crowds and I love reading people’s signs. “Worst Parade Ever”, still makes me laugh every time I see it even though it’s not new. You loop through the city for the first 4 miles or so, and then get to come running back past the start (again more awesome crowds, more cheering) and head west out on Kelly drive for about 4 miles. Fun fact: when I ran this race in 2007 as the Philadelphia Distance Run, the course was actually the opposite, and you ran out on West River Drive first, and then came back in on Kelly which I really preferred for reasons I will share in a minute. Kelly Drive is nice and shady, tons of tree cover and really scenic. Some itty bitty tiny little inclines but nothing I would ever call a hill. Around mile 9 you cross Falls Bridge and head back to the finish on West River Drive. Here’s the one thing I dislike about the course as a whole, West River Drive is all nice and shady and flat until about mile 11. Now you are two miles out from the finish, everything hurts, you just want to be done and the tree cover and shade is gone. You are running INTO the hot sun, and to top it all off the road has an extreme camber which makes running off to the side a bit of a challenge. And then right at mile 13 there is a little uphill to the finish. I heard a lot of people complain about this, but honestly I would have totally preferred it to the year they had the finish farther down and I came charging up that hill expecting to be met by the finish only to realize I had like .2 more miles to go. Talk about torture. Over the years it seems like they’ve made a lot of tweaks but the bones of the course have stayed the same which is what continues to draw me in. Flat, scenic, great crowd support, and completely familiar to me.
The Race Itself:
Last night I was pretty convinced I was not in shape to meet my top goal of 1:55. I was close, but just not there yet. 5am came WAY too fast, but I made my way through the motions of getting ready. Breakfast, coffee, race outfit, hair and make-up. Things stared going wrong before I even left the house and it was only toying with my nerves. I dropped my water bottle getting into the car and spilled water everywhere. A quick trip back into the house to fill it back up was fine but then I ended up leaving the water bottle in the car by accident. We got to the start so early I was actually the FIRST person in one of the porta-potties (yay!) but then had to pee again by the time it was time to line up at the start (boo!). I realized 5 minutes after being in the corral I forgot to take my inhaler. So many things just weren’t lining up and I was preparing myself for one of those “things just didn’t work out” kind of races. To quiet all the negative thoughts I just cranked up my music and told myself, “you better have the best damn race you’ve ever run, for yourself and for Ralph, you better give this race everything you have”. It’s no big secret that my self-pep talks are pretty to the point.
But then the race started and suddenly everything clicked into place. I started running and my feet just knew what to do. I actually ended up going out way too fast and had to force myself to slow down the first few miles. It felt good to know I was already under goal pace and still feeling so good. I seriously couldn’t believe it, but I kept on going. The miles seriously flew by and before I knew it we were halfway done. I knew it was going to feel manageable until around mile 10 and then I really needed to pick it up not let my fatigue slow me down. After mile 6 I stopped trying to slow down and I just went with whatever my body wanted to do. And then as I expected around mile 10 things started to feel hard, exactly as I expected. I caved and pulled out my headphones to get me through the last stretch. I kept pushing, and strangely enough even though I felt like I was slowing down my pace picked up. So many times during the whole race I actually doubted my watch. It couldn’t be right, I couldn’t be running this fast. But I was. My last three miles were the fastest of the entire race. I did NOT come here to quit, I did not come here to slow down, I did not come here to have a crappy race. I did the only thing I could do and I just kept going even though my 8:15 minute miles felt like 12 minute miles.
Oh and that finish, that grueling uphill finish. Ugh. My least favorite thing about the entire race. I pushed as hard as I could but I still came running into the finish with a pretty pissed off stomach. I thought I had won the battle over nausea at the finish line but apparently not. I must have looked something awesome because a volunteer came right up to me and asked me if I was ok. I put on quite the display right in front of the finish line (everyone who finished after me, you’re welcome) before being let into the med-tent. The funny part is I was so freaking proud of my finish time I could care less about getting sick everywhere. The med-tent doctor didn’t seem too impressed. Oh well.
Splits according to my Garmin
mile 1 – 8:27
mile 2 – 8:36
mile 3 – 8:51
mile 4 – 8:36
mile 5 – 8:50
mile 6 – 8:41
mile 7 – 8:39
mile 8 – 8:40
mile 9 – 8:32
mile 10 – 8:28
mile 11 – 8:19
mile 12 – 8:16
mile 13 – 8:12
The final official results
Overall it was an amazing day. I am still riding the highest of highs that pretty much nothing could bring me down from. I have been chasing, (literally) my 1:57 1/2 marathon PR for six years and crushing it felt so much more amazing then I ever thought possible.
Who knows, maybe I liked it just enough to come back next year.