If you are seeking a race report boasting a great marathon time or a fantastic experience with perfect race conditions, this is not that post. My story is one filled with unfortunate choices, grit and perseverance, and some wind and cold sprinkled in along the way. A few days after the event, I’m starting to find just a bit of humor in the way the race unfolded.
In the early days of the pandemic in 2020, our family was signed up for the Mountains 2 Beach marathon in California. It was to be over Memorial Day weekend, and it would have been Xander’s first marathon. They offered a half on the same day, so Elizabeth signed up for that distance. We never did get to complete our race, though the 3 of us managed our own 26.2 with Elizabeth as our support team. It was great fun! Just 2 and a half years later, Elizabeth was ready for her own marathon challenge. She signed up for Philly and started her training. Scott and I were in the middle of a crazy season of the Finger Lakes Running Club Challenge. We jumped into this with two energetic feet, letting it quickly consume our lives for the entire summer. This culminated with an unassisted 100K on the 10 challenge courses with friend, Teressa.
Shortly after that wrapped, Elizabeth mentioned something about, “when we go to Philly.” She is 21, and somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that we were going with her. I thought this was her thing and she’d be heading down with friends. I wasn’t sure I was up for spectating a fall marathon. Why not just run? We were in decent running shape and it would be more fun to be together. Scott and I signed up and then launched into fall training.
You know the race is on pavement, right?
After a summer of mostly trail running, tired legs, and a busy fall schedule, I decided my training would be almost exclusively on the Black Diamond Trail near my house. It is a nice cinder path, mostly flat, soft underfoot, and generally lovely to run on. I put the miles in rather easily. It wasn’t the training load I’d normally have, but I did run most days of the week, I hit consistent mileage, and I managed the long runs without struggle. I’ve always been pretty good about kicking myself out of the house after school to run and this fall was no exception. I did make my first mistake as the fall training kicked in though. People would ask me if I was doing Philly and I always said, “we’ll see.” Truth was, I was signed up and would be doing it. Adding this doubt to my speech was not my best choice for framing a positive race. Scott liked to remind me regularly as I drove to the start of the trail head that the race was on pavement. He thought it would be wise to train somewhat on the surface I’d be running on. I did log a few runs on the road, including more than half of one of my long runs.
I have a pair of Saucony Rides in black and a pair of New Balance 1080s. Both in black. You see where this is going, right? One day I made it 5 miles of my long run in one of each shoe. I never even noticed. I came home for a water stop and Elizabeth pointed it out to me while I was standing there sipping. We all had a good laugh, the story was shared and my line was “well they were the same color.”
You can’t control the weather
The New York City marathon was one of the warmest on record. Elizabeth had tried to get into this by lottery but hadn’t made it in. This is how she chose Philly in the first place. In the 10 days before the race, we started to look at the forecast. 30s. Windy. Thank goodness, no precipitation. We started to remember past races. Sarah had run Boston the hottest year, Scott ran NYC when it was so windy that they had to change race plans so things didn’t fly away, and Elizabeth and I ran the Women’s Distance Festival 5K on a day so wet that I almost lost a contact lens while running. 30s and wind wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t the ideal conditions one hopes for on a first marathon, especially after a very temperate fall running cycle.
Little Miss Rush
I have a new job this year and one of the key life benefits is that it requires fewer hours of work at home. Technically, I have promised my family that I will stop working all the time at home. But, I also have my Emoticakes business and they all know that is a lot of hours. Somehow, between my day job and cake job, Saturday morning turned into 5 hours of work. I had things I needed to complete for school, baking that needed to be completed, deliveries that had to be made, and of course, I had to pack for the marathon. By the time we left, Scott and Elizabeth were a little frustrated with my lack of participation and my last minute everything. One of the final things I grabbed were my shoes, making the decision not to bring a back-up pair, because if I brought them, I’d have to make a choice on race day. Fewer choices are usually good for me. I didn't know it now, but I would end up regretting this decision.
Not typically someone very focused on video documenting, I grabbed my phone camera and started recording our entry into Philadelphia. It was beautiful and I was feeling punchy. Before long we were at the hotel, but the expo was due to wrap in just under 2 hours. Elizabeth was really excited about the expo, having been there as an 8th grader when she ran her first half. She remembered the food samples, the activities and all the excitement of a big city event.
We skipped unpacking and dashed over there. I was wearing a vest with zippered pockets and a winter coat with zippered pockets. On the way over, Elizabeth and I were walking too fast for Scott and he was frustrated. As we arrived, I went to take out my wallet from my coat zippered pocket and it wasn’t there. I freaked out thinking it had dropped or been stolen. Elizabeth dashed inside, planning to beg them to give her my bib. Scott and I ran out to try to find my wallet. Moments later, I remembered I had a vest on as well and pulled it out of that pocket. Scott stared intently at me as we walked back in while I looked down at the floor. This was not starting well.
We got our bibs. Scott and I registered at the same time, but my bib didn’t have my name on it. This is one thing I love about big races - people cheer your name as you run and you can pretend you have a lot of friends in the fans as you hear your name along the 26.2. Wandering through the very sparse exhibition area, we wondered aloud, “is this just what post Covid expos are like?” or “did we arrive too late?”
Dinner and Christmas village
Soon it was time to head back to dinner with our friends Arthur and Emilie. Art and friend Alex were planning to run together and Art’s wife, Emilie would spectate. Alex’s family was also there to support her. We met at LaScala's Fire and dined together on vast quantities of pasta. This was a different location of the same restaurant I’d eaten at when I ran this race with Chantelle, Rob, and Jenny in 2013. The vibe was completely different from the other location, but it was fun to hang with friends and talk about our upcoming race.
At LaScala's Fire with Art and Emilie
On the way there we enjoyed wandering through the Christmas village in the city. I took a bunch of pictures to capture the vibe of the evening before the race. It was really pretty and I was starting to feel pretty optimistic about the day ahead.
Scott and Elizabeth posing in Christmas village
The Important Thing
Years ago, at a work training, the trainer used Margaret Wise Brown’s, The Important Book to illustrate the power of focusing on outcomes in our teaching. As I opened my bag to unpack at 7:45 after arriving home from dinner, I gasped. I brought two of the same foot shoe. Yup. Saucony Ride and New Balance 1080s, but not one of each foot. The SAME foot. I had 3 sports bras, 2 shirts, 2 pairs of tights … but no viable shoes.
As I stood there staring at my shoes, Elizabeth was on the phone in a flash. Within seconds she had contacted an Asics outlet store nearby to ask them if they had any neutral shoes in a size 7.5. Yes. But they close in 14 minutes. We were a 20 minute walk away, 18 floors up in a busy hotel and I had my pajamas on. Scott opened the Uber app, grabbed his shoes and Elizabeth put her coat on as she told the person they were on their way. I just stared at my shoes, and texted my friend Megan. She and her wife Alexis had run the half that day. I wondered if either of them wore a 7.5 or close, and if they were even still in town. They were in town, but the closest size match was an 8.5. Still, Alexis was willing to let me wear her shoes and that was surely better than my Allbirds leisure shoes or Elizabeth’s spare pair of 9.5s.
We are not Type A
They arrived home with the shoes only due to Elizabeth’s fast thinking and their team approach to getting there fast, convincing the store to stay open late for them, Uber, and having just enough time. They were happy as larks, talking about how great they were as a team. I was so grateful. I started to picture success. I texted Megan back to thank her and Alexis, letting them know I had shoes!!
My new shoes from Asics. I'm so grateful to Elizabeth, Scott and the store employees for staying open to help!
I was also feeling very much like a third wheel. Elizabeth and Scott are both people you want to have near you in a crisis. They think quickly and stay calm. I was missing Xander - my partner in crime. We lovingly joke that he is my kid - a creative, somewhat clueless wonder (together, we are usually the cause of the crisis, not the cure). Xander is the kid who forgot his ski jacket for a ski race, and took someone else’s skis back to the hotel for a big race weekend. Meanwhile, I’m the mom who didn’t even notice! We’ve shared a million mishaps together over the years. I found myself really missing him tonight.
He called to wish us luck and we regaled him with the shoe story. I told him I missed him. His response upon hearing the debacle was, “yes mom, we are not type As are we?” We all had a good laugh as we settled into bed for the evening.
Sleep, snark, and security
The last two times I ran this race, I went through security so early that we just stood around for almost 2 hours. This year, we’d follow race directions and be more optimistic. We planned to arrive by 6 for the 7 am race. We set our alarms for 4:15 (we were 3 blocks away), and prepared to watch a World Cup ski race on Peacock in the morning as we enjoyed our bagels with peanut butter the next morning.
I settled into bed thinking I would sleep well. Only I didn’t. The last time I had sleep that poor before a race was when I didn’t sleep at all before the Rachel Carson Challenge, also in Pennsylvania. I took this as a good omen - that race went well. They say that it is the sleep two nights before the race that matters so I was good.
I started to get dressed, feeling gratitude for my new pair of shoes. The vision of two shoes for the same foot was burned into my brain. Still, I was worried about what to wear for the wind. I looked at Elizabeth wearing two shirts and a vest and said, “oh you are wearing two shirts?” She sniped back at me “don’t make your decision based on what I’m wearing.” My third wheel feelings kicked back into gear and I let my head get into a dark place of, “why did I come? I was messing up their race” and just kind of spiraled into negativity.
The 3 of us in the hotel lobby before we headed to the start
Soon we ventured to the security lines. We were almost at the end of a not so bad line when they got on the PA and suggested we head around the corner to a shorter line. Of course we listened, only to find ourselves in a much longer queue that would eat up almost an entire hour. Already irritated, now I felt worry. Would I even have time to hit a porta potty before we started? We’d have no time to connect together and share the butterflies and thrill of starting a race together. We made it through the line with just enough time to hit the end of a new line for the bathrooms (why don’t they have trough porta potties for men by the way?) Elizabeth and I split up because I didn’t trust the line we were in, and she made it through faster than me, but we did connect in a corral behind the one we had planned to start in, shed our Salvation Army clothes and got ready to run.
The picture can't convey how long this was. I wish we had headed over at 5:30 so our pre-race time could have felt fun
The first 6 miles
These miles were much like any other marathon I’ve run except that my glute and hamstring were feeling tight by mile 2. I was a bit worried, but trusted I’d be ok. Fueled by the crowds, I found myself running near the 4:10 pacer with Elizabeth by mile 4. I fondly remembered her first half here in Philly in 2014 when we ran every step of the race together even though we’d never trained together. I imagined crossing the finish line with the 4:10 crew and meandering back to the hotel together. After mile 6, I lost sight of her. I hoped she was good - just a bit faster or slower than me - and I felt confident that we’d meet again later in the race. The pacer was pointing out holes and turns and it had a nice vibe.
At mile 12, running gently downhill, I was feeling a bit tired. It was an out and back portion of the race and I saw a quadruple amputee coming the other direction. He was on a skateboard, using one arm to head up the hill. The woman next to me and I cheered for him, and I felt chills thinking about the grit that took. I said aloud, “wow he is incredible” and the woman next to me said, “and I thought I was working hard.”
I thought about how trivial my shoe story was compared to the very real obstacles so many faced. I pushed forward, feeling grateful.
I had solid splits that averaged to sub 10 for the first half. I was cruising along feeling like I’d finish somewhere between 4:10 and 4:30. It wouldn’t be my best time ever but it would be something I’d consider to be in my margin of normal.
Out of nowhere at mile 16 my hamstring started to seize. It seized in the way it had when I had to drop the Wineglass 2016 marathon at mile 13. Only this time was different because I didn’t go into this with an injured hamstring so I wasn't really expecting this turn of events.
I made a deal with myself. I’d walk one song and run one song and give it a bit of a rest and then resume normal running as it recovered. It is worth mentioning music here. I waffle about playlists in races. I used to work hard to pre-select music I thought I'd enjoy in the race. Then, I went through a phase where I just dumped songs in or reused things from old lists. This time, I added almost 10 hours of music and put it on shuffle. I enjoyed some of my songs, but 10 hours was excessive and I didn't hear a lot of the songs that I love. I also liberally dumped 80s songs in. Hearing Air Supply, "All out of Love" at mile 17 wasn't much help in pushing me forward (I love the song but ... not the best for running!)
It could be a 7 hour finish
Thank goodness I didn’t really study this course well. It had changed since the last time I ran, and I figured that I would have more fun if I didn't know what was coming. If I had realized how close I was to the finish at mile 16, I may have considered dropping. By mile 18, my hamstring was not firing at all if I ran. It was excruciating and I was only able to run for a minute or so before having to walk.
With 8 miles to go and figured I’d hit 20 minute miles in the condition I was in. That is another 160 minutes to finish. Our check out time was 2 pm. I braced myself to be picked up by Scott and Elizabeth at the finish, and to head straight home.
What really happened
Luckily, I can’t do math while running. I hadn’t factored in that a 20 minute mile was only an additional 10 minutes per mile from what I was already planning on running. A predicted finish of 4:30 with 10 ish minutes meant that for the last 8, I’d have an additional 80 minutes. That meant just under 6 hours for a worst case.
My splits for the last 8 miles ended up at 11:34, 13:09, 13:33, 12:32, 12:50, 12:54, 13:37, 13:09, 12:22, 11:19. Nothing close to the worst case 20.
I ran/walked with my leg skewed out sideways, putting all my weight alternately on my left leg or the outside edge of my right foot. I tried not to look at spectators as they said, “you’ve got this!” and “you look great” because I really didn’t. I focused in on the other folks struggling around me and recognized we were all falling short of what we hoped, but continuing to put one foot in front of the other. We were a silent tribe of struggling runners. One man I leap frogged with had a sign on his back, “I’m a survivor” and “I run for my mom.” I remembered my sister’s words, “you are good at doing hard things” as I continued forward.
In the chute
As I rounded the final corner, a woman said, “only 800 to go!” My brain has a solid image of an 800. Two loops around the track. I ran 10 miles around the track this summer on a blazing hot day. I could trod on for a measly two laps. I “ran” this entire 800 to the end, got my medal and heard my name announced.
Relief and embarrassment set in at the same time. I didn’t quit. But, I was an hour off my best marathon time ever and far outside my expected performance today. I said I just wanted to finish, but I didn’t really mean that. I meant, “I’ll be happy with a 4:30” because in my mind that was the time I was trained for.
My hands were cold enough that I couldn’t get my phone out of my belt or even manage to use them to call Scott on my watch. Everything looked unfamiliar in the daylight, and without the pin on the map of my phone, I felt lost. I felt like a zombie in a sea of other zombies as we all trudged forward in our silver blankets. I struck up a conversation with a crew of runners, finally stopping to open my belt and call Scott. I just needed confirmation that I was heading in the right direction, toward the hotel. He told me where to head and I hung up on him. Literally. “Great job!” dial tone. I was so upset with myself, I couldn’t even be nice.
The drive home and moving forward
Our ride was uneventful. Both Scott and Elizabeth had outstanding races. I listened to them share their experiences and tried not to backseat drive my race. The truth of the matter was that I wasn’t able to run after mile 18. Even when a good song came on I couldn’t rally - my hamstring was just not working right. It wasn’t fair to beat myself up - I tried to be kind to myself and honor that I had done the best that I could on that day. I didn’t quit.
What’s next for me? Well, 2023 is our 50-50 and our 25th wedding anniversary. I turn 50 in April and Scott turns 50 in July. We’ve always done something special for these milestones and this year will be no exception. We’re toying with doing the Finger Lakes 50s and doing the 50 mile distance (or 50K distance) or maybe a different 50 miler where you can’t drop to the 50 K (because that one is super easy to drop down to mid-race). I am going to take a month long break from running and focus on yoga, strength, cycling and wellness in general. I’m looking forward to that break. In the winter, we’ll hit Mithacal Milers again. This is a group I enjoy, and now they even offer an “injured” option so that if I don’t feel like I want to be doing speedwork on Tuesday nights, I can join that crew or run my own pace and still have the group warm-up and cool down.
All in all, despite the challenges, this was a good growth opportunity and a great chance to show myself that when faced with a time result that I know I won’t be proud of, that I was able to push through instead of taking the DNF.
Scott wrote about his much more positive experience and shared all the details of the Amazing Race shoe team. Check it out!
F 45-49: 192/314