Our weekend in Philadelphia was so epic that it would take 10 blog posts to sum up it, but fear not – we’ll limit it to 2…or 3. This one is going to focus on the marathon itself. And It’s long – my apologies.
It was a tough race for me. This is an understatement. Let’s just say that the wheels started to come off the bus at the Expo…
THE EXPO you ask? Yes, the freaking Expo. Nothing against the Expo itself – it was fabulous, filled with great energy and interesting products. But I think it is also where I ate something that nearly sent me into anaphylaxis. It was either there or at the 7-11 across the street (now affectionately referred to by us as the “Goddamn 7-11.” Apologies to 7-11. I know they didn’t mean it. Even bigger apologies to WaWa, since Colby kept calling it the Goddamn Wawa, and they had no involvement with the “situation.”)
I have written before that I have food allergies that prevent me from eating anything Asian or from health food joints (soy), ever entering Bubba Gump’s (shrimp) and, most devastatingly, indulging in Nutella (hazelnuts). Despite reading the label of everything I put in my mouth on Saturday, I had a pretty severe allergic reaction to something around 4 PM. We have decided to let Colby write the details of my descent into allergy hell because she got to watch it unfold and frankly, we are twisted people who found humor in it and I want her to make me laugh about it again (now that we know I am not going to die). I will say that if you ever find yourself in an urgent medical situation, you could not have better people beside you than Colby and Diva Cindi. #truth. I was so, so lucky to have them with me.
So, from 4 PM Saturday until we left for the race at 5:30 AM Sunday, I really wasn’t sure whether I would be able to race. Being fully doped up on Benadryl, I wasn’t able to focus enough to obsess over it, but I was pretty anxious and bummed.
Getting ready for the race, I decided I could do it. Much of the swelling in my face had subsided, my breathing was totally normal and the nauseated feeling I had was probably more due to mainlining Benadryl than the allergic reaction itself. OK, Girls, It’s GO Time!!
We walked over under crisp dark skies. Bag check couldn’t have been easier. Porta-potties were a different story, but through perseverance and MacGyver-like strategy, we found some that had a manageable line and made it through before corral line up. Barely.
With only minutes to spare, the elites were off. Colby and I were in the second corral, so our group started about 10 minutes later. The sun was coming up, the skyline was gorgeous, and despite my residual nausea, I decided I was going to enjoy this race.
All I can say about the first half is that it was awesome. We wound through the city streets, past gorgeous buildings, supportive crowds, rollicking energy and even a few frat houses. My stomach did not feel great, but my mind felt happy and my running felt strong. It was sheer joy and exactly why I run.
Just before mile 13, Colby, Diva Cindi and the rest of the half marathoners split off to the right toward the finish and we marathoners headed left for a jaunt along the Schuylkill River. Shortly after the split, my stomach really started to give me trouble. I’m not the type to share details, so suffice it to say that I had to visit 4 separate porta-potties between mile 14 and mile 24. I was not happy. And being the true sicko runner that I am, I was less bothered that I was sick than by the fact that I was wasting time –serious time– waiting in line for porta-potties. During a marathon. Ugh. But when it comes down to it, what can you do but cover up your Garmin and move on? Which is exactly what I did.
Around mile 18, I realized that I was no longer going to be able to eat or drink during this journey, and that anything – including water – would just come back up on me, so thus concluded the fuel and hydration portion of my race. In case anyone was wondering, Benadryl is not a performance enhancer and you should make every effort to avoid having to dope yourself with it before an endurance event. My system was in chaos. I did stop at every water stop to wash my mouth out with Gatorade and water, but didn’t dare swallow anything.
The silver lining is that my stomach is my weak spot. Always. Knock wood, I never have problems with my muscles. I happily don’t even know where my IT band is. I walked around in 4 inch heels at work yesterday -2 days after a marathon – with nary a twinge in my calves or hamstrings. I am blessed with resilient muscles. But I also have an Irish stomach, so I know stomach problems. Quite well. And it is the rare training run that doesn’t leave me with some stomach problem or other, so I know I can power through it. Will I need a potty break? Yes. Will it slow me down? Yes. But it need not stop me, and my training has taught me this. So the fact that I was going to have to run 8 more miles with no gels or water and probably a visit or three to a porta-potty didn’t panic me as much as it might. It mostly just bummed me out because I knew I had to throw all hope of getting a great time out the window. And with all of my splits through mile 14 in the low to mid-8’s with even a high 7 thrown in, I had been pretty excited about seeing how fast I could cross the finish. Bummer.
But it wasn’t all misery. There were some great cheer sections and awesome bands. The Manayunk neighborhood was rocking and people were handing out beers (I declined, natch). The run along the river was pretty, and I was running the race, which was in question a mere 12 hours before. So I really was grateful, despite the difficulties.
By Mile 22, I was really feeling the effects of no fuel or hydration, so I went into autopilot. Not finishing was not an option. And I knew I could do it, even if it wouldn’t be pretty and it certainly wouldn’t be a PR. I set my mp3 to “repeat” and for each of the last 4 miles, I chose one song and played it over and over until the next mile. I recommend trying that if you find yourself in a tough spot. It really helped me to zone out and keep to a rhythm. At mile 26, headphones came off and I ran toward the finish line like it was my job. I did it! I freaking did it. I really felt like I earned that medal.
This was my second marathon, and although I’m happier with my time from the Marine Corps Marathon last year, I think I’m prouder of my performance in this one. I didn’t give up. Not before the race and not during the race. I always want to think of myself as someone who doesn’t give up, and I feel like I proved it. And for that, I feel really, really proud.
I also can’t help but think back about how important training is. You think you’re just training for endurance, but you’re not. By running all sorts of distances in all sorts of conditions for months before a marathon, you’re also training to deal with all of the adversities that may befall you on race day – bad weather, twingy calves, tight hamstrings or an upset stomach. Dealing with your own weaknesses in training gives you the confidence to deal with them if they happen on raceday. Training sometimes feels like a chore, but really, it’s a gift.
So, Philly is in the books! Loved the city, loved the people and really enjoyed the course. So glad I did it. And with that, I’m off to call my allergist to figure out which food I need to add to my no-no list.
Oh, and JUST WAIT until Colby posts her recap. Be prepared to spit your coffee out.