Or “that time I qualified for the Boston Marathon by two seconds.” My family, friends and I had enough suspense on Sunday to last a very long time so I figure there’s no need to keep you all waiting for the end of a saga race recap to know how it all turned out. So, here’s my story of how I got my BQ at the Philadelphia Marathon this weekend. With two seconds to spare at 3:34:58.
Let’s back up to Friday since I’m confident every part of this weekend contributed to Sunday. I told you about how my friends made these Nanas for Balance shirts, but I don’t think I mentioned that about ten of them were coming from Boston to Philly to cheer me on for that BQ. Between that entourage, my dad joining us from DC, and flood of support from the November Project community across the country – I had an unbelievable amount of people behind me. They kept me relaxed all weekend, and I was never really nervous for Sunday. I just felt loved, excited and ready.
Seven of us drove down on Thursday night so we could make NP Philly on Friday morning, and I had so much fun getting to know this tribe even though I didn’t actual do the hill repeat workout. A bunch of us went to a three hour breakfast afterwards, and basically spent the rest of the day wandering in between meals. We grabbed lunch (and cookies every day) in the Reading Terminal Market and browsed the expo after grabbing our race bibs and a casual photo shoot.
I basically spent all weekend laughing. Excellent pre-race core work, I assure you. We had a delicious dinner at Bellini Grill, where I ordered some kind of simple whole wheat pasta dish with sun dried tomatoes, broccoli rabe, and chicken. We were up early on Saturday because a bunch of friends were racing in the 8K, so I joined them for the start and went for a quick three mile shakeout run. I didn’t feel particularly loose but I rarely do within the first few miles of a run, especially when it’s cold out. The rest of the day was spent pretty much the same way as Friday but with a lot more time lounging in the hotel, where my friends decided to do a beer tasting so I could lay in bed nursing a Gatorade. I’m pretty sure they had just as good of a time this weekend as I did…
We joined my dad and roommate for dinner at Marathon on the Square, and I had another great pre-race meal of grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. I’m not too picky about what I eat before races as long as I get some protein and carbs, and I generally keep things simple without too much fiber. I passed out by 9:30 p.m., and woke up around 4:30 a.m. to eat two Bonk Breaker bars then tossed and turned until it was time to get up. One of the reasons I chose this marathon is because race morning is incredibly easy if you’re able to stay near the start. Our hotel was less than a mile away, so I left my room at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. start. Doesn’t get much better than that. I was in my corral by 6:50 a.m. and luckily had everyone right by my side until the starting gun went off.
My plan was to run as close to 7:55 – 8:00s as I could, as long as I could. The first half of the race flew by, and I held my pace right in the 7:55 – 8:05 range almost every mile. The course weaves through downtown Philadelphia, and the course is lined with fans nearly the entire first 13.1. The only downside is that you do need to weave through crowds a fair amount, especially at the water stops and while making a few sharp turns. There were a couple rolling hills between 8 – 10, but otherwise it’s fairly flat. I took my first two Huma gels at miles 5 and 11, and I saw my friends at miles 8 and 12 so I broke it up mentally by those markers.
A few people during the race commented on my support crew, and I promise you that I never took them for granted. I know how lucky I was having them out there, and they have no idea how helpful they were mentally. This is how I broke up the race – “I know I’m seeing my friends at miles 8 and 12. Brian at 13. NP at 17. Turn around at 20. NP again at 22. Then head down and finish.” You have to segment it like that or 26.2 becomes overwhelming. But anyways, back to the race. I met my friend and pacer, Brian, just after the 13.1 mark when I was coming in on pace at an 8 minute average, hitting the half at 1:45. At that point, I flipped my watch around and just followed Brian the rest of the way.
I will never be able to thank him enough. He took the thinking out of running for me, and I know that I would’ve gotten down on myself later in the race as I felt pace dropping but instead I just followed. He refilled my water, opened my gel packets for me, kept me focused and led me to run the most direct course possible – all things that made my race. We held pace until about 18, just after passing the November Project cheer station where I came through feeling really strong.
When you hit the wall, you hit it hard and it comes out of nowhere sometimes. I hit it much earlier in Ventura and fell a lot steeper to an average 9:30 pace, but this time I was able to maintain between 8:20 – 8:35 the last 8 miles. Brian kept me focused and unemotional. He set markers in the distance to pick up the pace and calculated just how much we could slow down to get me under 3:35. My legs felt really strong the entire way, but the nausea and overall exhaustion came hard. I could barely choke down my third gel at 18, but I was able to keep sipping on water and didn’t feel dizzy like Ventura. I kept reminding myself that this wasn’t supposed to feel easy and that I wouldn’t defeat myself before the finish line. Brian hopped off the course around 25.5 and told me I had to push it through the finish, but I barely registered what he was saying at that point and continued trucking along until I saw my friends screaming for me at the 26 mile marker. And then I sprinted.
I knew I was cutting it close, but I had no idea how close I really was. I crossed the finish line and my watch read 3:34:52, but I knew my satellite signal had gone in and out during the course so there was as chance I didn’t make it. Then I heard my friends screaming my name from the other side of the corral and holding up two fingers. I couldn’t really hear what they were saying, but I just started laughing and shaking my head. I couldn’t believe it.
I will never forget the moment I started running (hobbling) towards my dad and friends, who were bouncing up and down screaming nonsensical things at the top of their lungs. I have goose bumps just thinking about it again.
My goal was 3:30, but I’m so incredibly proud of myself that I didn’t throw in the towel when I knew 3:30 wasn’t happening. I could have slowed down so much more than I did, and I dug deep to sprint to the finish when I could barely make sense of where I was. Every moment counted, and there were so many things that went into my BQ. My coach, my support system, and ultimately my own strength. I never lost sight of my goal, even after Ventura broke me down, but I knew I’d get my BQ eventually. I didn’t exactly envision it so dramatically, but hey, it makes for a good story right? And for the running data nerds out there – here are my full splits:
But those don’t tell the full story. They leave out the best parts – when I heard the electrifying cheers from the NP Philly station a half mile away, when I saw my dad with his big goofy smile at the half way point, every single time I spotted my friends who were just as invested in my goal as I was, and when I saw them at 26, yelled a word I’m not going to type on the blog and thought, “Okay, let’s do this,” and sprinted to the finish, not knowing every second mattered. Each moment added up to my BQ, and I’ll remember Philly for years to come.
Thank you all for your overwhelming support. Now it’s time to recover, enjoy Thanksgiving with my family, and look forward to the next goal! Stay tuned