Monday, December 8, 2014

Race Report: GORE-TEX Philadelphia Half Marathon

When I last left off, I had finished the Annapolis Running Classic (see race report here) and was driving two hours up to Philadelphia to get to the expo.  The early morning and 2+ hours of cold weather running started to get to me halfway through the trip, so I made a rest stop at the Maryland House Travel Plaza along I-95, the newly renovated rest stop just before the bridge over the Susquehanna River near Havre de Grace - one of the prettiest vistas along the I-95 corridor.  I filled the car with exactly $14 worth of gas and grabbed a coffee and a quick bite of pumpkin cheesecake to eat before I went back on the road.

With Front Runner NY members
Gen, Alan, and Michal
(photo by Alan M. Brown)
I arrived in the Philadelphia area around 2pm and proceeded straight for the Convention Center to pick up my bib and wander around the expo.  The traffic was pretty atrocious upon entering city-limits and exiting off the freeway - it seemed everyone was trying to get to the expo.  I finally gave up and parked in a nearby garage, knowing too well that I was gonna be charged a pretty penny (and I was... $26.  Ugh) and made my way to the expo.

Upon arriving, I ended up running into some members of my running club, Front Runners New York!  Alan, Gen, and Michal were all near the entrance with their bibs so I grabbed a quick picture with them before going in.  Shortly thereafter, I met up with my friend Jason, and we went around to check out all of the goings on at the expo.  It was decent sized for a "premier" American urban marathon, and I was glad to see a bunch of other booths of races being promoted that would happen along the eastern seaboard - even as far away as Quebec City!  Picked up a few handouts from those races to consider for the future.  I even was able to head to the booth for The Stick and purchase a replacement for the one that was confiscated from me at JFK the week prior, when I was on my way to Las Vegas; as well as a replacement set of Yurbuds covers, as I had lost mine in the hubbub of the pre-race activities before the half in Vegas.

Met up with Jason at the expo too!
After the expo, I had some time to kill, so I just decided to head directly toward where the Front Runners dinner was going to be held that night to find parking and just get some rest in the car... as well as refrain from having to pay for parking while I sat in the driver's seat with the hazards on.  After a little while, Jason texted me that he was at the restaurant so I threw some quarters in and headed to the restaurant for a glass of vino before dinner.  Not long after, members of Front Runners began to trickle in, and we headed upstairs (STAIRS!  I had already run one half that morning!) to have dinner.  Which took forever.  But whatever, despite all that, I had my carb-loading for the evening, and then headed out since I still had a 45 minute drive to my friend (and Ragnar Relay DC captain) Derek's home in Royersford, a suburb northwest of Philly, to rest for the evening.  Upon arrival, I met up with Derek's wife Nicole, since Derek had already gone to bed (he was running his first full marathon in the morning!), and soon thereafter tuckered out myself.

Bright and early, pretending to run
up the "Rocky Stairs" at the Art
Museum, before the race.
We woke up bright and early the next morning since the race started at 7AM, and we still had to drive into Philly, deal with traffic, and find parking.  Upon arrival, we found a spot in a slightly rough area in West Philadelphia (at least to Derek), only about a half mile from the start corrals in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The parking spot didn't have any marking on the curb or the street for me to think that I couldn't park there, other than a red sign that said "FDC" on the building right in front of the spot.  I later found out that "FDC" meant "Fire Department Connection" and I spent the next three hours worrying that I'd get ticketed, or worse, have my rental towed away. More on that later.

The latest couture at the Philadelphia
Marathon and Half Marathon...
So, we got to the start corrals, and the port-a-potty lines were already starting to get pretty long.  I separated from Derek and went to the purple corral and met up with Jason, and we waited for the start.  I stayed as warm as possible with two foil blankets. I also kept my Garmin underneath my jacket sleeve, as I didn't want to rely on pacing myself since the ultimate goal was just to get through the race.  Finally, we began - and I started my second 13.1 of the weekend!

Jason and I are aching to start!
The start line and downtown
Philly just before the race, while in
our corral!
The first mile was down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the scenic diagonal that runs through the cultural heart of Philly. We ran toward Arch street where we made a gentle left turn onto Arch Street toward the Delaware River.  After mile 2, we headed south along Columbus Boulevard next to the river for a mile and a half.  The first 5k was a bit of a blur, as I was just adjusting to getting my feet back under me.  We made a couple right turns and headed back up north; at mile 5, we ran alongside Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We made a left turn onto Chestnut Street, and then we ran down my favorite stretch of the race - two miles of downtown Philly, with crowd support on both sides of the street cheering us along.  I kept one earphone in my ear while I sang along to RuPaul's "Sissy That Walk" on repeat, and fed on the crowd's energy!

Once again, my Garmin reveals its distaste for urban areas
with tall buildings screwing with the GPS signal...
Just before mile 7, we crossed a bridge over the Schuylkill River into University City, where we began to encounter our first hills of the race. This is also where the cumulative mileage started to take it's toll on me - consider it mile 20, so it's not much of a surprise.  We passed through Drexel's campus along 34th Street along another rough hill and then across an overpass near the Philly Zoo.  Another hill hit at the 9 mile mark entering West Fairmount Park, and around this area was a winding path where there was a group of ladies who were cheering for the runners, and had their own personal coffee and donut area set up as they cheered.  Technically, it was for them, but I eyed their food longingly and politely asked for a donut, which they obliged.  I proceeded to run, with donut for the next few minutes... and it was such a needed donut - that pink frosting, that soft sugary deliciousness...  Runners running near me couldn't help but laugh, while I exclaimed, "Hey! I run so I can eat. Don't you?!" We rounded the corner at Mile 10 past the Please Touch Museum and finally got some Clif Shot gel as we made our way to the turn around point before hugging the shoreline of the Schuylkill River as we made our way back toward the Art Museum.  The last two miles were some of the roughest, mostly because we could SEE THE ART MUSEUM and know it was the finish line right there... well, at least for us Half Marathoners.

Victory Handstand for Half #11 / State #9!
See, the cruel part is that as we made our way on the bridge across the Schuylkill before hitting Mile 13 in front of the Art Museum, the half marathoners are directed to the right toward the finish line (essentially, our start line), while the full marathoners are directed toward the left to begin the second half of the race toward Boathouse Row, East Fairmount Park, and the rolling hills of Manayunk before heading all the way back to the same finish line.  I made my way to the finish, happy that I actually finished in 2:23:29 and only about 9 1/2 minutes slower than the previous day's half.  After getting my medal, heat sheet, some snacks in my system, and through the finisher's chute, I made my way back toward my parking spot, hoping and praying that it survived the last 3+ hours and didn't get ticketed or towed.  And thank the heavens, it was not.  Seems the police were busy having to manage a race or something.  I reparked the car in another spot (actually in the pay lot we were initially going to go that morning, however there was no attendant when I arrived so I didn't pay!), and then headed back toward the finish line to meet up with Nicole who was patiently waiting with her one year old daughter Madison for Derek!

Celebrating our epic finish of
the Philly Half and Full!
Derek finished his first marathon, and we proceeded to head to a much-needed lunch at Rembrandt's Restaurant & Bar in the Fairmount neighborhood, located near the Eastern State Penitentiary.  After a beer and a delicious burger, I was all set and ready to get back into my car and head back to Newark Airport to drop it back off at the rental.  The drive back was the most difficult 90 minute drive I've ever done, having to fight my drowsiness from 48 hours of go-go-go.  At the same time, I figured I had just enough gas to get me back to the airport, and I was told to bring it back as close to empty as possible.  Little did they know I would take that literally and do just that - my odometer/gas gauge had an indicator of "miles before empty," and when it had 30 miles left, it stopped registering and began to blink at me... for the next thirty minutes.  I figured by the time I got back to Enterprise there was maybe five miles of gas left in the car.  I arrived, groggily got all of my stuff and trudged slowly to the AirTrain, NJTransit, and to the subway, where I was greeted with crazy delays, before heading home, exhausted beyond belief.

And I was so exhausted... that I called into work the next day sore.  I couldn't move.  I felt more tired than after Chicago!  I took the day off to recover, and went back to work the next day, grateful that I didn't have another run for two more weeks.  And with that, I completed my 11th half and 9th state in my quest to finish a half in every U.S. state!

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