The marathon is humbling, no matter what pace you are running. This year, I decided to be the rabbit for my wife in the Philadelphia Marathon in her quest to qualify for Boston. This kept me interested in training in a year I have struggled to get out of a running rut.
Jill’s goal was 3:50 (8:46 per mile pace), which would give her a 5 minute cushion (qualifying requirement for her age is 3:55). This would increase her chances of not having to register for Boston on the “last” day of a new rolling registration process. Her fear was that the race would be full by the time she registered.
Her previous PR was 3:55:03 (3 seconds away from the new qualifying time for her age!). So, this time around, I trained more with her (long runs, and track workouts, in particular Yasso 800s). The more we ran together, the more I noticed her newer, tougher runner’s attitude. We both started to believe she could do it.
She had control over her training. The only “x factor” for a race in late November would be the weather, which was nearly perfect (borderline warm) on race day.
So, the blaring horns sounded the Olympic theme song, and we were off. I simply wanted Jill to be patient for the first two miles, which include lots of jockeying and elbows (some treat the start as if it is a 5K). Mile 1 was at 8:59, which was fine.
When she threw down her “throw away” gloves after Mile 2, I said to myself, she will break 3:50 today. It was in the way she threw down the gloves (very business-like). At that moment, it was clear to me that she was on a mission.
After the wide expanse of Columbus Boulevard, we weaved through Center City. Around Mile 5, she got a little weepy as we made the left turn onto Chestnut Street, near Independence Hall (she is a history geek, and loves our city so much, she got caught up in the moment). A fellow runner can never judge another’s emotions during a race.
Chestnut Street is dangerous because the crowd support is so good, you are tempted to run faster. When you get to high five someone cheering you on dressed as a pancake, it tends to pump you up. I had to help her put the breaks on a few times because I knew the hills of Miles 8-10 would be coming up.
I warned her not to worry if Mile 10 was closer to 9mins (and it was because of the longer hill). Nothing to panic about.
The next danger was West River Drive. It is a race track, especially because the race is mixed with half marathoners nearing their finish. She had to fight the urge to go faster. When she is running faster than 8:30 pace, I usually say: “Take it easy Paula (Radcliffe).”
At the half, she was under 1:53 (2+ minutes ahead of pace). A bit fast, which slightly worried me, but not to the point of panic (since her Yasso 800s were at 3:47). So, we made our way out on Kelly Drive, a more quiet, lonely part of the race. It is also a bit intimidating because you start to see other runners coming inbound on Kelly Drive, and you realize how far you’ve still got to go.
At Mile 14, I was reminded I was running a marathon too. I turned my ankle, and let out a brief shout. I didn’t want to scare Jill, so I said everything was fine (lie). Her next three miles were consistently 8:30 pace. She was officially going into “Mr. Spock” mode (I will explain that in a future post).
Jill survived the Manayunk miles by staying around 8:45 pace. At this point, I was struggling despite the fact that this pace was much slower than I am used to running. My breathing was labored (I was fighting off a cold), and my ankle (ouch); however, I think it had more to do with the fact that Jill was simply kicking ass. I almost told her to go on ahead of me, but I didn’t want to miss out on her amazing performance. I was witnessing the “race of her life” as she kept forging on.
Heading back onto Kelly Drive (the eternal home stretch), it was clear to me at Mile 22 that she would shatter 3:50. This is when I got weepy (yes I admit it). When you are witnessing your spouse’s strength and determination, and you are overcome with pride and emotion, you will lose your cookies too. I do not apologize for crying. I was simply in awe.
The last two or three miles were a bit slower than 8:45 pace, but I knew it was going to happen for her.
As we neared the finish line, passing the Art Museum, I almost wanted it to slow down for Jill (even though she simply wanted to speed up to cross the line). I just wanted her to be able to soak in the moment for “just a little longer.” I screamed out to her: “Boston baby!”
We crossed the finish line (3:47:32), a PR for her by over 7 minutes! Jill got her high five from Mayor Nutter, and we both got shout-outs from Bart Yasso! We hugged and there were more tears (we are criers).
(Later, we were saddened by the news of the deaths of two runners, ages 21 and 40. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their family and friends. Once I get my legs back, I will dedicate my next run to them).