The Philadelphia Marathon Part I (My Debut)

Racing Tips

Warning: This is going to be a three part post, I am ready to pour my heart onto the keyboard, and I know once I start, I will not be able to stop, so if you are not interested in learning all about the ins and outs of a marathon from my perspective as an elite athlete, you may not want to read on.

When I envisioned writing this post a week ago, I thought it would be a post of absolute joy, one where I wrote about the incredible experience that was my first marathon. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I knew exactly how my race would play out; how I had envisioned it in my mind for the last 6 weeks. I even had started a post on the power of visualization to show that races could go EXACTLY as you wanted them to. However, this is not how the world works, and even though I would have much preferred that outcome now……I trust that everything happens for a reason, and for that I have a different story to tell you.

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Don’t get me wrong, I still wholeheartedly believe in visualization, and I believe one day that vision will come true, but on Sunday November 17, 2013 it was not to be. I learned so many lessons during the race, and even more in the reflection afterwards. I have learned more about who I am than any experience in my life, and I know somewhere down the road, I will be happy this race went the way it did.

It is hard to know where to begin, there is so much to say, so much to reflect on, and so many factors that could have caused my crash (which I have learned was not “the wall” as I initially thought). I have spent the last two days questioning everything I have done, gaining lots of valuable insight into the human body, and the effect the marathon has on your body (Boy, am I sore!). I will never truly know what happened out there, but all I can do is look back on what did, and hopefully prevent anyone reading this from going through the same thing (and hopefully myself) ever again.

I think I will make this into a Part I and Part II, just to build suspense…..haha, more likely because otherwise even my mum who would watch paint dry for me, would get bored with the length of the post. Today I will cover the first half, and then on Saturday you can read about the second half, and how I was able to survive eight miles of pure agony. I will then do a reflection and lessons learned….if you can bear it.

Before I begin, I just want to say thank you. To my family, friends, team, twitter friends, running friends, the citizens of Philadelphia, the crowds who supported me through every step of that agonizing last mile, and YOU for taking the time to read my story. I have realized through this that people are SO GOOD. It is incredible! There is so much beauty in this world, and I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the kindness and love I have received this week. I am absolutely blessed to interact with such wonderful people on a daily basis, so thank YOU!

The world aint all sunshine and rainbows

As many of you saw in my training update a few weeks ago, I was having a problem with my tibialis anterior. I had in fact strained the muscle, and it was a lot worse than I initially let on. I am a very optimistic person, and I believe if you continue to talk in the negative, you are bringing more negative back into your life, so I was very hesitant to elaborate. I actually only ran 43 miles in the ten days leading up to the race. Although that still sounds like a decent amount, 24 of those miles were the three days before the marathon.

I knew in my heart it was affecting me in more ways than just the physical pain. I barely slept in the weeks leading up to the race, tossing and turning all night, waking every hour, and eventually giving up and getting up at 6am….5am….4am….not exactly the sleep you should be getting before the longest race of your life.

My recovery time probably could have been lessened had I been smarter and less stubborn, but as usual I thought I knew best. I went against advice of my physical therapist, and ran before it was ready…..on the Schuylkill River loop….where there is no going back. On Monday I paid for this mistake BIG TIME. I could BARELY WALK. Every step was extremely painful and I was an emotional, teary, nervous wreck. With 6 days to go I began to consider the possibility of a DNS.

Thankfully, my wonderful physical therapist, Shannon saw me within a few hours of flying back into Philly after her sprint triathlon, taking the time to work on my leg and reassure my crazy mind. The next few days my leg continued to improve, but I knew it was not going to be healed. I hammered my body with ibuprofen, taking more than the maximum dose (800mg 4-5 times a day!) all the way up to the Saturday morning of the race, desperately attempting to reduce the inflammation. Little did I know I was actually risking kidney failure with this move, but as athletes we would take a bullet to be able to compete. Insane? Maybe, but I had invested way too much into this marathon to let it slip away now. In my mind I was still on target to break 2:40, and no-one could tell me otherwise.

Race Day!

The night before, and morning of the race, I was strangely calm. I did not feel scared, or nervous, but excited to do what I had been dreaming about for…..well, since I was around 15 years old as I watched Paula run by me in the London Marathon. I always thought “one day” I would run the marathon, and today was that day! The increased security was a little more tedious than expected, but otherwise the pre-race plan was pretty smooth. I had my bagel, banana, and animal crackers at 4am, and had been sipping water all morning. I had a good feeling about the race.

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As I stood on the start line, I took my first gel, and began to bring my vision to life; looking behind me to see the art museum, looking out in front to see my city, smiling, as I finally had the opportunity to compete in the distance I was born to do. As we started the race heading down Benjamin Franklin Parkway a tear came to my eye as they played the “Gotta Fly Now” Rocky song. I was finally doing it! This is my race! On my home course! I can finally prove I was made for this!

The first 8 miles went by quickly, exactly as I had imagined other than some pain in my tibialis anterior, but I hoped knew it would go away as the race went on. Nothing was going to stop me now. I smiled and waved to people cheering, took in the scenery, and ended up running with a lovely girl named Megan, who had selected me to run with as I “looked like I was a smart runner who knew what she was doing”. We had an enjoyable chat, and I loved every second, but I was still eager to get to the part where I could really prove myself. My coach and I had agreed that I would run absolutely no faster than 6:10 for the first 10 miles, and the two miles Megan and I ran under, we immediately slowed down to be smart 🙂

As we went up a decent sized hill around 9 miles, Megan dropped back and we had to part ways. I ran by myself for the next few miles…..well actually the rest of the race….but that few miles I did not see anyone I knew! I took in my second gel, and was very diligent with water and Body Armor intake through my fuel belt (probably the only elite athlete possibly in the history of the marathon to wear a fuel belt!!!). Everything was going according to plan, and I couldn’t wait to reach the 10 mile mark where I could pick it up to race pace.

Even though I was under instructions to NOT try to make up time for going out slower than race pace, I am ashamed to admit that I had already decided before the race began that I was going to try get my average pace close to race pace by halfway. At the 10 mile mark, I began to pick it up, not significantly, but enough to run a few sub 6:00 minute miles a little too early.

Cool Photo of the course just before the Art Museum from the Phl17 website

As we turned onto MLK drive, I saw Steve around 11 miles, threw off my fuel belt as he asked how I was doing. GREAT! As I ran by the Art Museum, hearing the screaming fans, looking at the Rocky Statue wearing his Philly Marathon T shirt, the excitement began to build. As I crossed the halfway point I calculated that I had to make up 1 1/2 minutes if I was to run under 2:40, and there was no way I could make that much time up in the last 6 miles…..so I had better keep my pace around 6:00.

Little did I know, although at that moment it was completely achievable, the choices I would make over the next 4 miles would mean no matter how hard I pushed, It was not going to be my day.

To be continued….

Part II can be found HERE. You can also read about my Chicago Marathon 2014.

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13 Comments.

  • The marathon is one tricky distance and I have this theory that everyone who has a tough debut marathon goes on to have great marathon careers 😉 You have many sub 2:40's in you Tina. I was so happy to meet you race morning. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  • I am awaiting all your posts about this. This is truly just the beginning of a great running career for you in the marathon. I know for a darn well fact that you have plenty of 2:40 marathons in you. You are doing to do great things in this distance and don't let this one defer you. (coming from someone who also ran a not as expected first marathon).

  • I'm so glad I came across your blog the other day! I look forward to reading your continued posts on this. But I have to say I am completely impressed so far! I can already tell you have a very bright and successful running future ahead of you!!

  • Hey Tina – Thanks so much for sharing! I'm pretty sure I saw you at mile 25 (as I was on the other side of the road running a whopping 4:45 marathon). Of course, I yelled over what I hoped were words of encouragement… Just starting to come out of the post marathon depression now…so keep the stories coming – it helps!!! No doubt you will reach your goal!!!!
    Best, Mitch (LI , NY)

  • I came across your blog right before the marathon. Thank you for opening up your world to us and sharing your story. I am anxiously waiting for Part II and III. I agree with the posters above – this is a beginning of a wonderful running (marathoning) career. I am wishing you a speedy recovery.

  • Really? That is so nice to hear, thank you so much, Kris! I sure hope so! It is just such a shame that I have to wait such a long time to do it again, but I guess that will give me time to build up my confidence as it is pretty low after that. I am so glad we could meet, and I look forward to supporting your journey over the coming years 🙂

  • Thanks so much, Hollie! I hope so! You are right, and you have not let it deter you! We can support one another through the next stages of our marathon lives! Plenty of time to conquer the distance….and even just to finish one is impressive enough right? 🙂

  • Awww thank you! That is so sweet of you! I hope I can support you in your running endeavors also 🙂

  • Thank you, Mitch! Your comment put a big smile across my face! I did hear people on the other side cheering, and even as delirious as I was, I thought that was absolutely incredible that people were using their precious energy on me! Thank you! I truly did appreciate it, and I am not sure I would have finished without all the words of encouragement, so thank you so much! Congratulations on your marathon, I have learned how impressive it actually is to run one! Not many people are able to say they have completed 26.2 miles! I hope you continue to let me know about your future also 🙂

  • Thank you, May! I sure hope so, I will be back as soon as possible. When I am surrounded by positivity like this, I will be back even faster! 🙂

  • Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  • Thank you so much! Did you read part II?

  • Hey Tina – First thanks for the congrats. Just read part II. Wow – you're tough! Saw you at a complete stop and bent over on the course. The fact that you pulled it together says so much about your mental toughness (I guess what you call a “stiff upper lip”)…you have a great future ahead – really looking forward to hearing about your next race.

    Eat, run and be happy!
    Mitch

    PS Don't know if you saw this…blew me away: http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/jims-last-group-run

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