We were shooting for a 4:15, my friend and I. Well, actually she was. I shook my head yes when she asked me months ago to pace this with her; I had lots of doubts. Lots. I would have been happy with a 4:30 and it still would have been a PR for me.
The weather was brisk but perfect for the run through this artsy city.
I walked to the starting area in the dark and the freezing cold, much like the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011. The walking felt good, and I was able to hit a port-a-john on the street with virtually no lines. As I completed the most worrisome task of the day, I thought about how disgusting those portable race toilets are, and how easily runners acclimate to gross uncleanliness. We just don’t care. But I did pump some hand sanitizer into my palm and rub vigorously just in case.
She and I shivered and danced to the music in our ears while we waited for our turn at the start. There were lots of corrals ahead of us, and thousands upon thousands of runners.
Here’s my little blow-by-blow, mile-by-mile:
Mile 1: Felt excited. Dodged other racers to catch up to the pacer with the flag.
Miles 2-3: Breathing felt exceptionally good. Usually I get winded in the first few miles.
Miles 4-7: Ran through the streets of Philly through walls of cheering throngs and felt grateful for them all. Ran ahead of the pacer; she seemed to slow down, and I tried to stay consistent with my pace. Caught myself smiling big, big smiles. Felt relaxed and happy and confident.
Miles 8-10: Mile 8 and mile 10 had the steepest hills, but I don’t remember them being much of any issue at all.
Miles 11-12: The sun came out full force, and I felt overheated and wished it would go away.
Mile 13: I watched the Half Marathon runners make the turn for their finish, and I envied them. I thought I would never be able to keep up the pace until the end.
Miles 14-15: Watched the elite runners coming back down the final stretch on the other side of the street. Stuck close to the pacer and cheered them on, wishing I were in the final stretch, too.
Mile 16: Finally succumbed to an aching stomach and hit a port-a-john with no lines. When I saw a guy in a business suit come out, I wanted to smack him. Spent the rest of this mile killing myself to catch up to the pacer. I thought I would die, but I knew I’d be happier if I had her in sight.
Miles 17-18: The final stretch along the water before the turn-around. My groin muscles started aching in mile 18, and I started to count down the miles left. Eight miles was one loop around the countryside via Harker Road. I could do that. One step at a time.
Mile 19: Chased the pacer through more city streets and more walls of people. When will this fucking thing be over?
Mile 20: When will this fucking thing be over? (Repeat 100 times.)
Miles 21-22: Somewhere along this wooded stretch, I passed the pacer again and caught up to my friend who had pulled ahead. We ran quietly and evenly. Mile after mile… Only 40 minutes or so to go. We were on target to meet our goal if we could keep the pace up.
Mile 23: Decided not to think about how many minutes of running were left and just settle in. Imagined myself running the 5-mile loop through the countryside back home and tried my best to relax. Heard the words, “I believe in you,” in my head.
Mile 24: Everything was hurting pretty badly by this point. Only 2 (plus a little) to go. My body can do that without thinking. I did. We passed lots of walkers, and I couldn’t decide if that made me feel good or if I wanted to join them. Mentally scrolled through the list of charitable donors who had given money for autism research to support me. Grateful heart.
Mile 25: I grinned at my friend and asked if she was happy. She grinned back and said yes. I heard someone say, “You’re almost there!” And I shouted to the people around me, “And this time, it’s really true!” Laughter from the crowd… pain… thinking about how proud I would be to make a 4:15 marathon time. Keep going. Don’t screw it up now.
Mile 26: This one always seems like 5 miles. Something about that last .2 is hell. My friend lagged back just a little, and I kept my eye on the prize. I heard her shout, “Go Lisa! You go, girl!” Trying to pace myself for the final kick is a challenge, especially when you can’t see the finish line, but eventually it came into view, and I couldn’t believe I finally would be able to stop running.
Finish Line: A black man in sweats and a skull cap smacked my hand as I ran across the finish line. Later, I found out it was Mayor Nutter. What a very cool guy. I stopped for the official marathon finish photo and made my way to the charity tent for the organization I was running for. My hamstrings hurt so bad, my eyes were tearing up and I couldn’t do anything to make the pain stop. I walked around for awhile, missed my friend back at the tent, and finally made my way home for a hot shower and food.
I finished with a record time of 4:11:36, and I am very, very pleased. Seventeen minutes away from a Boston qualifier. Wow. Wow. Wow.