Sunday, September 18, 2011

Philly Rock and Roll Half Marathon Race Report: The Next Level

Words cannot begin to describe how awesome this race was.  When I was slower, I hated big races because the logistics were annoying and the race itself offered nothing better than small races.  I could still race people at small races and not worry about all the headache.

Then I got a lot faster and stopped getting consistent competition at the local level.  I realized earlier this year that I needed to start doing big races again.  My spring injury caused me to miss every single big race I signed up for, leaving me to wonder just what I was missing.

But finally, the stars aligned!  The R&R Half promised to be a big and competitive race with thousands of runners, a deep elite field, and a deep amateur wanna-be field (this is where I fall).  I barely got my packet in time Saturday night, stayed at a friend's apartment in Delaware, requiring a 50 minute drive, and had a hell of a time parking and later getting out.  However, absolutely none of that mattered because "between the lines" (Start/Finish) I had an awesome running experience.

On a beautiful day with temperatures in the Mid-50s and very little wind, I lined up towards the front of corral 1 for the start of this huge race.  I had put 1:15 down as my time, and would try and shoot for that.  At 8am Frank Shorter started us off and the elites and corral 1 were off.  I crossed the start line in about 9 seconds and was already quite happy to be surrounded with runners of similar ability for a change.

I actually felt rather terrible for the first 2 miles of the race.  It was probably a combination of the 20 miler from yesterday, and the fact that it has been a while since I've run with so many people at one time.

Mile 1 and 2: 5:56, 5:47

By Mile 2, the pack had thinned out enough that I could pretty much run where ever I wanted on the street.  I also started to feel a little better.  The first couple miles of the course ran approximately eastbound, away from the start until it turned around and came back towards the start.  With so few turns and a flat course, this sucker was fast.

Mile 3: 5:44

Around here, I hit an equilibrium of sorts with the people around me.  It was clear that I didn't start far enough up front early (probably good to keep myself from going out too fast), but now I had caught up to people I could pace with.  There were two runners in particular that I gravitated towards, a guy in a Hanson-Brooks jersey (though not an elite of course!), and another guy with really long hair.  I stayed in their vicinity as we sort of traded off pushing the pace.

Mile 4: 5:40

I was really starting to feel good here.  With the cool temperatures, I was barely sweating at all, and really felt like I was hitting a groove.  With all the crowd support, and our growing pack of fast runners, I was even having fun (which usually doesn't last long in races!).  As we continued to advance forward, our growing pack was running faster than most of the people around us, but others latched on as we passed by.  I tried to trade off running in the front and backing off a bit.

As we passed by the start again, it was clear we would be running into the wind (very light but still noticeable) for a while until we crossed the Schuylkill River.

Mile 5: 5:38
Mile 6: 5:50
Mile 7: 5:45

To this point, I had actually taken water from all stops, only getting a couple of sips, but it was keeping me sharp so I kept taking it.  Being a big race, the water stops were huge but since the pack is thin up front, you could literally grab water without even breaking stride.  Of course the poor volunteers looked like they were getting soaked as grabbing water at this pace is really hard!

I took the lead for most of this section as we ran along the river.  Through mile 7 I was still feeling strong.  At this point, we were catching up to some elite women right on the cusp of 1:15...the standard to qualify for trials for the US Olympic Marathon Team.  It was kind of awesome to be running in the vicinity of some of the faster women in the country, even if us men were just a bunch of nobody local runners!

Mile 8: 5:49
Mile 9: 5:43

Right around Mile 8.5, things were starting to get tough.  Mentally, I was still fine as I continued to ignore the fact that there were over 4 miles remaining.  Physically, my breathing was still under control and I was "with it."  However, my legs were starting to get heavy as the pace was clearly taking its toll.  We did also just run up the only hill on the course as we ran over a bridge to cross the river to run back on the other side.  I knew these last 4 miles were going to hurt even with the wind at my back.

Our pack had largely broken apart at this point, the guy with the hair and the Hanson Brooks guy were both around, one ahead and one behind, though eventually they would both put decent distance on me.  Regardless, I continued pushing on, passing who I could and keeping them in sight.

Mile 10: 5:42

That one hurt, bad.  I was clearly running out of steam.  However, I had a couple of things going for me.  First, I knew I was on pace for a great time and second, I knew there were no hills remaining.  I had two choices at this point, try and hold on at my current pace, or step on the gas, put the pedal to the floor and make an all out 5K run for the finish.  My instinct told me that every extra second I lingered on the course brought me one second closer to imploding.

I didn't just run 10 miles in under 58 minutes to fade in the last 3.  I kicked it up a gear and ran as hard as my heavy legs could carry me.  Mile 10.5 would be my last water as I skipped the final stop.  It took me 7 tries to get water, knocking over all the other cups.  I'm sure it looked ridiculous!  The guy in the Hanson-Brooks jersey started fading back to me while the guy with a lot of hair was moving out of sight.

Mile 11: 5:33

I didn't really acknowledge that I had sped up, but just that I had 2.1 miles to go.  I caught and passed the Hanson-Brooks guy, though he did hold on for a little while.  Every stride was harder than the last as my steam continued to run low.  I kept pushing.

Mile 12: 5:33

My watch recorded these splits within 0.33 seconds of each other.  Despite being on top of each other, Mile 12 was exponentially harder.  Moments like these are what it is all about, refusing to give up even when all hope has faded, ignoring the pain and trusting in your training.  Talk about feeling alive...

Mile 13: 5:32

I was surprisingly coherent at this point.  Maybe it was the water.  Regardless, I had never been so relieved to see a mile marker before.  I ran the last 0.1 with everything I could manage and crossed the line in 1:14:44 for a 5:43 average pace.

I had what can only be described as a runners high to the third power.  I just PR'ed by over 1 minute and 20 seconds, but there was something more going on.  I was surrounded by like-minded people, competitors yes, but ultimately, a collection of people who together, can make everyone faster.  I realized at that moment that I need to be doing races like this to get better.  If this is where the fast runners are, than this is where I will go!  I went to shake the hands of people that I helped or helped me throughout the race, but got hugs instead.  I don't think there is any better way to spend a Sunday morning than racing through the streets of a city in a giant pack, pushing yourself to the limit.

Regardless of the logistics or cost, I am certainly planning on doing a few big races a year now!

I am a firm believer in the half marathon X 2 + 10 minutes formula as a predictor for a marathon time assuming proper training.  That gives me a sub-2:40 prediction, so I am right where I need to be.  I have now regained my LT/Tempo pace that my time off had robbed from me.  The final piece of the puzzle is the endurance.  Come November, everything should be where it needs to be!


  1. SICK race...and very quick on the race report too!


  2. Thanks man, looks like you had quite a strong race as well. Good thing we didn't start in our assigned corrals...