This past weekend, I traveled to Philadelphia to compete in one of the most competitive half marathons held in the US each year. The Philadelphia Rock n’ Roll half marathon (formerly the Philadelphia Distance Run) is renowned for producing fast times and its past winners are among a who’s who in the distance running community. The race’s prestige is bolstered by the fact that both the men’s and women’s US all-comers records – the fastest times run on US soil, by any runner, American or non – have been achieved here as well.
After the US 20k Championships on Labor Day, I felt like I still needed one more real hard effort before Chicago. I just had to decide whether that hard effort should come in the form of a workout or a race. As appealing as not traveling anywhere and just doing a workout in Eugene sounded, I knew I would be better served getting that effort in a race setting. When I began searching around for some possible options, the Philadelphia race became an obvious choice.
Fast forward to Friday. Because I was late in adding this race to my schedule, I departed from Portland rather than Eugene. Despite cutting it a little close, I made it to PDX in time to catch my flight and was rewarded with an exit row seat, accompanied by a completely empty row – an almost unheard feat in today’s airfare travel. Picture it, the smallest guy on the plane gets an entire row to himself. Oh, and that row happens to be wider than everyone else’s row! The trip was off to a great start.
The tide of good fortune quickly turned in Phoenix though. I was unable to get on my red-eye flight to Philly and, as a result, would spend the night curled up, first on the chairs, and then on the floor, at the PHX Sky Harbor International Airport. I thought, “no big deal, I’ve slept many a time, in many a place, without a bed.” What I did not account for was the overnight cleanup that would take place in concourse B, the very concourse where I was trying to sleep. Unfortunately, every available worker must have been assigned to sweep the carpet in this particular terminal. Any chance at a decent night’s sleep was out the window the moment the first vacuum cleaner’s on switch was flipped. Tossing from sleeping position to sleeping position, I pieced together what probably amounted to 3 hours of total sleep. Not the most ideal sleeping arrangements 2 nights prior to race day.
The good news was that I made it out of Phoenix on the 7 a.m. flight to Philadelphia and was back in the city of Brotherly Love by 3 p.m. Just enough time to get checked-in to the hotel, grab a quick bite to eat, attend the elite athlete tech meeting, and go for a shake out run. Normally, this run would happen earlier in the day, but sometimes things don’t always go according to plan, so you have to be willing to adapt. There are a lot of runners who might have given up on the thought of running well after everything that transpired, but I guess after years of unconventional travel with Ohio University, I’ve grown immune to these kinds of situations. As odd as it may sound, a thank you is in order to Ohio’s head coach, Clay Calkins, for teaching me how to just go with the flow. And anyways, I was too tired to worry about whether or not I would be able to race well. I managed to stay awake long enough to have dinner with a Mizuno compatriot and his friends, but I was out in a heartbeat upon returning to my hotel room. [Spoiler Alert: a big shout out to everyone at the table for running PR’s!]
When I woke up Sunday morning, I was ready to go! The deep slumber, courtesy a very fine Marriot hotel bed, was all that I needed. I made my way downstairs for breakfast and to cross off the most important item off any race day to-do-list: a quick check of the weather. Sunny, 60-degrees, with a slight breeze out of the North, and 70% humidity was what Philadelphia had in store for everyone. A pretty amiable mid-September forecast for the mid-Atlantic. Any thought of not going for a fast time was immediately erased. I knew I would be wasting an opportunity if I didn’t.
Once the race started, I found myself again working with the ageless wonder, Kevin Castille. Both Kevin and I have been on pretty much the same race schedule all summer: US half marathon championships, Falmouth, US 20k Championships, and now Philadelphia Rock n’ Roll. [side note: On Oct. 7th, when I’m in Chicago, Kevin will run the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis.] Just like we had done so many times previously this summer, Kevin and I linked up running side-by-side for the first half of the race.
We made it through the first 10k in 30:36, and I knew then, I had a good one in me. I covered the next 10k in 30:54, giving myself a new 20k PR of 1:01:30, almost 40-seconds faster than what I ran in New Haven a few weeks ago. Still, I felt great. After a couple slower splits from miles 8-10, I was back to running low 4:50s and found myself slowly closing the gap on 2011 USA World Championship team members Scott Bauhs (10k) and Mike Morgan (marathon). Although I would never get close enough to pose any real threat of beating either of them, they gave me a target to chase over that last 5k, which ultimately resulted in finally running under 65-minutes for the half marathon. I finished with a time of 1:04:52, good enough for 11th place overall.
My intention going into this race was never to PR; I really just wanted one more good, hard effort prior to Chicago. Last week, I logged 132 miles and did a 24-mile hard, long run that ended with a 5:12 last mile on Sunday. Honestly, after the heavy week of training, I didn’t think I would feel good enough in the late miles to run under 65-minutes. To my surprise, the best I felt all day was the final 5k.
So with 3 weeks to go, I find myself at the confluence of one of those rare moments in sport when everything is inexplicably coming together. I have been in marathon training mode for 2.5 months, and somewhat incomprehensibly, I am completely niggle-free; the normal aches and pains, or tightness and stiffness, are nowhere to be found. Added to that, I am tremendously confident in my training. I’m not over-confident by any means, because the marathon distance still scares the crap out of me, but I have this very calming peacefulness about where things stand right now. Quite frankly, I could not have scripted my lead-up to Chicago to go any better.
One of favorite bedtime stories as a kid was the Little Engine That Could. Right now, I feel like that Little Engine. I’ve spent the last 74 days working my tail off, climbing this mountain – we’ll call it Mount Chicago for the purposes of this story. The journey is far from over: there remains 3 weeks of work to be done still, and then that small matter of completing the actual race. But today, it sure feels like I’m that Little Engine, screaming down the mountainside, being thrust forward by a gravitational pull so strong it won’t let me not succeed.
I’ve got things dialed in right now.
Race Splits – powered by Garmin
Mile 1 – 4:51
Mile 2 – 4:53
Mile 3 – 4:57
Mile 4 – 4:52
Mile 5 – 4:59
Mile 6 – 4:54
Mile 7 – 4:57
Mile 8 – 5:01
Mile 9 – 5:13
Mile 10 – 4:51
Mile 11 – 4:54
Mile 12 – 4:54
Mile 13 – 4:47