Race Report: Philadelphia Half Marathon 2015

Short Story: 1:22:25 for 24th place.

First, apologies for a bit of a bummer post. To me, it’s more valuable to be honest about disappointments than gloss over them. As another runner said to me in the Elite Tent yesterday, we often learn more from our failures than our great moments.

Second, it’s always a little touchy to complain about a time that many people would love to run, so please know that it’s not my intent to be ungrateful for the time, it’s just that it is far below what I expected for myself given my training and fitness.

Philly Bib 2015

I’ll get to the positives at the end, but unfortunately, this race was one of those where you just never feel good. I slept relatively well on Saturday night, waking up just twice at midnight and at 4 am. When the alarm went off at 5, I felt rested and ready. In hindsight, perhaps I was TOO calm. I ate my bagel and sunbutter and drank a cup of coffee while I put contacts in and got dressed. I left the hotel by 5:30 and walked to the start. It was oddly warm out but the wind was already blowing pretty well. I tried to stay positive and hoped that it would mellow with the sunrise. Security was relatively seamless and I got to the Elite Tent a little after 6. Headed out to jog at 6:15 and felt okay, but not great. Striders, however, felt totally fine so I figured things would snap together.

At 6:50, they asked us to walk from the elite tent to the start so we did. The wind was blowing and it was much cooler without warmups on. 7 o’clock clicked by with no wheel start. Then 7:05. Then 7:10. Finally at 7:13, they sent the wheels and at 7:15, we were off. Needless to say, any benefit of a warmup was gone and I was happy to just not trip over the starting line. From mile 1, I felt clunky and stiff. I tried to stay calm and hoped I would warm up. I went through the mile at 6:10, a little slower than I hoped, but not an insurmountable deficit.

By the time we reached mile 3, however, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be a banner day. The wind was very strong at times, from seemingly all directions, and it was hard to find or hold a pace. Beyond this, my legs just felt punky. I found myself counting the miles very early which is never a good sign. I didn’t feel like I had gone out too fast, I just couldn’t move my legs. At mile 6, I saw my girls (more on that later!!) and had a few moments of feeling good so tried to capitalize on the moment. In fact, I went through the 10K in 38:24, which is a small 10K PR. By mile 7, however, the wheels were off. The 2:43 pace group for the full went by me, I had a shitty water stop (my fault, I didn’t really need it but thought maybe a gel would help) and I was flailing through the hills. Of note, I don’t think the pace group was running the right pace and I’m pretty certain they lost everyone by the end. When I ran Philly in 2012, I barely remember any hills. Today, it felt like mile 7.5 to mile 9.5 was ALL hills. I saw Erin just before 8 and gave her a thumbs down. At that point, I was just hoping for a PR.

The good news is, I never really crashed, I just couldn’t pick it up at all. I never needed to use one of my faster breathing patterns because I couldn’t turn my legs over fast enough. Even at mile 12 when I KNEW I needed to push, I just kept plodding along. When I rounded the corner and saw 1:22, it was all I could do to not burst into tears. I crossed the finish line and made my way back to the Elite Tent, just stunned at how badly things had gone. I think I would have liked to have cried, just to get some of the hurt out, but I honestly felt too shocked to do so.

The run didn’t feel like much more than a workout, so there may be hope to use the fitness for another race soon. I can’t discount the effect of the wind either; at race time, it was a steady 15 miles per hour with gusts up to 25 miles per hour. Even a modest adjustment for a 5 mph headwind predicts a 1:18 without wind. This is very, very, VERY little solace but at least I feel like it wasn’t all on me. The start delay didn’t help me at all either. Looking back, I wish I’d decided to run the first two miles much slower to warm back up. Ultimately, I don’t think it would have cost me a lot of time and I might have actually been able to make some gear changes.

On the great side, my girls team came down to Philly to surprise me. I was sitting in my hotel on Saturday (in my robe, having just showered) when the front desk called to see if I would take a package. I didn’t know who would send me something but thought maybe Will sent flowers. Imagine my surprise when I opened my door to see my girls!! They had been planning it all season and I had NO idea. They came equipped with giant pictures of me, tinsel and all their screaming voices. I will never, ever be able to articulate how amazing that gesture was but they saved the weekend for me. It would have been very easy to mope for the rest of Sunday but having them there made me realize I have to practice what I always preach to them about moving on from rough races.

I'll never be able to explain to them how much this meant to me.

I’ll never be able to explain to them how much this meant to me.

It’s similarly hard to articulate what I’m feeling right now. Devastated, heartbroken and humiliated all come to mind. I know that one race doesn’t define anyone but I don’t know when I’ll get the opportunity to give it my all again. That’s the risk with taking a big chance! You might not get the result you want and when you put it out there and are vulnerable, failure stings that much more. As my sister said when I was pathetically texting her, it’s just going to be raw for a few days. And as the much more brilliant Lindsey said, some days you just don’t have the magic.

For the next week or so, I’ll just take it easy, run when I want and try to figure out what went wrong, what I can do to salvage the cycle and where I want to go from here. If anyone knows a great December half marathon, I’m all ears!

5 thoughts on “Race Report: Philadelphia Half Marathon 2015

  1. foxrunsfast

    Ugh, Sarah. You know I’ve been there. (see my last marathon report!!) I’m so sorry that this race didn’t go the way you wanted it to. You have to know that it’s NOT indicative of your fitness level though! The wind played a big part, I’m sure. And wind is TOUGH. It’s relentless and it can really impact both your physical and mental state. It’s my least favorite type of weather to deal with. In any case, I can completely understand your disappointment. You trained for a much faster time and it is disappointing to not be able to cash in on race day. But some days we just feel off – as much as we’d like to feel that ‘all systems go’ race day feeling. If this was a normal workout day you’d brush it off, know that your fitness is better than this, and move on. So do that – treat this one as a bad workout and know that you ARE in shape to run a much faster time. And I’m so happy that your girls came out to surprise you – what an awesome experience!! I know they appreciate everything you do and you are modeling a wonderful attitude for them on how one bad race doesn’t define us as athletes. You’ve got to have the bad ones to appreciate the good ones, right? 🙂 Hang in there. I’m predicting big things are in store for you on the next one!!

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      It’s so funny because before the race and now 48 hours later, I can totally accept the one race doesn’t define you logic but MAN does it sting on the finish line. What are you planning for the coming months? I need some inspiration for my own ascent out of sadness!

  2. Cris

    I’m sorry. I ran the full (I think I actually saw you doing your strides while I was in the corral) and had a similar sucky experience. Running is a cruel mistress.

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      She totally is! I read your race report today; sounds like you had more than one scary thing happen. Everyone that I’ve talked to either had dead legs or ended up vomiting/dry heaving (or both). What an odd day! What are your plans for trying to regroup? And are you feeling better from your hospital trip?

      1. Cris

        Having now experienced a post-marathon IV drip (I was there long enough to get the full bag), I can safely say that those things are the bomb. I was pretty trashed right after the race, but surprisingly OK now, and I think the Sunday IV thing helped a lot (though almost certainly not worth what the ER bill is going to come to).

        The eye thing honestly wasn’t THAT scary, just because I have chronic migraines that manifest as stroke-like symptoms on the left side, including loss of vision in my left eye. That’s happened enough that it doesn’t bother me much – just pop an Amerge tablet and I’m good. But it’s ALWAYS left side, never right. The right side thing was….different.

        I also tend to get tunnel vision (pun intended) when I race. All sorts of weird things can happen, and I’ll just note them without really NOTICING them, if that makes sense. This fell into that category.

        I’m taking a few weeks easy running and yoga to reboot, and then returning to training. I’ll probably do a very casual 10K in late December, and then put a few solid weeks of training in to target the 3M half marathon in late January. Then some more training, before doing halves/10 milers/10Ks in March and April. If I skip Boston, then I can come back to Philly for Broad Street if I get in – I love that race.


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