I think there will always be a special place in my heart for the Rock & Roll Marathon series. My very first half was Rock & Roll Brooklyn, and since then, I took off running without looking back. The hilarious signs, energy of the crowd, and discovery of another borough was so eye-opening to me. I’ll never forget the feeling of wondering if I could actually finish 13.1 miles in one session.
Of course, after I knew I could go the distance, I started focusing on something else: speed. I selected Rock & Roll Philly as my first long-distance race of the fall for several reasons. The course is fast and flat, which would allow me to focus on running the fastest race possible. I also attended college in Philly, so I was looking forward to a trip down memory lane along familiar streets.
I spent the day before the race walking, carbing up, and icing my shin splints. I usually run Saturday races, so it felt odd to me to have a free weekend day before the race. I can say now that I prefer to be at work before a race because it’s a good distraction. As much as I tried not to be nervous yesterday and shop to my heart’s content, I could not stop thinking about the race.
The night wasn’t much easier than the daytime for me either. I wasn’t too worried about sleep since I slept well on Friday night. Between my pre-race jitters and inability to sleep in unfamiliar places, all the fluffy hotel pillows in the world weren’t doing it for me. I woke up three times in the night; each time, I dreamt that I had overslept and missed my race! By the time my alarm went of at 5:30am, I felt like I had just closed my eyes.
I’ve never been a morning person, but there’s something about racing that makes me ok with rising early on the weekends. I rolled over to grab my breakfast-oatmeal and banana. I’m not sure if it was my lack of sleep or something else, but that banana wasn’t happening. I wasn’t very hungry and didn’t even want my oats, much less a banana. I pushed it aside, hoping I wouldn’t regret it later. I sat up in bed and ate my breakfast in the dark-it was still too early for lights for me.
When I finally crawled out of bed, I got dressed, put on sunblock, and headed for the door. I was walking to the starting line which was less than a mile away.
Now in my corral, I once again asked myself whether I would run with a pace group. I often struggle to pace myself but I was between two pace groups in terms of time. I decided to head out with the faster group and then fall back as I felt myself tire. The first 3 miles were full of twist and turns around Center City. I opted to run in the center of the road to avoid getting cut off in any corners. I ended up running these miles a few seconds too fast, but it was worth it to avoid getting stuck in the crowd. It all started to fizzle out as we headed east and then up Kelly Drive. What surprised me most about this race was how quiet it was despite having live music at every mile or so. There were very few spectators in comparison to what I’m used to.
The soft sound of foot shuffling and breathing against the fall foliage was soothing. Although I had music on, I turned it down to take in the transitioning trees around me. Around mile 8, I could feel myself getting tired. I knew I had to slow down a bit. I wasn’t too worried because I knew that I could still come within my goal time. Although I had given up on negative splits, my body felt better approaching Falls Bridge. I can’t stand driving over bridges, much less running over one! I tried to focus on the road ahead of me and pretend I wasn’t crossing a bridge on foot. As soon as I crossed the bridge, I saw the sign for mile 9 and smiled. I was almost there. I like to think of a half marathon as four 5ks plus a fast finish. Entering my last quarter of the race, I was cruising-not too slow, not too fast, just along for the ride.
At mile 11, the sun came out! I was pretty excited since it had been overcast all morning. I was glad I had on sunblock. With two miles left, I knew I had reached the downhill part of this 13.1 mile battle. All I had to do was maintain my pace. I finished the race waving my arms wildly in the air. My post-race face might not be glamorous, but it’s the face of a champion.
I was elated to have crossed the finish line, but I was also thankful. Thankful for great race weather and a beautiful course. Thankful that unlike my last half I did not have a cold and cough up mucus on the course. Aside from my minor shin splint, I had no looming injuries that could creep up on me and throw me out of the game. This race felt better not only because I was in better shape physically, but because I was in better shape mentally. This success feels greater than I imagined because of my previous disappointments. After all, what is winning without losing?