Sometime last year my older sister got the running bug. She started out like most of us do, running for fitness and eventually graduated to the competitive scene by taking part in a couple of local 5K races. Earlier this year she stepped it up again, and took part in the Broad Street Run, a very popular 10 mile race that goes through the heart of Philadelphia. Despite some nerves, she did really well – finishing in a time of 1:28:45. After the race, I somehow convinced her to sign up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. She in turn talked her husband and neighbor into running too.
I have to admit, it was nice to be able to talk running with her. She had the same enthusiasm and was going through the same race-associated emotions that I had gone through the previous year. It brought back some good memories of the first few races I took part in and how excited I would get about a good performance. Since this year has been something of a bust for me, to a certain extent I guess I was living vicariously through Carla and her achievements.
If you’ve been reading my last few updates you will know that my own preparations for the race were pretty disastrous. Most people taper before a big race, but in my case I went off a precipice and shut everything down. Injury and illness conspired to force me into three weeks of idleness in the lead up to the half. My last run had been the marathon kickoff in Central Park in late October – a decent run capping off a few weeks of successful training. Since then though, my training diary was completely empty – a wasteland of blank space that embarrassed me on a daily basis.
Jess and I travelled down to Philly on the Friday night, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a little extra time with Carla, her husband and their two kids. We played with the kids on Saturday morning and then all headed into the city to pick up our numbers. A brief stop at a really nice pizza restaurant helped with our carbo-loading and we were back home by 4pm, ready to relax for the evening. We had a 4AM wake-up planned, so it was an early night all around.
The next morning (or middle of the night in reality) we woke up and went through our individual preparations. By 4:30AM we were on the road and on our way to the start area in downtown Philadelphia. On the way we managed to run over a skunk, so any lingering sleepiness was soon dispelled when the smell hit in full force shortly thereafter. Even though it was cold outside, I think we were all happy to leave the confines of the car and get a bit of fresh air when we parked an hour later.
We were in the third corral, so didn’t have to wait around too long after the first batch of runners set off. Just in front of us was the Clif Bar pace runner with the 1:50 target time. For some reason, despite my complete lack of training, I felt I could keep with the pace. I managed to stay with the group for the first three or four miles, but the fast speed and lack of training eventually caught up to me and I had to drop off. Carla and Lars had also dropped off and were a little further back. I kept going over the next two miles with the aid of a couple of walk breaks, and by mile six had settled into a comfortable nine minutes mile pace. Around the half way point and just prior to the start of the challenging hill section, I slowed for a walk break. Carla and Lars caught up to me shortly after, but stopped themselves for a walk break as I started up again. We had completed the first 10K in 54 minutes. They were deep in discussions about tactics and trying to manage their pace, having gone off a little faster than planned and were concerned about lasting the distance.
Meanwhile, Jess and my niece had gotten up early and set themselves up near the Please Touch museum in Fairmount Park. Unfortunately, I missed them as I ran past but they saw me (apparently I was totally in the zone) and Carla & Lars a minute or two later. Seeing her daughter definitely helped my sister and gave her that little extra bit of motivation she needed to push on to the finish. For Jess and my niece, it was good bonding time and a nice way to spend a few hours together. After standing out in the cold cheering on the athletes for an hour, they headed off to the warmth of the car and the inviting smells of a local diner for some delicious breakfast before returning home to greet their weary runners.
For us, still out on the course, we were entering the final miles. In my case, the miles and lack of training was taking a real toll and the walk breaks became more frequent. Over the last 10K I slowed considerably, and cross the line with a time of 2:00:04. Two minutes behind me, Carla and Lars crossed the line hand-in-hand, with a time of 2:02:35. We had missed our two hour target but were happy to have finished with such a respectable time. The recovery started immediately, with water and pretzels handed out by volunteers at the finish. The ride home was relatively quiet, each of us replaying the race in our heads.
For me, finishing the race was an achievement in itself. This was the third half-marathon I had finished this year, each one on the back of interrupted training and challenging physical conditions. For my sister it was the culmination of months of training and a goal realized. Sure, the time was just outside the target, but that shouldn’t distract from the achievement. She set out to run a half-marathon and that’s exactly what she did. I felt proud of her for sticking it out and resisting the strong urge to quit at various points. Coming through a test like that builds character and makes a person stronger. For Carla and Lars, the strength and support he provided throughout the run is a testament to the strength of their relationship and the love and respect they have for each other. I’m proud of all of us for what we’ve done!