I'm not sure I've ever been less prepared for--or less committed to--a race than last Sunday's Philadelphia Half Marathon. It was both physical and mental. My legs had only felt decent for about two weeks after the thrashing they took in the marathon I ran six weeks ago, so I hadn't done any sort of specific training. And I'm not downplaying my mileage: Two weeks pre-race, I set out to run 9 miles (typically, two weeks out from a half, I do 16 miles). But my legs hurt so much and I felt so tapped out, I only plodded out 7. The following weekend--race minus 8 days, when I should have been tapering, not building, I did 14.5 miles. My single speed workout was a modest 20-minute tempo run 5 days pre-half.
Then there were the days leading up to the race. Hmmm, I did so many things wrong, I'm seriously considering blogging next week about, "10 Ways to Not Prepare for a Race." So I'll just hit the highlights (or, more aptly, the low points): worst hangover in two decades 22 hours before the race and such poor hydration day-before that I didn't pee from 9:30 a.m. until 4:25 p.m. (And then it was more yellow-sludge, than liquid! TMI, I know...)
Yet there we were, Courtenay, my best friend from high school, and I, sticking our hands out our Philly hotel room window, gauging the temperature as we suited up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. Dire forecasts of freezing temps hadn't panned out: The day dawned an exquisite fall day. Once the sun rose a little before the 7 a.m. start, the sky was a deep cerulean and the leaves left on the trees danced a shimmery jig. Thanks entirely to your comments on my post last week, Courtenay and I stuck together at the start. Our good friend Allen, another high school compadre, promised to station himself between mile 4 and 5. As we weaved our way through the crowd (despite the high density of runners, I was surprised by how well the throng surged forward), I let Courtenay set the pace. She had made it explicitly clear that if she sensed she was holding me back, she'd get irate...and she knew I wouldn't be much happier. I was still convinced we'd run a 1:59 half together.
As we made our way excitedly toward Allen, both of us grooving to my BFF Half Marathon Playlist, I only glanced down at my Garmin 110 a few times. Except for a few times in mile 2 when we dropped below a 9:00-mile, I thought we were running at a conservative warm-up pace--about 9:20-9:30. Courtenay looked intent, but comfortable. We laughed as a Gumby-esque runner--a man completely covered in skin-tight green Lycra--passed us. Exactly where he promised to be, Allen snapped some quick photos. We each leaned in for a quick hug and kiss, and we were on our way. Within a few blocks, though, Court's demeanor changed; she emitted a few grunts. When I asked her how she was doing, she replied, "Like I can't run this fast for 13.1 miles." Oh, dogger, here I thought we were running a warm-up pace, and she was at ramming-speed. Given the race-strategy talks we'd had, it was all I needed to hear. I waved good-bye and went on my way. I was sorry to not be running together, but I wasn't tailed by doubts. We'd hashed over the topic enough to be certain it was the right move for us.
About a mile later, as Usher crooned that the DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love and I high-fived grinning spectators lining Chestnut Street, I felt more elated than I have in almost any race. I ran in the glow of sun, spectator energy, and tunes. It was glorious. The buzz continued for most of the race--sure, it ebbed through the ho-hum part of course past Drexel University and again up the long, steady climb near mile 9, but overall I was giddy. I didn't feel any pressure to set a record--my only goal was to finish in under two hours. After racing 26.2 miles last month, 13.1 seemed delightfully short. After mile 10, in stunningly beautiful Fairmount Park (it was so picturesque, I felt like I was in the French countryside near Versailles!), I turned on the turbo boosters and dropped my pace. I drew strength from the sweeping vistas of historic Boathouse Row across the Schuylkill River, reminded of the times I'd rowed races there in college. I crossed the line in 1:57:21 with Madonna singing "4 Minutes" in my ear, and I bopped along to get my finisher's medal. All my doubts and apathy were long forgotten: I was walking on air after running 13.1 miles.
(Mid-race, Courtenay had a recurring injury--glutes/hammies--flair up. Twice she stopped to try to stretch it out, but to no avail. She was fairly hobbled by finish line, crossing in 2:14:02. But already she's the one gunning for Philly Half 2011--her, me,...and Allen!)