Saucony 26 Strong: Philadelphia Marathon Race Report, Round II

Sarah, in her Saucony pink, looking a little lost without Alison by her side.
Sarah, in her Saucony ViziPro pink, looking a little lost without Alison by her side.

Today is the second race report of Philadelphia Marathon, where we were lucky enough to go the distance with the Saucony 26 Strong program. The first race report is here.

Sarah: Waking up marathon morning, I am not as amped up as I’d been just six weeks ago before the Victoria Marathon. This is both good and bad: I can eat a dry bagel and banana without gagging from nerves (I still skip brushing my teeth as that would just be tempting fate!), but I also don’t feel fired up. Walking to the start with Dimity’s cadet, Kelly, and Adrienne Martini, Kelly’s running sidekick for the first half of the race, the energy of the starting area lifts my spirits some, as does high-fiving Mayor Nutter at the starting line.

The weather is ideal, with a light wind, dappled clouds, and low-40s temperature, and the crowd is spread out well enough so I don’t have to dodge many runners, yet the race is not how I had envisioned it for so many months: My cadet, Alison, isn’t by my side. Before she’d gotten injured, Alison and I had both dreamed and schemed about running her #26Strong to a 4:30 finish. Once she injured her hip and her training turned spotty, we’d shifted our expectations to five hours. Since Alison had wisely decided to take a pass on Philly, I’d debated my personal goals, ending up with: finish injury free, feeling proud and happy with my effort. I guesstimated I’d cover the 26.2 miles in 4:08-4:15.

This plan means keeping my pace between 9:30 and 9:45 during the first half. I’d run the Philly Half in 2010, also six weeks after a Boston-qualifying marathon (a fact I’d entirely erased from my brain), so I am familiar with the scenic course, lively crowd support, and two hills. Ingesting a GU or Roctane every three miles instead of my usual four due to an article I’d read, I am spot on with a 2:06 split at the 13.1-mile mark.

But then lack of spectators and my lack of purpose—I want my cadet by my side—messes with my head. After a quick out-and-back near Mile 18, I am ready for the race to be over. No such luck: Runners head further from the finish line for the true turnaround near Mile 20 in Manayunk. Instead of trying to push the pace for a strong finish, a new goal bursts into my fatigued brain: Don’t walk.

Thanks to the extra GU gels, I don’t hit the dreaded wall, but it feels like the upper half of my quads have. They hurt a lot, and walking through the not-frequent-enough water stops becomes a battle of will to resume running. The winding, riverside course is beautiful, but I’m in a pain-cave. I stupidly, literally repeat in my head, “I’m in a pain-cave.”

No longer in a pain cave; now the owner of a new marathon medal.
No longer in a pain cave; now the owner of a new marathon medal.


To pull myself out of my self-imposed exile, I summon mother runners. I repeat the names of two moms running the course trying to qualify for Boston: “Michelle. Michelle.” “Nicole, Nicole.” That gives me a bit of strength, but I need more, so I summon the two reasons I’m out here: “Alison.” And “26Strong.” Over the din of Taylor Swift and B.o.B. on my playlist, I internally repeat those two phrases over and over and over. The urge to walk is strong, especially in Miles 21 and 22, but chants of, “Alison. Alison. Alison. 26Strong. 26Strong. 26Strong,” keep my feet moving in rhythmic, running fashion. I cross the line, spent and in pain but proud, in 4:18:34.

The energetic scene at the finish.
The energetic scene at the finish.

Alison: Even though I wasn't running in Philly, I still wanted to head down to support the AMR tribe! I am so glad that I did.Being there, actually made not being able to run a little more enjoyable. Since I wasn't running, my husband and I decided to bring our two children so they could experience their first big race. Usually, we are both running in the race, so the kids get left behind!

We had a great time in Philly and spent Saturday visiting the city. We swung by the expo to get all of our SWAG and visit with Sarah and Dimity. Saturday night, I got to have a great dinner with a wonderful group of Mother Runners! It was a blast and Sarah and I got a chance to chat and talk about my injury and everything else that we would have discussed during our 26.2 miles (The Sopranos, wine selection, our hometown and how it has changed).

Sunday, my family and I woke up to the sounds of helicopters overhead letting us know that the race was getting ready to take place. We quickly got dressed, grabbed some snacks and headed out almost directly in front of our hotel to catch the runners on their first mile. We looked for recognizable names on shirts  and gave them a hearty cheer (Go UCONN!, Yeah Navy!, Run mother runner run!, Fear the Tutu!).
The best way for injured runners to bond: over a latte.
The best way for injured runners to bond: over a latte.
The kids had a great time, despite the chilly start, and were amazed at the size of the field. The biggest race they have been to is an annual charity 5k in our hometown. After the runners thinned out, we quickly made out way over to around the 10K mark to continuing cheering. A quick trip to Starbucks and a run in with my fellow injured runner Dimity to warm up and we headed back out to keep cheering! The crowd support was amazing. My kids enjoyed all of the costumes (Pickachu, Pochantas, Santa, plenty of pink fairies and tutus!).
And I was glad that I was there to support the runners. I know how much it means to have someone cheering for you when  you are running. After a late breakfast we made our way over to the finish area to see if we could find anybody we knew. Unfortunately we didn't, but to see the elation on the faces of the runners as they saw the approaching finish was amazing and brought tears to my eyes! I can't wait to be the one eyeing the finish line and finding my own strong.
Whoa: is Saucony 26 Strong really over? Bummer.
Whoa: is Saucony 26 Strong really over? Bummer.
Dimity: Even though our success rate on paper was just 50% for the Philadelphia Marathon, it certainly didn't feel that way. We were 100% strong. Throughout training for 4 individual marathons, we all found a new kind of strength, one that we'll call on to come back from injury (next latte is on me, Alison!), train for another 26.2, or just add to all aspects of our lives.

Because, as we all know, the power of a mile lingers long after your feet stop moving.

Thanks again Saucony and Competitor for supporting this amazing project. Many happy miles to the teams running in the Honolulu Marathon next weekend; we'll be rooting for you!

5 responses to “Saucony 26 Strong: Philadelphia Marathon Race Report, Round II

  1. I heard you all calling my name at the start as Adrienne and I ran by. It was great to see you all out there and meet you and your family in person! Thank you!

  2. Allison, it was great to meet you in Philly and now read your recap of the weekend! I hope you continue to be on the mend. It may not seem like it now, but you’ll be out there again soon! Take good care!

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