Sunday, November 30, 2014

Back from a brief hiatus, a Philadelphia Marathon report by my guest, Jon Holato

I first have to apologize for the brief hiatus I have taken over the last week.  Between starting the week off sick, mixing in Thanksgiving, and deciding on and buying new kitchen appliances, flooring, and countertops, it has been a busy 7-10 days.  It's good to be back though and I am sharing a great race report from my neighbor and friend, Jon Holato.  Last Sunday, November 23rd, 2014, Jon ran the Philadelphia Marathon.  Jon's a good guy and was nice enough to tell us about his race weekend.  Thanks a lot Jon and congratulations on your 26.2 in Philly!
-Brian


The Philadelphia Marathon weekend began for me on Friday night. I did not want to drive down to Philly from Northern New Jersey the morning of the marathon so a hotel was the only other option. Unfortunately, because I was a late registrar I could not find any rooms for Saturday night alone, so my wife and I headed down on Friday night and stayed through the weekend. The next day, Saturday, was pretty low key, the only thing I really needed to do was go to the expo at the Philadelphia Convention Center to pick up my race packet. While there I was also able to get a new pair of Yurbuds which are currently my favorite running headphones. Besides that we walked to the starting line of the race so there were no logistical surprises the next day. The night was capped off with a (probably too big) pasta dinner and I headed to bed early with the alarm set for 4am.

Jon & Karen after the race
When the alarm went off at 4am, I of course hit the obligatory snooze once or twice, but eventually made it out of bed and ate a whole wheat bagel to give some energy for the race in a few hours. I spent a lot of time on Saturday stressing out about what I was going to wear for the marathon. I have hardly any experience running in cold temperatures, just once a few weeks ago during my 20-mile training run, and I feel like I wore too many layers that time. So, with the weather a few degrees warmer than when I had done that training run, I opted for slightly less clothing on the top. On the bottom I wore under armour leggings with workout shorts over them, and on the top an under armour short sleeve running shirt with a sports jacket over it. Then I threw on a hat and some gloves to finish the gear. I chose the jacket specifically because it has a large front center pocket where I can store food for the race and other things I may need. 

I finally suited up and rather than walk 25 minutes to the starting line in the mid-30s, I opted for a taxi. The pre-race information stated that runners should arrive no later than 5:30am. With the taxi I arrived around 5:20am and it was way too early. Most of the runners didn't arrive until around 6:00am and they didn't even start putting people into corrals until 6:20am. This was my first experience at such a large race with corrals and so late in the year when it is cold, so needless to say I did not plan accordingly and I froze for about 2 hours until my race began. Also, there were noticeably large lines for the porta-potties, I feel like there should have been more especially since this race has been going on for over 20 years.  They should know better.

Things really started picking up around 6:30am when there was someone on the loudspeaker starting to hype up the race, the mayor also spoke and mentioned that he would be giving high-fives to runners on the way out - apparently this is a tradition for this mayor. This last 30 minutes went by pretty quickly. I was located in the 4th corral after the elites, so by the time I made it to the starting line and took off it was about 7:15am. I was worried from some of the reviews I read about NYC that it could be hours of waiting but lucky that was not the case. 

The race began and I felt great as I'm sure all runners do.  You're not tired yet and you have a ton of adrenaline, what's not to love! The first part of the race was actually running through downtown Philadelphia, which was awesome. The scenery is distracting from the task at hand and the crowd support is wonderful. I was shooting for a 9:30/mile pace for the first hour to ease into it with a goal of having negative splits, but of course my emotions got the best of me and I decided to stick with the 4:00 hour pace team. Despite an unexpectedly early bathroom pit stop at mile 2, I was able to re-catch the 4:00 hour pace team and even run ahead of them for a while. I was doing great until probably mile 10, we had starting heading out of town a bit and began encountering more hilly terrain, which I did not expect on this course. Until that point I was averaging 8:50/mile pace, but then I peaked and the rest was slowly downhill. 

I slowly began interspersing some walking breaks and made it to the halfway point with a time of 2:02, which is a few minutes slower than my last marathon and I was somewhat disappointed at the time. It was at this point that I started questioning all the goals in my head....could I break 4 hours? can i break 4:30? will I at least break my last time of 4:36? All these questions and self-doubt inevitably enter your mind at some point and this is when the real struggle of the marathon begins. Sure, my body was starting to hurt a bit, but the challenge is to keep the mind strong to get to the finish line.

The second half of the marathon was brutal. The amount of walk-breaks slowly increased in frequency and ultimately duration for the remainder of the race. There was a long up and back stretch along the Schuylkill River that seemed to never end. I think it was around Mile 18 that I started texting my wife that I was dying. Ultimately, I finally made it to the end in a time of 4:38, essentially the same as my last marathon, thanks to inspirational messages from my wife, and the encouragement from the fans and my fellow runners. One thing I love about the marathon is the camaraderie that you feel toward the end, when it's not about who finishes ahead of who or what your time is, rather the only thing that matters is to get across the finish line no matter what. I ran the last part without taking any walking breaks despite my legs burning like they have never before.

After crossing the finish line there was a several block long finisher's section where they provided you heating sheets, a medal, post-run snacks, and you could pick up your checked belongings. While I agree all of these things are necessary I didn't like the way this was done for a couple reasons: 1) you were in a barricaded corridor that friends and family could not get in to; and 2) it took me about 15 minutes to walk through the corridor so I could get out. The last thing I want to after finishing a marathon is walk for 15 minutes before I can sit down and collapse of exhaustion. Once I made it through the corridor I met up with my wife and we subsequently caught a taxi back to the hotel to rest for a few hours before heading home.

In reflection, the overall marathon experience was great. Philadelphia was a fantastic host and the volunteers and fans were tremendous. It's definitely a marathon I wouldn't rule out doing again at some point in the future. I know different runners prefer different environments, but for me the big city marathon experience was better overall than the smaller marathon. Although at first I bit disappointed in my time, because I had been training so much more than prior to the first marathon I expected to easily, if not at least, beat my previous time with a goal of close to 4 hours. However, if I am honest with myself this is probably a fair result. My training peaked in late August/early September and I was not able to take advantage of it at the time. I've had a lot of health issues the past few months so to do a second marathon in roughly the same time I feel is a good achievement. Next year I'll be looking for a warmer marathon and hopefully I can better time it to when I am at peak performance, and whether I can break that illustrious 4-hour mark is yet to be seen, at least I know I'll have fun in the process and unlimited pride afterward no matter what happens.

Here is a photo from the conclusion of the race (those heat sheets are amazing!).

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