Running has become an integral part of my life, and a priority activity in the cycles of a working week and weekend. With this in mind, and international travel ahead, I was super eager to find a race to run in a place in relative proximity to my travels to the Eastern seaboard of North America. This is how I randomly came across the Philadelphia Marathon, to be run on Sunday 20 November 2011.Setting my mind to run, and organising the travel plan was the easy part but what followed was weeks of training and a kind of obsessiveness in making sure “I get my run for the day” in, that had my family and friends a little worried about my sanity! However, with the help of the accumulated wisdom, experience & knowledge of Coach Farouk Meyer and Len Keating, the preparation took shape and the marathon date suddenly loomed large in front of me. Physically I felt good, and then I picked up a slight calf injury… and rest and relaxation was the order, as well as retaining that ‘mental edge/preparedness’ that feeling physically ready provides.
A gazillion hours of travel later, work related duties completed, and finally over jetlag and a healed calf muscle, I was in the historic city of Philadelphia. Running the Philadelphia Marathon is a sweep through American history, from revolutionary times when the old city was the American capital (pre-dating Washington D.C.), to its present modern, vibrant city life. The marathon starts and finishes at the city’s Art Museum, runs through historic downtown, up through the gorgeous 19th century Fairmount Park, and up and down the picturesque Schuylkill River…the scenery couldn’t be much better for a city marathon. And, not to mention in the back of my mind, the famous movie scene of Rocky running up/conquering the steps of the Art Museum, with that classic movie tune drumming up courage and determination, it was spine tingling stuff.
Donning my Itheko t-shirt, I felt pride in representing our club and country that early chilly morning amongst the thousands (almost 11000 marathoners, 26 000 runners in total). It was great weather on the day, kind of mellow (neither too cold nor hot), with the terrain not too difficult i.e. not hilly, I was amped and ready. I was not ready for the crowds, though. Thousands upon thousands of spectators lined the course (an estimated 70 000 this year!), making the run truly a big occasion. With placards, music, fancy dress, cheering for friends, family and random people, they highlighted that there’s nothing more this town loves more than a champion. A lone trumpeter, at some point, on the route providing an inspiring rendition of Rocky’s signature tune.
Here’s a reminder:
I felt strong, aiming for a new PB (previous best 3hr 28min), and tried initially not to get swept away by the crowds of runners and the adrenalin rush of all those cheering supporters. The fluid stations were well set up, but the marking of the race in miles (versus kilometres) had my mind a bit confused as to timing of drinking and eating. However, with digital timers set up all along of the course I had to adapt… With the race reaching its midway point, 30km, I knew I had it in me to pick up the pace and really go for ‘gold’ i.e. aim for a sub 3hr 10min finish. And so I pushed, and all those spectators came in handy… but my body had other ideas. 2 miles (3.2km) out from the finish I sensed my hamstrings twitch, ready to cramp. And then the right hamstring cramped. I couldn’t go on. I had to stop. Stretch. Try again. Now my right hamstring cramped. I stopped. Stretched. Tried to run again…slowly…Still cramping…slowly. And finally over 2 and half minutes later, I was free of the cramp, and super anxious… a sub 3hr 10min had slipped away. Rocky’s theme song filtered into my head, I literally grit my teeth for the final kilometres, pushing hard to finish and trying to run past those runners that had passed me, and make up time, the competitive zeal coming out! I can’t remember the crowds at this point – that period is a bit of blur but the finish line came into my line of vision and onward I ran, aiming for a typical strong finish. Only for more cramp to intervene in the last 10 metres… and I hobbled over the line, clocking 3hr 10min 56sec. What a race! An epic personal journey, that has me wondering how much faster I could go and perhaps even how much longer I could run for, too.
Faster. Stronger. Longer. The perpetual struggle for running improvement.
Yours in the running,