Last weekend, November 18-20, 2016, was Marathon Weekend here in Philadelphia. Besides the famous fast-and-flat Philadelphia Marathon, the weekend also featured a half marathon and an 8k, so excitement buzzed in the air for local and visiting runners. Members of my team, Philadelphia Runner Track Club, participated in the various races to be counted toward scoring for the USATF Mid-Atlantic Grand Prix.
I decided awhile back to run the Rothman 8K as a goal race. One of the nice things about running with PRTC is that I got ... get a load of this ... an elite bib. Full disclosure: I'm no elite! My time actually would have qualified me for a seeded bib, but there's a huge difference between seeded and elite. Still, it was simultaneously cool and super intimidating. I even felt a little self conscious picking up my bib.
Instead of my usual pasta dinner, I met my friend Andrew for dinner at Rangoon, a Burmese Restaurant with delicious food. Although I love spicy food, I kept things simple and ordered vatana (chick peas) and white rice. I also had a glass of chardonnay.
I laid out my kit. It was going to be hot so I didn't bring much. I packed a jacket and track pants, plus a throwaway 5K T-shirt. Since the elastic on my track team kit shorts was shot after just 3 wears and washes (!) and I was not up for mooning all the spectators lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, I opted for my beloved Under Armour boy shorts. I also wore Feetures lightweight socks and Brooks Launch 3 shoes.
This was a super competitive field. My goals were, in retrospect, a bit skewed:
- A goal: PR (A too-easy goal since I was still basically pack fodder the last time I ran an 8K; in retrospect this should have been my C goal)
- B goal: Podium in my age group – a real stretch with such a talented field (Should have been my A goal)
- C goal: Top 7 age group – not impossible but you never know
Since the race didn't start until 10:45, I got to sleep in and languish over my usual race day breakfast – you guessed it – an English muffin with orange marmalade. With all this time, I was able to enjoy a large soy latte instead of a small one. I also downed an extra glass of water since it was slated to be very warm.
I walked over to the start line – about 15 minute walk from my apartment and one of the advantages of city life.
I checked my jacket and track pants at the gear check and kept on the throwaway shirt from a previous 5K as I warmed up. I usually do a 2-mile warm up jog for an 8-10K race. I cut mine short at 1.7 miles, since I was already sweating and I was also warm from the walk to the Parkway. The temperature was around 65 degrees, not exactly what you would expect for late November in Philadelphia.
One of the cool things about an elite bib is that you can just waltz into the Elite Tent and grab a water, which I did. You also have a "special" elite porta-potty. Nothing special about it other than shorter lines. I was surprised to see that runners with non-elite bibs cut in anyway.
Before the start, I did some dynamic warm ups, and chatted with my teammates. I also ran into my friend Freddy, who had paced a friend in the half marathon.
We lined up in the elite corral. This was a top-notch competitive field, and I'm not going to lie: I was intimidated and even a bit self-conscious about wearing the elite bib. I knew I had no business being at the tippy-top of the line where the true elites were, so I respectfully stayed in the middle, not wanting to slow anyone down, but making sure I was well placed to get off to a good, fast start. We were packed in like sardines. The race started almost exactly on time and we were off.
The first 5K
One huge drawback of being in the elite corral is that I got too caught up in the excitement. I recently wrote in my MMRF race recap that I learned a lot this season about adjusting my race paces for conditions and weather. But this day, it was like all that knowledge got shot out the window.
I went out way too fast. I probably ran a full 30 seconds in the mid 5:00s – an error for which I would pay dearly for later in the race when my legs burned with lactic acid. Intellectually, I knew this. I kept telling myself to slow down, and I did. Sort of. But my first mile clocked in at 6:48 – way too fast considering this was at the top end of my speed and I still had nearly 4 miles to run. I tried to dial it back a bit. Second mile clocked in at 6:53 and third at 6:57.
My 5K time was roughly 20:59 - an unofficial PR for me and much faster than the 21:41 5K PR I ran last weekend! But I still had 3K to go, the weather wasn't getting any cooler, and my heart rate wasn't getting any lower.
(It actually is heartening to know that I can probably now crush my official 5K PR if the muses align.)
Even though you're running as fast as you can, sometimes, the mental and pain part of racing feels like it's playing in cruel slow motion. I knew I was in trouble. Instead of thinking too far ahead, I decided to concentrate on the current mile and to assess how I was feeling. Sounds zen while I'm writing about it, but it didn't feel at all zen while I was racing. It was hot, and I had lost all my heat acclimation ("So have other runners," I reminded myself.)
The last 3K
I was hurting. My unofficial mantra for this race was the simple Navy Sealesque command, "Execute." I had done all the work. I knew I had the fitness. I knew I had the mental wherewithal, even though the present moment was challenging me.
The final 3K was on Martin Luther King Drive, where I run regularly, so I knew every curve in the road intimately. I focused on the bridge just before the Museum and telling myself "it's not that far" and reminded myself that I'd run this road a thousand times.
One woman in a yellow singlet, who looked to be a bit younger than me, passed me with about 3K to go. I let her go because given my fatigue level and the burning in my legs, a surge to keep up would not have been wise. She gained about 50 meters on me. She looked back at me twice to see where I was, which told me that she was tired, too. I decided to focus on running my own race.
When I turned to reach the final hill before the finish, I was mildly disappointed to see that the finish was not where most race Philly finishes were – directly in front of the museum – but rather a bit further down around the curve of Eakins Oval. In reality, it was probably only 100 meters farther, but when you're fatigued and are expecting to see the finish line after pushing, it's disappointing.
I eyed the woman in the yellow singlet. Mustering every bit of energy I had left, I bolted past her. 4:55 pace, according to my Garmin. I ended up beating her by 1 second. When I crossed the line, my teammate Aliah was there snapping pictures and waiting for me. I was gasping for breath, and it wasn't pretty.
She handed me a tissue. "Your nose is bleeding," she said. I laughed, and wondered how long I had been running like that.
My splits for the last 2 miles were 7:04 and 7:09--not great. Classic case of bonking from going out too fast. And the warm weather and tired legs from 4 races in 4 weeks certainly didn't help. But still, I was happy with my performance. I ran hard. A few of my teammates said they had ridden the struggle bus, too. They did magnificently, winning 2nd, 4th and 7th places.
I ended up running positive splits. Not good. I also did not navigate the tangents well and ended up running almost a quarter mile over 8K. So while my real pace per mile for 5.01 miles was 6:58, the official race pace for the 8K (4.8 miles) was 7:01/34:55.
In spite of this, I was super stoked to have won 2nd in my 50-54 age group (35th woman overall out of 1517; 164th out of 2,340 runners). In fact, I was a bit surprised because the field was so competitive.
When I reviewed the results online, I was particularly impressed with the results of the 55-60 age group women. They kicked our 50-54-year-old asses. The 55-60 podium women ran blazing fast 6:30, 6:40 and 7:13 paces, as opposed to our 50-54 paces of 6:50, 7:01 (me) and 7:25. Kudos, ladies!
This is inspiring to me. It gives me hope that I can even faster with hard work.
Rothman 8K Race Review
- Great expo: The Philly Marathon expo is among the best. Picking up your bib is super easy. Great swag. Great vendors. Great samples. Great speakers. It's a must even if you are not running any of the races.
- Competitive field: This can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. But I think anything that shakes up your comfort zone and inspires you to push harder is good. An 8K with 2,340 runners always makes for an interesting race.
- Well organized. Organizing a fairly seamless, competitive half marathon and 8K in the same day is no easy task.
- Bad porta-potty situation: I was lucky enough to get to use the Elite Porta-Potties, which I have zero complaints about. But before I got to the elite tent, I used the regular porta potties twice--once when I arrived and just after my warm up. Both times, the TP was missing (luckily, I bring my own in a baggie). This was the only fallout from having the half marathon before the 8K. Someone should have replaced the TP.
Ill-fitting, male-biased shirts. Le sigh. Another race, another MEN'S small shirt (aka "dress" for me) despite the economic fact that 1517 women raced and only 823 men? WTF? Not cool. It's a great tech shirt, but since it drowns me, what am I supposed to do with this, besides wear it as a throwaway?
10:45AM start time. You could argue this as good or bad, but for me, it was bad. Too much time to think about the race. Too much time for the weather to change....as in to get hotter. Road runners are used to early starts.
Aside: Runners were particularly interested in the races this year since the management shifted from the Office of the City Representative to the more logical Parks and Recreation Department, under the direction of Jim Marino. Marino is known for his seamless direction of the Broad Street Run, the nation's biggest 10-miler. One of the biggest, and smart changes, in my opinion, was moving the half marathon to the day before the full. Previously, the half and full runners started together, making for a super congested start and overall course. When I ran my first marathon in Philly in 2014, this was definitely the case, the the start was insanely crowded. (One good thing was that it prevented you from going out too fast.)