Last Sunday, May 7, 2017, I joined nearly 40,000 other runners and completed my 7th Broad Street Run, the country's largest 10-miler. It is truly an amazing event: a fast, flat, net-downhill course positioned north to south, past some of Philadelphia's colorful neighborhoods, screaming spectators, several universities, silly signs and architectural gems. If you're running for fun, it's a great way to experience a real slice of the City of Brotherly Love. The race has become so large that the directors had to put a lottery system in place several years ago.
Besides competing for personal reasons, the Broad Street Run is part of the Midatlantic USATF Grand Prix, so many local track teams, including my team, the Philadelphia Runner Track Club, were competing for points.
We have little to zero control over how life unfolds, and the week leading up to the race was far from ideal. First, after training hard and consistently for the spring season since January, my body and brain were simply pushed to the limit. In retrospect, think I was just slightly past my peak, but it's really hard to time peaking for a goal race perfectly. Work was insanely busy – a good thing, especially when self employed – but stressful, nevertheless. I also experienced some strife in my personal life, plus, my oldest cat, Samba, was sick. I was very worried about her, had to take her to the vet, and take care of her (Happily, she is doing much better! Thank you, Cat Doctor).
First world problems, right? Still, it all added up to not enough sleep and too much strain on my central nervous system in the days leading up to Broad St. Life has its ups and downs. Sometimes, things fall into place perfectly, and sometimes they fall apart imperfectly. I know my weaknesses, but one of my strengths is that I somehow am able to push stress aside on race day, focus, and try not let it affect me.
The day before the race, I felt extremely exhausted and just relaxed. I sipped plenty of water and also made myself a fresh green juice with cucumber, chard, turmeric, apple and lemon. Dinner was a double helping of pasta with marinara sauce, red wine, and leftover beets with a Maple-Mustard dressing from Salad Samurai (delicious). As usual, I set out my gear so I'd have less to do race morning. I'm still loving the Nike Air Zoom Elites.
To relax and get psyched about the impending race, I rented a running documentary, "The Last Mile" I recommend it if you want to see what makes runners tick. It was a fun way to wind down. Although I was tired all day, once I put my head on the pillow, I could not sleep. After reading a bit, I finally dozed off and slept about 6 solid hours. More would have been better, but I am pretty good about functioning on little sleep.
I woke up without the alarm at 4:15am. The cats looked at me, eyes half-squinted, as if to say, "What the hell are you doing?" I like to get up early enough on race morning so that my breakfast has enough time to digest. I can't run well with anything in my stomach.
I drank a small soy latte and ate an English Muffin slathered with jam and homemade vegan butter from The Homemade Vegan Pantry. After breakfast, I napped for a half-hour. I felt relatively calm, all things considered. Pretty soon it was time to hop on the subway to the start. The subway is free on race day to all runners wearing a bib, which is pretty cool. We were packed in like sardines. Luckily, everyone in my car wore deodorant.
From the yellow corral (2010) to the elite corral (2017)
This year, thanks to my team, I got an elite/seeded bib. It was the second time I've ever worn one, and the first one I've worn in a big-time race, with intimidating, rail-thin Kenyans and Ethiopians sharing the tent. For a second, a little voice in my head whispered "You don't belong in here."
I was happy to see my teammates lacing up, and suddenly, it was no longer intimidating: I was surrounded by friendly, smiling faces and happy chatter. I'll admit I felt a bit funny wearing #F21 in a field of 40,000. But my coach reminded me that I earned it. I'm still working on this. I'm not the "swagger" type.
The speedy ladies went off to do their warm up – a 3 mile jog around North Philly – but that was more mileage than I needed so I did a light mile jog solo. Afterwards, I found my teammate Ashton, and we did some dynamic warm ups together (butt kicks, knees up, cariocas, etc).
There was plenty of water in the tent, and short lines for our own personal porta-potties (They ran out of TP just like everyone else. BYOTP, regardless of your corral). Our gear check was handled right inside the tent which was a nice perk.
Zandra and I walked to the start just as the National Anthem was starting. I am usually obsessively early, so this sent an automatic adrenal surge through my body. Once we sifted through the crowded corral and got our bearings, I listened to the rest of the National Anthem and a realization hit me like lightning.
"I am 52 years old and standing in the elite/seeded corral in the Broad Street Run," I thought to myself.
I got a little teary-eyed. When I first ran the race in 2010, I was placed in the yellow corral– the second-to-slowest one – about half a mile behind where I was currently standing. Each year, with work and consistency, my times improved and I made my way up through the various corrals. When I stood in the red corral last time I ran Broad Street in 2015, I distinctly remember looking ahead at the elites/seeded runners warming up and thinking and believing with determination, "Someday, I will stand in that corral."
There were a few minutes left, so I ran out in front of the start line and did a few striders to wake up my legs. Pretty soon, the horn sounded and we were off
My coach and I agreed on a strategy: run 7:15 for miles 1-4, then if I felt better, crank it up for miles 5-8, then give whatever I had left for the last 2 miles.
I started off feeling good. As usual, I looked down at my watch and was running 6:15 for the first .5 mile, so I cranked it way back. I was amazed at my discipline as people flew by me. I had been experiencing tight hammies for a few weeks, especially after speed work. In fact, I got a sports massage on Wednesday to work out the knots. But as I started running, my legs felt alert and loose. I told myself "You can hold this pace."
First 4 miles logged in at 7:17, 7:05, 7:15, 7:15. Right on strategy.
Throughout the race, 15 MPH crosswinds howled and made things challenging. When you're a slight person, they can be hard to run against. I am finally learning the fine art of drafting. Several times throughout the race, I tucked in behind taller, faster runners and it really did help.
I nursed a GU Gel between miles 4.5 and 5, right as I passed my own neighborhood. At mile 5, in keeping with strategy, I cranked up the pace slightly to 7:10. If I made any mistakes in the race, it was right here. Thinking back, I was too focused on sticking to the strategy and not focused on or honest enough about how I was truly feeling. I should have just held onto my 7:15 pace which was comfortable. I was starting to feel a bit tired - yes, 5 seconds can do that to you, but I still cranked it up a tad for miles 5 and 6, which both came in at 7:10. Mile 6 was a slight uphill.
I took a sip of water at around mile 5 to help wash down my gel and then again around mile 7. I find it difficult to drink while running fast and often choke. Luckily, the weather was not so warm and I did manage to swallow a few sips to get me by.
By mile 7, I was really hurting and had no choice but to slow down. I felt GI issues creeping up. I was feeling like I needed more carbs and knew I should have probably taken another GU but I was afraid it might push my GI sitch over the edge.
I wish we could somehow record the mid-race conversations we have with ourselves. I made peace with the fact that I might not reach any of my goals. Some days you have it, and some days you don't. I told myself that I had enjoyed a phenomenal spring season and this was not the end of the world. I decided to take it one mile at a time, at that point, and think about a different topic for each mile to power through. Mile 7, I thought about my family. About my mom, who died when I was 19 (she was 59) and how different 52 was for her generation versus mine. I thought about my oldest sister, Babs, and how lucky I am to be so close to her. Mile 8, I thought about my friends – I don't have a lot of friends but the few I have are golden. I'll take quality over quantity any day. By Mile 9, I forgot about my "thoughts per mile" strategy and just focused on...
Yes, I was that tired and spent. My legs felt heavy. My brain felt heavy. I was just out of steam. Final mile splits were 7:21, 7:22, 7:24, 7:21. Ugh.
Sometimes, my goals are too soft, but not this time. Not one of these goals gave me a hall pass. I put a lot of pressure on myself. It was the last official race of the spring season for me, so I thought, "Go big or go home." My A Goal was a real stretch – to run sub 1:13. My B goal was also a big reach - to podium (5-deep) in my age group. It's the largest 10-miler in the country so the field is stacked with super speedy runners of every age and you never know who is going to show up – or who will have a better or worse day than you. My C goal was to PR.
The Navy Yard marks the beginning of the end of the race. Once you see the "Navy Yard" sign, there's still a half-mile to go. When you are hurting, that last stretch can feel like a marathon in itself. When I saw the clock ahead, I was shocked to see it counting down from 1:12. I realized I still had a shot at a sub 1:13 and a PR. I ran with everything I had left to cross that line and managed a 1:12:51.
A great video of a bunch of tired, sweaty runners crossing the line. Can you find me?
My Broad Street Run stats
No one is more surprised than me that I achieved all my goals, but I think I'm most surprised that I podiumed. The competitive ladies in my age group are all very experienced and can kick the asses of girls half their age. I feel honored and humbled to be in that group.
- 4 of 1058 F50-54 runners
- 362 of 20,268 female runners
- 1956 of 36,963 runners overall
- Age graded time: 1:02:31
I can honestly say I gave my very best in this race: more than 100%. Could I have run faster and better on another day, when the stars all aligned? Without a doubt, yes. But I am happy with my performance and am now looking forward to some much-needed rest and relaxation before I start to train for fall races, including the St. George Marathon.
My PRTC teammates did an amazing job, as usual. Margaret Vido and Sam Roecker came in 4th and 5th female, overall, and two other PRTC women – Meghan Bishop and Liz Novack, ran sub 60's. Every single member of our team ran an amazing race, and they continue to amaze and inspire me.
Race review: the good
- Easy, fun packet pick up. The expo is fun but it was held in a weird dark hall at the Convention Center this year. Since my hair is always in my eyes when I race or run, I decided to bite the bullet and buy some headbands. They are light and were 5 for $20, a good price. I would have preferred solid colors, but all the solid headbands were emblazoned with phrases like "I run for wine." So I grabbed a few in some interesting patterns. Since my running sunglasses were shot and scratched, I also picked up a nice pair. I don't spend a lot on running sunglasses because I am hard on them and can't justify the spend. In addition, I grabbed some GU gels, since I knew I would need them for both the race and the summer. The only free swag I picked up included Larabar samples (yum!) and some all-natural cat food samples.
- Great volunteers: Plenty of water and Gatorade on the course.
- Inspiring spectators: Pretty much the entire 10-mile stretch of Broad Street is lined with cheering spectators, funny signs, bands and free high fives.
- Fast and flat course. Plenty of room to run. Net downhill, although like the net-downhill Boston Marathon, there are some light inclines.
Race review: the no-so-good
- No women's T-shirt sizes. The T shirt design was the nicest I have seen in years. The graphic was made up of all the neighborhoods the race ran through. But, again, I find it discriminatory that the shirts come in men's sizes only. From an economic POV, female participants greatly outnumbered the men. 16,687 men and 20,257 women. So female sizes/cuts should have been available. The men's small is ridiculously big and boxy on women. I have yet to run a race where men are given women's sizes (eg, men's small get women's small instead). I'd like to see how that would work out.
- Unhealthy post-race grub. I am a huge fan of supporting local businesses, and I realize races like to serve local delicacies. But I think race directors should send out a better message by offering runners healthy post-race food. After the race, runners did get water, a banana and an orange. But they also got a huge soft pretzel (pure white GMO-laced flour, no thanks) and chow bags overflowing with Frankenfoods like Tastykakes and other bars whose ingredient lists were rife with unmentionables – food coloring, preservatives, and even partially-hydrogenated oil (In this day and age? Really?) I threw mine out. No one should eat that crap. When I was a kid, Tastykakes were made with pronounceable ingredients. No wonder the company is in trouble. Aside: in the elite tent, runners enjoyed healthier whole food options like oatmeal, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and fruit. Although they did also inexplicably serve danish.
- Porta-potties: I can't speak to this since I was very happy with the elite tent situation. But based on my past experience over the years, porta-potty lines were about what you would expect for a race this size. Always BYOTP because the chances are good that they will run out. It's not unusual at the race start to see desperate runners peeing in the bushes.