by Chris Grecco
This race report should be read with either Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” or the Rocky “Flying Higher” theme song playing in the background; your choice, but “Eye of the Tiger” is not a suitable alternative. Also, note that while I didn’t see it on this trip, club member Gerald Thompson and his wife, Lisa, saw the Liberty Bell. Honestly, I had seen it few times before and I don’t think that it’s all it’s cracked up to be (Bada Bing! I’m here all week folks!). (Editor: Seriously? THAT’S going to be the tone of your race report? What’s next, obscure references to Tony Kornheiser, Les Boulez, and the Bandwagon that absolutely nobody will get?) Sheesh, ease up tough guy, I am channeling my inner-Mike Lesshafft on this one.
This race report will be broken up into one unequal part.
Despite being raised 20 minutes from Philadelphia I never placed its annual marathon high on my list of running “must-dos.” Indeed, I completed other eastern marathons in Washington, DC, Boston, New York City, and even Bethesda, MD and Scranton, PA before considering Philly and I actually put shorter races like the Philadelphia Distance Run and the Broad Street Run in higher regard. With that said, I am at a point in my marathoning “career” where I am seeking “fast and flat” races that are usually run in cool temperatures. (Editor: Oh? So you only want to run the ones where you stand a decent chance to PR?) Bingo! You got it! Spot on! Sharpest knife in the drawer, that one! Philly promised that, as well as an opportunity to spend time with my family before the Thanksgiving holiday, so I registered for the race last spring.
Travel to and from the race went relatively smoothly. I flew up on Friday morning and actually saw Gerald and Lisa at Bluegrass Airport as they were en route to the race as well. Of course, they begged Delta not to put me on their flight (I even saw Gerald slide Audrey, the Delta ticketing agent, a couple of Ben Franklins to seal the deal). So, we agreed to meet at the Philly airport after our flights and I’d drive them to the race Expo, their hotel, etc. like a good chauffeur would. Their flight was conveniently only a little delayed and mine was substantially delayed so they arrived a couple of hours before me and were off the hook to experience my adept inner-city driving. (Editor: Hey, didn’t you hit a bus with your rental car one time when you and Shannan were in New York City on business? Yeah, so? Well, that doesn’t sound like adept inner-city driving to me. Oh, it could have been a lot worse. I only just grazed the bus; I mean, getting out of that jam with a just a wee scratch is the stuff of lore, I tell you.)
Gerald and Lisa agreed to meet me at the Expo and they actually walked around with me for a little while, despite how I was dressed. While the Expo was not the size of one at a really large marathon, there were a fair number of booths and purveyors of fine running goods, including the shortest shorts I’d ever seen made for a guy and priced at only $45. And, I am not talking about the ones actually being worn by that one guy picking up his race number at the Expo. (Editor: Come on now, be nice.) There wasn’t much free food given out, other than the Jack Link’s Maple & Brown Sugar Ham Jerky that was being distributed from the back of a huge SUV parked inside the Convention Center. I mean, what says, “marathon,” more than free ham jerky? (Editor: Oh! Did they have the Jack Link’s Jalapeno Carne Seca Beef Jerky too? Always tasty and reminded me of that basketball coach from St. John’s. Oh, be quiet. Please, I am trying to tell a story here.)
We got our race numbers (they even had our names on them). The race’s long sleeve technical shirt was well designed. The front has the race’s “Running Means Independence” theme emblazoned on it and the back has an outline of the course map along with the words “Kick Asphalt.” (Editor: Oh, neat, I always like when race organizers sort of sneakily slide in one of the lower level curse words onto the event apparel.)
What transpired from the point I left the Expo on Friday night until I left my brother’s house for the race on Sunday morning is pretty much uneventful and doesn’t need to be reported. (Editor: Wait Are you saying that all of the above DID need to be reported? Wow.) Okay, fine. I spent a lot of time with my family, met my Dad’s new dog, slept at two different residences, ate a lot of carbs, did some shopping with my Mom at Kohl’s and Shop Rite, screwed the cabinet doors to her bathroom vanity on, took a picture of my friend John’s old home on Elmire Lane, and watched TV. (Editor: Yeah, you were right. None of that needed to be mentioned.)
I drove to Gerald and Lisa’s hotel early Sunday morning, which happened to only be about seven blocks from the race start/finish area. I dropped my stuff off in their room, took one last swig of water, and lubed up. (Editor: Umm, that last part also didn’t need to be reported.) Gerald and I walked to the start and jogged a bit when we got there. For a race with almost a combined 15,000 runners (7,485 marathon finishers and 7,196 half marathon finishers) it was surprisingly easy to find places on side streets to jog and also easy to get into the corrals only minutes before the race start.
I found the race itself to be fairly well organized with ample amounts of water, replenishment fluid (not sure what brand), and gels (given out a few times from about mile 16 on). Each of the miles (other than 26) was well marked. Crowd support is sizable, but if you need a really big crowd to keep you going in the late stages of a marathon, then you might look elsewhere. You see, there are definitely spectators at numerous places on the course; some are cheering, some are in Manayunk drinking beer at 8am, and some are reading the morning Inquirer and drinking tai chi lattes. (Editor: You mean Chai tea lattes, right? Sure, those.) However, there just aren’t that many fans from about mile 16 to 24, which is when you are running out and back along Kelly Dr. near the river, kind of out in no man’s land, at which is obviously a pretty difficult part of the race. I did see Lisa around mile 6 and my high school track coach and his wife at miles 2 and 7. They all looked as if they were happy that they weren’t actually running the race, but also kind of like they would be even happier if they were still in bed watching Hurricane Schwartz and his bowtie give the weather forecast. (Editor: Well, who starts a late November marathon at 7am? Hey, the early bird gets the worm; go Eagles, I guess).
The end of the race could certainly have been better organized. As you get to the end of mile 26 (and I didn’t see a sign to indicate this), you get intertwined both with people who are only approaching the half marathon mark of their marathon and people who are finishing the half marathon. So, for the last quarter mile there are, in essence, three different races being run and a lot of people all coming together at wide ranging paces (say, 6:20s to 12:00s per mile and at different fatigue levels). Not good and kind of like the vicious snarl of rush hour traffic.
The finisher medal is nice enough, I suppose. Big, gray (pewter?), and it has the “Running Means Independence” theme etched on the front. As always, the mylar blank was shiny and kept me warm like a well worn woobie. The post-race food baggie was somewhat underwhelming, but they did have soft pretzels available, which was a nice, geographically-appropriate touch.
Gerald and I found each other immediately after the race and saw Lisa not too long after that. We walked back to the hotel to clean up before going to lunch. Well, Gerald and Lisa walked back. I had the most intense hip flexor pain ever, which forced me into taking about three steps and then hunching over for 30 seconds, three steps, hunch, etc. Those short seven blocks from the hotel to the start/finish area earlier in the morning seemed like about seven miles afterwards. I think I saw Lisa on more than one occasion look at Gerald as if to say, “Can we just leave him here? He’s walking really slow, he smells bad, and his hair is all messed up.” For what it’s worth, when we got back to the hotel, Gerald gave me two little red pills and said, “Take these, they might help.” I tell you, ALL of the hip flexor pain went away within about ten minutes. I have no idea what they were, but if you need some good stuff, see Gerald or Red Pill G-Man as he is known at post-marathon parties.
To finish the race portion of the trip, the three of us met up with Danville’s Dave Anderson, who also ran the marathon. We all had a good lunch at Maggiano’s and I only cramped up once, which is good for me. I usually cramp up a lot more when eating Chicken & Truffle Tortellacci.
To summarize: I’d classify the Philadelphia Marathon as a high quality and well-run event. If you like big city marathons and/or need Pennsylvania as a 50-stater, it’s an excellent choice. The course is fair and the temperatures are typically pretty cool. It’s also a great race to consider if you like spending time with my family and a couple of friends of mine from high school. There are a few things that could be improved, but none of those would stop me from running it again or recommending it to others.
“…Oh Philadelphia freedom, shine on me, I love you. Shine a light through the eyes of the ones left behind…”
(Editor: Wait! Stop the singing, Elton or Reginald Kenneth or whoever you are! Tell us, how did you do?! Did the phairly phast and phlat course translate to a PR? See how I did that? Phairly, Phast, and Phlat, like Philadelphia and Phillies. Yeah, I get it. Leave the phunny stuff to me, okay?).
Well, I sort of PR’d. (Editor: Sort of? How do you sort of PR?) I matched my previous PR to the exact second. (Editor: Man, that’s weird, do other people do that?) I don’t know, but I did. I finished in 2:45:53, 58th overall, 7th among Master’s, and 4th among Males aged 40-44. It probably can be classified as a potential PR course, but the rough city streets for the first six miles, a few decent sized hills, and lack of crowd support at critical stages make the race fair and fair races aren’t usually guaranteed PRs. However, I came as close as you can to PRing, Dave Anderson did so at age 45, and Gerald missed his PR by about 45 seconds, so the hit rate among our threesome was pretty good.
The real end.
“…Shine a light, won’t you shine a light, Philadelphia freedom, I love you, yes I do.”