Sometimes in a race, especially a longer race, you know in the first few steps that it’s not your day. I knew before I had even run a half mile of the Rock and Roll Philly Half on Sunday that I was already walking a fine line between feeling bad and being downright miserable. From that point on, the goal was to stay on the “bad” side of the line for as long as possible. That would end up being about seven miles. But more on that in a second.
First, let’s talk about the week leading up to the race. I spent the weekend in Charlotte where on Saturday, I ran in a new pair of shoes (rookie mistake) that left me sore and blistered after a 9 mile loop. Sunday, I did a 5 mile progression (6:00-5:20) where I struggled to stay upright on sections of very slick boardwalk. I was probably being overly and unnecessarily cautious as I have a history of falling down. I didn’t think anything of the combo of minor issues until Tuesday when I did my final workout for the race (1.5 miles @ 7:50, 4x800 @ 2:30) and had to stretch my calf between every interval. By the cool down it was obvious I had a calf strain – minor, but needing TLC. I spent the next three days not running a step or doing anything for that matter besides icing, eating handfuls of arnica and massaging the sore muscle. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t losing any fitness (I wasn’t), but mentally it’s very unsettling to take three days off leading up to a goal race.
As this all unfolded, the forecast for Sunday got worse by the day. By Saturday morning, it was clear that race time would be soupy to say the least. This concerned me because in the past, I’ve survived heat but crumbled in the humidity. Terry and I talked on the phone before I got on the train to Philadelphia. We decided I would not race if the calf was still an issue on the afternoon shakeout run, but the weather alone would not be enough reason to pull the plug. After all, not every race can be ideal conditions. Terry thought based on recent workouts (including a very tough/satisfying 2x5 mile @ 5:26 pace) I was capable of running 1:12 or a little faster on a good day. Seeing as how this was not going to be a good day the thought was 1:13-1:14.
Saturday in Philadelphia was warm, but pleasant. My first run in three days felt fine if a little rusty, but my calf was probably 85% which for me was good enough to race. I did my best to not think about the unexpected time off and instead just think of it as a very good taper and do everything I would normally do the night before a big race. There was an ice bath, a giant bottle of water mixed with Nuun, stretching, obligatory race kit photo for Instagram, sushi dinner and a beer. Race morning started with coffee, quinoa waffles and peanut butter then a jog from the hotel to the starting line. I decided to leave my Garmin in the hotel and run on feel.
The air was indisputably thick as we waited in the corral. During a shoot with Kara Goucher a few weeks prior to the race we talked about running the first half of the race together (to be completely honest, I am not entirely sure how serious of a plan this was). Either way, I bagged the idea at the line knowing that my humidity history was poor and she is an Olympian capable of adapting much better than I am. When the horn sounded we went out in a nice pack, rolling through the first mile in 5:20. It was a bit fast, but to be expected on this course. From there I settled into 5:30 pace (1:12 on the nose) but it didn’t feel easy. I knew that I couldn’t hold on for 13 miles unless I clicked into a rhythm and when that didn’t happen by the 4th mile it was obvious it was only a matter of time before a blow-up. I figured in the best case scenario I hold on for 10 and see what happens. In my mind the only option was to go for it.
That brings us to mile 7. Having gone through the 10k at 34:20 which is still right around 1:12, I was starting to struggle. I was running with Greg Cass from CPTC and decided to just stick with him as long as I could. Without a Garmin, I had no clue what pace we were going. It still felt like 5:30, so I was shocked to see 5:40-something at the next mile. The miles got increasingly slower and dangerously close to 6:00 but never any easier. Dropping out crossed my mind, but I resisted the temptation. Besides, I wasn’t really sure where I would go if I did quit. It seemed like the best way to get to the finish line was to just keep running there although what I was doing was starting to look less like running and more like self-torture. I stayed with Greg for five more miles during which we would occasionally share a brief exchange about how miserable we were. At mile 12, I had nothing left. I slowed dramatically and felt like it was going to take everything I had just to finish. Greg and two women pulled away and I knew barring some burst of non-existent energy, I was going to run much slower than the very bottom of the range I had expected to run.
1:15:29 is that time. I don’t like it, but I like it better than DNF. I’m not sure what I learned during the experience other than more proof that I can’t handle humidity. But I am happy and surprised not to be too upset about it in the grand scheme of things. Sure, I’m bummed to have spent an entire summer targeting a race that ended up being a dud. However, I don’t think the race is any indication of lack of fitness, preparation, aging, etc. It was just a bad race. I know this wouldn’t be my attitude three years ago.
The big picture is that I really enjoyed training this summer, ran some workouts I was proud of and got into the best shape I have been in since 2012. After a year of trying and failing, I have finally figured out how to maximize training quality with an odd work and sleep schedule. This race was not my chance to capitalize on that, but the window hasn't closed. I’m 3 days shy of 31 and that’s still plenty young to pull down some PRs.