I ran my first marathon! A race report of the Philadelphia Marathon
Name: Philadelphia Marathon
Date: November 20, 2022
Distance: 26.2 miles
I felt very confident I could do sub 4 hours. I assumed 3:50 was a reasonable goal if things went according to plan. And I set 3:45 as an aggressive goal where nothing could go wrong. I was pretty worried that if I tried too hard for 3:45, I’d injure myself.
I started getting into running during 2020 as a way to get outside when there was nothing else to do during lockdown. I technically ran a half-marathon distance that autumn (with many breaks), and ran my first half-marathon race a year after that. Before 2022, I originally planned to stick to the half-marathon distance for a while, but decided in February to sign up for the Philadelphia Marathon, which sounded like the best east coast marathon I could get guaranteed entry for.
Before I started training, I ran 4 half marathon races throughout the first half of 2022. I also participated in the New York Marathon’s 9+1 Guaranteed Entry program throughout the year.
I followed Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 marathon training program. This 18-week program is super basic: three short runs on weekdays and one long run on the weekend, with the distances gradually increasing to 20 miles before a three week taper. There are no special types of runs for speed work — just pure distance training. My body seems to take a long time to recover, so I sometimes skipped short runs to avoid three runs on consecutive days.
I followed the training program pretty closely until the half-marathon. I chose to race the Rockaway Half Marathon for this long run. It was a flat, boring course along the beach on a very hot day. I pushed myself too hard, and though I got a PR, I felt injured after (likely a minor tear). I tried running through the injury at first, but skipped 2 long runs and then an entire two weeks of training. Not being able to run was demoralizing, but the caution paid off: I felt 100% once I resumed training. At this point, I had to improvise a condensed version of the Novice 1 plan to make up for so many lost weeks. In the normal Novice 1 plan, there are weeks when your mileage goes down, as a recovery week before an increase. I didn’t have time for this and went from 25 miles to 30 miles on back to back weeks.
Some highlights from my training:
- Running with friends, usually in Central Park.
- Running while traveling: San Francisco, Toronto, and Chicago were great spots to do long runs.
- Getting to know more running spots throughout New York, especially around Queens.
The day before the race, my girlfriend and I took the Amtrak from NYC to Philadelphia. We picked up my bib and toured the city.
There were three concerns throughout the day that had me worried about the race:
- While walking around the Philadelphia Museum of Art, my ankle had some dull pains.
- The past week, I often woke up hungry in the middle of the night, so for dinner I tried to eat a hefty meal. I ended up eating too much though, and felt my digestion might cause issues.
- Philly was seriously cold. I had forgotten to pack my running buff and gloves and didn’t have running socks for colder weather. I hadn’t trained in the cold, and was unsure about how warm to dress. The pre-race anxiety was pretty high all day. We went to sleep around 9:30 pm. At 4:45 am, I woke up, ate a donut, and got ready.
The gear I wore, after much deliberation:
- Nike Alphafly shoes
- Icebreaker merino wool quarter-zip for my base layer
- Patagonia Houdini jacket
- UnderArmor leggings
- Lululemon shorts
- Smartwool merino wool socks
- Flipbelt packed with 6 energy gels
- My girlfriend’s REI toque in place of my buff
- Apple Watch and AirPods
The marathon conveniently provided a shuttle right outside my hotel to the start line. I arrived a bit after 6am, and tried to stay warm in a tent. I knew this part of the day would feel the coldest, and wished I had prepared some throwaway clothes to wear. I ate a free Clif bar, and was in my corral a bit before the start at 7am.
In the green corral, I started my run ~15 minutes after 7am. I ran behind the 3:50 pacer, who I planned to stick with for the entire race.
By mile 2, I had already eaten an energy gel and taken off my toque, which I tucked into my belt. Not long after, I took off my jacket, which can be folded up small enough to fit into a belt pocket. I regretted not having gloves though, since I had to keep my hands in the sleeves of my base layer for most of the first half of the race. The winds were brutal — at some point, someone’s glasses got blown off their head and almost hit me.
After the 10k mark, I was feeling strong, and pulled ahead of the pacer. There were many hills here, and I throttled the downhills to buy a lot of easy time. My pace was very ahead of my plan, which gave me some fears of bonking at the end, but I was still taking it relatively easy. No one else seemed to be using the downhills to jump ahead of other runners like I was, which was also worrying.
I had no pre-set plan for when to drink water, but I made sure to do so regularly, especially after the first 10k. I pinched the cup to form a spout to make it easier to drink, but I still managed to spill on my shirt more than once, which was pretty punishing in the cold weather. I also choked a bit more than once as well, so there’s a lot of room for improvement for my drinking technique. It may be worth it to slow down more.
My fueling strategy was to eat whenever I felt a pang of hunger, and during my 20-mile training run, this ended up being five gels equally spaced throughout, which is why I packed six. But before I was even half-way through the course, I had already eaten four. I decided this was not too bad, but I would have to grab the course-provided Gatorade gels and hope they agree with me.
Right around the halfway point, my Apple Watch died on me. This shook me briefly because I was using it to check my distance and pace, and now had to run purely on feel. I also wanted to keep listening to music during some stretches without crowds, and my girlfriend was using it to track my location. I had to shrug it off and focus more on keeping my pace up. I decided immediately that I would invest in a Garmin watch before my next race.
At mile 14, I saw my girlfriend cheering me on for the first time. I gave her my hat and told her my watch had died, and then kept speeding along. I was feeling really strong at this point. Not long after, the winds got even stronger, so I had to put my jacket back on, something I wasn’t expecting to need again. I saw my girlfriend again at miles 15 and 17. In general, the crowds were super encouraging. The race printed my name on the bib, so strangers could cheer me on by name, which was really helpful, especially when I started struggling.
My legs continued to feel great until mile 20. I could feel them giving out on me. I had bonked, but was determined to not take any walking breaks. Running was agonizing now, with the time between each mile marker feeling like an eternity. If I tried to push myself a bit harder, I could feel my leg start to cramp, so I had to back off and keep a much slower pace than I’d like. I saw my girlfriend again at mile 23, this time visibly struggling. It was as different as possible from the previous times I saw her, back when I was feeling on top of the world.
At some point, it was warm enough to put my jacket away again. I frequently needed to roll up my sleeves, bring them back down, and unzip and zip my quarter-sleeve to adjust to the weather, which varied a lot depending on the shade, and the changing winds.
Even though I didn’t feel hungry, I decided to try one of the Gatorade gels for the first time during the final stretch. The cherry lime flavor with that watery consistency was gross, but it gave me an instant boost in energy, allowing me to power through a mile or so. I wonder now if I could have taken even more of them to make those last miles a bit easier. My strategy of eating a gel when I felt hungry now seemed insufficient, since I ended up rarely feeling hungry in the second half of the marathon, but definitely needed more energy.
I kept thinking the finish line must finally be just ahead, only to not see it. After what felt like forever, I finally crossed the finish line.
I was happy that the 3:50 pace group never caught back up with me, but with a dead watch and no phone, I didn’t have an exact idea of my results right away. I also thought I was going to be sick. I grabbed a banana, some water, and some chicken broth, but could barely consume any of it. I felt light-headed, with a strong, unpleasant tingling sensation throughout my nose, something I never felt before. I thought I might throw up. I met up with a friend that finished before me, grabbed a blanket, and waited for the nausea to pass.
Eventually I felt okay, and had to ask strangers for their phone so I could contact my girlfriend. It was a struggle to meet back up with her with all the crowds, but after a while we were able to get on a convenient shuttle back to our hotel. It was only at this point that I learned my finish time, and I was ecstatic! I thought my sub 3:45 goal was too aggressive when I first set it a few months ago.
Back at the hotel, I took a long shower. We checked out and went to Reading Terminal Market, where we got a Philly cheesesteak and some Peking duck. For the next couple days, I couldn’t move very fast, especially going down stairs. But the recovery was surprisingly smooth, with no lasting issues.