Starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon. Photo from VisitPhilly.com.
As I ran the final 10k of the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon, the wind swirled, but thankfully at this point, mostly in a tailwind direction. A smile snaked its way around my face.
I felt ah-maze-ing.
My careful pacing paid off. I felt the strongest I had ever felt in the final 10k of a marathon. Truthfully: it was the best I had felt running in a year or so!
I ran the first half of the marathon with a fair bit of discipline – which is challenging when you feel fresh, and the spectators that line the city streets entice you to push ever onward.
But, I held back.
I stuck to my strategy during miles 14 through 20. These miles brought a zippy little headwind of about 20 mph. I tucked in behind a group of 3 runners, letting them buffer the worst of the wind. Even still, we were blown sideways and backwards, as the wind was not to be ignored or avoided.
At moments, I worried my pace was too slow. Maybe I had more to give? My buffer group moved just a hair slower than I wanted to go (of course, I always want to go faster). Indeed, these were the slowest miles of the marathon for me. But, I resisted the urge to burn my matches, and remained trustful of my strategy to stay within my boundaries until the final 10k.
Out and back in Manayunk. Photo from VisitPhilly.com. (Note: This was not taken on 2016 race day. We had a sunny day!)
The 20 mile mark comes at the turnaround in Manayunk.
Running into this section, the wind was the most vicious it had been the entire day, and the run to the turnaround is a slight tug uphill. The spectators lunge at you with cups of stale beer, and the entire place reeks of hot dogs. This tour through Manayunk is my least favorite of the entire course, but it’s short and the 20 mile point beckoned.
I rounded the cone.
It’s time to go.
I had executed a disciplined run up until this point, and I was ready to see if I could remain strong until the finish line. I hadn’t run a straight marathon (without a swim or bike before it) since I ran Boston in 2011. What I remembered of the distance is that it hurt and the final 10k was a challenge to stay on pace. I had faded before in the past.
What would happen today?
I hoped that 2 years of ultra-running and ultra-distance triathlon would give my legs a different kind of strength–the kind of strength that allows you to push through pain thresholds, to withstand the punishment of 26.2 hard miles.
As we came out of Manayunk and headed back into the city on Kelly Drive, each step I took, my legs delivered on that promise of strength. I was running the fastest I had run all day. Yes, the tailwind helped – no doubt.
I felt the rhythm of my feet as they flew along the river. I heard my breath, reminding me that while I felt amazing – I was still working pretty hard.
And, then, as happens to me in the midst of racing: I felt full of joy. And, those of you who read my reports regularly know what happened next: I was weeping.
My athlete and friend Jill and I after the marathon. Two new shiny BQ’s for both of us!
Weeping because this old girl may still have a few tricks left.
Weeping because I felt so full of f@cking joy.
Weeping because I am just so lucky to be able to do this sh#t.
Weeping because all of the censored (or uncensored) curse words cannot fully express what I feel in those moments of racing.
In the lead up to this race, my friends joked that I was “only” or “just” doing a marathon. But, I do not take any distance for granted, and I believe that every race brings its challenges – regardless of the distance. When we race with heart, we push limits and find the deep strength we have within us – whether it’s 1 mile or 100 miles.
While 26.2 miles may seem like a “short” day compared to some of the shenanigans I’ve been up to, the marathon has always been a magical distance for me. My first marathon was the beginning of my endurance journey, and it still offers the same delight I felt when I crossed that first time marathon finish line many years ago.
Some of the best moments of my life are wrapped up inside of a good run. There is a freedom in those foot steps that teaches me to love myself, to find the joy in the simple things in life, and to celebrate the rewards of hard work.