We want to thank Kinna for her race report from the Philadelphia Marathon and congratulate her on a job well done!
I overheard some wise words from another runner the day before we ran the Philadelphia Marathon. She said, “It would be great to sub-4 tomorrow, but it’s just a race. The training is what matters, and I’m really proud of my training this season.” I was in awe of her maturity and self-confidence. I lay in my starchy hotel room sheets that night, full of water and carbohydrates, staring up at the ceiling and wondering if I was proud of my training season. My training was not pretty–in fact, it was downright ugly, and not what I would recommend for anyone else. Every time I did a speed workout, or advanced my weekly mileage, I was set back by tendonitis or fatigue. Over the 14 weeks of marathon training, my weekly mileage averaged 32 (way below goal) and peaked at 45. I averaged 3 resistance workouts (mostly core) per week. I had been doing physical therapy for almost 6 months. My sub-4 journey was ugly, and not to mention expensive—between missed races, canceled plane tickets, and out-of-network PT.
My previous PR (and first attempt at sub-4) was the Portland Marathon in Oct 2015. I went out too fast, hydrated poorly and cramped, and finished 4:01. I started 2016 strong with a few PRs in shorter races and felt very optimistic about my spring marathon goals. Then very suddenly I was sidelined with ankle pain—I had no warning that an injury was coming, and now it was painful just to walk to work. After THREE MONTHS of slow but steady improvement only to then relapse, I got an MRI, which confirmed a partial thickness tear of the peroneus brevis tendon – a relatively common overuse injury in distance runners. The orthopedic surgeon put me in a walking brace, said no surgery needed, just time, and then mocked my marathon time goals (casually bragging about how his wife just BQ’ed in her marathon). He un-empathetically advised 4 weeks in a walking brace and 8 weeks of NO RUNNING. As a medical provider myself, I know how easy it is to prescribe “rest” because it has the fewest possible adverse effects, but compliance is poor if you are treating someone who is worried about losing fitness. I needed a provider with better clinical judgment on NONsurgical sports injuries – like a runner-focused Physical Therapist. And maybe someone with better social skills. This brought me to NY Custom Physical Therapy.
I think every injured runner ruminates over the same question: “What did I do wrong?” I felt like I had made such smart decisions with my training. I had advanced my weekly mileage gradually – Hell, I was even planking! At my first visit, my PT Cat Fitzgerald told me something so validating: This injury was always going to happen to me, it was just a matter of my anatomy and time. And now it was solvable—with strengthening, stretching, and form corrections. The entire summer was about building back up from zero. She switched me from the brace to taping immediately, and then to run/walk intervals on week THREE. On my own, I added in a lot of bodyweight resistance and plyo to get out all that nervous energy (we all run for a reason, right?). I was allowed to run 3 times per week, increasing the ratio of running to walking weekly. In July at Team Championships, I ran 5 miles consecutively for the first time in two months. I quickly ramped up to run 13 miles for the Reykjavik Half Marathon in August and finished in 2:01. While I felt satisfied with my progress, it was a little overwhelming to think that in less than 14 weeks, I would need to run twice as far at a slightly faster pace to get sub-4 at the Philadelphia Marathon.
The next 13 weeks of training were a battle between advancing my weekly mileage and nursing various pseudo-injuries (peroneal tendonitis in the other ankle, hip flexor tendonitis, ITB tightness). I lost a few days of training here and there, and cross-trained instead. My PT laid out a schedule for my long runs that would hopefully prevent reinjury. While I missed some easy mile days and speed workouts, I was able to hit all the long run miles, with three runs over 20 miles. I felt healthy enough to do a 2-week taper rather than a 3-week taper. One week before the marathon, I did an easy run in Central Park on a beautiful day and felt great. I was so ready to take on Philadelphia.
If I could imagine the perfect, pre-marathon tapering week – it would be the exact opposite of how my week went. On Tuesday, I broke out in full-body HIVES. Pain is a horrible thing, but nothing makes you question your own sanity quite like itching. It was diagnosed as a drug rash – an allergic reaction to a medication, likely one of the supplements I had taken (ironically) in preparation for a low-stress pre-marathon week—melatonin to sleep better, omeprazole for stomach acid, vitamin d just because. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus at work, I literally could not think straight. I’d wake up at 2am itching and get in a cold bath to keep from screaming. My allergist gave me a long list of dos/don’ts to try and stop the allergic reaction, but the biggest one was – DO NOT SWEAT. Sweating would just increase the histamine release, which is what makes you itch. I ran ZERO miles the week before my marathon. I did not cross train. I didn’t even foam roll, because that felt too much like scratching, and then I would just itch more. I was in hell. But by Saturday, only my legs and arms were still itchy and the hives had mostly resolved. I wrote 4 emergency contact numbers and all the medications I was taking on the back of my bib, just in case.
The day before the Philly Marathon was beautiful–sunny, 60s, no wind. We all knew what the forecast said though, and I could hear the wind whining outside the hotel that night. I slept a solid 7 hours (thanks to the preoperative sedation dose of antihistamines) and woke up feeling like it was someone else who was supposed to run a marathon that day—certainly not me. I didn’t even remember how to run. My 22 miler three weeks prior felt like a distant memory of a story someone told me about something THEY did. I’m not sure if the itch was better that morning or if I just blocked it out with sheer will (and antihistamine), but I didn’t think much about it. It was still dark when the shuttle let me off at the security check. The winds were about 16mph at the start, with much stronger gusts, and the temperature was 38. I wore my NYCM poncho, which was toasty warm, and tried to harness the confidence of having pride in my training cycle.
The start of the marathon was seamless—literally, I never saw the start line. I ran over the timing mat and started my watch, but it seemed so informal. I spent a while contemplating the margin of error I should account for possibly missing the true starting line—5 seconds? 10?? The first 7 miles rolled through the city streets of Philadelphia with good crowd support – so many people were out in the cold morning, cheering with fun signs (“You’re not even close!”) and so much love for their runners. My Garmin was all over the place, and consequently so was my pace: 8:32, 9:09, 8:33, 9:26, 8:49… No pace felt natural. As we headed out of the city center, I settled into a rhythm, and the crowds thinned out slightly which felt peaceful rather than lonely. As we summited a series of decent hills, I focused on my form and resisted the urge to look at my watch or push my pace. Whatever felt natural would be, and I was surprised looking back to find that those miles were still close to goal marathon pace (9:09, 9:02, 9:19, 8:56).
A 4:00 marathon equals 26.2 miles at 9:09 pace. This sounds fairly simple, but during the race my mind was constantly shuffling the deficits and excesses of seconds per mile, afraid that I may be unintentionally letting my goal slip away. The half marathon point was just before we crossed the Schuylkill River. It was dead silent, likely because there were no spectators, and it was eerily unceremonious –was it even marked? – except for the timing mat. It occurred to me that my family and friends tracking me would see this time, the first update since 10k. I looked down at my watch and saw 1:59:13. Even though my plan had always been to keep as consistent pace as possible, I still panicked at only having a 47 second buffer. This meant that my second half needed to be spot-on.
After mile 13, the race curved around the Philadelphia Art Museum/Rocky Balboa steps, and we could hear them announce that the winner had broken the course record. This felt encouraging – the wind gusts along the river must not be too bad. I saw a cute old lady holding a sign that said, “Run Bitches, I’m cold.” And all of a sudden, I felt HIGH AF on endorphins—I loved the marathon and everyone around me. I had to choke back tears of excitement and carefully reel in the desire to speed up. I stayed fairly consistent: 9:00, 9:08, 9:08, 8:56, 8:59. I focused on watching for Whippets coming the opposite direction and cheering them on. The wind seemed to be blowing either direction depending on where you were along the river and there were these surreal, cataclysmic moments when the gusts would form a big leaf tornado ahead of us. I looked down a few times to make sure my bib was still attached. But then the wind would relent and it gave me a little mental boost, like when you crest a small hill and you suddenly feel faster.
I kept waiting to hit the wall, but it never really came. I did feel tired starting at mile 19, but still able to maintain my pace: 9:02, 9:04, 8:57, 9:04. I focused on the crowds – all that positive energy from drunken strangers – and found myself having fun. I got so many great “Go Whippets!” cheers. At mile 23, my leg muscles started to seriously ache, but all things considered I was fine. My brain rattled in its cage for something else to focus on. I thought about something Kara Goucher said when we hung out—I mean, when I saw her speak at a Custom PT event. She talked about focusing on the positive during races–how she thinks about how good her form feels, or how strong her training was. It was at that point that I realized I would probably pull off a sub-4, as long as I could concentrate on maintaining my current pace. I returned my focus to the growing crowds as I ran the final few miles. I focused on picking people off ahead of me. I focused on my form and welcomed the ache in my legs. My last miles were 9:03, 9:06, 8:54, 8:44, then 3:39 (0.4 at 8:33 pace). The finish line felt so wide and open – I don’t remember a banner or anything, and I was confused about which timing mat was the actual finish. I looked at my watch in disbelief: 3:57. Finally sub-4. And then I burst into tears.
I certainly hope that I have smoother training seasons ahead of me, but I do feel proud of this training season. I saw a picture of graffiti art recently that said, “Relax – Nothing is under control.” I think that is the lesson I learned from marathon training in 2016. There are certain things I have control over, in marathon training and in life, and there are way more that I do not have control over. I worked very hard to put myself in the best position I could, but also had to learn to let go a little and let things sort themselves out (tendon fibers, weekly mileage, tapering, histamine release). And by letting go of control and showing up anyway, it was my best race yet.
1st half 1:59:13
2nd half 1:58:08