“I can’t remember the last time I felt this strong this far into a race…. This is awesome!” was my exact thought when I saw the 8 mile marker of the Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Maybe it was because the course was nice and flat…. maybe it was because the weather was nice (slightly humid, but nothing like the Rock n Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon had been a few weeks earlier, and it was also slightly overcast the entire time which kept the sun from beating down on everyone during the race)…. maybe it was because I knew that I was running in the same race as some of the best runners in the world…. maybe it was because the course was amazingly scenic and went through one of the most beautiful, historic cities in the United States… maybe I was inspired by all of my friends that I got to see at the start line that morning…. or maybe it was a little bit of all of those things, but whatever it was, this was the best half marathon I’ve done in a very, very long time.
I’ve written before about how I spent a few years dealing with some personal issues that caused some of my finishing times to slip when I stopped eating and training the right way for a while and how the second half of this year has been a bit of a comeback for me, starting with the Rock n Roll Chicago Half in July, but in another year or so, when I’m ready to look back and pinpoint a specific time when I really started to feel good about running again, it’s going to be this race. I felt great right from the beginning – the race organizers could not have picked a better location to start this race – crossing the start line and running up Ben Franklin Parkway towards the Philadelphia City Hall while looking up at the flags of the countries in the United Nations that line both sides of the street is an amazing experience.
About 3/4 of a mile into the race, the course turns and heads into downtown Philadelphia and right around the time I was getting ready to take that first turn, I saw the elite runners coming the other way (a group that included Kara Goucher and Deena Kastor), and watching everyone cheer for them inspired me to push myself even harder than I already was. By the time I got to the first mile marker, I actually had to slow down a little bit because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to maintain the pace I was running at for another 12.1 miles without running out of gas. I still felt great though so I only eased up a little bit and continued to enjoy the rest of the course. The second and third miles go past various historical sites in Philadelphia (the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc…) and then around mile 4, the course heads back down Ben Franklin Parkway and towards the Schuylkill River Trail.
As another indication of how good it felt to run this race, I’ve done races in the past where I’ve hit mile 4 and thought to myself “thank God we’re down to single digits”. In this race, I saw the mile 4 marker and thought to myself “Wow, four miles already?? That was quick!”.
Mile 5 goes past boathouse row, which is another scenic, historical area along the river and by the time I got to mile 6, I remembered something that I hadn’t thought about in a long time- there used to be a time when one of my goals in a half marathon was to see the sixth mile marker within the first 50 minutes of the race, and my reasoning for that was because I knew that if I could run almost the first half of the race in 50 minutes or less, it meant that as long as I could maintain that pace (or at least fairly close to it) for the second half, I would finish in under 2 hours. I hadn’t had that goal for myself in so long that I had completely forgotten about it. I hit mile 6 at just over an hour this time so I knew that a sub 2 hour half wasn’t going to happen for me…. but that’s fine because it was still the fastest six miles I had run in at least four years and I didn’t feel like I needed to slow down at all…. Up until that moment, I had been under the impression that I just had to accept the fact that I was getting older and most likely wouldn’t ever see the same finishing times that I used to see, but this time I realized that I actually wasn’t that far off of that old 50 minute goal, and if I keep training as hard as I have been over the past several months, maybe I’m not going to have to settle for slower finishing times after all….. Of course this made me want to push myself even harder, which lead to the whole realization around mile 8 that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt as good as I did eight miles into a race.
Right at the end of mile 8, the course goes across a bridge over the river and heads back towards downtown Philadelphia. This area is slightly more hilly than the rest of the course, but the hills are still barely noticeable. I think Philly might even be flatter than Chicago. The part of the course that runs along the river from about mile 6 through mile 11 is also surrounded by trees which would have provided a lot of shade if the sun had come out – it made for a nice pleasant run.
One of the things that made the last mile and a half nice was the fact that I had also done a 5K the day before. I wrote a separate post about the 5K, but basically the two races were part of a series of weekend long running festivals that Competitor Group has been hosting in a select number of cities this year that involve a shorter race on Saturday followed by a longer run on Sunday (and an extra bonus medal for doing both of them… also known as a Remix Challenge). Both races started and ended in roughly the same place and the last mile and a half of the half marathon was identical to the 5K. So like I mentioned in my other post, when I hit mile 11.5, I knew exactly what to expect for the remainder of the race because I had just finished running in exactly the same spot the day before. This part of the course heads back up the river, around the back of the Art Museum and up one final steep hill (the steepest hill in the entire course but it also isn’t very long) and across the finish line.
The finish line is right next to the “Rocky Steps“, which were made famous in the legendary movie. Anyone who wants to run up these steps after the race to do a re-enactment of the scene from the movie can do that, but I saw a lot more people doing it after the 5K the day before than after the half marathon (for obvious reasons).
Competitor Group always provides good entertainment along the course (there were some really good local bands playing at various spots) and they also tend to put together some really good post race concerts and this one was no different. Rusted Root played for runners who wanted to stick around after the race for a bit to reunite with their friends and families, have a beer and pick up their Heavy Medals (the “bonus” medals that are given out to people who do multiple races. I got one for doing both the half and the 5K and another one for doing half marathons in both Virginia Beach and Philadelphia within about a month of each other).
I only have one small complaint about this course – when I crossed the finish line, my GPS said that I had run 13.58 miles…. and normally I would just shrug this off because GPS devices aren’t always accurate and they also don’t account for some of the back and forth weaving that runners do in the beginning of a race when everyone is settling into their pace groups….. but this time several other people with different types of GPS devices said the same thing – the course appeared to be almost a half mile longer than it should have been and based on the number of people who seemed to have noticed this, it was a little bit too much to be just an anomaly. I honestly didn’t care myself because I enjoyed the race so much that I didn’t mind stretching it out a little further… but I also know that there were people who might have missed PRs because of the extra distance so I’m hoping that at some point the race organizers will double check the course and make any adjustments to be sure that it really is 13.1 miles and not 13.5. Other than that though, I really can’t complain. I had a great time running this race and a great time in Philadelphia too. My next half marathon is in Outer Banks, North Carolina in November. I’m hoping it’ll be just as good as this one…..