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How transitioning changed me as a runner and do I have an advantage as a transgender athlete?

transgender runnerI’ve written about a lot of this over the course of the last few months, but a few people have requested a post dedicated to how I’ve changed as a runner because of transition. Since I’ve read two articles about transgender athletes in the past few days, I figured it was finally time to write about it myself. While my experience has been in line with the experiences of other trans women I’ve spoken to regarding the topic, I do want it to be noted that this is very specifically about my experience and it may not be universal to all transgender (women) runners.

When I decided to transition, I knew things would change for me as a runner and this was something I was going to have to come to terms with. I tried to research it as much as I could, but I was only able to find two articles which specifically discussed effects on runners. I knew to expect to be slower, but I didn’t know by how much.

When I finally started on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which consists of estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone blockers, I realized this was no joke. Within just a few weeks, I was already noticing that building and maintaining muscle mass and strength was much, much more difficult. I used to have huge calves, but I watched as they quickly downsized. I lost five pounds within the first couple months, all of it was muscle, as far as I could tell. I was glad to have the testosterone out of my body, but this wasn’t a side-effect I was too thrilled with.

As I started gearing up for my Richmond Marathon training cycle, I was having a lot of difficulty mentally adjusting to the physical changes in my running. Despite knowing ahead of time things were going to change, I struggled to fully accept it. I still had no idea where to set my expectations and I felt like I didn’t know my body anymore. I didn’t know how or when to push it anymore. I generally only run by feel and perceived effort level, I don’t look at a watch to pace myself. I used to be able to guess my pace within +/- 10 seconds reasonably reliably, but I could no longer do this. I had no idea what pace I was running anymore. I also didn’t even know what paces to be shooting for either. Setting expectations for myself is where I struggled the most. I didn’t know what goals I should have or what paces to aim for while training and I didn’t know how to measure my progress towards any goals anymore.

Prior to starting HRT, I ran a 3:08 marathon which breaks down to a 7:12 minute/mile pace. Unfortunately, I don’t have a recent 5k pace from just before transition since I don’t run a lot of them. My all-time 5k PR is 20:29, a 6:36 pace, but leading up to the 2012 Chicago Marathon, I was doing 10-milers at around 6:50. So, realistically, I should have been able to do something like a 19:15-19:30 5k.

Now, after almost nine months on HRT, I can’t even dream of hitting these paces again. My current 5k pace is just slightly faster than my old marathon pace and my new marathon pace is 83 seconds slower than it used to be (a 3:44:55 finish). And the thing about my new marathon time is I ran about 20% more miles during my training cycle. I upped my running from five days per week to six. I broke my weekly and monthly personal distance records. And I still ran 36 minutes slower than I used to.

In the past, I would run really easy runs and recovery runs with my wife when she would be out for a tempo or mid-intensity run. These would be very easy for me and she’d help me keep my pace slow when I needed that (a recovery run should be about as slow as you can possibly go). Now, it’s become the opposite, she runs her easy and mid-intensity runs with me, but leaves me in the dust on her harder runs. (As a side-note, I’m actually not bothered by this at all! I’m excited to see her growing as a runner and getting faster and faster. Seriously, she’s getting out of control and accidentally PRs races now!)

Now that I’ve completed a serious marathon training cycle while on HRT, I’ve been able to figure out where my expectations should be a bit more. I know I’ll never get close to those old times I used to run, but I’m starting to feel as though I know where I’ll likely be able to get to. Right now, I generally can expect to run 60-90 seconds slower than I used to at any given effort level. I’m also finally able to feel things out more while I’m running. I’m able to estimate my pace, though with a little less accuracy than before, and know when to push it. I’m still lacking a lot of confidence in my body’s ability to do what I want it to when I’m pushing it on a longer run, but I’m hoping that will come given more time.

What all of this leads to, I guess, is…do I have an advantage over cisgender (not transgender) women? Is it wrong for me to be competing as a woman? Everyone is going to have their own opinion on this and there is a serious lack of scientific research on the topic, but I do feel being a transgender athlete gives me a little bit of credibility to discuss this here.

My honest answer is no, I don’t have an advantage and, yes, I should be competing as a woman. 

Yes, I was able to train at a certain level before, but even prior to HRT, I was still well within the realm of what non-elite women my age are capable of running (I was still very much slower than even sub-elite women). Being that running is my hobby—okay, it’s practically my life—I never even came close to approaching a level of training that would have been able to take advantage of my testosterone driven puberty 1.0. I was able to build more muscle mass and strength, but all that is long gone now. When I started HRT, I was actually in the middle of a seven week break from running thanks to hip tendinitis so I wasn’t even in shape anymore when I started. Beginning running again after my injury and with HRT felt like starting from scratch. I hated running for months and I wanted to quit so badly. It wasn’t until around the fifth month that I finally started to feel like my old runner-self and liked running again. I was slower, but it felt the same.

Currently, my testosterone level is at the very bottom of the normal female range and closely monitored via regular lab tests. So the reality is the vast majority of women actually have more testosterone than I do and, therefore, are likely to have a slightly greater ability to build and maintain muscle mass (speaking from a general sense, of course). Coupled with my lower testosterone is my larger skeletal frame and higher bone density compared to cisgender women my age, height, and weight. This means with all other things being equal, I’m carrying around more dead weight in my bones than a comparable ciswoman who may make up the weight difference with additional muscle. While bone density may be a debatable topic for contact sports, when it comes to running, heavier bones just means more weight to carry around. The only advantage here is the decreased risk of bone-related injuries, such as stress fractures. However, my running has been far from injury prone in other departments. I’m just as likely overall to get injured.

One advantage I have over my former self is that I’m much better at handling running in warmer weather than I used to be. However, this is a documented advantage that women have over men, so if anything, it strictly puts me at the same level as cisgender women.

There are lots of little things as well that probably go in both directions. I have larger lungs and previously had a higher capacity for oxygen consumption, but having been out of running for almost two months zapped most of my increased aerobic threshold before I even started HRT and it hasn’t seemed to come back at all. Plus, I have no idea how to breathe with a sports bra on! These things are really constricting! There’s also the fact that my hips are shaped more like a typical man’s hips so I should have an advantage in that department, but my battles with hip and ankle tendinitis would indicate that I maybe I don’t. I don’t really know how this one plays out, to be honest.

In the end, taking all of these things in account, I truly feel as though I’m on equal footing as cisgender women. If you look at my real-world performance, I put in more work to run much slower than I used to. While there are many factors involved (course, weather, training, current fitness level, size of field, etc) so it’s not a foolproof way to measure this, but, a year ago, I finished in the top 6% of men at the Chicago Marathon and, this year, I finished in the top 10% of women at the Richmond Marathon (again, with much more training). I used to be within four minutes of the male qualifying for Boston. Now, I’m ten minutes away from the female qualifying time. Taking a look at the numbers (and I will gladly share more race results and information to anyone who wants it), I compete at roughly the same level compared to other women as I used to compared to men before I started hormone replacement therapy.

What’s your take on this? If you’re s cisgender woman, do you have a problem with me running as a woman?

Are you a transgender athlete? What’s your experience been like?

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2013 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge – Marathon – 4:27:06 (pre-HRT)

The full marathon, all four Walt Disney World parks, the most magical of marathons and the middle and last thirds of the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge. And with 2013 marking the 20th running of the Walt Disney World Marathon, things were extra special! There was even a new course to enjoy!

After the half marathon the day before, I made sure to keep things easy on my body. I ate plenty of carbs, drank plenty of water, and made it a short day in Epcot. Though, we decided to make an unplanned trip back to the race expo. With my wife’s issues with her foot we thought maybe giving some KT Tape a shot might help. Since they were taping people up for free, we figured even if she didn’t wear it for the race, she could wear it for the rest of the day. I even decided to get my arches taped as well since they can be problematic for me from time to time. I also wanted to get a new shirt to wear for the race. Normally, I’m a very big stickler for the nothing new on race day rule, but with the temperature breaking 80 with 100% humidity again, I wanted a cooler (and lighter colored) shirt than I had brought with me to wear. I was hoping to grab a 2013 Goofy Challenge technical shirt, but they were all out of my size so I opted for “just” a marathon one. I made sure to give it a once over to check for any possible problem spots for chaffing, but everything looked good!

With marathon day starting at 2:15 am, just like half marathon day, it was important to get into bed early and get plenty of rest. I didn’t mess around with this and made sure to be in bed before 8pm again. When the alarm went off, I was ready to hop out of bed and get started with the pre-race routine. I looked over at my wife and asked her how her foot was doing, to which I received the surprising response of her saying it felt totally fine. Go figure. We quickly got ready and out the door to the bus for the ride over.

Since we caught a bus surprisingly quickly, we had plenty of time at the starting area to hit the bathroom and find our spot in the starting corral. With my wife still not sure about how her foot would hold up, she didn’t want to set any particular goals other than taking it easy. We decided to line up closer to the front of the corral, but not start with any pace groups.

And just like the day before, after a few blasts of fireworks, we were off!

Disney World Marathon startThe first few miles of the race were very uneventful. At first, it was mostly just dealing with the crowdedness before the runners spaced out a bit and figuring out how to best handle the banking of an early highway off-ramp. We opted to run up at the top where the ground was flatter, but that meant a bit more running overall. As we neared the second mile marker, we saw the 4:30 pace group, but didn’t make an effort to catch up to them. We just kept on with our own pace.

Just like with the half marathon, I knew it was important to take liquids at every stop so we made sure to take at least Powerade every time.

As we made our way into Magic Kingdom for my second run down Main Street, USA in as many days, we were both feeling pretty good. We were past the narrow spot where my wife got pushed last year and the crowd felt like it had thinned out a little more than in past years. As usual, Main Street was full of energy! Great early race boost!

As we made our way through Magic Kingdom, we planned to move to the right side of the course to make sure we could get some good photos coming out of the castle. Our plan worked perfectly, there were a ton of photographers on our side ready to snap us!

By the time the were on our way out of Magic Kingdom, my wife’s GI issues were starting to cause her some problems so we stopped at the next bank of porta-potties real quick. Luckily, there were about fourteen of them so there was no wait and we were off again in about three minutes.

Now it was time for the long trek to Animal Kingdom, but this year the trek was broken up. This section is usually around ten miles down back roads which can feel a bit grueling during a marathon…even with all of the entertainment on the side of the road. However, new to the course this year was a lap around the Richard Petty Driving Experience race track. Going into the race, I was a little worried about this since race tracks tend to be highly banked in the turns, but the course stayed along the inside where things were still flat. While the track wasn’t overly exciting, it was a nice way to break things up between the two Kingdoms. Unfortunately, my wife was still having GI issues and needed to make another pit stop (see what I did there?). This time, there was a short wait, but we were off again in around three minutes.

Around this point of the race I was actually starting to feel a bit fatigued and I wasn’t too happy about it one bit! We were only at mile nine! I started to question running under two hours the day before, but there wasn’t much I could do about that at this point. I was hydrated and everything, but my legs were feeling a little more tired than I wanted them to. Even though I’m a much stronger runner than I was a year ago when I did Goofy, I ran the half seventeen minutes faster and, with us on target for a 4:30 finish for the full, I was going to finish the marathon 28 minutes faster than the year before. There was really no reason to be surprised, I guess.

After another three uneventful miles, we were approaching Animal Kingdom. This year, the race gets to the park about four miles earlier so it was a slight tease, but running through the parks is the best part of the Disney World Marathon so it was a welcome sight! Of course, the parks always fly by and, just like that, we were back out onto the roads between the parks in what felt like no time. As we made our way away from Animal Kingdom, the wife and I reminisced about the horrible blister she had pop on this section of the course last year. But none of that this year, she was feeling pretty good and my legs were doing okay. I was feeling about the same as I was four or five miles back so I took that as a positive.

At this point, we were getting ready for the last change to the course, a big lap around ESPN Wide World of Sports and the special 20th mile surprise spectacular. Interestingly,  we weren’t even at the 17th mile marker when we passed the sign at the entrance to Wide World of Sports. I wondered how they were going to fit so much course back there, but I quickly found out. There was a lot of looping back and around. Eventually, we made our way onto the baseball field for a lap around the outside of the field with a big crowd cheering in the stands. Lots of energy in here, but my wife was again having problems with her GI so we stopped right after we exited the field for her to take care of things again. While she was in the porta-potty, I did some quick math to realize we were still on pace for a sub-4:30 finish if we kept the pace we had been running. My legs were feeling up to it and she was doing okay so we kept on with our pace.

As we made our way out of Wide World of Sports, we passed through the 20th mile surprise which was, frankly, a bit underwhelming after all the hype that was made about it before the race, but with just 10k left to go, we were locked into the run and focusing on the last leg of the race.

Shortly after the 21st mile marker, my wife made a comment about a girl we passed by saying that she looked a lot like our Twitter friend Krissy Murphy. I wasn’t paying attention, but her suspicion was quickly confirmed as Krissy ran to catch up to us and say hi! We ran together for a minute and then she dropped back to continue with her easy picture-taking pace. I couldn’t help but think how fitting it was to finally meet her on the Walt Disney World Marathon course since Disney and running are the things we tweet back and forth about all the time. In fact, just a year before as we were getting ready for (and tweeting about) Goofy was when the Twitter friendship began!

With just four miles to go, we were in the home stretch and we knew it. My wife tends to be quite the finisher and started to pick things up a bit. Despite the fact that I was feeling more fatigued than I was last year, I was still up for a faster pace to the finish so we went for it. I let her pace us the rest of the way as we entered into Hollywood Studios. She powered through the course passing everyone in front of her and I just did my best not to lose her through some of the narrower parts where I had trouble finding the space to actually get around people.

We exited Hollywood Studios and made our way down along the river towards the boardwalk. As we ran down the boardwalk, we started to approach the 4:30 pacer and I encouraged the wife to blow by him and leave him in the dust behind us. With a sub-4:30 finish guaranteed at this point, we focused on getting to the finish. We left the boardwalk and entered the World Showcase in United Kingdom pavilion to a wall of energy. The countries ticked by quickly and, before we knew it, we were blowing by Spaceship Earth and on our way out of Epcot with the finish just a few hundred feet ahead of us.

We crossed over the finish line with our hands held for a solid 4:27:06 finish, less than a minute away from my wife’s marathon PR! If not for all of the bathroom stops, she would have crushed her PR. I estimate that she lost just under ten minutes because of them. But even aside from that, she wasn’t running at 100% effort. Taking both of those into account, I think she could be close to four hours without much more additional training.

All of the Powerade, water, energy gels, and candy along the course put together with a good night’s sleep really made a difference. I was feeling really good. I was feeling pretty hydrated and my legs felt much better than I expected them to after they started to fatigue so early on.

While I was a bit sore, I couldn’t help but notice how much better I felt than I had after every other marathon I’ve ever run…and even a couple half marathons as well. I was impressed with myself and it really shows how far I’ve come in a year. Even though our time was way slower than my PR (by more than an hour), I still completed the Goofy Challenge almost 50 minutes faster than I had the year before!

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2013 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge (pre-HRT)

Goofy-4As if running 39.3 miles once wasn’t enough, I enlisted myself to take on the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge again this year. For those not familiar with the race, it’s a half marathon one day and a marathon the next. And both run through Walt Disney World! Last year, I combined both races into one recap, but I think that got a little long so, this year, I wrote two separate posts to recap each separately. You can follow through to each one below.

2013 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge – Half Marathon – 1:58:00

2013 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge – Marathon – 4:27:06

Just like last year, the Goofy Challenge and the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend as a whole was a great experience. Lots of fun! This year marked the 20th running of the marathon so there was a completely new medal to commemorate that and it was heavy! It’s a beautiful medal, so beautiful, in fact, that I had a tough time deciding which medal to wear to the parks afterwards. I wanted to wear my Goofy medal to show off my accomplishment, but the new Mickey medal was too awesome to leave back in the room. I ended up wearing the Goofy medal around my neck with the Mickey medal on the back of my camera bag.

runDisney updated the course to mark the 20th running, as well. This year, the course included the Richard Petty Driving Experience race track and ESPN Wide World of Sports. Both additions were very welcomed and helped the make the time between the parks much more enjoyable. They also went with handing out a little box of food to finishers of both races instead of individual food items. When you’re trying to make your way through the finishers’ area while gulping down as much water/Powerade as possible, getting some nutrition into your body, and tweeting/texting/Facebooking/whatevering about your accomplishment, hands come at a premium, so having everything in a box helps a lot!

With two Goofy Challenges under my belt, I’m torn about doing it again next year. I love doing both races and getting three medals, but it’s a big commitment and has a sizable effect on how you can enjoy a large portion of your trip to Disney. The reality is that I’ll probably do it again soon, but we’ll see!

Coming up over the next few months, I’m planning to run two half marathons and another full marathon in the Spring. I’m considering one of the half marathons and the full marathon being for the NY/NJ Challenge. After that, the wife and I are planning on taking on the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland. This time it’s just the new Disneyland 10k and the Disneyland Half Marathon so it’s a much easier challenge than Goofy. Still, it comes with a bonus medal for doing the challenge and it will earn us the Disney Coast to Coast medal! That’s SEVEN runDisney medals in one year! Finally, I’d like to put a fall marathon into my schedule, but I haven’t really put much thought into which one yet.

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2013 Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge – Half Marathon – 1:58:00 (pre-HRT)

Half Marathon start

With only two theme parks and just thirteen point one miles, the half marathon is the easy part of the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge, but being that it’s the first race of the two, it can really make or break your weekend. The key to getting through the Goofy Challenge in one piece is to take this race easy.

After getting down to Orlando and picking up our race packets, we kept Friday simple. With no park passes for the day, all we had planned was just to head on over to the expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports and then some relaxing at the hotel. I think we were even asleep by 7pm, which is good because race day starts with a 2:15am alarm to get us out of bed. When we woke up, my wife was complaining that she was having some pain the arch of her foot. After toying back and forth with what to do, she decided to go for it and we would just take it extra easy. But as we started walking out to the bus stop, the pain was a bit too much and she made a quick decision to sit the half out so she could rest up for the full marathon. It didn’t seem worth it to risk having to sit marathon race out. Losing my running partner for the race hit me a bit hard. I couldn’t stop thinking about her the entire time. I knew she was back in the room beating herself up over it. After months of training, it’s a huge blow to have to make a decision the day of the race to not run.

After a short bus ride, I was in the Epcot parking lot and ready to make my way over to the starting line. For some reason, I was in the B corral even though my previous race times put me well into the A corral for both races. However, since I was planning to run with my wife, I didn’t bother having my corral changed, so it was a B corral start for me! My real concerns at this point were with my wife’s choice to not run and my shoe choice for the day. I decided to run in my New Balance 1600s, marking the first race longer than 5 miles that I wasn’t running in my Vibram Five Fingers in over two years. I’d only even done a handful of training runs over thirteen miles in them over the course of the last six months, but I knew that they’re easier on my ankles…even if my performance is much better in the Vibrams.

After the twenty minute walk to the starting area, I got into my corral and did what warming up I could manage in the space I had available. While I was doing that, I saw the Galloway pacers for a two hour finish making their way through the corral up to the front. Since I was going to have to pace myself without going too fast, I figured running with a pacer might be a good idea so I followed them up to the front and stuck with them. My wife was looking to do a 2:05 finish and that’s what we trained for so a two hour finish seemed like a good target for me to aim for. Unfortunately, because it was a Galloway pacer, this group would be following Jeff Galloway’s run/walk program. I had no interest in that so I planned on just trying to keep steady when they started walking. Not having my wife with me definitely threw my whole race plan off!

Half Marathon startAfter a blast of fireworks, the first wave was off and just a few minutes later it was time for my corral to go! As usual, the race started off pretty tight with a lot of people packed in despite the wide road road for the first mile and a half. After we got moving, I spotted the balloons for the 2:00 Clif Bar Pace Team just up ahead and I knew this was a better group for me to run with. Even with a marathon coming up the next day, I knew that I could easily expend the energy to quickly catch up and then park myself with them, but just before I caught up to them I saw a member of the Oiselle Team and struck up a quick conversation with her. Since my wife just made the team, I figured I’d ask the girl if she knew her. It turned out that her and my wife had talked a bit via Twitter and had planned to try to meet up. Since she was running while injured, she was keeping her pace super slow and I fell back quite a bit from the pace group I was trying to catch up to, but I wasn’t too concerned. After a couple minutes, I left her and made my way back up to the pace group. I decided to just go for it and pick my pace up to my normal race pace for about a quarter mile or so to get up to them quickly. Since my pace was around two minutes/mile faster than theirs, it didn’t take me too long to catch up!

Once I got with the pace group, I parked myself there and didn’t budge from the pacer’s side. Knowing that the temperature was going to be approaching 80 by the time I finished and the humidity was around 100%, I wanted to do everything I could to be smart and make the half marathon as much of a net-zero for my body as possible. I took Powerade at every stop except for a mile before the finish and I even ate an energy gel around mile seven or eight. For a half marathon, this was complete overkill for me, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

As the race rounded into Magic Kingdom for our run down Main Street, USA, I could feel the energy of the crowd. This is always the best part of these races. Knowing that it would be really easy to be swept up in the energy and lose the pacer behind me, I took extra care to keep my pace under control and stick right next to the pacer. As awesome of the energy of running in Magic Kingdom is, I was still thinking about my wife and missing her by my side and I was a bit worried she wouldn’t be able to make it out for the marathon. I think this helped keep the adrenaline down a bit so staying on target wasn’t too hard.

After a quick run through Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Cinderella’s Castle, and finally Fontierland, Magic Kingdom was done and it was time to make the trek back to Epcot. This portion of the race can be a bit boring as it’s just back roads without too much to look at. Still, for a more seasoned runner, it’s not too bad. We’re used to that kind of thing.

At the mile eight water stop, I lost the pacer behind me somewhere. Worried that I might slowly end up picking up the pace without him, I took extra effort to really bring my pace down to let him catch up, but when I looked over my shoulder, I couldn’t see him. I practically felt like I was walking, but I didn’t want to risk anything. I still have no idea how I could have lost him so badly in the span of just an eighth of a mile or so, but it happened. Eventually, right at the ninth mile marker, he caught back up to me and I playfully asked him what took so long. Once I was back with the group, I was able to get back to the rhythm I’d been running with all race and things felt more natural again.

By the time we got to the eleventh mile, it seemed like there was only one other runner left with the pacer and me. As we approached the last hill of the course, we could see the sun rising over it with Spaceship Earth just off to the right and, with a layer of fog still over everything, it was a very beautiful sight to see! After a remark about the beauty by the pacer, I mentioned to the other guy running with us that the hill we were approaching was the worst of the race, but that it’s nice and flat afterwards. I think I may have freaked him out a bit, but he powered up the hill and left the pacer behind. I ended up doing the same and, with just around a mile and a half left to go, I let myself have a nice strong finish. I picked up the pace slightly and left the pacer behind for good.

As I made my way into Epcot towards where Future World and the World Showcase meet, I was disappointed to the see that the big Christmas tree had already been taken down. This is when it hit me that I hadn’t seen any of the Christmas decorations in Magic Kingdom either. Usually, these are still up for Marathon Weekend.

From here, the course doubles back on itself a bit before making its way out to the parking lot. I kept my pace nice and steady and finished with a nice 1:58:00 time. This was a bit faster than I had planned prior to race day, but I felt great. Taking all of the water throughout the race really made a difference. I was insanely sweaty, but I wasn’t too dehydrated feeling. And most importantly, my legs felt good. I hung around just past the finish line so I could wait for the pacer to shake his hand and thank him for keeping me on track. Then I quickly got my medal and made my way through the finisher area. This year runDisney opted to hand out little boxes filled with food instead of a bunch of individual things. This makes life a lot easier and eliminates the struggle of holding everything while also trying to eat and drink it all post-race.

Since I was eager to get back to my wife, I didn’t waste any additional time. I hopped on a bus back to the hotel right away, I didn’t even stop for a post-race photo! To be honest, I was still really bummed that she couldn’t run and didn’t really want much to do with anything other than getting back to her.

Overall, this half marathon was probably the most controlled that I’ve ever run…which is important when you have a full marathon the next day!

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2012 Giralda Farms 10k – 43:14

After four and a half years of running, five half marathons, and three marathons, it’s a little odd that I’d never run a 10k, but somehow, I hadn’t. So I guess it was finally time to do one.

My wife and I decided on the Giralda Farms 10k in Madison, NJ. At only $18, it’s a steal! I figured, with the race being so cheap, it would be a rather small and poorly organized affair. I was wrong. The race was a decent size and was very well run. Even though they do a 5k and 10k that start together, the course was very clearly marked and easy to follow. There was no confusion over which direction to go for each distance. While there we no clocks at each mile, there were volunteers with stopwatches calling out the time as we passed.

10k is a weird distance for a race, I think. Usually, the only time I think about 10k as a distance at all is when thinking about the end of a marathon. However, six miles is a distance I know very well from training, for a very long time, that was my go-to distance when I was just going out for a run. Once I started getting into more serious training plans that varied my distance a lot more, that changed a bit, but I’ve done tons of six-milers over the last four and a half years. I know the distance well, I just have never thought about it from a racing standpoint.

That being said, I’ve been having a tough time bouncing back from the Chicago Marathon, nothing is really feeling right and my legs haven’t been appreciative of my desire to put them to work. So with that in mind, I figured I’d keep it relatively easy and give maybe 80-85%. I was shooting for a 7:10 min/mile pace. Just under my best marathon pace, but a bit slower than my half marathon pace and way slower than my 5k pace.

The Giralda Farms 10k course consists of two big loops. One is on one side of the office complex and the other is around the other side. Yeah, it’s weird, the office complex is called Giralda Farms. The course is also quite hilly with constant rolling hills to deal with.

The race starts facing down a hill for the first mile. Just before the start, I reminded my wife to be careful in the beginning, starting downhill can be dangerous. It’s easy to end up running way too fast and getting into a rhythm for a pace your body can’t keep. Unfortunately, stupid me didn’t heed my own advice. I didn’t feel like I was going too fast, in fact, I felt like I was at a nice 7 min/mile pace, but as I got to the first mile-marker, I found out I had run a 6:37 first mile. I knew that was a bit too fast for me to maintain for 6.2 miles on that course and in my current physical state, so I pulled it back a bit from there and was able to keep relatively steady the rest of the race.

Just at the end of the first mile, you hit the first uphill…after running downhill for a full mile. This was a steep hill too. It felt like we were climbing back up most of the elevation in just an eighth of a mile or so. It was tough.

At the end of the first loop, we came back down the hill we started on, but this time at the bottom, there was a 180° turn around to take us right back up the hill. This was another tough climb, but once back at the top, we were just about at the fourth mile-marker and starting the loop around the other half of the corporate park. Most of this loop was downhill, but it was a constant downhill forcing you to always be focusing on controlling your speed.

As we rounded towards the final mile of the race, we got back onto the main road we’d already run on three times and made our way to the finish line. Luckily, the turn off for the finish was before the steep part of this uphill so it wasn’t too bad.

I ended up sprinting across the finish line a bit under my desired time at 43:14, a 6:58 min/mile average. I was happy with that given what I was looking to do, but I felt like I had to put in a bit more effort than I should have given my recent marathon time.

The Giralda Farms 10k is a challenging course, but it was a fun race and was well organized. For $18, you really can’t complain.

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2012 Beerfest 5k – 22:55 (pre-HRT)

Okay, so this race happened a week ago, but I forgot to post about it, so here goes!

The Beerfest 5k in Rahway is a fun little event that my wife and I took part in for the first time this year. There are race bibs and a race clock, but no official results or timing chips. It’s really just for fun. And at the end, there’s all the beer you want! I actually had a pint of Yuengling before the race even started! It was delicious.

Since this was just three weeks after the Chicago Marathon and I’ve been struggling to bounce back from the destruction I inflicted upon my body, I had no plans to run this race hard. The wife, however, was looking to run a new PR…even if it was technically not “official.” I figured I could put myself to use by running with her and keeping her on target.

Since it was a very small race and really just for fun, we figured we’d start out right in the front without getting in anyone’s way. However, there was a flip side to that, my wife has never really started a race in the front of the pack so she was easily swept up in the start of the race energy. We ended up running something like a 6:45 first mile which felt great for me, but was a bit too fast for her. After that mile, we took it back down to something more manageable and she was able to snatch a shiny new PR of 22:55. Congrats to her!

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2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – 3:08:53 (pre-HRT)

Note: This race recap, like all of my other pre-transition race recaps, was copied over from my previous blog. I discuss attempting to quality for the Boston Marathon in this recap. At the time of writing the below, I had not yet started hormones and, under the current rules, was required to qualify under the male qualification time. I had planned to start hormones the day after the race, which made the race very special and an extra big deal to me. However, in the weeks after the race, other issues in my life caused me to choose to delay my transition by six months.

The Chicago Marathon. The biggest race of my life to date. I don’t just mean that it was the largest field of runners I’ve run in, which it was, but it also meant more to me than any race I’ve ever run. Sure, I could say that my first marathon was a bigger deal, but this was my first Boston Qualifying attempt (spoiler: I got close, but didn’t make it) and I really put the pressure on myself.

Training

I trained harder for this race than I have for anything else in my life. It’s not even close. I followed a plan from runyourbq.com as closely as I could given my schedule over the last few months. With four weddings and a two-week European vacation during training, I had some issues with scheduling that set me back a little. Luckily, I knew these things ahead of time so I worked my plan around them right from the beginning. I worked harder before my vacation and did a few short runs while away to help.

Overall, my training was pretty solid, but it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t get in every run I wanted and I didn’t do enough injury prevention work, but luckily, I stayed mostly healthy. I consistently hit weekly mileage that I’d never seen before and, in August, I utterly smashed my personal monthly mileage record by 50 miles…only to break it again in September. My long runs were mostly good with the exception of my one 19-miler being cut short due to everything possible going wrong and my second scheduled 20-miler being split into 17-mile and 4-mile runs on the same day. I kept decent paces and even negative split most of my miles. My mid-week longer runs were on point as well. I was hitting 10-milers at ten seconds/mile under my half marathon PR pace and still picking it up by the time I finished.

I have never trained with this kind of focus and intensity. Preparing for this marathon was my number one priority. Even after going out for drinks with coworkers after work, I’d still come home and bang out a run.

The Goal

The Chicago Marathon was my first chance to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I needed to be under 3:05:00 and that’s what I trained for. That works out to be a 7:03 minute/mile pace, nothing to sneeze at. Not only is this pace 45 seconds/mile faster than my best marathon pace to date (a 3:24 in Philly last year), but it’s the same pace I ran my best half marathon in (2012 RU Unite Half Marathon). That’s asking a lot from my body. There was no question about it, I knew my work was cut out for me. I wanted this badly and I was prepared to do anything I could to make it a reality.

Going into the race, I knew my chances were about 50/50. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I worked my ass off in training and I had a good plan for race day. Still, I was more nervous than I’ve ever been for any race in my life. The anxiety was almost debilitating. I still can’t believe how nervous and worked up I got myself for this.

The Expo

The Chicago Marathon expo was pretty solid. Thanks to a tip from a nice couple on our flight out, we made sure to get there nice

and early to beat the crowd. Not only was there a free shuttle offered from a few hotels in the city, but the expo itself was very well laid out, easy to navigate, and well organized. We got all of our stuff and signed up for our pace groups in just a few minutes. I was impressed.

After the expo, we hit Target for a throwaway shirt and gloves, got lunch and then went right back to the hotel to rest our legs.

My pace bracelet temporary tattoo

My pace bracelet temporary tattoo

My Race Strategy

Since this was marathon number three, I was able to put together a strategy that tried to counter previous mistakes. Knowing that in Philly I hit a serious wall in the 19th mile, I wanted to try to avoid that. My plan was to park myself with the pace group for a 3:05 finish (which took asking the race organizers to bump me up a corral so I could start with them [more on this later]) and not let myself get ahead of them under any circumstances. This meant that at no point early on could I let myself get swept up in the energy from the crowds and think I was better than my pre-race plan. I made this mistake in Philly and it really came back to get me later in the race.

On top of staying with the pace group, I wanted to plan my nutrition better. In the days leading up to the race, I did some hardcore carbo-loading, I really didn’t mess around. During the race, I wanted to make sure I took water often, at almost every stop, and made sure that I kept up with energy gels before I felt like I needed them. I even practiced the energy gels in training to make sure my plan would work. I planned for an energy gel every five miles (starting at mile zero right before the race started) and then an extra one at mile 17.5 when they were handed out to runners. I made sure I carried the same brand and flavor from training. I didn’t want to risk anything.

Race Morning

Race morning started off like most race mornings for me. I woke up early and started hydrating and fueling right away. I did try something new this time and took a quick shower to wake myself up a bit. I think it helped to get some of the tiredness out of me, but I had a very good night’s sleep (went to bed by 8:30p the night before!) as well.

We were a little late getting out of the hotel room, but since the start was only a few blocks from out hotel, it wasn’t too much of a problem.

When I checked my bag, I decided that I didn’t need my throwaway shirt or the mylar blanket I had brought with me (compliments of the Philly Marathon) so I stuffed them in the bag and handed it off. With just my gloves and makeshift arm-warmers fashioned out of tube socks, I was off to the porta-potty for one last chance to empty my bladder. The lines were long so I did my warm-up while waiting, but things started feeling like they were getting down to the wire in terms of time. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it to the corral to find my pace group before the race started.

The first two corrals in Chicago are reserved for runners who have already run a certain pace or better and can prove it. The remainder of them are self-seeded based on your own projected finish. My best time got me into Corral B, but the pacer I needed, 3:05 finish, was only in Corral A. Luckily, I was smart enough to contact the race organizers well in advance and ask if there was any way I could get into Corral A given my desire to run with that pace group. They told me it wouldn’t be a problem as long as there was room…there was.

Once I got over to the corral, it actually wasn’t too hard to find my pace group so I was able to squeeze my way up to them and get situated.

Finally, the nerves let up. A strange calm and focus came over me. I was ready for this and there were going to be no distractions. I ditched my arm-warmers and I was ready to go!

The First Half

The race started right on time with no delays, always a plus! We were off!

This race has a massive start with an intense amount of energy. There are tons of spectators everywhere. It’s utterly amazing, but the energy is dangerous. Couple that with the tight bunching of runners in the first few miles and it’s easy to get swept up in it all and kill your whole strategy right away. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. Again, I was focused on my goal.

While it normally takes me two to four miles for me to really settle into any run, I didn’t have that problem this time. I felt good right away. I knew it was going to be a good race.

I let the pacers manage my pace while I just worried about sticking with them. Unlike other pacers I’ve run with, this group was right on time with miles averaging between 6:55 and 7:05. One of the pacers was also very vocal with coaching us. While there isn’t much a pacer can say during a marathon that a non-first-timer hasn’t heard already, it’s easy to forget this stuff come race day when you’re in the midst of it all. Having someone reminding you to take water at every stop and to make sure you’re breathing deep and running tall, among other things, helps a lot. It also helps a ton when the pacer knows the course and can provide a heads up for every upcoming turn and water station, as well as warn you about high energy cheer zones that can stealthily boost your pace or the dead zones that can kill your morale later on. This kind of thing can really help you stay focused on your goals.

The first half of the race absolutely flew by. There was a ton of energy and the miles were ticking off like nothing. As we passed each mile marker, I couldn’t believe another mile was in the bag. I was feeling good. No, I was feeling great! I was on pace, my legs were good, my lungs were good. I was taking water at every stop and switched to Gatorade somewhere shortly before the end of the first half. Things were looking good and I was feeling good. I had a little bit of pain in my hip flexors, but it was short-lived and never really hit a point of concern.

As we started to approach the halfway mark, I knew it was time to start mentally preparing for the second half of the race. The first half is the easy part of any marathon and I had heard the second half of this course can be kind of quiet. I wanted to make sure I was ready for this.

We came around the Willis Tower and hit the half marathon mark, I was in the zone. I watched the clock as I went by and took a second to congratulate myself on a new half marathon PR of 1:32:01. Not bad, but I didn’t think about that for long, I didn’t want to lose focus.

Miles 13.1 to 16

This section of the race was supposed to be pretty barren of spectator support from what I had heard, but it never really felt that way. There seemed to be plenty of support there.

For the most part, this section of the race as a continuation of the 13.1 miles. I kept myself locked in and stayed right in the middle of the pace group. I was still feeling great and the pace group was still right on target with 7:02-7:04 min/miles.

Miles 17 to 21

Around mile 17, I started to feel the fatigue a bit. My lungs were good, my energy levels were good, and my mentality was still good, but my legs were starting to let me know they were getting tired. I knew I was starting to approach the hard part of the race. With my legs beginning to tire, I started to fear hitting miles 18 and 19 where I had seen Philly fall apart on me. I just tried to keep strong and focus on the pace group.

Just like early on in the race, one of the pacers was very vocal with reminding us to stay strong and breathe deep. His coaching went a long way during these miles.

Unfortunately, after passing the marker for the 20th mile, I had to face reality, I wasn’t qualifying for Boston in this race. I could fight to stay with the group for a little longer, but I couldn’t keep it up for another 10k. I tried a few tricks like doing short little surges to try to snap my legs of out their funk, but they did nothing.

By the time I completed the 21st mile, my calf muscles were spasming badly. I started to fear that my legs would just altogether lock up on me and I wouldn’t be able to finish. I even took a banana at the next aid station! Anyone who knows me well knows how serious the situation must have been, I hate bananas more than any other food out there! Ugh! But I was willing to try it to get myself to that finish line.

I wasn’t happy about having to drop off at this point, but I knew I had run a good race up until this. I did everything right and according to plan. My training was good. Everything was good, I just wasn’t strong enough yet.

Miles 22-26.2

These miles were tough. Really, really tough. I was in bad shape and my calves were twitching almost the entire time. I kept with my plan to stay steady and take Gatorade at every aid station, but I was deteriorating rapidly. My legs were done and wanted nothing more for this race to be over. By this point, I was being passed left and right by other runners. Even though this section had some amazing spectator support, it didn’t help much. It sucked, but at least I knew I could still get myself across the finish line with a great time.

The darkest point of the race happened right as I crossed the 24th mile marker. I looked up down the road and could see the Willis Tower off in the distance. This is pretty close to the finish line and it was soooooo far away from where I was. Those last 2.2 miles might as well have been another 24 miles as far as I was concerned.

I soldiered on in autopilot knowing that with each step the end was getting closer and closer, but my pace crept into the low-to-mid eights. I lost a minute per mile during this section.

As I got to the one-mile-to-go marker I wanted so badly to push and finish strong, but there was nothing left in my legs to give. I tried to pull in the energy from the massive amounts of people along the road, but my legs just wouldn’t go. The only markers left were the ones displaying the distance left in meters. I just focused on getting to the next one.

I came around the second to last turn with 26 miles behind me and just the point two to go. All I had to do was climb what was probably only the third hill of the course and then coast to the finish line. I got myself up the hill with only a few other runners passing me and rounded that last corner to see the finish line staring at me just about a 100m or so away.

I didn’t have anything left for a push to the finish line so I just kept on with what I was doing and got myself over the timing mat with the tank on empty. I could barely make my way down the finishers’ area on my legs. I stopped to bend over a few times which prompted people to run over and ask if I was okay (I was, I just hurt a damn lot). I was hurting, but I ran a hell of a race.

Then there was beer being handed to me…and I ate another banana. I hated every bite of the banana, but that beer was awesome.

The medal!

The medal!

Results

I got myself across the finish line in 3:08:53 which, to be honest, is an utterly amazing time to me! I wanted so badly to qualify for Boston, but I’m just not quite there yet. Very close though! This is a time I can be happy with and proud of. It proved to me that shooting for a BQ time wasn’t a crazy or completely beyond reach. I proved to myself that I belonged in Corral A and that BQing is possible for me.

In the end, my average pace was a 7:12 minute/mile, about 35 seconds/mile faster than my previous best and I beat my previous personal best marathon time by over 15 minutes. That’s incredible! Heck, I even have a new half marathon PR!

I placed 1,449 out of 37,455 finishers (according to the unofficial race results page).

Looking back, I feel like I had every right to make a BQ attempt in this race and I left absolutely nothing on the course. I gave everything I had and stuck to my plan 100% until my body broke down. My pace was right on target and my training was the best it could have been with the time I had available. The only reason I fell short is because I’m simply not there yet. I need to keep at it.

I worked my ass off for this time and I’m proud of it.

Overall Race Impression

Without a doubt, the Chicago Marathon is one of the best races I’ve ever run. I might even venture to call it my favorite. The course is amazing. It’s flat, fast, and winds through some of my favorite parts of Chicago. This race is amazingly well organized and put together. There were so many water stations that it almost seemed like too much! Add in the fact that the weather was completely perfect for a marathon and I can’t complain about anything. I would definitely run this race again!

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Downtown Westfield 5k & Pizza Extravaganza – 20:31 (pre-HRT)

Ah, yes, the Downtown Westfield 5k pizza run. This was year number four running this race. Historically, it’s a slow race for me. It’s always a Wednesday after a full day of work and has a bad habit of falling on one of the hottest days of the year. It’s a recipe for disappointment every time. I’m rarely happy with my time.

This year, the weather was surprisingly nice, possibly the coolest year I’ve run it. This was a nice relief since I planning big things for this race; I wanted to break under 20 minutes. I knew that setting my goal so aggressively for this race was probably going to result in disappointment, but that’s just how I do things.

Unfortunately, right off the bat, within the first 200 feet, I knew it wasn’t going to be my race. My legs didn’t feel fast and I could feel it in my lungs that I wasn’t going to be able to maintain a 6:25 pace…even though that was exactly my pace for mile one. I gave it what I had, but I was already losing steam in the second mile. I dropped down to a 6:35 pace for mile two. Mile three was even slower.

I finished at 20:31 which is two seconds slower than my PR. TWO SECONDS! So not only did I miss my goal by quite a bit, but I didn’t even PR! I know, I know, you can’t PR every race, but this PR is almost two years old at this point. I mean, I don’t run a lot of 5ks, but still.

Oh well. At least I beat my best time for this race by two full minutes.

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Cranford Jaycees Firecracker 4 Miler 2012 – 26:18 (pre-HRT)

Nailed this race this year! It was my fourth year running it and I crushed my previous best time by over five minutes! It’s generally a slow race for me because it’s on the 4th of July and typically falls outside of any real race training, but today, I was on and felt great. I kept a 6:35 min/mile pace which is better than my best 5k pace!

I came in 4th in my age group and 52nd overall, but even better, my wife and I won the husband and wife group! She ran an amazing race too and was just over 30 minutes total, a two minute PR for her. We had looked at the husband and wife times for the last few years and felt like we had a good shot to place, but didn’t think we’d quite win it. It was super exciting to hear them announce our names though.

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Philadelphia Marathon – 3:24:09 (pre-HRT)

PhillyMarathonYesterday, I ran a marathon. A full one. 26.2 miles. It was physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And it was worth every bit of the pain that I’m currently in as I type this.

Less than a year ago, I was training for my second half marathon, the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and I had absolutely zero interest in running a full marathon. Full marathons are crazy! 13.1 miles was tough enough. How do people do 26.2? But after that race, my feelings quickly changed and I started wanting to do a full marathon. I convinced my wife and we signed up for the Philly Marathon and instantly started worrying about what we had gotten ourselves into.

Training officially started on July 4th with the Cranford Firecracker 4-miler that we run every year and the last four and a half months have been a crazy roller coaster ride. My tendinitis still wasn’t fully healed and my wife and I were still planning our wedding (we took this into account by starting training two weeks early). Since July 4th, we had our bachelor/bachelorette parties, wedding, honeymoon, and three other weddings to attend. All of this made finding time on the weekends for our long runs very difficult at times. The training plan we had picked out was supposed to be intense, but because of injuries we were still trying to kick and lack of time, that plan got altered significantly. Training for a full marathon becomes your entire life and takes up all your time, but we didn’t always have any time to give up in the first place. I would have liked to be running five days a week and get three 20-mile runs in before the marathon, but that wasn’t a reality. I ran three to four days a week and did two 20-mile runs, neither of which were easy.

The first time you run a full marathon–and maybe subsequent times as well, I wouldn’t know yet–is insanely nerve-racking. You’re constantly doubting yourself and worrying you can’t do it. Every minor little pain or soreness suddenly becomes this big deal as you find yourself slowly turning into a hypochondriac. In the weeks and days leading up to the race, this only gets worse. You know you trained and put in the work to do it, but you still can’t quite figure out how you’re actually going to finish this thing in once piece. A marathon sounds like an amazing idea when it’s still months away, but when it’s days, hours away, you realize it may have actually been the worst idea you’ve ever had. People will ask you if you’re ready for it, but there is no being ready for it and it doesn’t matter if you are or not. Race day comes quickly and the race isn’t going to run itself. There is no being ready, just doing.

Somehow, I actually got a good night’s sleep the night before, which was probably helped by the fact that I went to bed at 8:30. Once we got over to the starting area, I made my way over to my starting corral and tried to find a good spot within there to place myself. I saw the 3:20 pacer and placed myself right behind him. I felt like this would be a good place for me and decided I would park myself right next to the pacer for the next three and a half hours of my life. A 3:20 finish would put me at a pace just a few seconds slower than I did my last 20-mile run at so it seemed attainable, but it also seemed like it would be a good way to help keep me on track and prevent myself from starting out too fast and dying later in the race.

When the race started, there was this insane feeling, “this is happening and there’s no turning back now.” There was a lot of energy in the beginning, everyone was pumped up, but there were a lot of people all huddled close together. It was hard to find room to run, some runners ended up on the sidewalks, and I had to actively work to keep near the pacer.

By the time we got to the third mile, things started to even out a little, but it was still tight and I still had to fight to keep my own space. I heard the pacer say we were 22 seconds ahead of where we needed to be and I was feeling great so far, except for my left ankle, my tendinitis was starting to act up. I was actually a bit shocked, even though my ankle hasn’t been bothering me much for a couple months, this was still very early in the race for it to be a problem. I tried to stay focused though, my ankle was going to have to hold up now. Luckily, this pain didn’t last more than a mile or so.

At this point, we were coming down Columbus Blvd and then made a quick turn around the block to get onto Front Street. By now the group around me was thinning out a bit more, but Front Street isn’t very wide and there were still cars parked on the sides of the street. This felt like the most dangerous part of the course, but it was also right about this time that I got pulled in with a couple guys running near me, Jonathan and Doug. We started talking a bit and the three of us stuck together for a while. There was a lot of camaraderie among the three of us as well as the rest of the 3:20 group as we came around the corner onto South Street. We were all pretty pumped.

The course is only on South Street for a few blocks, but there was a ton of energy packed into those blocks. The streets were lined down both sides with people cheering. This got me into a bit of trouble. I had just finished telling Jonathan I wanted to stick with the 3:20 pacer to help keep me from going too fast, but the energy down South Street really started pushing me forward. I wasn’t doing it consciously, but I soon noticed the pacer, who was just off to my right for the last few blocks, wasn’t there anymore. I turned my head a bit more and didn’t see him. From this point on, I was on my own. I had lost Doug and Jonathan and I didn’t see that pacer again for another eight miles.

From here on, I tried to keep my pace in check, but I was full of energy and focused as the course turned onto Chestnut Street for miles six and seven into University City. The course had thinned out a lot at this point and I was practically running by myself at certain points.

Now, it was time to turn onto 34th Street and begin three miles of seemingly endless climbing with just a quick flat spot near the Philadelphia Zoo (which stunk like animal crap). Just after crossing the 9th mile marker things got rough for the first time. We hit the biggest climb of the course and it majorly sucked. In reality, it probably wasn’t straight up, but it certainly felt like it at the time. At nine miles in, I had plenty of energy and leg strength to tackle it, but a conscious effort needed to be made not no blow too much energy on a section of the course just barely a third of the way into the race.

Things kept pretty steady through mile eleven, but I was starting to feel my pace catching up to me. I started to fear I wouldn’t be able to hit that 3:18 finish I was now targeting, but I also knew I still had a bit in me before I needed to start slowing down. The next two miles along the Schuykill River remained pretty uneventful, I just kept on doing what I was doing and thinking about my strategy for the rest of the race.

As we began to approach the Art Museum at the 13th mile and where the half marathon splits off, I started to keep a look out for my family. The area around the Art Museum was filled with people and energy to propel us into the second half of the course. I saw my parents right before the 13th mile marker and that helped pump me up a bit and my pace, which had been very slowly slowing down over the previous few miles, picked back up a bit.

It was also at this point that Jonathan caught back up to me…or rather I slowed down to him. He came up along side of me and we started chatting again. I asked how far ahead of the pacer we were and, much to my disappointment, it was just a matter of feet. I looked over my shoulder and there he was, I guess I had slowed down a little more than I thought I had.

From this point on, the rest of the course was an out and back down along the opposite side of the Skuykill. Jonathan and I spent the next four miles talking about running and staying just in front of the 3:20 pacer. We passed the leaders of the race heading back down to the finish line as we were coming up on the 15th mile (they were approaching 25). As much as an out and back can suck sometimes, this was was a nice benefit of it. Those guys were flying.

These four miles were the last good ones I had. By mile 17, I knew I wasn’t going to be finishing at my current pace. I knew I didn’t need to take it down yet, but I wouldn’t be able to hold on for long. As we came up to the 18th mile marker, the pacer let us know we had about a mile and a half to go until the final turn around of the race. This mile and a half was the longest mile and a half I’ve ever run. It felt like it was never going to end. It was definitely the longest feeling section of the race.

The 19th mile was a bit of a turning point for me. Things started getting harder faster and faster and I knew I needed to drop back a bit. I could keep the pace up for a little while, but I wasn’t making it to the finish line if I didn’t slow down a little. I decided now had to be the time and I slowed myself a little as we started to get into Manayunk. It was tough watching the balloons on flag the pacer was running with get further and further off in front of me, but the slow down had to happen.

I was all alone again and focusing on just keeping my pace decent and not dropping off too much, but things started going to crap quickly, just as they had in my training runs at this point. As I came down Main Street in Manayunk, I tried taking in as much of the energy from the crowd as I could, but it wasn’t enough, I was starting to struggle. There were people handing out beer to runners here and that sort of blew my mind. I guess the liquid carbs could be helpful, but beer was the last thing I wanted right now.

As I was coming down Main Street, a few of my wife’s friends screamed out my name and that gave me a small boost right before the final turn around. I came back up Main Street and saw them again as I climbed the little hill I had just come down. I wasn’t feeling too good and, even though they later said otherwise, I couldn’t have been looking too good either. At least I knew the rest of the course was almost entirely downhill.

I crossed the 20th mile marker and it was time to enter new territory. I’d never run more than 20.25 miles before, but it was time to change that. I knew it was still a little too early to start pushing, but I was quickly running out of stamina. I had the energy, but my legs didn’t have the ability to use that energy anymore. All my legs wanted was to just walk for a bit, but I knew that wasn’t an option. If I started walking, even for a few seconds, that would have been it, I would have never started running again. I had to just keep on going.

The next few miles progressed about the same, I just kept going as best I could and by mile 22 I started looking for my wife coming up the other side. I finally saw her around mile 24 and she was looking pretty good, but I was fading quickly (and she was just barely past mile 14 so she had a long way to go still). I had already been doing a serious countdown to the finish in my head.

Somewhere just before the 25th mile marker I caught up with Doug. He wasn’t looking too good, but I wasn’t either. He was running with a couple guys who seemed to be in great shape still. They were cheering him on as they were going and really trying their best to pump him up (he needed it). I was unaware before, but apparently it was his birthday and the guys he was running with were making sure everyone watching the race knew about it and were cheering him on. The energy around these guys is what helped me push to the finish line. The four of us stuck together for just about the rest of the race. Doug and I pushed it out as best we could while the other two guys seemed just fine.

Besides seeing Doug, the 25th mile marker also brought about the realization that at this point, if I just started walking, I could still finish by my target time. It was really tempting, but I had come too far, I had to keep going.

As we got up to the Art Museum, I started making my final push. Both sides of the road were lined with people cheering and I started throwing everything I had left at it. I was running as fast as I could after having been running for almost three and a half hours. I was passing everyone I could and using each person as extra motivation to just keep on going. By the time I got close enough to see the clock, I was starting to feel relief that I was just about done and it was over.

I didn’t even really see the clock when I finished. I had a rough idea of what was on the display, but I wasn’t looking at it. I was just focusing on getting across that finish line and staying on my feet. Doug came up right behind me and we celebrated for a minute while trying to make our way over to water and food. Before we even made it there, Jonathan, who I didn’t notice passing at any point since leaving the 3:20 group, had also finished and met us in the line. We spent a few minutes lamenting about the pain we were all feeling, but it was an insane feeling and seeing these guys at the finish was a nice way to end the race.

After I finished, I could barely walk. Everything below the waist hurt more than it ever had in my life. The pain and tightness was insane (even as I type this, it still is), but it didn’t seem to matter. I had done it. I completed a full marathon…and I did well. I couldn’t have been happier. From here, I spent the next hour and a half walking around trying to find my parents and then trying to find a spot at the finish line to watch for my wife. The walking was awful and slow. I must have easily walked close to another two miles after finishing while trying to find them and not a single inch of it was pretty.

I ended up finishing the race at 3:24:09 with an overall place of 1059 out of 10213 runners. Not bad at all. That time fell right into my target zone. I was looking at finishing between 3:20 and 3:30 and I nailed it.

Yay! And ouch.