Since returning from Nationals, I’ve been feeling ambivalent about the Philadelphia Marathon.
This is the third year in a row that I’ve signed up for the race and felt burnt out by mid-October. This is my sixth or seventh marathon in the last two years that I’ve ended up sort of dreading (why do I keep signing up for them, you might ask…).
I thought this time it would be different – because I knew so many people running, because the bulk of my races this year were in the spring and summer, because I only had one event planned between July and October and figured I’d have plenty of time to train.
But that one event was Nationals, and it was intense. And pretty all-consuming. And fantastic.
When we crossed the finish line in Kentucky, I thought, “this is the perfect end to the season.”
And then I remembered that I still had Philly.
I took the eight days after the race off from running and when I jumped back into training this week, I felt terrible.
30 hours of racing and 2 weeks of traveling had taken a toll, and I didn’t feel like I was recovering well.
Tuesday’s 10 miles left me incredibly sore. Wednesday’s intervals were a joke. Friday’s easy run was far harder than it should have been.
I was tempted to abandon the marathon altogether, but I’d convinced a good friend to register, and I felt guilty at the thought of dropping out when I knew she’d spent so much time training – and training well.
And then came today.
I’m not sure it was wise to make my first long run back a 20 miler, but with only four weeks until the race, there isn’t time to build back up. I told Brent I’d meet him later this morning for an orienteering event, so Laurie and I made plans to meet just after dawn. We’d initially thought about running to the orienteering site, but after some logistical complications, we decided to stick to a local route.
We started off, and I was immediately grumpy. I wasn’t interested in spending the morning out on the roads. I was feeling crummy about the race prospects. I was overwhelmed by the plans in the works for next season and eager for a breather before gearing up again.
Unfortunately, Laurie was feeling similarly disenchanted by road running, and for the first few miles, we fed off each other’s surliness.
Then, consciously or not, we shifted the conversation to our recent adventure racing exploits, and by mile 5, I was definitely in better spirits. My legs didn’t feel great – a bit heavy, with little twinges here and there – but they were trucking along at a reasonable pace. The sun was coming out. The path was crowded with runners in marathon shirts from years past. It felt good to be out.
At mile 7, we turned uphill, away from the usual loop, to explore the roads around the city’s Memorial Hall and Japanese Gardens. It was the smartest decision we made all day.
On cue, a blue eyed husky started running alongside us. When he left, we occupied ourselves with the historic buildings and statues. Then we wove through a few parks that skirt the Schuylkill.
By the time we made it back down tackle the end of our loop, we were both feeling better than we’d felt all morning. We crossed back over the river and finished our last few miles together along Forbidden Drive, strewn with leaves and still recovering from the early fall flooding, but shaded and car-free and teeming with runners.
When Laurie turned to head for home (she’d run to our meeting place while I’d driven), I pulled out my headphones and finished out the last 3.5 miles to make it an even 20. Mile 19, the first half of an out-and-back, was rather miserable since I knew I was running further and further away from my car, but when I turned around and headed for the parking lot, I felt like I was flying.
I paused briefly as I nearly bumped right into an old running friend who recently moved to Chicago but was in Philly looking at wedding venues with his new fiance. Then I booked it back to the end, finishing out the final mile 25 seconds faster than the average pace to that point. It felt good to run hard.
From there, I grabbed a quick snack and made my way out to the Willows Park and Mansion, to meet Brent and half a dozen of his students for the orienteering meet.
The event was a Score-O – where racers receive a map with several points plotted on it, and they have a set amount of time to punch as many flags as they can. In this particular meet, we had 24 flags and an hour out on the course.
When I arrived at the park, my legs had already begun to tighten up and my ankles were tender. But as soon as I set off, I felt great. Sure, the downhills hurt a bit, and I was a little less steady on my feet than I may have been 20 miles earlier. But I ran all the flats and most of the ascents and descents as I navigated along trails, through creeks, and over and under downed trees, dense brush, and thick patches of thorns.
It was relatively easy navigation, and I still had a couple hiccups along the way, but overall it was probably the smoothest orienteering race I’ve ever had. All my time in the woods this year must be paying off, because I was able to follow the map and read the terrain much better than I had anticipated, especially given that I haven’t had to navigate much further than around the block on more than a year.
I nabbed all but three of the points and sprinted into the finish with four minutes to spare, and when I stopped, my muscles felt loose and my psyche felt strong.
In the end, I ran 23.5 miles this morning, and somewhere along the way, I began to feel just a little bit better about the marathon.
I’m still wavering on time goals, and I’m a little bit worried about the sharp pain on the inside of my right ankle (though I suspect it’s just a little bit of tendonitis).
But after a week of crummy runs, it’s nice to know I can at least manage the distance.