Sunday, September 21, 2008

2008 Philadelphia Distance Run – Part Two: Run

I get up every morning at 5AM anyway, so planning a 6:15 departure was no problem for me. D’Wife can get up and moving pretty well, when need be [to catch a flight to California, for instance] The real test would be The Possum. She is slow as can be on even the most important days [her First Holy Communion day, for example], how would she respond on Race Morning?

The answer ... Wonderfully!!

She was up and out of bed five minutes before her alarm went off at six o’clock. A quick breakfast for her and her mom and we were out the door. It was a cool morning; not quite 50° in the not quite dawn of the Pines. I threw my hopefully lucky Michigan sweatshirt over my running gear. I started Vicki up and immediately put the heater on. We were over the bridge and parked at the first lot we found [15th and Vine, the same place that Todd, Pam and I parked in 1999] by 7:15.

D’Girls and I followed the parade of skinny white people to the Parkway and toward the start line at Eakins Oval. We were getting close to the 7:45 start however, so my girls found a nice spot on the south side of the Parkway to wait for me and cheer as I came down and back in the first 5 mile loop. Hugs, kisses and Good Lucks were exchanged and I was on my own.

Oh, and a brief photo op

Dad & Coach

I was primarily trying to find my friends as I wandered through the crowd near the start, but a vacant place to stretch would have been nice, too. I had been nursing an aggravating ache in my left hamstring and desperately wanted to get that loose before we started.

I also noticed, as I made my way past the potties and the starting corals, that I had to pee.

Oh well. This has happened before. In years past I’d get the nervous reaction, and planned to stop once we got to the trees in Fairmount Park. I either got over it or sweated the fluid out, because I didn’t ever have to stop for a bio break, in all the years I’ve run this.

Corral #9 was jammed; there was no way I was getting that up close and personal and it didn’t really seem to matter to the officials where you started, so I moved back. #10 was almost as bad, #11 less so, and so on. I eventually settled in #16. If my friends were to start in #17 as their numbers indicated, they’d come past me, but I’d probably not see them. Those that started ahead of me would be in the part of the runnerverse that would be moving away at a speed quicker than mine.

Somewhere up ahead, a horn sounded and the runners, the real pro elite runners, started.

We waited. We stood.

As we waited, I remarked that - thanks to the Distance Run's new sponsor, ING - I hadn't seen this mich orange in one place in Philly since the Flyers' Stanley Cup Parade [yes, Alexis, they DID win it once (twice actually) and there was a parade, and I was there!]

A few minutes later we shuffled. Then we walked. Only once we got to the start line, did we start our watches and begin to run.

And slowly at that.

To add insult to … not injury, but … It’s kind of disheartening to see the leaders flying towards you on their way to mile 4, when you haven’t even gotten to the first marker yet.

I got to the first mile clock [stationed in Love Park, how fitting for me] as it read 20-something minutes; my watch said ten something minutes – a variance of 10 minutes. That was nice. I had mentioned to one of my Kick peeps that if she got to the finish before me, I’d put up how many fingers to subtract form the finish clock to measure my “chip time."

4 minutes behind would be \m/ \m/, a symbol D'Kid certainly recognizes and a shout-out the FBI Metal twins - Doe and Pasquale.

We had no plan if it was more than 10.

I also pushed the “start/split” button on my watch. I was going to try to measure my mile splits. Reading the manual on how to actually do this, and what I would be looking at, might have been a good idea.

Proceeding around City Hall and into the sun of Market Street [which didn’t smell that bad this morning] I came upon two young women with singlets that said:

“Trying to finish before Megan turns 21”

“So when does Megan turn 21?” I asked, “11:00 or so?”

“Well, Tuesday,” I was told by a delightfully twangy voice, “I think we have it made.”

The first water stop appeared unexpectedly. I wasn’t hot, I certainly was not thirsty, and really moving nicely, barely working hard. I felt comfortable passing through it without taking a drink.

I got to the 2nd mile mark a little more than 9 minutes after the first. I had been training at about 8:45 pace, so I was slower than that.

It didn’t matter. I was having a great day so far.

We turned into the Gayborhood at 6th and Spruce.

“Hey that’s my old church!” as we passed Holy Trinity. Soon we were around Washington Square and onto Walnut Street.

I saw a near-familiar sight: “Trying to finish before I turn 21”

“You must be Megan?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” she answered with a voice as sweet and Southern as peach-blossom honey, “How’d you know?”
“I passed your mom and aunt back there”
“How far back?”
“I don’t know,”
‘oh, crap, measuring again’
“Half a mile now?”
“Well, wish me luck, y’all”
“You got it … And happy birthday”

Cheap Trick started playing in my head.

The 3 mile and 5K markers came by in quick succession. As we approached the turn onto 16th street, I found myself drafting behind two red Segways.

I was tempted to ask if they ever did tours near the Art Museum, but they were actually slower than me and in the way right at that moment, so I zipped around them.

Down 16th Street [which did smell as foul as I always remember] I grabbed a sip form water stop #2. My throat was getting dry from the pleasantly low humidity on the day.

I kept my eyes open as we traveled back up the Parkway, looking for my fans [if I’d been smart I would have made a note as to which flag they were sitting near]. When I didn’t see them, I figured they moved closer to the finish line and I’d find them there. In about an hour and a half.

I passed though the fourth water stop, without spilling too much and onto the downhill under the Spring garden Street bridge. It was cool down there as the morning sun hadn’t warmed the shady embankments yet. Men [and women] emerged from the shrubs and bushes at the side of the road, speeding back into the crowd along MLK Drive, after heeding Nature’s call.

Myself, I was good.

My rhythm was good, I wasn’t hot or thirsty; I was just happily cruising along at, I don’t know, 9-something pace, I figured.

Much better than the last time. Meaning, 2006.

Then it occurred to me … The REAL last time I was here, it was dark, it was hot, and I was going the other direction. I also had Doe, Maureen, The Lors, Jen, Kelly and Yi Juin with me. That was a good time!

Another disheartening sight at the 5 mile mark: The leaders at about 20K on the other side of the river.

I got to 10K at about an hour.

“Okay, so to break 2 we need to …” one part of my brain, the math side, started to calculate.

“We need to shut the fuck up and enjoy ourselves,” the other side countered, “This is a great run and we feel fucking awesome. We fucked up the two hour goal, so let’s start training for next year, right fucking now.”

The other side of my brain is a potty mouth. He pretty much shut up Mr. Pacekeeper the Math Wiz at this point and allowed me to simply chase ponytails. I still had a fleeting dream that the speedettes [Jill and Alexis] might be nearby, but that would mean they were in a dayful of teh suck and would be in no mood for company.

The 10K mark was also the first appearance of Mr. Fixie.

Mr. Fixie was a cyclist. He had curly dark brown hair, geeky Keith Olbermann spex [the dude equiv of Tina Fey] and a very nice fixed gear bike … British racing green with track bars and toe clips. He cheered us on with a complimentary Saturn mini-cowbell from The Expo [my girls had walked off with one each and I sure they were tormenting the finishers with them already]. Somehow, I could swear I’d ridden with him all those years ago, when I lived in The Gayborhood.

A word or two about the musical support …

I could have done without the Eagles Pep Band [even if they were playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as we passed]

I didn’t recall anyone playing on the Parkway on the way back from Center City, other than the canned playlist on the speakers – most likely an endless loop of “Start Me Up” “Where the Streets Have No Name” “Born to Run” and something of a “Rocky Medley”

The first notable live band was on the MLK Drive [apparently repositioned from their assigned place at mile 4]

Frank Jackson Big Band
Back by popular demand! The Frank Jackson Big Band is a 15-piece ensemble of accomplished musicians who are sure to have you movin’ and groovin’ as the infectious melodies seize your attention and surge through your body.

Brasch & Bold is an acoustic power trio capable of rocking the house while still allowing the audience to talk to each other. The acoustic music of Brasch & Bold stays with the listener. It’s all about the song.

… except, they were on a break as we passed. Oh well. The also may have switched stages with …

The Randy Lippincott Band is a fine tuned four piece unit with many years of experience, performing Blues, Boogie, Soul and New Orleans party tunes. Utilizing tasteful guitar and vocals, with an exciting overlay of harmonica and powered by a mighty rhythm section, they deliver sets that range from favorite classics to the occasional obscure selection.

… because I remember passing them first, right after the big band. These guys reminded me a lot of one of the greatest roadhouse blues bands of all time [2nd only to AC/DC], The Nighthawks from DC.

The water stop at Mile 8 brought water, Cytomax, Powergel and a distinctly Phishy outfit

The Art of Self Defense
We like a lot of different stuff and bet you do too, so let's just say that we're into all kinds of music. The Art of Defense is a new band that is still evolving within the confines of their songs, instruments and players.

… with all the “snack” wrappers around all I could think was …

Mr. Hand: Am I hallucinating here? Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?
Jeff Spicoli: Learning about Cuba, and having some food.

But the musical highlight and the spiritual ½-way point was approaching ... The Falls Bridge Piper.

Even though it’s far more than 6½ miles from the start and less than that from the finish, the Falls River Bridge remains to many the midpoint of the race. Firstly, you are returning to the start/finish area for good. Secondly, these next 5 miles will be pretty much straight into the sun. Third, this is where the pain starts, on the uphill approach to the bridge.

For the first time in years [failing to do so in ’99 and ‘06] I ran it!!!

… The last time I was here, it was dark, it was hot, and I was going the other direction.

At the turn at the bottom of the Bridge I saw dozens and dozens of cyclists wearing Team Tania jerseys – D’Wife’s colors. We’d be in Ocean City next week supporting her team in their fight against MS. Scheduling during the summer inhibited her training for the 75-mile ride [I overheard a conversation a week ago: “Holly, I’ve only been riding 30-40 miles a week,” she said, “That’s nothing!”]

At the first flat spot beyond the bridge, I heard the clangclangclang of a cowbell. Mr. Fixie was welcoming us to Mile 9. How did he get past us? No matter. Every step from this point was my longest run of the year. No, in TWO years! I felt great: Nothing crampy, nothing chafey, nothing blistery from my new sharky sox.

There is another element about that turn.

On the way out, on West River Drive [sorry, I lived there too long], for some reason, everything still feels green, lush, open and summery. There are pine trees and cedars; shady spots and wide family picnic areas. Will Smith’s “Summertime” video.

Crossing the river, the landscape changes.

It becomes more claustrophobic as the bike path feels jammed between the unregulated freeway of Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill River. Even though we had reign of the street for the day, we felt like interlopers; that at any moment the Philadelphia Police and Fairmount Park Authority would say, “Okay, jokes over! You’re on your own! HA!!!”

Meteorlogical, environmental and horticultural elements gang up on you on this side as well. Deciduous trees [gum, maple and poplar, in particular] lose their leaves earlier on this sunny, warm, dry side of the Park, especially when it hasn’t rained but once in a month or so.

As I still said [even when I wasn’t running] “Fall begins between Mile 8 and Mile 9 of the Philadelphia Distance Run.”

In my mind, and coaching Doe I had said this race would be “5 miles, 5 miles and 5K”

Passing the 15K mark, I thought, “One more K to the last 5K”

Shortly thereafter I hit the 10 mile mark. Doing the 10 minutes clock time deficit math, I figured that I beat my 10 mile with Annabelle by 2 minutes. What I didn’t know [“being tracked by spotters on the ground” i.e. my Kick friends] was that my pace through 10 miles was exactly the same as my pace through 10K.


And every step from here was my longest run in 2 years. That thought overwhelmed me for a moment. I looked to my left and saw the wall and tall grey markers of Laurel Hill Cemetery, warming in the Sunday morning sun. I reached into my pocket and touched my talisman; a small shell I brought with me from I don’t know where but it was perfect for her.

“Okay, baby, pull me along … we don’t need to go fast, we just need to go. That’s what you do, that’s what we do.”

There were only two landmarks left … The Rock Tunnel under the Amtrak tracks [where everyone screams (if they still have breath) and which were sadly off-limits to us at Midnight Madness] and the Lighthouse on Boathouse Row.

At the water stop #7 I took my only taste of CytoMax, which I couldn’t find ahead of time to acclimate myself to, just in case. It may have been a Pink Lemonade flavor, I couldn’t tell … an hour and a half of water and my own spit had rendered my taste receptors out of commission.

And there was Mr. Fixie.

I thought for a moment that maybe we couldn’t see him pass because he was going the other way; for every 2 miles forward we went, he was going 6½ miles around the other way … hmmm 2 miles for us = 20 minutes … 20 miles an hour on a flat … Mr. Math-Head woken up!!!

I touched the shell again, silenced the Mathlete within and screamed all those names important to me in the few seconds in the Rock Tunnel – starting with “God Bless ..” and ending with “… Amen.”

I was still hitting the “Start/Split” button, although I had no idea why, as we entered Boathouse Row

The last time I was here, it was dark, it was hot, and I was just getting started.

I wanted to drop the seashell off at The Lighthouse for Midnight Madness 2009 but being so small I figured she’d get lost. She may end up as a necklace or bracelet, instead.

As I chugged through the water-stop drenched glare that is Mile 12 and saw that I was at the 2-hour mark, my though wasn’t of not making the deadline but, “Wow! How long can you run?” echoing the sentiment of my friend’s comment a couple weeks before:

you'd just run then get in the van, then run again ... and in the end you'd say, wait, how many miles did I run?”

Yeah, she hates me.

I put my head down and ground up the hill where Doe’s knee caved 2 months before walking back to our cars.

As we came down the final ½ mile I did what I could to separate myself from the crowd … so that the photogs would capture my number better.

I turned and checked the clock … 2:18

Minusing the 10, I had my 2:12 of ’06 beat with 50 yards to go.

I drifted far left in case I heard …


I turned to the voices, startled. With 25 yards left I was sorely tempted to stop go to the fence and give hugs, but the clock had final say.

There would be next year.

Part 3 >>>>

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