Early morning Number Two. This time, it was really raining. This was going to be serious fun!!! Hardcore points would be up for grabs, all around.
Again, I was up at my usual time, and got right into the shower [pre-race superstition]. I wasn’t sure whether any of the girls would be coming with me. I told them the night before that they were under no obligation whatsoever to come along. But they all surprised me and got up and going fairly well. There was no complaining or feet-dragging from “The Possum,” D’Wife was agreeable and enthusiastic, and Sharon was eager to see how well her coach would do in his event.
We left the house, gear in hand [and with plenty of umbrellas] almost exactly when I wanted, too.
On the way over, my cousin double-checked me, to make sure I had all of my talisman’s … Cross with St. Jude & St. Joseph? Check! Shark tooth necklace? Check! Sharky sox? Check! Magic seashell? Check!
Over the bridge and onto South Broad Street, we followed the parade to the parking lot; the far parking lot … The furthest away parking lot there was. Oh well, it wasn’t quite 7:30 yet, still plenty of time. A nice walk to the subway would serve as a good warm-up.
We got to the Pattison Ave subway stop at almost exactly 7:30. The school buses were lined up to take the girls to the finish area.
Hugs and kisses were shared and I moved toward the subway entrance
“Subway’s backed up people!!!” an official shouted, “The buses will take you to the start area!!!”
Oh, okay. No problem. I swung my well-travelled backpack over my shoulder and stepped aboard. Of course, the first vacant seat just happened to be next to a young blonde ponytail.
“May I?” I asked and sat down when given a nod and a smile.
I called Doe, explained the bus deal and txt’d our other “teammate” Nora.
I behaved myself and sat quietly [read: waited for an opening] until we drove by the water stop in front of South Philly High School … a pair of calf high Elmo sock absolutely invited comment.
Ice successfully broken, we chatted the rest of the way up Broad Street. I did remain silent as we drove by the Dolphin tavern at Broad and Tasker, out of respect to the strip club where I used to work, and the patrons and “staff” thereof.
Further up Broad Street we travelled, passing a couple other buses making the same journey. Time was starting to become a concern, for both the runners and the driver
“Don’t worry folks!!! I’ll get you there!!!”
At some point, I’m not sure where or why, we left Broad and continued up 13th Street. Being a less travelled street to begin with, and having no cross-town traffic due to the closure of Broad, our driver took it upon herself to commence running red lights! Each successive breach of traffic law, brought applause form the runners, not seriously concerned to the wisdom and timeliness of using the buses.
“I’m leaving even earlier next year,” became the sardine mantra.
Or not, as I found my new friend was from Lancaster, and didn’t realize there was a half-marathon out there today as well … As a friend of mine said “26,000 Runners? Yea, that's why I won't run Broad St. That race is way too big for me. I'll stick to my local, small HM on those weekends.”
Maybe next year, I’ll try something different?
At some point, and I’m not sure where exactly, our 13th Street Express ran out of street … we found ourselves at a dead end. Our driver again made an audible and proceeded the wrong way down a one-way street to bring us across the race course.
‘Smart move,’ I thought, ‘if 13th won’t work, maybe 15th will?’
Except 15th is Southbound … Dammit!!! The driver continued up and over and around before crossing the course again and, with cheers and shouts of “Good Idea!!!” she hit another jet stream and headed up Old York Road.
While waiting for a light, and only half a block for the course itself, we heard a POP!!! And saw the first group [a.k.a. “The Kenyans”] take off. A couple more lights and the next group was unleashed. At this point, she opened the doors and wished us “Good luck runners!!!”
The rain had stopped for the time being, but I was sure that wouldn’t last. Now to find my bus, stash my bag, stretch and go.
You’d think #23-something would be assigned bus #23, wouldn’t you? Nope. #17 … Which, by the time I found this out, and had zigged & zagged through the crowd to the opposite side of the street, had left. I went to the nearest one, #30 and said,
“My bus left, can I leave this with you?”
“Sure, just remember which bus we are.”
“Will do, thanks.”
I stripped out of my sweats [making sure that as I took my shoes off to get my feet out, I didn’t step on the wet street; the slightest extra moisture, or the tiniest bit of gravel on my sharky sox could prove disastrous, blisterwise … or so I told myself]
A little bit of easy stretching [this not “having time to stretch” thing is becoming fairly regular now] and I lined up … well, not really in a line actually, more like “packed up” or “crowded up,” but you get the idea.
Finally, at 8:53 - 23 minutes after the first group left and nearly an hour and a half since I stepped on the bus - the air-horn blew and we were on our way.
There was the usual speed-up/slow-down, right-left-right-left, run-shuffle-run, chaos that accompanies any massive race start, as you find gaps and make space without tripping over others, or yourself, to get into something of a rhythm.
Basically, running like a bike messenger.
My primary goal was to find a groove that was pretty quick, while still being comfortable and not putting any undue stress on my problematic hamstring; which has been giving me momentary twinges of OUCH!!! In varying degrees moving randomly up and down the line … sometimes down by the knee, other times up high in the buttoski region.
My secondary goal was to find a nice pack of ponytails to settle in with for the next 90-100 minutes … For pacing purposes, of course.
Although the course is downhill overall, there a many mini-hills to conquer in the first half of the race and even a flat patch [as measured by GPS] feels like a rise.
Eagerly awaiting the first mile marker, to give my left-brain some math to do the rest on the way, we trotted along through the mist. The clock at Mile One said 32-something. Of course, joke like “We took that one too fast” and “save some for the finish” rippled through the [what we perceived to be] middle of the pack. I looked at my watch – 9:02AM. A 9-minute first mile; not shabby. I had been training at around 8:30 the past few weeks, but I wasn’t going all out today. D’Wife had predicted 1:33-1:38; the other two simply predicted that I’d be wet.
Almost on cue, at the 10-minute mark, my spex fogged up. More accurately, I noticed that they had fogged up. In my pre-race prep, I had forgotten to wipe them with a dryer sheet; somehow, that prevents the micro-particles of dust that act as fog “seeds” to adhere and keeps the clear. Someone had once suggested Rain-Ex to me also, but I’d never tried it.
The first water stop followed pretty close behind the Mile Two marker. I stopped to get a few sips. Although it was a wet day, it was pretty humid, the kind of morning that will wring water out of you, no matter what the temperature. I dipped my fingers in the cup, and squeegeed my glasses clear … Much better … although, once back out to the middle of the course I noticed that through the fog and rain, you couldn’t see City Hall or any of the building in Center City at all.
Crossing over the train tracks just past Lehigh Avenue, I received some sort of a blessing: When a pair of nuns, rattling cowbells shouts “Go runners!!!” you know it’s going to be a good day.
Mile three came at 9:20, exactly [I still haven’t learned how to do laps/splits on my watch properly, so I’m constantly doing math]
“We’re clicking off 9’s” I said to no one in particular, just whoever else might also be doing math.
“9:15” a voice beside me.
Ah … just like the Bridge Run; someone has to be accurate.
Like I said to Doe then, I though to myself now: ‘Of course, I’m moving forward through the pack, asshole, so I’m a little bit quicker. Just shut the fuck up, jackass.’
Sitting in the door way of a brownstone, a gathering of leather clad maidens, banged away on pots and pans.
“That one chik had a bucket on her head,” I said to a girl next to me
“The one in the bustier?” she replied, “I think that was a dude.”
“Interesting … They Gayborhood is still a couple miles away.”
It was at about Mile Four that the pale silhouettes of the tall buildings downtown began to appear. A few more minutes, we’d be around them and onto the long stretch through South Philly … at least it wouldn’t be a hot run, straight into the sunshine, like usual. In fact, at the pace I was going, running in the cool mist without the slightest discomfort, I was feeling pretty damn good. My longest run in the past month had only been 5 miles; we were almost at that point now, and I felt like wed only done a mile or two at the most.
I smiled to myself as we approached the next Water Stop at Spring Garden Street and exclaimed, “This is awesome!”
This is where the tall buildings, lofts and parking garages begin; Downtown starts here. The streets, although empty of traffic, felt a little more claustrophobic. People were getting anxious as, after running in pretty much of a straight line for 5½ miles with plenty of room to move, we would be suddenly compressed in the narrow bends around City Hall. I’ve seen someone take a dive nearly every year I’ve run this, and those were in dry conditions. Today’s slick pavement would make the likelihood of someone colliding with a planet very high.
Entering into the “City Hall Chicane” I heard a familiar tune, although since it was being performed by a large brass band it took a moment to place it. The Musical Rolodex in my head fluttered like the Arrival/Departure signs at 30th Street Station, as I scanned the musical library of iPod in my head … DING! DING! DING! … “All The Small Things” – Blink 182.
First nuns with cowbells, and now an orchestral punk-pop song? A good day, indeed.
We navigated around City Hall with nary a bump, bruise or jostle.
Ah, the familiar landmarks of my hometown … Including, standing in front of the Bellevue, America’s Mayor, Ed Rendell. Being on the far right of the pack, I easily glided up, paused and shook his hand … as had several thousand before me, I supposed, as his hand was cold and damp. The Gov’s jacket was soaked up to the elbow, but he smiled, patted me on my wet shoulder and wished me well.
An odd sort of collected memory took over here … Although both lane were clear of traffic, while in Center City, most people [around me anyway] stayed to the right, or the Southbound lane. It wasn’t until the Water Stop at Locust Street, with tables on both sides, did the pack widen again to take up the full width.
I arrived at the Mile Six marker at about 55 minutes. This was a fine pace and my longest run in weeks. I would be well within my 100-minute goal [1:40 or 10:00 pace] even if my hammy decided to completely boing out on me right now.
At this point, I could hear the SEPTA conductor in my head, reading off the station stops, just like I was going down to the Spectrum for a concert or Flyers game
Again, I took special moment as we ran up to Tasker Street, and the Dolphin Tavern. A nod and wink to all who have passed though it’s turquoise door.
“... this place is like the bar in Star Wars...”
I used to work there. That’s all I say about it.
Being on the right side of the course, I didn’t have the opportunity to say “hello” to the volunteer at the Water Stop in from of South Philly High with the Elmo socks, but she was there all right … I wondered where my little friend form Lancaster might be? Had I gotten by her and not noticed? Could she be up ahead someplace, maybe only a few yards away? Where were Doe, The King and ReRun? The mind wanders, you know?
As we ran by Methodist Hospital, the mist we’d been running through for the past hour, turned itself up a notch to “Sprinkle” This produced an interesting excitement, and being wet just from excessive humidity was nothing to brag about, but running 10 miles in the rain, was definitely a badge of some sort. I would swear people were dumping cups on themselves at the Water Stops to make themselves look even wetter than they already were.
Once we crossed Oregon Avenue, all buildings disappeared. There are a few row homes far off the street between Bigler and the Schuylkill, but basically, it’s all park. You don’t get any sense of moving really, because the landscapes not changing much. Therefore the Nine Mile marker always seems to elicit “Already?!!!” from the pack.
Only a few minutes to go, as the fans constantly reminded us …
“Looking good” “Almost there” etc, etc.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah”
“Sprinkle” had been upgraded to “Drizzle” now, and the excitement was high. Runners who were holding back, sandbagging if you will, now started to move through the crowd. I was being overtaken and soon myself caught up in the frenzy [well, a kind of pokey frenzy, but …]
Runners shouted with what lungs they had as we passed under The Schuylkill and [after passing the stadium complex] I-95. The Navy Yard Gate was the final landmark; wrongly assumed by some to be the finish line. Passing the fans, cowbells airhorns and thundersticks creating a wondrous racket, we flew under the gate. I was still in “chase and attack” mode, but Mr. Sensible in my head said, “Give yourself some space, dude. If you’re too crowded up, the girls won’t see you. Plus … maybe not good for photos.”
I found a space with about six feet on either side and front and back and called it “My Bubble” As long as I kept it clear, everyone can see me.
That was the plan anyway.
I did my best to sprint to the finish, keeping my eyes to the left, looking for my three special fans and crossed under the clock at 1:55 – about 1:32, I figured.
No time to waste, as we were now in full Downpour mode. I found Bus #30, got my phone, called D’Girls and told them I was done and to meet me at the “M” sign in the Family Meet-Up Area[they hadn’t seen me finish after all, as they were distracted my some young woman who had given her all and heaved right after the finish line].
Fully soaked, I then called Doe and said, “Sorry Dude, we’re outta here!” D’Wife relayed the same message to some of or 30s friends who had finished quite a bit earlier [due to that fact they started ahead of me, and were considerably faster]. I reconnected with my girls, each huddled under her own umbrella, and got the Hell out of Dodge.
After a half-mile walk back to Vicki, due to the outrageous wait for the Stadium Shuttles, and another half hour to get out of the lot; we finally got home around 1:00.
I showered, and everyone changed into warm dry clothes. The four of us went to Applebees for lunch, Sharon and I enjoyed a pint of Sam Adams each and with a heavy heart, let her return home to Connecticut around 3:00.
It was a massively exciting and action packed-weekend; maybe too much so. Next time maybe not so much racing?
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