Oh boy, so this is my 100th blog, and I was trying to come up with some brilliant thing to celebrate it. I figured I would do a short bit about my 20 favorite countries. But I realized that would end up being way too long, so I switched to my favorite 10 locations around the world. So many great places though, that I upped it to 12. Once I started writing though, I realized it there was so much to say. So I decided I would do Twelve Days, Twelve Favorite Places for the twelve days of Christmas. So I scrapped that whole idea. Then, I thought, why not just thank everyone for all their support, and tell them how the Marathon turned out. After all, I explained all about my prep for the race, but never the results. So what better way to celebrate number 100 than by going into the second hardest thing I ever did, which was finishing the Marathon.
So I arrived bright and early to the Philadelphia Marathon at 6:30a.m. They wanted us there at 5:30a.m., but that is just crazy. The trolleys were not running as frequent as I thought they would, and there was a big crowd waiting there. Security was tight thanks to the assholes who bombed the Boston Marathon, so Yvonne was not allowed past the check point with a bag. The next huge crowd was in line at the porta-johns. I ended up spending 35 minutes waiting to get in. I enjoyed listening to the American Anthem for the beginning of the race from the inside of the bathroom. Great thing about these races is you have chips in your bib, so you can start whenever you cross the starting line. Hell, you can’t even see the starting line to begin with unless you are some Olympic runner, which I most certainly am not.
I believe I crossed the start line at about ten minutes, that’s how many thousands of runners there were, 30,000 to be precise. Things are a lot like bumper cars at first, with so many people running at different speeds. It all seems like a crazy choreographed ballet. At first look it seems like chaos, but there is a beauty to it. Speed up here; drop back there, dodging, squeezing between two runners, hopping on curbs, and then doing it all over again. I think it’s fun, a lot of people hate it. The first half went fairly well. The only spot I truly hated was the hill in Fairmount park, at mile 8 or 9. It just kept going, and it wasn’t even that big. Then the road sloped down to the river, where I opened my stride out and let gravity carry me. I really don’t know why other people did not do this, I suppose they were worried about getting hurt, but I needed to cut some time out. Some guys were telling two girls to open their stride on the down ward slope, and they started giggling and making sexual references about it.
I unloaded sweaters and long sleeve shirts to my wife and friends along the route, till I was down to my t-shirt. The race splits off at 13 miles, with the half marathoners shooting to the finish line, and the rest curving around the art museum. It felt great to be in uncharted territory. I knew Yvonne was some where around this point, but with thousands of people cheering, I was not able to see her. It was really great having friends and family along the way to cheer me on, it motivates you more than you would ever guess. I got a lot of enjoyment reading everyone’s goofy signs, and a lot of people had giant cut out heads of the runners.
Everyone has a time they want to beat when they start the run. Under four hours was my dreamtime, but mainly my goal was just to finish. I really wanted to beat my best friend Marks’ time, which was around 4 and a half hours. Then I found out my sisters time was 4:23. Couldn’t let her beat me. My buddy Davide had done it in 3:47, but he had trained for over a year, ran 20 miles for fun, and then smoked a cigarette. So that was my goal, even though I had not trained at all for it. I was going to do my best.
For most of the race you end up just chasing asses; girls, guys, does not matter. They are always in front of you, and you can set your pace to them. The more tired you get, the more your head bobs down though, and you see shoes pounding away, then just pavement moving. At points you really don’t see anything, and I have been known to close my eyes and day dream a bit. This is when you know I am done. But thats not allowed, so you ignore everything your body tells you and keep going. For the first 15 miles or so I followed a couple who had all the gear, were marking their pace out, and were always just ahead of me. I tried not to let them out of my sight, even though there were times they were 100s of feet in front. But after I crossed the river, there was a downward section, and I used it to gain some speed. Never saw them again.
I am a very vocal runner, grunting and groaning. I curse a lot, at myself, at life, at the stupidity or running so far, and paying for it. I also crack jokes a lot, and I have to say, Philadelphians do not have much of a sense of humor when running. Most ignore me completely; others give me an evil eye, slow down or speed up. I think I am funny, so I am not sure what their problem is. But as long as I am amused, screw them all I say. I will keep on laughing.
Everyone talks about it, the mighty wall. Usually around mile 20 they say, it will get you. I am not sure when I hit the wall exactly, but I can say that it started around that point. Manayunk was a spot I was not too fond of. In my head I just kept cursing at myself, 6 miles, 5 miles, and calling myself a pussy. At this point you enter the narrow streets of Manayunk, with all the people crowded in. I hit that miserable point where everything hurts, and all you want to do is cry. The crowds are all clean and happy, you just want to hit them. But on the other hand, I think they realize that, because they are nice enough to have Free Beer for you, and it really did hit the spot.
I made it through Manayunk, past all those cheerful hipsters, and really hit the wall, right when you are closest. I passed my friends James and Kaja, who gave me some concentrated Gatorade thing, and that helped for about a half mile. But at this point, my feet started to feel like bloody stumps. Each step was horrible torture. The stump would pound into the ground like a jackhammer, pulsating all the way up to your thighs. My splits dropped horribly here, and all you keep thinking is “I want to walk”. But to walk in my mind was to give up. My GPS lied to me, saying I was a mile closer than I was, and that was heartbreaking. Cause at this point, I am counting down to the finish. I let out a large belch, and wouldn’t you know it the woman next to me gave me the nastiest look, that I actually apologized. People piss and shit themselves in this race all the time, a burp is not that big of a deal.
I tried to open my pace at two miles, and it just did not work. I passed my friends Kuma and Rebecca near the art museum, and all I could do was grunt and give the peace sign. The crowds were huge here, but the finish line was still far away. I have to sprint at the end, but it just was not going. I was like the walking dead now. A girl in pink sprinted past me, and damned if I was going to let her beat me. So I found that reserve of energy, and sprinted as hard as I could. It was horrible, painful, and crazy. But I beat her, and finished.
My time was 3:53 minutes. A time in the end which beat my own expectations. After talking to numerous runners, apparently its a great first marathon time, so I am happy.
My lovely wife Yvonne was waiting for me at the end, with nice dry clothes and a flask of whisky. But we had to walk 5 blocks past the security gates just to meet up. Of course she had to help me along. It was celebration time.
Just take a look at my face in these shots at the finish line by IslandPhoto.com. I look like a dead man. So funny.
You can also check out my preparation for the race here https://michaelbencik.org/2014/11/22/philadelphia-marathon-training-2014/