Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon

This past Saturday I ran the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon with Lauren. Ever since I started running over two years ago, I've been wanting to participate in a Rock 'n' Roll race. Although slightly pricier, this race series seemed to be very well-designed with fun tech tees and awesome swag. Since I seek out races with cool souvenirs, this series obviously had to be on my bucket list. After moving to Philadelphia and finding out that the city is home to a Rock 'n' Roll event, I had to sign up for this race.
For the past three months, Lauren and I have been training consistently for the Philadelphia Marathon in late November. Our ultimate goal is to run well and PR at this event. However, we still wanted to run the Rock 'n' Roll half marathon a month prior. Because our true goal race is actually the marathon, we agreed that we would push ourselves to PR, but not kill ourselves trying to finish this half marathon in under 2 hours. Leading up to this half marathon, our PR was 2:13:47. Before the race, we decided that we would be content if we just PR'ed, but perfectly happy if we finished in under 2:10.

During races (and most training runs), I like to run without knowing my pace. Since I train and race with intervals (run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute) and my watch shows my distance, I have a good idea about my overall pace, but I do my best to ignore it and not do the math in my head. I've found that I have a much better run (both time-wise and emotionally) if I run without this added stress. I encouraged Lauren to do the same, and instead find a comfortable pace with our legs versus our brains.

At the San Francisco Marathon I went out a little too fast and wasn't able to keep that initial pace up throughout the rest of the race. For this half marathon though, Lauren had to keep reminding me that it would be better for us to not be "crazy legs" the first few miles, but rather keep a consistent pace throughout the entire race. I did my best to not take off at the start, but it's pretty hard when you don't know your pace. I started at running at a fast-comfortable pace and hoped that we could keep it up. When we signed up for the race in February, we listed our expected finish time slower than what we were now actually trying to achieve. Because of this, we ended up needing to weave in and out of other runners in our assigned wave group. Luckily there were so many wave groups that there were only a small amount of people in each group, so bobbing in and out of people wasn't too hard. Combined with trying to find that perfect comfortable pace, we chose to skip our first walk break.

Even running in California you'll often find me wearing long sleeves and pants when most others are dressed for warmer weather. Bring me to the East Coast in the middle of Fall, and I'm even colder. Even though I made sure to wear warm clothing, I was still freezing the first several miles of the race. Not once did I regret wearing pants, a long sleeved tee, and gloves. In fact, I couldn't feel my legs or feet at all the entire race because they were so cold. That actually probably helped though! Since this race was held on Halloween Day, we had to dress up. Neither of us have ever dressed up for a race before, and we didn't want our outfits to get in the way of running, so we found the most minimal Halloween costumes. Earlier in the year my mom sent us M&M t-shirts from her trip to Las Vegas, so we put our shirts to good use and dressed up as orange and green M&M's!
The first three miles of the race took us out into Center City, around City Hall, and back to the Art Museum. We used these miles to find and settle into a comfortable pace. Miles 3-5 were essentially an out and back route. This was personally our first Gatorade stop. Since we both carried handheld water bottles, we didn't stop at any aid stations for water. However, we did pick up a cup of Gatorade at about every other aid station. At mile 5 City Fit Girls, the run club we joined a few months back, had their own little cheer section. They handed out candy to us, and those Swedish Fish for me and Peanut Chews for Lauren, gave us that boost of energy we needed to make it through the next section of the race. Seriously, that was a game changer! Miles 5-9 were run along the eastern side of the Schuylkill River. Lauren and I run all of our long runs on this part of the course, so we were very familiar with it. Lauren commented on how boring this section was while pretty much everyone else was praising its beauty. While I completely agree with Lauren, I think being so familiar with the route actually helps us have a better race. Because we've trained so much in this area, we know exactly where all the twists and turns are, and had a good idea of how much further we needed to run to make it to the next section of the race. This section was slightly curvy, and knowing the layout of the road helped us run the tangents a tiny bit better. 

Reaching mile 9 meant that it was time to cross the bridge! This was a huge sign of relief because I knew that as soon as I crossed the bridge, it was time to run back to the Art Museum on the western side of the river. Mile 9 was also the only aid station with fuel, so I grabbed the first Gu I could reach- strawberry banana. Not my favorite, but definitely not the worst either. Although I wasn't hungry, I knew I needed to eat something (I had two other Gu's of my own with me, just in case). I gulped that Gu down like a champ, trying to distract myself from the banana flavor, and kept moving. Miles 9-12.5 weren't so bad. I heard lots of people encouraging their friends to keep running, and saw several people completely burnt out and walking to the end. Both Lauren and I were still running and following our intervals, so I took this as a good sign. Apparently around mile 12 Lauren told me she needed to go to the bathroom and I didn't say anything which she took as, 'I'd be mad at her if she stopped'. I honestly never heard her though, so she kept powering along, waiting to use the bathroom at the finish. I still had absolutely no idea what our pace was at this point. We passed the 2:15 pace sign around mile 10, and since they started at least one wave group before us, I knew we were on track to run under 2:15. I was still hoping to finish in under 2:10, but I really didn't know what to expect. The final mile of the race dragged us across the MLK Bridge. I was so excited at this point! There were so many people cheering all the runners and walkers on, we saw the City Fit Girls cheerers again, and the finish line was in sight! Lauren suggested we skip our last walk interval and just run to the end. Literally right before the finish line was a little hill, but we powered up that hill and sprinted to the finish line. As soon as we stopped our watches, Lauren turned to me and asked if I looked at our overall time yet. I hadn't, but I quickly did and couldn't believe it!
Our official time was 2:02:23, that's a 9:21 overall pace! As I was looking at the official race results, I looked at my splits, and it turns out that we ran a pretty consistent race. Our first two 5k's, and the 5k between mile 10 to the finish line were all run in 29 minutes each. A race doesn't get much better than this! Although we didn't finish in under 2 hours, we still met both of our spoken race goals. We PR'ed (by 11 minutes!), and finished in under 2:10. This race proved to us that a sub-2 hour finish is definitely possible, and that will be our next half marathon goal!