Philadelphia – my first marathon

This has the potential to be a long post, so I’m going to do my best to keep it as succinct as possible while detailing what happened.

We decided to make this a weekend get away, so headed to Philly on Friday evening. Perhaps it was a good omen that we were put in a room on the 26th floor of the hotel (although it might have been better to have room 2620 or 2602). The room overlooked the race start area so on Saturday morning we were able to watch the 8k get underway.

8k  start

8k start

After breakfast we took the kids to the Please Touch Museum which was a lot of fun for them, but a lot of work for us. By the time we were done there it was mid afternoon and we headed over to the convention center for packet pickup. There was a kids zone which provided loads of great activities for the kids (face painting, balloon modelling, headband decorating, and a large inflatable) while I grabbed my number and looked around. We were exhausted by the time we were done and decided to grab an early dinner down the street before walking back to the hotel.

By 8:30pm I was definitely ready for bed but despite this it was tough to get to sleep – I managed a few hours before being woken up by activity in the hotel. Someone was up very, very early and then at 4am the couple in the room next door also woke up and were talking loudly enough to make sure I definitely wasn’t getting any more sleep.

Despite being advised to get to the start around 5am due to enhanced security, I decided 6am was probably going to be alright. It was pretty warm but cold enough that I decided I was still going to wear some throw-away clothes to the start line. Security did not add any time at all in getting to the start area – we really just walked straight through so there was a bit of time to kill, but everyone was so friendly it was easy to find people to talk to.

I had decided to wear my older pair of Merrell Trail Glove 2 shoes – these have well over 400 miles on them now but I decided they were my best option (my new pair only has about 50 miles on them). I had my packs of shot bloks stashed away in my belt (and one in my pocket) and felt ready to go.

I was in the black corral which was intended for those running between 3:10 and 3:30. Although I would have loved to get 3:30, I thought 3:40 to 3:50 was more realistic but decided to stay where I was rather than dropping back a corral.

Marathon start

Marathon start from up in the hotel room – maybe I’m down there in that crowd somewhere.

The elite race was started and after a few minutes our wave moved forwards and then it was time to go. The early pace was about right and the atmosphere was great. I think I was smiling a lot and made a point to read as many signs as I could. I was apparently on the wrong side of the road at the first mile point to be seen by the RVRR cheer squad but they saw me at their next stop which was shortly after the 10k point. The atmosphere as you run through the center of Philly is amazing and made that early part of the race seem very easy. The crowds thinned out a lot soon after and things seemed to be harder at that point. The first turnaround of the course was at the Please Touch Museum so it was nice to have a point of reference from the day before.

As we got to the halfway mark (where those running the half marathon pealed off and thinned the field a bit) I was surprised that I didn’t think I felt as good at that distance as I had in my half marathon races this year. I wonder if that was my body forcing me to keep the pace down. I had maintained a 7:57/mile pace for the first half (with my 10k and half splits both being at that pace).

At the halfway point

At the halfway point (picture by Bob Tona)

I didn’t do a bad job of keeping the pace up to the 30k mark with only a slight slip, although it was fairly tough going by then and seemingly uphill. My only consolation was that maybe it would all be downhill to the finish on the way back.

It was around the 30k mark (or maybe earlier – I have a feeling it was maybe in mile 17) when I felt the first twinges in my right calf muscle. It didn’t happen very often but it was disconcerting considering how far I still had to go. It got more frequent by about mile 20. At that point I was stopping to drink at each water stop thinking that maybe taking on more fluids would help (okay, so it wasn’t all water stops – there was a beer stop too – admittedly it was only Miller Lite, so not sure if it really counts).

The twinges/cramps were getting much more frequent and sometimes it would disappear, but at other times it lingered and I would have to walk or on several occasions stop and stretch a bit. I was determined to keep the speed up, so in between those stops/walking breaks I would run as fast as I could so I wouldn’t lose too much time, but at this point I was just determined to finish – seeing others drop out made me think about how precarious the situation could be. I really didn’t want my calf muscle to let me down so much that I couldn’t finish.

Mile 24 and still smiling through the pain

Mile 24 and still smiling through the pain – I was shouting “Go RVRR” at this point which is probably why that guy is looking at me. (Picture by Mahesha Chayapathi)

For the last 6 miles I was definitely buoyed by the crowd. It was during this section where the most people were shouting my name, and also where I heard all the comments about my skirt (“nice skirt”, “way to rock that skirt” etc.).

With about 2 miles to go I started talking to a guy who had had similar cramp problems, but worse. He had completed the first half in about 1:35 but here we were after mile 24 at the same point and keeping each other going (he eventually got ahead when I had another cramping episode where I had to slow again).

As I got close to the line Santa caught up with me. I had to finish with Santa, so I told him that and he took hold of my hand and we crossed the line hands raised together (looking forward to the photo of that one).


After crossing the line I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I couldn’t stop moving but there also seemed to be a line to get the food. Someone kindly offered to let me back in the line if I wanted to wander, so I did before coming back and getting a banana and chicken broth and a bag of other snacks. The line for the massage tent was long and because I felt I needed to keep moving there wasn’t much point in waiting, so I wandered up 20th Street to where I had arranged to meet my wife and kids – we arrived at about the same time.

After wandering back to the hotel I knew I had to do everything I could to stop the cramps and having heard of ice baths before, but always thinking I would never, ever have one, I decided it was bad enough that I had to try, so I grabbed the ice bucket from the room and made a few trips back and forth between the ice machine and the bath. I topped up with cold water and got in. I survived a couple of minutes and got out, but then got back in again and survived a little longer the second time. It seemed to help as walking was a little easier after that.

Additional bonus: no chafing at all, no blisters (or any foot issues). Nothing. I’d been worried about the chafing in particular and had done everything I could think of (down to choice of clothes, and also buying some BodyGlide – that stuff seems to really work).

RVRR had booked a back room at a bar so I headed over there to join the celebrations and hear how others had done. The support of the club was definitely a big help in getting through this event and I really felt proud of how I had done in my first marathon.

It’s now about two and a half days since I finished and I was expecting the worst when it comes to recovery pain, but it hasn’t come. The only issues I have had are with tight calf muscles (mainly in that right leg which caused the problems during the race). Others report quad pain and I wonder whether the zero drop shoes and forefoot strike meant that I avoided that particular pain. Recovery has consisted of: walking as much as possible, using “The Stick” (although not as much as I should probably), taking some ibuprofen, and wearing compression socks/sleeves/tights as much as possible.


I haven’t ruled out doing another marathon, but it was definitely tough for those last 6 miles. Perhaps if my training had been better for the last 6 weeks or so, or perhaps I just didn’t take on enough water earlier on (I suspect I didn’t have enough), but maybe I can be faster next time…

Having said that, I wouldn’t have been able to do this well, or have as much fun doing it, if it were not for the Raritan Valley Road Runners.

The day after - everything back to normal.

The day after – everything back to normal and heading back home to NJ.


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17 Responses to Philadelphia – my first marathon

  1. dorseyml says:

    Woohoo! Congrats! That is an amazing time. I definitely see more marathons in your future!

  2. Wow, well done! Fantastic time! I’m very impressed πŸ™‚

    • runnj says:

      Thank you (if I’m honest I’m pretty impressed with myself too πŸ™‚ I wasn’t sure I could manage it that fast).

  3. NewHeart says:

    Congratulations. Great time, well done πŸ™‚

  4. Marianne says:

    Great job!! Think about Hammer’s endurolytes. They really help me with my calf cramping issues. They are like a little gatorade pill. πŸ™‚

    • runnj says:

      I’ve just been reading up on these – maybe that would work. I was using the shot bloks which have the extra sodium which seem to have helped before. I do wonder if it was mostly the late training issues I had (with a cold and my knee keeping me from running a bit).

  5. paigesato says:

    Nice recap–I saw those RVRRers early on and was thinking of you!

  6. Dan says:

    3:34 in your debut marathon is crazy good. You deserve a lot of praise for that accomplishment — well done! It’s funny that you finished with Santa because I started with him and saw him near the turnaround in Manayunk. He was booking at that point, so he must have started slower and picked it up towards the end.

    And yeah, don’t rule out another marathon. The last 10k is tough every single time, even if you’re just out for a relaxing stroll. While it’s not as bad the second or third time, it’s more a matter of your body learning to cope with the pain and not so much that it gets easier.

    Well done πŸ™‚

    • runnj says:

      Thanks Dan, it sounds like you had a good race (just ready your race recap – enjoyed reading it); to be able to speed up late in the race like that is amazing. It looks like we have pretty similar 5k and half marathon times (your PRs are a few seconds faster than mine on both) so perhaps breaking 3:30 is possible next time (if there is a next time). The pain wasn’t so much the issue as the muscle cramping – pretty difficult to run with those muscle spasms.

  7. Well done! Congratulations, that is a great time πŸ™‚

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