Hanging with my awesome running buddy before the race. As always, she kicked my butt.
Here’s the problem with training for ultra marathons (I know, most of you are thinking that there are many problems, but hear me out). When your friend, and running partner says, “We should just sign up for the marathon as a training run since we have to run long anyway that day” it actually sounds reasonable. Forget that said marathon is in Philadelphia, in June, on a hilly course. Which is how, boys and girls, I got talked into running the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Full Marathon today.
Now, in fairness to the race director, Stephan, I also chose to run this race because I like the events that Uberendurancesports puts on. The races are a bargain price-wise, tend to be well run, and have beautiful and interesting courses. This race was no exception, despite a bit of a hiccup with the weather.
The race website states that due to usual summer temperatures, the marathon tends to be more difficult than most other races and should only be attempted by veteran runners. Many people comply with this warning and of the 800+ runners who ran today, only 200 or so of us were attempting the full. Usually the cut-off for the full marathon is 6:30, but two days ago, it was announced that they planned to close the course at the 5:00 mark, due to forecasted high heat and humidity. I have to admit, when I heard this news, I panicked a bit. Since Jen and I were planning to use this as a training run, we were going to take it easy and aim for a 5:30 or so. I’ve run several marathons under 5 hours, but knowing that it was a strict cut-off caused me to panic at the thought that I might get pulled at the half, which would be both disappointing, and totally defeat the purpose of running this race in the first place. Fortunately, it was announced at the start that we would have until 2:25 to make the turn at the half, and a generous 5:10 for the overall finish. With that info in place, we agreed that we would shoot for the full distance.
One of the great things about running smaller races is the ease of the start. As in Delaware last month, we casually wandered into our “corral” a few minutes before the race, and even with a wave start to minimize congestion on the trail, we were off within 2 minutes of the official race start. The course is an out and back on the paved bike paths through Pennypack Park, with a 1.5 mile trail section at the turnaround. Fortunately for us, most of the course was shaded, which made the heat a bit more tolerable and kept me from getting sunburned. The first several miles were relatively flat, before we entered the “roller coaster” section with several short but steep hills to tackle. Our ultra training came in handy here, and we ran easy up the hills and then blasted the downhills, passing several people along the way.
When we made it out to the trail portion, Jen and I were thrilled to discover that we got to retrace some of the course from Sloppy Cuckoo, our first ultra, last fall. Once again, all of the trail training came in handy, and I actually found that this section gave me a little boost, as I felt really comfortable on the trails. When I ran this race two years ago, the trail portion was really intimidating for me, but it just goes to show that familiarity breeds comfort. After the trails, we headed back on the course to the half finish and the full turnaround.
One of the wonderfully shaded tunnels along the course that we got to run through.
Most marathoners hit the wall at about mile 20. I have always found that miles 13-18 are the hardest for me. It’s very demoralizing to me to get to the halfway mark, when I’m starting to get tired, and realize that I still have another half of a race to run. Races like today’s make it extra tough, when almost everyone around you is crossing the finish line and you are continuing to chug along. That was also the point in today’s race when the heat and humidity really started to get to me. Jen and I went out a bit faster than I would have liked to make sure we made the cutoff and I definitely paid for it in the second half. Thank God I was out there with Jen though, because I was very tempted to stop and may have actually done so if she hadn’t been there.
To be honest, I zoned out for large portions of the second half of the race. I was really hurting, so shortly after mile 15, Jen and I split up. I was feeling very nauseous, and had resorted to a fair amount of walking in an attempt to get my stomach under control. Slowing to a walk was actually more painful for her, so we agreed that she should just run and I would trudge along as best I could. I actually used the time to do the mental math to determine exactly what pace I needed to maintain in order to make the 5:10 cut-off, and then I did my best to stick to it. I was scared to push any harder than that, as I was having trouble keeping any solid food down and was worried about the heat. This is probably a good place to admit that though I didn’t like it at the time, the race director made the right call in closing the course early. This was my tenth marathon and I really struggled, which means that it could have been really dangerous for less experienced runners.
I also need to give a shout out to the incredible water stop volunteers. Despite all of the heat, there was not a single table that was short of supplies throughout the race. Every volunteer that I encountered was happy to refill my handheld bottle for me, and one stop out near the turnaround had ice cold towels that they were squeezing over the runners. I was already soaked with sweat at that point, and the cold water felt heavenly.
My race strategy proved to be a good one – I ended up making it to the finish on my own two feet and just below the cut-off time. As I crossed the mat, another wonderful volunteer handed me both my medal and an ice cold bottle of water. The cold water and the platter of watermelon really perked me up after such a tough race. Many people love these races for their awesome food and beverage buffet afterwards, but sadly, I can’t report on that. I’m so particular about what I eat that I knew there wouldn’t be many options that appealed to me, so I quickly changed and just dragged myself back home, exhausted but satisfied with a hard day’s work. If you are local to Philly, I highly recommend checking out any of Uberendurancesports’ races. They are always enjoyable and well organized, which keeps me coming back for more.