Location: Philadelphia, PA
Date: November 18, 2012
Placing: 1st...or 2nd...45-49 Age Group
My Race Photos
Official Race Photos
Results: Click Here
"Our final Jeopardy category today is 'Not so Famous Firsts' and the answer is...'He beat everyone in his age group at the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon but did not get first place in his age group.'..."
It seems more like a riddle than a trivia question. But this should come as no surprise since my life is a riddle; wrapped in a mystery and shrouded by an enigma. Running races - especially marathons - rarely have anything that comes close to a 'controversey' which makes it tough to compete with other sports that make controversey as commonplace as waking up, eating breakfast or avoiding swimming. But I changed all that last week. And now, you will have something to talk about other than the election, Lance Armstrong or the life-altering debate as to whether or not Twinkies will exist
for our children's children. But I should start at the beginning because a "journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step" and oddly enough, the journey of 26.2 miles ALSO starts with a single step.
I did everything right. At least everything I could control. After 100 years of competing you would think this would be the norm but it's not. Quite frankly, I can be pretty lazy about race prep these days. It's not that I am any less excited than I used to be - or care any less about doing my best - but I'm not as likely to go out of my way to eat dinner at a special time; or have a special meal; or skip watching a great Christmas movie just to go to bed early (damn that Hallmark channel). So I guess you could say that I trade some race prep for happiness and less stress. But this time, it seemed I was able to accomplish both. For starters, in keeping with the holiday season, I was able to visit the 3 wise men the week before the race - my physical therapist, my chiropractor and my massage therapist. If you know Chris Connor, Matt Eiken and Bob Mancuso you might think of them more as the 3 "wise guys" but either way they know their stuff and by Friday my competitive, war-worn exterior was simply a hardened shell holding muscles and bones that belonged to a 15-year old cheerleader before the big game. Rah. Bring it. By the way, at my age it's only a matter of time before I need to add an archeologist to that group.
We arrived in Philly Saturday afternoon after a delightful 2-day drive. We opted to take the route along the mountains of Virginia rather than fight the concrete jungle surrounding Washington, DC. A wise decision. We checked into our downtown hotel and walked the half mile to the convention center for packet pickup. This would be the first half-mile of walking in what we calculated to be nearly 25+ miles of walking across 5 days. Philadlephia managed to somehow pack everything we could possibly need into a 3-mile radius from our hotel. As usual, we were a picture of efficency at the expo...in -> race packet -> race shirt -> caffiene Power gel -> out. IF we are really feeling adventurous we will seek out the 'next big thing' that you HAVE to have. I beleive this year, it is compression headbands. Designed to squeeze blood into your brain and make you think you are running faster than you are. Buy one now. For us, we treat expos like a training ground for becoming ninjas. If Janis and I were ever kidnapped while leaving a race expo, they could probably show our photos to all 20,000 participants and they would all say "nope, never seen'em".
We had made no plans for a pre-race dinner but were assuming we would use our tried and true trick of ordering pick-up and bringing it back to the quiet solitude that was the hotel lobby. Normally we do this with the closest Olive Garden but this time we were in the very center of a huge city. There probably wasn't an Olive Garden within...300 feet. Seriously. Less than 3 blocks. We ordered, walked over, pushed our way through the throngs of marathoners waiting for tables, grabbed our food and were eating it in no time - to the chagrin of several hotel guests that passed us with that "hey, that's what we should have done" look. After dinner, I asked the desk clerk if there was any chance I could get a banana from somewhere. "Go out the front door..." I started to grab for a pen and paper. "...cross the street; go five feet and there is a grocery store." I'm not making this stuff up. And with banana in hand, my perfect race morning breakfast was complete. With an early dinner and nothing on the boob tube, I even got to bed earlier than expected.
Here's where it gets serious. I did something I have NEVER done on purpose. No, I didn't wear my new compression headband to bed. No, I set my FIRST alarm for 4am so that I could actually eat my breakfast 3 hours before the race start. At most races, I sleep as long as can - pushing the limits of time - and throw down my breakfast when I get up. But not today. In some of my better races the past couple of years, I noticed a pattern of eating early and being the keen student of science that I am I picked up on this. I ate a bagel with peanut butter, drank an Ensure and some Gatorade...and went back to bed for an hour and a half. It was like I was back in college...if you trade the bagel for Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream and drop the Ensure. Don't laugh; I credit this for giving me a stomach of steel. I could down a pizza on the start line and still run a marathon. My stomach could shield an atomic explosion.
It was about a 1.34923-mile walk to the marathon start and with a 7am start time it was going to be dark almost right up to the gun, soooo...if you have ever wondered what the Zombie apocolypse might look like just stand on the corner of JFK Boulevard and 16th street on race morning as hordes of lifeless people trying to stay warm and use minimal amounts of energy pop out of every pore in the city and funnel themselves toward a common goal - the Zombie gathering place (aka "the start line"). My Goodwill wardrobe simply added to the effect. A knit hat, sweatshirt and gloves that were all purchased to be 'disposable'. I was cleverly disguised as a homeless person. A fast homeless person. Eating a banana.
In full Goodwill disguise, I try to stay warm before heading into my corral
37 degrees. Friggin' cold...but almost perfect marathon weather if you can just stay alive until the gun goes off. If I'd had a match I would've set my number on fire. There was a calmness at the start as I waited in my corral. No doubt, it was mainly due to the deafening silence. There was no blaring announcer or loud music coming from the giant speakers. It actually made me smile to be able to hear myself think. At most events these days the start line noise makes you think you are right next to the Tunguska Meteor as it crashed to the ground. I'm sure you are all familiar with this event considering it is considered to be the loudest single-event in history. Not just a race report...a history lesson. I was actually able to chat with a few other runners without having to pratice my lip reading skills.
At first, I thought the corral was fairly narrow until I realized that the snow fencing on our left didn't seperate us from the spectators, it seperated us from a mirror-image of our corrals on the OTHER side of the boulevard. Apparently you could pick which side of the road you wanted to start on. And by virtue of ignorance...I chose the right side. Looking back behind us were the famed steps of the art museum that Rocky ran up. I thought about how cool it would have been if the finish line were at the top of those steps. In hindsight? Not so cool. Finally, a few words from the organizers, the Star-Spangled Banner, and some encouragement from Mayor Nutter (no, that is not a misspelling) and we were ready. I knocked the icicles from my nose. My years as a male stripper came in handy as I quickly removed my sweatshirt and threw it into the crowd while dancing and singing "Pour some sugar on me". That was a little embellished.
Think 'Rocky' theme. "Gonna fly noooowwwwwwww..." (photo courtesy: Island Photo)
There are few things as poetic as watching a several thousand people lean forward in unison with one hand on their watch and freeze for what seems a minute. According to the race timers, it took me 7 seconds to cross the start line and just a little longer than that to complete the 26.2 miles. It's alaways amazing to me how I can be 10 feet from the front line but as soon as I cross under the start banner, it looks like there are 10,000 people in front of me. I looked left a few times as we made our way down the 'avenue of flags' (flags from every country line the street) and it was comical to see all the people running on the OTHER side of the snow fence. It was like I was watching a movie. About a race. The fencing went on for half a mile and when we hit a huge roundabout, our side of the road went around it to the right and the other side to the left. Standing in the center of the roundabout would have made for a great video - although you would have been trapped for while. I watched my heartrate climb slower than usual, which I atribute to the fact that it had to thaw first. The beginning of the race is kind of like a game of dodge ball. So much so, that you are too busy paying attention to your line and the people around you to notice that the first miles have flown by. I never saw the mile 1 clock but the mile 2 clock was obviously misplaced for some reason and I heard I guy yell out "Shi***, I just ran a 5:20 mile!". He was obviously kidding as he laughed it off and it made me smile. I was disappointed that I never heard anyone yell "You're almost there!"
The elites head out through the Avenue of Flags. See if you can find me in this picture. If you looked, you give me way more credit than you should
Mile 3 - Running along the Deleware River. Since I stopped taking my 'allergy-induced asthma' medicine 3 months ago (Xolair), my body has returned to its prior state which means...lots of head congestion. A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do. I moved to the lefthand side of the road where nobody was running and I lost about 5 pounds. If you don't understand what I mean then you are better off. But man, could I breathe now. By the way, I think it froze before it hit the ground. 6:06 average pace so far.
Mile 5 - Astounded that my zone 3 heartrate is producing splits in the low 6's. This is phenomenal. Effort is minimal...until we pass by some trees losing their leaves and I make a concerted lunge for one. Success! Janis and I are professional leaf catchers. Well - it's more of a hobby until we figure out how to make money with it. But we ARE good. I proudly - and carefully - hold the leaf in my hand while the woman who has been running next to me probably wonders if I am some sort of Rain Man. If I had thought quickly enough, I would have mumbled "...1,284 leaves...11 trees..." in my best Rain Man voice. I slam my first Power Gel and almost instantly feel it load a bullet into the chamber.
Mile 6 - Straight through a downtown street completely lined with shouting onlookers. I hear Janis' voice at the exact moment that I am passing her. I look back and release the leaf and wink at her. She knows I caught it for her. The woman I was running with a mile earlier was a few seconds behind me and I know to this day she is still wondering what the hell she just saw. 10k time: 38:01...6:07 pace. Still feeling good and still keeping the heartrate plenty low enough. The crowds are pretty thick and it feels like I am in the running of the bulls. I'm afraid to look back. They're right behind me, aren't they...
I don't have any idea where this photo was taken on the run, but I was feeling pretty good at this point in the story and the guy in the photo looks like he's feeling pretty good so I thought this would be a good spot for this picture. (photo courtesy: Island Photo)
Miles 7-10 - Caught a group of 7 guys and we formed a gang for a couple of miles. Every few seconds, one of us would throw out some banter. We laughed. We cried. We kept our mind off the pace. Three good hills happened in these 3 miles slowing the pace down a bit and on the 3rd hill...shattering our group. Power Gel #2 went down easy and my body continued to respond in kind. I used to believe that I could run fast virtually forever if I could just keep enough calories in my body. This was probably a lot truer 20 years ago...but 20 years ago I was fast and stupid. Now I'm old and tricky. I crossed 10 miles at 1:02:03. 6:12 pace.
Still feeling good as I climb to the halfway point…and several runners peel off to finish the half marathon. Oh look, I see Janis...
Miles 11-13 - Fairmount Park. I used my uncanny ability to run downhill like a ragdoll at the start of mile 11; passing 4 people like they were standing between me and a Black Friday deal. I still believe this ability stems from years of cycling and developing quad muscles that can handle the pounding. Either that, or I simply don't have a skeleton. For the first time since the start, I was finding myself running in my own space. Catching people - or being caught - would slow down considerably from here on out. I passed a group of spectators dressed like some kind of circus freak show including a guy dressed as a giraffe. They were awesome...unless you are prone to nightmares. Shortly thereafter I had a random thought; nobody was wearing a hat and I still had on my red knit cap that screamed "I worked on the loading docks back in the 1940's". Don't be mistaken - after an hour plus of running, I was still chilly but the hat weighed heavy on my mind. Get it? The hat was on my head. WEIGHED HEAVY ON MY MIND. I slay me. Just as the thought appeared, a runner up ahead of me threw his gloves onto the sidewalk and a guy on a beat up old bike stopped and picked them up. I figured, if he would stop for those, then...well...off went the hat. Right at his feet. He bent over to pick it up and thanked me. I wanted to tell him that the hat had travelled nearly 1,000 miles to find its new home but I was a bit busy. As I approached mile 13, the few runners near me started to take sides. Literally. Marathoners to the left and those only doing half a race to the right. The crowd was thin here and it was easy to catch sight of Janis on the gentle climb to 13. At first I was pretty pissed to know that there was a shorter, faster way to get from mile 6 to mile 13 but later Janis explained about her secret power of teleportaion and that made sense. She grabbed a great photo and cheered her heart out. She is the best.
Mile 13.1 - Halfway. 1:21:36. 6:13 pace. Amazingly, three seconds faster than the half marathon I had run 3 weeks earlier on the difficult Spinx Runfest course back in Greenville. Three seconds faster but not nearly the effort. If you account for the two hill miles in the first half, my pace was crazy consistent.
I remember exactly where this photo was taken because I remember putting on my "I'm not gonna let them see the pain" face. (photo courtesy: Island Photo)
Miles 15-19 - The metamorphosis has started. The prior two miles I finally started to feel the effort. It was expected. From mile 13 to 19, my mile splits dropped to around 6:30 but once again, leveled off. Still at the same zone 3 heartrate, I was biding my time to the jump to zone 4 and beyond. I was working now but I had no problem putting on a brave face for the cameraman at mile 16. I was on track for a 2:45-ish time. But at about mile 19...
Damn! I didn't see this photographer so I had no time to make it look like I felt all warm and cuddly inside at mile 17. (photo courtesy: Island Photo)
Miles 19-25 - OK. What the hell is this? Before I started training and racing with Rick Kattouf as my coach, I was the king of racing 'wrong' by starting out too fast. But as Rick once described it, I had the ability to "defy pain". Whereas most people who started out too quickly would find themselves dropping off a cliff late in the race, when I started out too quickly my body would somehow manage to turn the cliff more into a gentle downhill with mile splits dropping 10 - 20 seconds a mile over the final miles. So I know intimately what 'hitting the wall' is like and this was NOT 'hitting the wall'.
Somewhere between miles 18 and 20, my body 'reset' itself. Instead of my heartrate climbing into zone 4...it was slowly DROPPING. Your heartrate should gently climb over the course of the entire race. At least that's what mine has always done. In addition, my legs began to hurt as if someone had been smashing them with a hammer. For you runners, it was like I had been running down a steep hill for a long time - but I hadn't. I would say I've never experienced this but I instantly recalled the period in my life when I was first diagnosed with asthma. When we were trying to figure out what was wrong with me (a loaded proposition) I distinctly remember describing one of my symptoms as "unusual muscle fatigue". I remember telling the doctor at the time that my legs were suddenly failing well before my heart and lungs - this was sudden and new. But after we started treating my asthma, this symptom went away. Could this be happening because I came off my Xolair shot? Why would an allergy medication affect my muscles? I don't know, but I had 6 miles to think about it. At mile 20, I had hoped to 'chew through the leash'; instead, the leash tightened. ("Chew through the leash": a term used to describe the point at which an athlete is 'set free' from the constraints set upon them - such as a heartrate directive from their coach. The phrase was derived from watching my coach's dog methodically chew through his leash while remaining quiet and composed...and then suddenly take off like a rocket with his newfound freedom to the dismay of his owner.)
As I mentioned, this was very different from 'hitting the wall'. It was wierd. Rather than a slow degradation of speed - and a slow increase in heartrate - this was an almost sudden drop in both. My heartrate dropped 10 beats and my speed dropped to a 7:00 mile. And it STAYED THERE. That's not what's supposed to happen when you fatigue. So there I was, jogging along. My body would not go any faster. Well, not entirely true. It just felt as though if I went harder, it would be a gargantuan effort that would last a few minutes and they would probably need an ambulance to pick up the pieces. So, I just kept moving. It was math time. I may have slowed down, but I was holding fast and I had set a good tempo the first 20 miles. I went through mile 20 at exactly 2:07:00. To still reach my goal of 2:50, I had to cover 6.2 mile in 43 minutes. That is almost exactly 7:00 miles - and that's what my body was doing...almost. 7:06, 7:08, 7:04...
As someone who is usually observant and alert during a race, it took team Kattouf teammate Yvonne Cater a few shouts to finally grab my attention as she ran towards me on the out-and-back section. Which shows you how out of it I was. I was on cruise control and almost missed her (she ran a 3:16!). I was pushing. Pushing through the uncommon leg pain mostly. But also fighting my heartrate. It was like running through quicksand. I kept hearing "Billie Jean" in my head as I imagined myself moonwalking; looking like I was moving forward but feeling like I was going backwards. If you don't know who Billie Jean is - she's just a girl that claims that I am the one...
Oh yeah, "I wish it was as easy for me as it is for you, G-Man" Whatever. Call me when you can make this face. (photo courtesy: Island Photo)
Mile 26 - Now. NOW I can push. And since the final mile was mostly uphill, I had little choice. Seeing the road open up to 6 lanes in the final half mile, and switch to a downhill, pushed me to catch and pass the 3 runners in my path. I crossed the line and you would think that I would collapse from exhaustion but on the contrary, since I was never able to get my heartrate above zone 3 today, I was extremely fatigued in my muscles and bones but not exhausted. The instant I crossed the line, I felt a hand on my shoulder. A runner had finished practically right next to me. He shook my hand and congratulated me on a good run. We made small talk for a few seconds and then went our seperate ways. But that moment right there IS the story. A story that will make you think and make you chuckle.
Janis and I hobbled back to the hotel. Well I hobbled. We went about our 'vacationing' (which was awesome) and over the course of the next 2 days, the results would change several times. I was 5th...then 7th...and finally came to rest at 2nd place. Apparently, there were several erroneous runners initially showing up in the results including times in the 2:20's and 2:30's (probably people who ran the half instead of the full). Excellent. I had a goal of 2:50 and a top 5 (awards to the top 5). Woo-hoo! Later, Janis asked me what the gap was between me and first place so I checked again. Oh yeah, you may have figured out where this is going. The first place in my age group had the EXACT same clock time as me. They apparently showed him as first because his chip time was faster by 13 seconds - meaning he started 13 seconds behind me at the start.
Do I look lighter? I feel lighter. I'll also realize how cold it still is outside in 3…2…1…
It actually took me a few minutes to have the realization that if we had the same gun time, we HAD to have crossed the finish line at the same time. And then I remembered the hand on my shoulder. The guy who congratulated me at the finish had been declared the winner of our age group. Again, I really didn't think about it that much other than what an amazing coincidence it was. Until the next day when I got the email about my race photos. I clicked the link and perused my photos. When I got to the end, there were several pictures of my finish. A finish where I clearly crossed the line ahead of the 'first place' runner. I was, in fact, the winner. If you are not a runner then you might be confused right now. Even if you are a runner you might be. Let me explain as succinctly as possible.
When road races started out, they were small. They also didn't care as much about pleasing so many people so there weren't all these 'extra' places like age-group winners or masters winners or fastest-wearing-red-shoes winners. No, there was just "THE" winner. For these reasons, a race was just that - a race. First one across the finish line wins. Simple. But then races got big. Real big. In some races, it can take nearly an hour for the person at the back of the group to cross the START line when the gun goes off. They also added different categories. It became hard to compare times between people or between different races. Plus, some races you had to qualify to get in and it wasn't fair if you had an extra 10 minutes added to your time just because there were 3,000 people ahead of you. So, races started offering to track a runner's "chip time" - and other races started accepting people's chip time for qualification purposes. It all seemed to make sense. I mean, your chip time is the time it took you to get from the start line to the finish line. But the USATF (US Track & Field), the governing body for races, does not recognize chip time for the purest and simplest of reasons: in a race, the first person to cross the line, wins. Period. Think about the fiasco it would create if two people sprinted to win the New York City Marathon and after one runner crosses the tape ahead of the other runner, he is then told he actually got second place? That would not work. Ever. In time-trial events that would be OK but in a mass-start event, your only goal should be to be ahead of everyone else at the finish. If I am running someone down at the finish all I should have to know is that the first person across the line beats the second person across the line.
Rule #245.1 states: "...The order in which the athletes cross the finish line will be the official finish position."
Rule #245.3 states: "The official time shall be the time elapsed between the start of the watches or timing devices resulting from an appropriate start signal and when the athlete reaching the finish line. The actual time elapsed between when an athlete reaching the starting line and finish line can be made known to the athlete, but will not be considered as official time.
The other important thing to note here is that is standard practice to see the phrase "all awards are based on gun time", which is basically a reiteration of the rules I listed above. I learned this the hard way in my first marathons where I lost to someone simply because he lined up on the front row. I, on the other hand, lined up further back because I didn't want to get in the way of people who really deserved to be up front. Silly me, being all "non-self-centered" and all. But fear not, I have since seen the error of my ways. Now I line up where I expect to finish. If I expect to be in the top 20, that's where I line up. But I digress.
The final straw in this rather humorous situation...is me. If you know me, then you know there are two things I am adamant about: 1. Follow the rules. I am a rule follower to a fault. 2. This is a stupid rule. I didn't make the stupid rule...I just follow it. Sure, I believe that if you are pro or elite then it makes sense, btu to everyone else? Bah! I initially thought about not saying anything. Then I thought - I shouldn't be made to feel like I am doing something wrong by pointing out the rules? There are plenty of rules in every sport we watch that are controversial. Some people agree with them and some people don't. But they follow the rules until enough people decide to change them. My assumption here is that whoever did the race timing has a program that automatically ranks people by their gun time and breaks a tie using their chip time. This is not correct, but I'm sure the people sending out the awards will simply look at the paper handed to them and award first place to the guy "at the top of the list". In fact, they should determine who actually crossed the line first. And by virtue of the finishing photos...that would be me. As a matter of fact, I would swear that I beat him by a full second so I'm not even sure how we got the same gun time. You be the judge...
You can easily see that the guy in white is behind me...or was he just fashionably late?
So, in the end, I ended up with a pretty good race, a wonderful vacation and a story that I'm not sure I will ever reproduce. As I wait by the mailbox, only time will tell which award I receive...the "right" one...or the "wrong' one ;-)
* I couldn't walk right again until Thursday.
* Finish time was 2:50:55. The last 5 marathons over the past 6 years...2:42, 2:43, 2:49, 3:17 (Boston this year!), 2:50.
* Average HR ended up being 142. Average at the halfway point was 143. Normal Avg for a half or full marathon? 148-152.
* Got to watch the oldest Thanksgiving parade in the country. Live!
* As always, thanks go out to my coach, Rick Kattouf; Fleet Feet Sports; and of course, Janis!
Cheesesteak? Oh, you bet I did. I ran 26.2 miles so the guilt is absolutely transparent.
I haven't seen my high school buddy Bill Mayweather in 32 years! Amazing to reconnect with old friends. And I mean "old"
Philadelphia Chocolate Tour?!!! NOW it's a vacation...and by the way, that is chocolate-covered BACON I am eating here!