Finally. After years of running the half marathon, 10-mile, 10k, and 5k distances, I ran my FIRST MARATHON!! When it came time for me to choose my first marathon, the Philadelphia marathon was the obvious choice. I love running races in the city, it’s close to home, and I knew it would be a blast.
I’m not going to get into the ups and downs of training for the marathon because I have done that in previous posts. That being said, I am definitely going to get into the details of the race. Also, this post is just as much for me as it is for you! I hope to use this to not only remember my first marathon, but to use it as a reference because it went so well!
Race Expo and the Day Before
My dad and I drove into the city around 3:30 to go to the race expo. To be honest, I had pretty low expectations for the expo. But my expectations were blown out of the water!! I got to pick up my bib, my (awesome) race shirt, check out other local races, cool running companies, etc. There was no shortage of awesomeness.
Most importantly, I bought the most impressive recovery tool I’ve ever seen or used. It’s called a BFF Body Buffer. It’s a medical grade massager and electric foam roller that puts all recovery tools I’ve ever used to shame! At the expo they had body buffers out to try and I was sold immediately. I knew that it would be a game changer for my recovery and performance. The only downside was that I needed to wait a week to have it shipped to me! As I write this, I’ve only had it for 24 hours, but I know that it will be worth the investment.
What I Ate
Before I get into the food, I will say that I am almost always very hydrated. Because I am super active, I drink 3-5 L of water/day. I simply prioritized my hydration and paid a little extra attention to this the week leading up to the marathon because I knew I didn’t want to start the race dehydrated.
The week leading up to the race, I kept my calories relatively low because I wanted to make sure I didn’t gain any excess weight during the taper period. This is not for everyone!! I know my body very well so I knew I wasn’t jeopardizing my performance by not eating to maintenance 3-14 days leading up to the race. The two days before the race, I did eat a little bit above maintenance to ensure that I had enough energy heading into race day.
The day before the race, I focused on carbs a lot more than usual. I had a bowl of veggie chili with roasted potatoes, avocado, and polenta for lunch. Second lunch was a bowl of steamed broccoli with a little ketchup and nutritional yeast because I was still a little hungry. For dinner, I had split pea soup with roasted potatoes, beets, and butternut squash with a spinach salad. I snacked on a couple of Medjool dates, a few clementines, an apple, and some of my cousin’s vanilla almond granola from Trader Joe’s. (Thanks Nicole! Haha.)
There’s no secret reason for any of this, I am simply sharing this for reference when I am preparing for my next marathon!
The Morning of
It would be wrong of me to write this race recap without mentioning my AMAZING cousin, Nicole. Nicole lives in an apartment that is literally 1 block away from the starting area. Let that soak in…1 block away. That means that I didn’t need to go outside until 6:40 for a 7:00 race start. That means that I got to sleep until 4:45. And most importantly, that means that I got to use a bathroom as many times as I wanted without standing in crazy lines. If you’re reading this Nicole, THANK YOU!! You’re the best cousin ever. I really think that I had a better race day than the 30,000 other marathoners because of you!
Race Morning Routine
The first thing I did when I woke up at 4:45 was pour myself a cup of coffee so that I could use the restroom promptly – priorities!! I hopped in the shower to wake myself up and was able to use the restroom twice. Honestly, I think that my hydration the days leading up to the race really helped with that.
At around 5:30 am I ate a frozen banana, which was perfect because I knew it wouldn’t bother my stomach. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but I HATE running with food in my stomach, so this was plenty for me! I knew that I would be getting more carbs during the run with my gels so I didn’t worry about it. I also drank a scoop of Vega’s sugar-free pre-workout at around 6:15 am. This was the last thing I drank because I didn’t want to have to pee during the race!
I recommend having something to suck on while you’re in the corral so that your mouth doesn’t get dry. I opted for Run Gum because of the extra caffeine. Also, I always put on chapstick before I run a long run or a race because there’s nothing worse than running with chapped lips!
The weather sounded WAY worse than it was. When the race started at 7:00 am, it was 54 F and windy. The temperature started out at 54 F and dropped to 51 F by the end of the race. The winds were at 24-31 mph with gusts of wind at 40-43 mph.
I could hear the wind from inside the apartment and it sounded super intense but it didn’t impact my race for more than a cumulative 5 minutes. I’ve run in way worse conditions and the wind didn’t phase me at all! I almost enjoyed it at the end because it kept me cool when the sun came out.
During the Race
Nutrition + Hydration
In my head, I broke the race up into three pieces based on when I saw my parents in the crowd! Miles 0-7, 7-14, and 14-26. This is also when I took my apple cinnamon Huma chia energy gels – mile 7, mile 14, and mile 19. I tried a couple different types of plant-based energy gels and this brand and flavor was by far my favorite! The cinnamon seemed to cut the sweetness a little.
I think it’s super interesting that I didn’t drink any significant water at the water stations. I simply didn’t feel like I needed it! Personally, I don’t like to drink water during a run because I don’t like the sloshing feeling, but I was willing to drink it if I felt like I needed to. It’s likely that the combination of my excellent hydration strategy and the cooler temperatures lead me to not want any water. I did take small sips of water to moisten my throat and mouth because of the wind, but I never felt like I needed a substantial drink!
The race seemed to fly by until the out-and-back stretch towards Manayunk, miles 14-19. The crowds were pretty scarce and the only thing to look at was the water and the road. But once I turned around in Manayunk and headed back to the Parkway, time started flying by again! I got to see my cousin, Sam, and her boyfriend at mile 21, so that helped with my energy levels too.
Did you know?
In my Nutrition for Fitness class a few semesters ago, we had a guest lecturer come and talk to us about hydration. Something he said really stuck with me… if you simply swish the Gatorade around in your mouth for a few seconds and spit it out, it is enough to stimulate the brain and improve performance! I don’t know how much my performance improved, but I did use this strategy to help my performance from dipping without actually swallowing the Gatorade. I think the combination of the gels and this strategy really helped me not “hit-the-wall.”
The Final Miles
During most long runs and some races, I find myself “counting miles.” Time sort of comes to a halt every once in a while. But this was completely different. It did not feel like I was running for 4 hr 6 min. Honestly, it felt more like 2 hr. Yes, I know it won’t be like that everytime I run a marathon, but it was great! It might have had something to do with me listening to music during a race for the first time ever… I can’t be sure though because I’ve listened to music while training before and it hasn’t had the same effect.
During the last two miles of the race, I felt good so I figured I might as well go for it and take as much time off as possible. I really felt like I had a good amount left in the tank. If I knew how close I would be to getting a sub 4 hr marathon, I would have pushed the pace much earlier!!
Post-race, I was elated! Like I said, I felt like I had some energy left in the tank so I felt good once I crossed the finish line. The first person I saw was my cousin’s boyfriend, John, and then I ran into my parents. I really wanted to get to my roller so we took a few post-race photos and headed back to my cousin’s apartment. I was able to take a quick shower, too, which felt AMAZING.
My mom and I popped over to the Whole Foods across the street so I could have my post-race meal. I was dreaming about it all week… a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter. As fate would have it, there was only ONE cinnamon raisin bagel left and the cafe downstairs was able to toast it for me. With that, I had a kombucha and a handful of medjool dates – AKA happiness.
Advice that was given to me that I would recommend to others.
“The usual. Don’t go out too fast, but use your breath, and pump your arms.”
Words of wisdom from a fellow vegan runner, Steve, that has run MANY marathons and ultramarathons, including the Philadelphia marathon. If you’re like me, when you get into the zone and blank-out during a race or a long run, the last thing I think about is pumping my arms. But it does help and it does propel you forward! There were definitely a few points that I realized I wasn’t pumping my arms and adjusted accordingly.
“Most of all, when things get shitty, smile, it helps…”
Advice from the same friend. Honestly, when people tell me to smile in tough situations, I kind of disregard that advice and write it off as nonsense. Not anymore!! I decided to go into the race with the mentality of “I’m not going to let things get shitty” and I smiled the ENTIRE. TIME. Literally. I have race photos to prove it.
I didn’t let a negative thought entire my head because I knew if I did, it would take over. Honestly, I think the smiling helped shield me from my own negativity. I can’t say for sure, but I would put money on it if I could.
I made sure I was running each mile with the perspective that I get to run 26.2 miles today, not “oh shit, I just ran a half marathon and now I have run another half marathon.“
Songs that Pushed me Forward
I have to preface this by saying my taste in music while I am running and my taste in music while I am driving around in my car or walking to class is drastically different. Because of this, I set up my playlist accordingly. My playlist was predominantly my favorite workout/running songs (hardcore rock, pop-punk, 2000s rap, etc.) with a few of my favorite everyday songs sprinkled in (classic rock from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 90s, etc.)
Believe it or not, my favorite songs during the marathon were actually my everyday songs! I put them below just in case you want to shake up your marathon playlist with a few classics.
- Hold on, I’m Comin’ – Sam & Dave (PUT THIS ON YOUR MARATHON PLAYLIST!!!)
- Think – Aretha Franklin
- Smooth Sailin’ – Leon Bridges
- Soul Man – Sam & Dave
- Who Do You Love – George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Thanks for the addition, Dad)
Goals for my Next Marathon
Because this was my first marathon, I didn’t set an ambitious time goal. I told myself if I could get under a 4:30, it would be a good day and if I could get under a 4:15, it would be a great day. Little did I know that I could run a 4:06! I honestly think I could have run a sub 4-hour marathon. Naturally, that is the goal for my next marathon!