Three months ago, my friends convinced me to sign up for the Philadelphia marathon.
Running a marathon has always been one of my life’s bucket list items, but I never thought it would happen during college; it’s a big time commitment, and during busier weeks at Penn, I’ve had to sacrifice working out to get enough sleep and studying done.
However, the fact that my best friends, Nora and Danni, were set on running it, helped me take a leap of faith. I would have my best friends doing the same training, fall was my favorite season in Philly, and my class schedule seemed a bit lighter than usual. When I looked up training programs online, the half marathon I’d already signed up for and trained for in mid-September aligned perfectly with the training plans. Everything seemed to indicate that the time was right. I decided I would make the time for it.
So in early September, I signed up for the Philadelphia marathon to be held on November 24th. In September, the weeks stretched out ahead of me, and the race seemed like something in the distant future. I had midterms, career recruiting, and many weeks to get through before tackling the race. I looked up a training plan, bought myself a running watch, planned out each week’s runs on my calendar, and settled into the routine.
Training was unexpectedly fun. I love working with data and planning out everything, and it was fun to see my mileage and my paces and how they changed over the weeks. I learned that I really love long runs over twelve miles, and on most Sunday’s, I spent a lot of quality time with the Schuykill River Trail, a long, pedestrian trail just a mile away from my house by Penn’s campus. I’d see many other runners out doing long runs on the weekends, and I even began to recognize some faces I’d see week after week. I also was very determined not to get injured, so I continued to strength train, which is good for injury prevention, work plenty of rest days into my plan, stretch, and sleep enough. Marathon training gave me a great excuse to go to bed early, which I love; my friends were probably not as thrilled about it, and got used to hearing: “Sorry, I can’t go out with you tonight - I have to wake up and run fifteen miles in the morning!”
What was not always fun was waking up early on days I was exhausted to squeeze in a run before class, especially as the weather got colder and it would still be dark when I woke up. During busier, homework and test packed weeks, I still had to stay on track and complete my runs, and while I may have shortened a few, I’m really proud to say that I did my best to stick to the plan, and I managed to make time for it. I had to be more disciplined with my schoolwork and everything else that was going on in my life, but it gave me a bigger goal to look to and to put things in perspective. It was an awesome sense of accomplishment to see my slow runs get a little faster and my long runs feel a little easier. I have always loved running, but I fell more in love with the sport throughout the fall. Running took up a huge chunk of time, but it gave me time to think, get fresh air, and de-stress. I also got to explore more of Philadelphia than I ever have before as my runs took me further and further. During October and November, as the leaves changed colors, the Schuykill River Trail was breathtaking, and I never knew what I’d encounter around each turn.
Come race day, I was nervous but very excited. I reminded myself to trust the training I had done and have faith that it had prepared me properly. I woke up at 4:45 for the 7am start, ate my breakfast, stretched, changed, and headed to the starting line in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum with my friends. The sun was still rising as we approached.
My boyfriend ran the half marathon the day before, so I’d gotten a sense of how many people there were and how much planning went into the event. I was amazed to hear that there were 10,000 people running the marathon that day.
At the starting line, as we lined up with my corral, which was based on estimated finish times, I was no longer nervous - I was cold, and I was ready to run! There was rain forecasted for the day, but it was clear as we started to run.
The first seven miles were all in the heart of Philadelphia, which was cool because there were plenty of people cheering us on, and we ran through beautiful parts of the city like along the Delaware River, Old City, and down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. At mile eight, we headed right by Penn’s campus, where I got to see some of my friends cheering me on who had woken up super early to see me run! From there, we headed into Fairmount Park and up towards the zoo. This part was a little hilly, but it wasn’t too bad, and there were plenty of water stations along the way. However, in this part of the race, since it wasn’t near the city or residential areas, there weren’t as many spectators cheering us on. Around mile thirteen, I hit a bit of a mental block, though my legs felt okay - realizing I still had hours to go, but I felt like I’d been running for so long, was tough. However, I soon saw my boyfriend cheering in the park, who had somehow acquired a bike, and that gave me the boost I needed. I got back into the zone and kept running.
Around mile fourteen, we went back into the city past the art museum, and I saw my sister cheering, which was awesome. There were plenty of crowds at this part, since it was also near the finish line, and some of the elite runners were finishing as I approached this. The entire last ten miles of the course was an out-and-back route along Kelly Drive, which was really inspiring to see people running their last few miles to the finish, but was also a bit daunting as I realized how much longer I had to go. However, the energy from the crowd was really amazing at this point - there were plenty of people with signs, candy, orange slices, and even throwing glitter! Since our bibs had our names on them, people would cheer you on specifically by name, which was really motivating.
The turn-around point came on Main Street of Manayunk, and this was possibly my favorite point in the whole course. It was at the top of a long hill, I was twenty miles in and exhausted but still had six miles to go, but the crowd here was going insane, playing music and dancing and screaming for everyone. People were handing out beers and I took a sip of one (I’m twenty-one now!), and it actually gave me a burst of energy - I know this seems crazy, but don’t knock it before you try it! I also unexpectedly saw my family here. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout all of Manayunk, and it was exactly what I needed going into the last leg of the race.
The last six miles were downhill. My phone died, which was tough going without music for the rest of it, and it really started to pour around this time, but I just settled into the run and tried to enjoy it. It felt surreal to be almost done a marathon. The longest run I had done was a twenty-miler, so every step I took was the longest I had ever run. I was grateful that I’d started the run off slow at this point, since I felt like I still had some life left in my legs and actually picked it up for the last few miles as plenty of people around me had started walking. However, the runners were so supportive of each other, and the fans were very encouraging.
I crossed the finish line in 4:27:36. I honestly hadn’t had many expectations going into the race, mostly having a goal of finishing, and I was super happy with this. Most of all, I came out of the race with the thought, “I want to do that again!” I’ll be abroad in Edinburgh next semester, and I’ve heard they have a great marathon in May…
After the race, it was pouring, and I was freezing, but my family and friends were there to support me, and I felt unbelievably happy and accomplished, while also exhausted.
I’m feeling sore but extremely grateful for my friends and family who supported me and for Philadelphia - I think I have a newfound love for the city after training for and running the marathon. This city comes together as one to life each other up and support one another, and the community is amazing. As a Penn student, it’s really cool to feel like not only a temporary resident of University City, but like a true Philadelphian, and I think participating in city-wide events like this one, whether it’s cheering people on or running it, truly integrates you with the community.