Saturday, November 25, 2023

Ben David's Philadelphia Marathon Racer Story

Article by Ben David

This would be my fifth time running the Philadelphia Marathon and my twenty-second marathon in total. At forty-six years old, I would be taking some twenty years of marathon running into this build-up and race experience and - of course - twenty years of accumulated wear and tear. While I was once a runner in my mid-twenties in graduate school, spry and eager, just married with no kids, life has gotten much more full and eventful. 

As a devoted husband to Lisa, the senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel and father to three, my days are certainly packed. For so many of us, the world is certainly a stressful place at present. To me, running has become more imperative of late, a needed release from the realities and complexities of life today.

A few hundred meters to go

Training ramped up this summer, in spite of the brutal humidity and heat here in suburban Philadelphia. I logged 70+ miles per week most weeks, even as travel brought me to Israel, Cape Cod, New York City and the Jersey Shore (all places where I love to run, incidentally). The goal was to consistently check off workouts and long runs, resisting the urge to hit a proverbial home run every time I stepped out the door. With a good training block behind me, I was feeling calm and confident heading into the marathon. I run mostly alone with no music, occasionally on a nearby trail, occasionally on a track and no shortage of miles on the roads around me. I felt ready. 

The weather forecast for the race was good: upper 30s at the start and climbing from there. No wind to speak of really. I was lined up in the maroon corral early, close enough to the front to see honorary starters Jared Ward and Alphine Tuliamuk. You could feel the jitters all around. Is there anything like a marathon start line? All the anticipation and angst and nerves and excitement. It’s all very raw and very real. 

When the horn went off, I tried deliberately to pull back, resisting the all-too-common inclination to go racing ahead, what with all the adrenaline and pent-up energy. I had made that mistake many, many times in the past and it always came back to bite me. My first miles were extremely conservative and I was OK with it. 

My goal going in was the qualify for Boston by running sub-3:20 (a 7:38 pace). My PR - now 10 years old - is 3:15. I thought that it was possible. I’d have to run smart and controlled. I hovered above the goal pace for the first 5K as we wound through center city. 

The Philly Marathon is a true urban marathon and provides a thorough tour of the city. You go from downtown up into Fairmount Park, north to Manayunk and the plethora of bars there (and accompanying mayhem), then cruise south along the Schuykill, past Boat House Row, to finish in front of the famous Art Museum. It’s a popular race because it’s flat (relatively), has great crowd support and generally has good weather. 

After a quick pit stop at mile four, I was determined to fall into a groove and get going. I was feeling good. I had opted to go with the AlphaFly 1 (the OG) in the bright orange Eikden colorway from a few years ago. They never gave me any trouble and felt good throughout the morning (even if I didn’t). 

I wore a Tracksmith Van Cortland singlet and the Nike trail half tights (which have multiple pockets for gels, etc). 

We rolled past Drexel and Penn, heading into the park. A massive hill takes you up to mile 10 and I had an inevitably slow mile here before eventually coming through half at 1:41:xx. There were lots of familiar faces spectating and each one gave a huge boost. 

Most of the second half takes place along the Schuykill River, heading north before turning around right after 20 miles before a straight 10k shot all the way to the finish. The way up to the turnaround offers a bunch of small hills, which each took their toll on me and I found my pace slowing in spite of myself. I went from hovering around 7:40 to suddenly hovering around 7:55. It didn’t help when the 3:20 pace group came blazing past me. That made for a deeply demoralizing moment. I willed myself to stay with them but it wasn’t happening. I was taking Maurten gels every four miles (alternating caffeinated and decaffeinated). My energy was good and I was feeling strong; I just couldn’t turn my wheels as I wanted. I made it to the turnaround, which I hoped would give me a psychological boost, but that was very short-lived. Soon I was out of Manayunk and left realizing these were going to be a long five miles. 

By the time I hit the last 5K, I watched my goal slip further and further away. I was running 8 minute miles now and holding it together but there was no gas in the tank. The crowds here were sensational and truly propelled me forward. Music. Confetti. Signs that ranged from encouraging to hilarious to very typical Philly. 

I was both relieved and happy to cross the finish line in 3:26, my fastest time since before the pandemic. I hobbled to the Tracksmith afterparty to connect with the rest of my family. (My brother had run a staggering 2:54!!

Am I already daydreaming about what to take on next? Absolutely. Do I still believe I might have a BQ in me, even a new PR? The answer is ‘Yes!"

Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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