As a runner, sometimes I wake up and feel great and can’t wait to get out for my run. I feel strong, I feel alive, and I’m ready to go. Sunday was the exact opposite of that. If there was ever a race I wished I could have ducked out of, it was Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon. I was sick, I was tired, and I had 26.2 miles ahead of me.
Real quick, just in case you’ve never been here before, I’m a father of three and a marathon runner. My middle child, 7-year-old Jack, is severely autistic and I’m attempting to run 61 full marathons this year to raise money and awareness for a charity I’m a part of called Train 4 Autism. It’s my way of making lemonade out of lemons, of making sure my little guy has an impact on the world. I wouldn’t be doing this if not for him. Philadelphia was race No. 55 of the year. I’m almost there!
I had a few struggles heading into this race. Ever since I got home from San Antonio last weekend, I’ve felt sick. I had some headache and stomach problems last Sunday and Monday, then I developed a cold and a sore throat on Tuesday. When I went to the gym for easy runs on the treadmill, I got extremely winded, felt faint and had to stop.
I’ve been tired and chose to sleep instead of exercise in the morning. I’ve felt exhausted and miserable all week. On Friday, my flight out of Los Angeles was supposed to leave at 2:10 p.m., get me to Atlanta at 9:25 for a 35-minute layover, and I was going to land in Philadelphia at 11:57 p.m. I’d be asleep by 1 a.m., sleep in Saturday, and hopefully feel a little recharged.
Instead, my flight was delayed seven hours, becoming a redeye. I got three hours of bad sleep on the plane, landed in Atlanta at 4:15 a.m. for a 4 1/2-hour layover, then got into Philadelphia an hour before a lunch I had to get to. By mid-afternoon Saturday, I was exhausted to the point I could barely stand up or keep my eyes open. I took a nap for about two hours, but then had troubles falling asleep at night.
When I woke up for the race on Sunday, I was pretty exhausted, and that’s not the way to feel before running a marathon. I felt a little sick still, and I had zero desire to run. But I had to. So I did.
I was wearing pink arm warmers for the race. I made a commitment this week that I would wear them if y’all raised $1,000 for the Hearts & Smiles Foundation in Philadelphia. I tried for four weeks and only pulled in $240. But that arm warmer pledge netted $800 in 24 hours. Go figure.
I got to the start line five minutes before gun time, ready to go. My basic strategy was to run hard as long as I could, because I figured at some point my body would quit on me and I wanted to be as far through the course as possible. This marathon would simply be a matter of getting to the finish line as fast I could so I could stop. With my body in the condition it was in, I wasn’t going to attempt anything too strategic.
I got going and my legs actually felt pretty good. I suspected they would and I was moving well. I didn’t feel like I had the capacity to really go full-throttle, but I was hanging on at about a 7:05 pace early. I felt terrible, but I was moving well. I started to feel good at about mile five, but that only lasted for two miles. And then I felt sluggish again for the rest of the race.
I tried to pay attention to the course, because it was really nice running through the streets of Philadelphia, but I felt so miserable it was hard to focus. I could tell it was a course I would have really enjoyed if I felt better.
I went through the half somewhere around 1:37, which I was content with. At about mile 14, I saw Operation Jack super supporter Sarah Emerson, along with her husband and baby, and that put a big smile on my face. I’ve met a lot of people I really like this year and she’s way up there near the top of my list. I told her I felt like death. She told me I looked good in pink.
About a mile later, I heard two people running behind me talking and one of them said he lived in Los Angeles. When they caught up with me, I started chatting a bit. He saw my shirt and said, “Oh, Operation Jack — I’m thinking about running that marathon.” He didn’t know who I am, so it was pretty funny when I told him. We chatted for a couple of miles. He was looking to improve his PR of 3:29, and he was well on track to do that.
By about mile 17, I was running out of gas in a hurry and I told him, “I’ll see you later — this is where you leave me in the dust!” He ended up running a 3:12, so I was right and he had a great race. I faded, but not too bad. I think I was running miles in the 7:50 range. The second half of the race was mostly along a river and through a town that was on the outskirts of Philadelphia. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a nice run.
I didn’t pay a ton of attention to my time. I just wanted to knock off the miles and get done with the run. I thought I was in line for somewhere around a 3:22, but I wasn’t really certain. I was slowing down and I felt miserable. There were a couple of spots late in the race where I heard some music playing along the course and I got pumped up and ran fairly quickly with relative ease. I had the confidence that I was strong, but I just didn’t have the energy to do much.
I decided to check my time with exactly two miles to go so I’d know where I stood. I was at 3:03:50. I really wanted to beat last week’s time of 3:17:59 to get faster for the fourth consecutive race, but that would basically require two 7-minute miles. I knew two 7:30s would give me a 3:18 and I would stay sub-3:20 with two 8s.
I kicked right then, knowing full well I was at risk of falling apart before I got to the finish, but I also knew that I had no other chance at a 3:17. I went hard and started passing a lot of people. My heart rate was at 181 bpm, roughly 10K pace, and I was moving. I was running, which felt good. I’m a runner, so it’s nice to move. But it also hurt. I felt miserable. I wasn’t sure if my body could handle two miles at that effort. I was locked in, although I kept my eyes open for Sarah, because I knew she was going to be somewhere around 25. I saw her, but all I really had the ability to do was point. I was in a zone.
I was counting down the fractions of that last mile, looking at my watch and knowing it would be close. When I passed 3:17, I was anxious to see the finish line. I knew I was going to do no worse than a 3:18. But I couldn’t see the finish line and the seconds were ticking away. Finally, we rounded one last curve, and there it was. I looked at my watch and I was pretty certain I had that 3:17. It’s tough to judge distances, though. I kept blazing and knew I had it about five seconds before I crossed the finish line.
3:17:45 is what I ran. Definitely not my fastest time. But I was happy with it. I improved 14 seconds over last week, and I was just not in shape to run. I won’t look back at this one as a great race, but I’ll look back at it as a good effort. I had to tough it out in Philadelphia. It was a challenging day for me physically, I tried hard to manage my body well, and I stepped up and went for broke when I had to.
So there you have it. 55 down, six little marathons to go. The Operation Jack train is getting pretty close to its final destination!
Me and Sarah after the race. I mean, me, Sarah and my pink arm warmers after the race.
Me and my friend and host Peggy after the race. Peggy was coming back from injury and not only did she stay completely healthy — she went 1:26:58 when she was realistically hoping to run a 1:35! I was really excited for her.