Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap 2021

By Janelle @ Run With No Regrets | race recap

Nov 22

On November 20, I ran my 21st half marathon – the Philadelphia Half Marathon. This is a race that I was originally was supposed to run in 2019 but decided to defer since I would have been at least 7 months pregnant at the starting line! The entire Philadelphia Marathon Weekend was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, so this year was my first opportunity to finally run this race.

Unfortunately, the Philly Half did not go the way that I hoped. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about this race since first running it in 2012 and having my “worst race ever“. I was hoping this race would bring redemption. Well, let me tell you how it all went down…

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Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap

I have to be honest – this was a very challenging training cycle. In the latter part of the summer, I was in physical therapy twice a week for a bout of Runner’s Knee. I was still running, but not as frequently. Gradually, I increased my mileage in anticipation of running the Philadelphia Trail Half Marathon in October. Overall, that race went well, and then it was time to step it up further for this race. Looking back, I had a lot going on, probably too much.

The Week Before

The week leading up to the race I was full of nerves and dread. I had worked hard in training but I’ve been consistently disappointed in my pace for my long runs. They’ve been averaging around 12:30 minutes and it’s a new normal that I’m not the happiest about, so I was growing doubtful of whether I would be able to beat my time of 2:37:01 from 2012. In addition to that, starting on Tuesday, I started getting these really strong headaches. I RARELY have headaches and they were coming on every day leading up to the race. I thought maybe it could be a lingering side effect of getting the COVID booster the previous Friday, but I’m sure it was from all the stress.

The Day Before

Since the half marathon was Saturday morning, I had no option but to pick up my bib on Friday. The Expo was to be held on Friday from 12-5 pm at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and I tried to get there as early as possible. Originally I thought I would drive, but I didn’t want to deal with the uncertainty of downtown parking, so I was trying to figure out a way to use public transportation, which is a bit more complicated on my side of town compared to when I used to live closer to the city. Bret offered to drop me off at the Convention Center, and that seemed to work out great until I realized there was a line wrapped around the building for a couple of city blocks just to get inside. I was SO irritated. I told Bret to just drive home and I would find my way back. I waited for an hour to get inside and by the time I did, I had no desire to shop around or deal with vendors. I did say hi to Joe, a fellow Bibrave Pro and a Philadelphia Ambassador, and to Liz, the amazing guru from Philadelphia Runner. All told, picking up my bib was a 3-hour endeavor.

That night, I stayed at my sister’s place so that I could try to get a decent night’s sleep and not disturb Baby E with my early wakeup. Bret and E were not coming to this race – it just tends to be entirely too chaotic and stressful, and I had enough of that already. I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and sweet potato fries for dinner, laid out my things for the morning, and went to bed. I tried my best to get my head in the game, think positive thoughts, and remember why I love to run. It seemed to be starting to kick in.

Race Morning

I had the alarm set for 5:30 am so I could have breakfast, fill my hydration bladder, and make my way to the race start. My sister, Jennifer, offered to drop me off and stay in the Fairmount area while I raced so I wouldn’t have to deal with parking. I’m so glad that we did that! I was so anxious about all the detours and wasn’t sure where we would be able to park, but it worked out. After the chaos at the Convention Center, can you blame me? It was a little bit before 7 by the time I made it through security and dropped off my gear bag. Apparently, the race was running a bit behind schedule as the wheelchair competitors were supposed to take off at 6:55. I’m still not sure what caused the delay.

The Starting Line

It was exciting to be waiting on the Philly streets again!

I was in the Orange corral, which is the second last corral, but the final wave. I figured I wouldn’t start the race until about 7:30, but due to the delay, it was closer to 7:50 when I crossed the start. It was COLD out there, and while there was some sun, standing around for an extra 20 minutes in 30-degree weather did not do me any favors. But I have to say, that this felt like the most normal race experience I’ve had since the pandemic. Most of us were wearing masks in our waves, but otherwise, I was getting all the feelings of running a race in Philly. I felt at home. I couldn’t wait to take off!

Miles 1-5

I remembered Coach Laura’s advice to use the first mile as a warmup, but I probably should have run even slower than I thought I was. Since my toes were cold and my feet were stiff, I was doing my best to get comfortable in that first mile. Instead of listening to music like I normally do, I listened to Will Smith’s new memoir in Audible. Now, I had a great experience listening to Lovecraft Country when running the Philly Trail Half, but that formula didn’t seem as successful this time around. Will was a bit of a distraction, and I actually found myself annoyed by the spectators cheering because I couldn’t hear the book! We had a GREAT crowd for this race from beginning to end, and I’m grateful for everyone who took the time to support us. So I really tried to just run by feel in the early miles, only walking to take my first bit of fuel at mile 3. Now, if I had seen that super fast split early on, I think I would have made some adjustments…

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Splits: 12:05, 11:24, 11:10, 11:49, 12:11

Miles 6-10

Running through the city is always a nice treat, and while the first few miles were very familiar, as we wound around Center City it felt like a lot of meandering. I have to admit I was jealous of some of the people outside waiting for brunch! I think I started to come down from the high and realize that I would not be able to maintain my early pace, but I thought if I walk just a little bit it would help me conserve my energy. I still wasn’t really paying attention to my watch, but I did see some 13’s, which wasn’t ideal. Once I had to take the Walnut Street bridge and run up 33rd and 34th street, I really started to lose my confidence and walk a lot more – hello hills! Why do I always forget about the hills? I also started experiencing knee and ankle pain on my left side around mile 7 or 8. I was running out of steam fast. One highlight? Seeing my friend Camilla in an ice cream cone costume on the Girard Avenue Bridge!

Splits: 12:36, 13:26, 13:42, 14:01, 14:25

Miles 11-13.2

After running over the bridge we made our way into Fairmount Park on another meandering route, and I just felt like this race would never end – so close, but still so far. Bret told me that this section was tough. I had no idea what my finishing time would be and I didn’t bother trying to do the math, I knew that I had crashed and burned. But I thankfully ran into my other friend Becca who was out cheering and she ran alongside me for a bit and encouraged me. She told me it was all downhill from here and really gave me the boost I needed. We were finally making our way to run down Kelly Drive for the final push, which is thankfully flat. I did my best to pick things up and as always, when I know the end is near, I pushed the pace. It was extremely emotional. I needed to get to that finish line. My legs felt stiff but I kept pushing until finally, done!

Splits: 14:18, 13:14, 12:16, 8:49 (last 0.2)

Race Results

My official results were 2:48:16, with my watch clocking 13.2 miles in 2:48:26. This is now officially my slowest road half marathon ever, aka Personal Worst. So many feelings about this one. I had a lot of pressure on myself for this race, for a lot of reasons. I needed this race to go well to beat my “worst race ever”, to prove that “postpartum Janelle” is worthy, to justify the sacrifices I made over the weeks of training. It was too much.

After the Race

Philadelphia Half Marathon post-race!

After the race, I wandered a bit, grabbed my medal, heat sheet, and a bottle of water and started heading over to pick up my bag. The Rothman 8K was gearing up to start, seemingly on time. I took a few photos and tried to muster a smile as best as I could. I just really wish I could have had that triumphant race, but it is what it is. I called Jennifer and we were able to meet up outside of the barricades. She did get to see me run towards the finish line, so that was great! We walked to her car and headed back home. Mischief managed!

Takeaways

Despite my awful experience, the Philadelphia Marathon Weekend is fantastic and I highly recommend you make your way to Philly – it just keeps getting better and better!

Pros

  • A beautiful course with the highlights of Philadelphia. I actually could have used more time on Kelly Drive, but it’s a great course, despite the hills! And yes to the fall colors!
  • Great swag and the opportunity to buy even more. I was tempted to get a mug, but I already have way too many!
  • The most amazing spectators. This was the greatest gift. I was glad to see a couple of friends and the energy from start to finish was incredible! My favorite sign was, “If Britney endured 13 years, you can handle 13 miles!”
  • The opportunity for multiple medals – some people ran the half marathon, 8K, and full marathon over the weekend!

Cons

  • A little bit disorganized. The Expo was a real pain and soured the experience a bit for me. I’m not sure why the race started late, but since security was enhanced due to all runners having to be fully vacinated and wear a special wristband, things were slowed down a bit.

Shoutouts

Thank you the Philadelphia Marathon organizers and volunteers for putting on a great event! Thanks so much to Coach Laura for guiding me through another racing season. I always trust your training plans! I truly appreciate the support of my family, friends, and my running buddies as I went through this journey! And of course, the running blogger community, the social media community, there was so much positivity sent my way and I truly appreciate it.

Needless to say, I am going to be taking an extended break from race training. I have little desire to run another half marathon anytime soon LOL, so I look forward to pivoting to some of my other favorite fitness activities like barre, yoga, and strength training, especially since I need to get my knees back on track!

Have you ever felt pressure to perform well on a “redemption race”? How did it go for you?

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