When I started running this summer post-femur injury, I pretty much felt like I was starting from scratch. In fact…over the course of last year, I felt like I was constantly starting from scratch. Speed was hard. Tempo was hard. Distance was hard. Running was just really freaking hard. Boston was…fine…though I never had a training run or pre-marathon test race where I really felt “on,” so I kinda showed up on the starting line with a positive attitude, hoping for the best and believing in myself as an athlete to be able to pull off a good run.

I instagrammed this picture over the summer:

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Don’t let the abs deceive you. I was not in shape.

This was July 13th. I had just run 4 slow, easy miles and I thought I was going to die. My note to my coach said, “Woof.” I specifically remember this day because it honestly seemed as though getting back into shape was going to be impossible. Gone were the days of prancing through the neighborhood at a brisk 7:30 pace, barely breathing heavy and not even batting an eyelash at the fact that running 8-10 miles a day was my “normal.”

No. Those days were long gone. In fact…I vividly remember hysterically dry heaving after one of my first post-injury workouts over the summer–a 20-minute tempo where my miles went 6:38, 6:53, 6:39. I wrote to my coach, “This was pretty difficult.” …………………HA. Somehow, I left out that whole I-thought-I-was-going-to-vomit-and-die thing.

But over the course of the summer and into the fall, the pieces started to magically fall back together. I did my best to stay positive and believe that I could still race strong and well in the fall. –this was easier said than done, of course. Thank god for my husband, friends, and coach for convincing me week after week that I wasn’t going to get hurt again. Coming back from a bone injury is a tricky monster. As I was reintroduced to speed and tempo, I experienced deep bone aches in my quad…and then dealing with my pesky shins and Achilles is an ongoing battle…so adjustments in the training plan had to be made from time to time.

The Training
The plan was to run Hartford as a tester, and then use the half at the Philly Marathon as the grand finale. I also made the decision to take a different approach to my training and switch coaches. While I’m still a proud member of GCR, I’m now training under someone local to CT, named James. While very similar to my old training, the new training has me doing fewer weekly workouts (2x/week instead of 3x/week), running faster on hard days, and much slower on easy days. The mileage was also MUCH higher than I’ve ever trained before for a half.

After Hartford, I texted James and told him I wanted to work my ass off for Philly. He responded with 5 weeks of hard work:

  Workout 1 Workout 2 Long Run WKLY MILEAGE
Week 1 easy fartlek: 9x45sec long fartlek w/ varied paces: 4×5′, 3×3′, 3×2′, 3×1′ n/a 44
Week 2 7-mi tempo, then 4×400 8x1k 10 49
Week 3 6×1 mile, progressive pacing n/a 3×2-mi, then 4×1-mi (18 total) 65
Week 4 4×2-mi (kinda…see below) 16×200 w/ rest at pace, then 4×400 12 65
Week 5 3x1k, rest, then FAST 3x1k n/a 7-mi warm, then 2.5/1.5/2.5/1.5 at paces (16 total) 54

A couple things to note:

  • Week 1 – Hartford recovery week and a tendonitis-y feeling foot. Nothing too wild workout-wise.
  • Week 2 – Dealt with a janky Achilles. Had to switch all sorts of things around.
  • Weeks 3 & 4 – On vacation in Colorado/California. The 6xmile of week 3 was at altitude, but I actually didn’t feel terrible. The altitude didn’t really hit me until the 4th day, just in time for the 12-miler, which was a complete GI, nutrition, and hydration disaster. Then, instead of listening to my trashed body during the warmup of the 4×2-miles, I stupidly decided to try the workout anyway, only to completely bomb it and only manage to squeak out a slow 3×2-mile, followed by one more mile with whatever gusto I had left.
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Boulder was amazing but simultaneously soul-sucking when it came to breathing

The workouts that gave me confidence were those two long runs with workouts embedded in them. They were AMAZING. In particular, the final 16-miler was one I reminded myself of while running Philly. The 2.5 mile portion of that workout was to be at a 6:45 and the 1.5 mile portion was to be at a 6:20. My splits went 6:46, 6:23, 6:45, 6:18. Nailed it. But beyond just nailing the workout…seeing myself naturally settle in the 6:40s and actually be comfortable with the pace was shocking. I knew that running anything above a 1:27 at Philly would be unacceptable. I was ready to FINALLY break that 1:28 barrier. (For all those wondering, I had previously run 1:28 3 times, all of which were from before getting injured in 2014.)

Pre-Race
I drove down to Philly with Tara on Friday. Tara was running the 8k on Saturday morning and, since I had taken the day off, I wanted to get down there to relax and chill.

The night before the race, I slept like a baby, which is VERY unusual for me. For some reason, I was eerily calm about the run. I felt very confident, and went to bed knowing that I just had to wake up, warm up, and get it done. I was ready for this. I had done all of the right things. The training was not just in the bag…but the training was AWESOME. I felt fit. The post-injury Mary who could barely get through an easy run 4 months ago was gone. I exuded a pre-race confidence I haven’t felt since Boston 2014, and it felt really really good.

The race plan was to shoot for a 1:26:30. The first 5k was to be around 6:45, then I’d need to drop the pace to the low 6:40s/high 6:30s until mile 6, at which point I’d need to settle into the mid 6:30s until the final 5k. The final 5k needed to be balls to the wall, of course. Last time I ran the half at Philly, the hills at miles 8 and especially at 10 gave me a lot of trouble. Even if I ran slow miles there this year, I was told to stay calm and just press on.

Race Day
I woke up in my Airbnb and stumbled around for about 30 minutes before heading out the door to the starting line, just under a mile away. The weather was 50s and windy…but I was so excited that the temp was over 40° that I really didn’t care how terrible the wind was. I’ll take a warmer day with wind over cold/rain ANY day.

Unlike Hartford, where my warmup was more or less a sprint from bag check –>  a bush to pee –> the starting line…I knew I needed to get a mile or so in here if I was going out the gate at a 6:45. I passed security and beelined to the nearest portapotty, which might have been the shortest pre-race portapotty wait EVAAAA!!! (Seriously Philly…you were amazing this year with your facilities. Never change.) After checking my bag, I warmed up around the Art Museum for a bit, then added in some skips and drills and thingz. I ate a gel, then lined up in my corral with a light sweat, which was perfect.

While waiting in the corral, I ran into an Oiselle friend and teammate, Julia, who was there with her dad. Chatting with a familiar face made the time pass quickly, so the late start didn’t seem so terrible.

Mile 1: 6:08 (incorrect)
Before I really dive into the race, I’m going to preface it by saying this: I’m disappointed with how heavily I relied on my Garmin for this run. It’s like one of those moments where I’m experienced enough that I should know better; I KNOW how to pace, and I KNOW to go by race clocks over a Garmin pace and I KNOW that running by feel is so much more important than what a watch is spitting out at me…yet I didn’t do it on this day, and I truly think that’s a big reason why I didn’t go sub-1:27. But that being said, for the most part, I kept a really cool head while running…I think I just should’ve been smarter about using the clocks on the course rather than running a race on my wrist.

So that 6:08? Definitely wrong. Tara later told me that the area of Philly where the race starts tends to be really spotty with GPS signals. Awesome. I didn’t let the early mile lap get under my skin, though. I checked my time while passing the first official mile marker and it read 6:45, and I was satisfied with how easy it felt. What I should have done at this point is lapped my Garmin and continue lapping it at each marker. I didn’t, though…I think because I was convinced it would all catch up correctly at some point, though it never really did…

Miles 2 & 3: 6:45, 6:46
I find miles 2 and 3 on this course to be really grueling. You run through all this excitement and pizazz during mile 1 and then once you get to the Delaware River, it’s just dead. It’s nice and flat, so it’s a great place to find your rhythm and lock it in, which I did, but it’s also a bit wearying. I remember feeling pretty fresh here, which I knew was a good sign, since I specifically remember feeling crappy at this point in 2013.

Miles 4 & 5: 6:43, 6:42
I felt good coming through the center of the city, but my bad quad started feeling fatigued VERY early on, which I thought was strange. I made a mental note to increase my strength training and took my first gel coming through town, just before the 5th mile marker.

My Garmin was consistently .2-.3 off of the course clocks, but being the idiot that I am, I didn’t think anything of it. The plan was to hit the mile 5 course clock around 33:30, but instead I hit it around 34:30. I honestly just wasn’t thinking. I remember consciously knowing that I wasn’t on track, but I made no decision to make a move, or do anything about my position. I regret that, but I don’t regret the fact that I didn’t lose my shit or give up. –I’ve been in races where I’d just totally lose it if the plan fell apart. Small victories, right?

I think I also ran a lot of this race very tentatively and unbravely (yes, I’m making up that word). To be completely honest, I was scared of having a terrible Philly Half experience again, and I didn’t want to blow up. I did what felt/looked “safe.” Running in the 6:40s felt doable here, so I didn’t take the risk of dipping in the 6:30s early on. That hurt my overall time.

I used to be brave.  It’s a thing I’m still working on getting back.

Miles 6 & 7: 6:29, 6:31
I started pushing at mile 6 and my legs felt good to turn over a little faster. I like pushing myself, so getting to that point in a run where it’s okay to be uncomfortable is so much more enjoyable to me than holding back.

At mile 7, I ran into my friend Zandra from high school, who was running the marathon. We small talked for a while, then it was time to go. I was already dreading the hills at miles 8 and 10, and she reminded me not to work too hard on them–just work the hill over the top, and go.

Mile 8: 6:49
Not great but not awful. I was starting to get tired. Mile 8 is where shit really hit the fan a few years ago, so this year I was happy to feel better than then, but I still wasn’t feeling particularly brave. The GOOD news is that I was having fun watching the drunk Drexel kids on their porches, whereas a few years ago, they only made me incredibly annoyed.

The plan was to hit the mile 8 clock around 53:30, but instead I was somewhere in between 54:30 and 55:00. Ugh. The thing is that I thought I was going fast enough!! What was going on?? For the first time in the race, dread passed over me as I thought, “shit. I’m not going to PR.”

Instead of freaking out, I took a deep breath and thought, “Ok. It’s okay that you’re not on your goal time. You still have this race to finish and you still have a lot in you. You’re running faster than you ever have. This time thing will somehow work itself out (LOL to dumb running logic). Besides…you’re going to be faster than Hartford, so shoot for that.”

Yeah. I had a lot of dumb running logic going on in this race. I also had a lot of positive thinking, which is good too, I guess.

Mile 9: 6:32
I know most of this mile is downhill, but I gained a LOT of confidence back here. Something hit me and I realized the show was almost over…I needed to move (sigh. better late than never…)

I knew the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad hill was approaching, so I just kept the legs moving and tried to stay as light on my feet as possible. The negative thoughts of, “shit I’m not going to PR,” were gone and I knew I needed to go for it. I took my second gel here.

Mile 10: 6:53
I mean……………………..at least I didn’t leave a trail of tears on the hill this year???

And that’s all I have to say about that.
Moving on.

Mile 11 & 12: 6:31, 6:27
Mile 11 is a generous decline, but by that point, my legs were completely toast from the incline of mile 10. It wasn’t until the middle of mile 11 that I really felt like I started to click back into gear and get a rhythm. I was tired, but 6:20s actually felt really good and doable.

I finally saw the cheering pack of my friends at mile 12. The course clock read 1:20 here. This was the first time in the entire race where I actually realized I was going to PR. Finally. It was going to happen. I was finally finally finally going to run under 1:28. Tara jumped in with me to run the final mile.

“Holy shit, Tar. I’m going to PR,” I panted.

“I know, Bunz, but you have to finish. Let’s go.”

Then she started dropping 6:15s. I told her I couldn’t go that fast, so we slowed up just a bit.

Mile 13: 6:20
I was breathing pretty heavily with the pace increase. “Bunz. Breathe,” Tara said. Guys running the full marathon looked at Tara and I. They heard me say something about a PR, and were so encouraging, which I genuinely appreciated. They asked if we had ever run Philly before, and Tara answered for both of us, “yes…we both have, but I’m just here for this mile!”

As the split came in the course where the marathoners go left and the halfers go right, Tara dropped me and the guys shouted, “go get it!”

Last .37 in 2:05 (5:39)
This was it?!?! The run went by so much faster than I had anticipated. (Marathons > Half Marathons, but I digress…) The clock ahead of me didn’t read 1:26, but that didn’t matter. After 3 attempts, I was FINALLY about to run under 1:28. As soon as I climbed the last hill, I passed 4-5 people as I completely gunned it for the finish line.

philly half

So pretty.

Final 13.1: 1:27:38

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If you read my recaps a lot, my post-race crying habit is probably getting old (sorry)…and this race was no exception. As I double and triple checked my watch to make sure that I had, in fact, PRed; I bent over one of the railings in the chute, hung my head between my shoulders, and cried for a quick 30 seconds. After composing myself, I pushed away from the railing, and an ear-to-ear smile broke out across my face. That stupid 1:28 barrier was finally broken. All of the runs in the summer where I thought I was dying were completely worth it. I had finally surpassed my pre-injury PR by 50 seconds and was 1:22 faster than Hartford. Above all, this race confirmed that I had, once again, rebuilt myself from injury. The speed (and then some!) is back…the potential is still there…my determination is still there. I just need to keep going.

So…I have no complaints. I am happy and proud. The big takeaway I learned from this race is to be smarter about my pacing. The Garmin is not always right, but the race clocks ARE. I need to trust my training and just let go. And, above all, I need to be fearless and brave, like I used to be. That brave girl is still in there…just had a few curveballs over the past year, that’s all. She’ll be back, don’t worry.

LOOK WHO CAME! <3