Philadelphia Marathon: race report (guest post)

To most people they were just flags in the road. Some thin wicking designed with the Philadelphia logo, a rounded curve of a thing meant to mark distance. To me, they were a sign that I was still moving, that I had not yet quit. For some reason, during the longest parts of the course, these mile markers were the sentinels I will remember. But, what I’ll remember most is the generosity on display. You wouldn’t think that. If you start cynical and work back you see the shoe companies making money and the expo making money and the race management companies making money on this activity which is essentially people running around in large circles in competition. But I have yet to meet a selfish runner. And what made the day for me was this feeling that everyone, family, stranger or friend, organizer, cop or medic, was pulling for me.

Lesson #1: Generosity is at the core of the marathon.

At sunrise we parked (potentially illegally) in a lot with a bunch of other runners and everyone was concerned for each other’s cars. “But, they can’t tow all of us,” was the general mindset, solidarity with everyone in the lot. And so we, Katie and Beth and Jon, with our first bunch of new friends walked to the starting line. And this great logistical machine began. We found our friends. We peed (thousands of people in a line, no one complaining). We lined up in our corrals. No one argued. No one shoving. And we were off to do something really difficult.

Lesson #2: Never forget that a large group of like-minded people can shut down your whole city (and that we will pay for parking when we are done).

First, let me say this, Allison is amazing. She and I chatted about our plan and how fast we were going to go out. She pulled us back at times and pulled us along at times. We pointed out signs to each other, some awesome, some misspelled, some rather inappropriate. What does a woman holding an “I’ll chafe your nipples for free,” sign want? At about the 12 mile mark I could no longer keep up with Allison’s pace. I had been falling back and catching up for a few miles, and it was too much for me, so I told her to go.

Lesson #3: You have to run your own race.

Soon after that point, the race split off, HALF MARATHON to the right, MARATHON to the left (I saw that sign about 50 times from miles 11-13.1). At that point several things were supposed to happen. First, I was supposed to start speeding up. That did not happen. There was no speeding up from this point forward. Second, I was supposed to get a call from Katie on how her half went. I actually expected the call before I reached the 13 mile point because I failed to account for “getting out the corral and just wanting to sit down” time. But soon after 13 she called and told me her time. I was so proud, but wished I could have talked to her more.

Lesson #4: This is something you do by yourself, but you are not doing it alone.

My next highlight was seeing my sister, who had brought her husband and five year old son halfway across the northeast to cheer for me. I knew she was at mile 16 on the way out (23 on the way back). I was in pretty severe pain by the time I reached her. I asked her to run with me and to “lie to me and tell me I can do this, I look great and you are proud of me.” She ran with me, in boots, without asking a question and reassured me. My nephew stood on the side of the road with his toy trumpet tooting people along.

Lesson #5: Your family will be there for you when you are at your worst.

The next highlight was the 20 mile turn around. I made a promise to myself that I got to listen to music at the 20 mile mark. There was a town, and people and cheering and a beer stand. All of which passed by almost unaware. It was just a “keep going" mindset. But I did get my music. And my music always kicks me into another gear. And that gear was... I didn’t have another gear. I had whatever gear I had. Somewhere back with Allison the 3:50 pacer went by with a cadre of people. Somewhere before the 20 mile point the 4:00 pacer with by with a bigger cadre of people. Now it was just a matter of moving forward. The music helped, not my body, but it calmed my mind. At 22 Katie called again, and it was great to hear her voice. At 23 I stopped to hug my nephew. And on that long strip from 20 back into the city I saw people in pain, walking and lying on the side of the road. All of us patting each other on the back and shouting encouragement.

Lesson #6: You will get there. You will use any resource at your disposal. Just keep going. You will get there.

We finally started to hear the sounds of the city. We finally started to see signs of civilization. And I had a thought that running a marathon is like climbing an ever steepening hill. It never turned from a hill into a wall for me, but it kept getting steeper. Within the last two miles I saw the two best signs of the marathon, confirmations of the generosity at hand. The first one read, “This mile marker is further than most people will get in their entire lives.” I almost hugged the woman who wrote it, but I was still moving. The second, near the 26 mile mark, said, “This was still a good idea. And you look amazing(ish)."

Lesson #7: Our worst moments show our true nature, and we are a caring, humorous, generous people.

Katie picked me up around this point to and ran with me for as long as her blistered feet would allow. And for the first time since mile 14, I ran. I didn’t walk/run. I didn’t give in. I was going to finish this race running. For Katie, for my sister, for the woman who couldn’t get water at one of the stops, for the Korean dude lying on the side of the road, for all the people who shouted my name and “Way to go Mafia!” I told my ankles and hips and knees to shut the f* up and move. And then, I was done.

Lesson #8: The best fuel is love.

I will admit here, if you have read this far down, that it was emotional. That I felt amazing and terrible. That I felt like I had disappointed myself and others for falling apart and not executing. That my first sentient thoughts in the last three hours were not flattering. And now, looking back, I know I was harder on myself than I needed to be. Everyone congratulated me. Everyone was impressed. Even Paula Radcliff said good-job (on my Nike+ app).

Lesson #9: We are our own worst critics, even when we do something beyond what we could have possibly imagined.

After the race we found our car, which was still there. We went to dinner with my sister and nephew and brother-in-law. We drove home talking to friends on the phone. And I went to work yesterday, where more people congratulated me. And, where, many people could not fathom why I (and 39,000 of my closest friends) would do such a thing. I have thought about that a lot. Why would you run a marathon? I think I have come to this. There is no reason to do it. It is beyond the point of exercising, or staying healthy, or staying young. It is more running and a longer distance and more time than serves any reasonable purpose. And that is why we do it, because it is beyond what we need to do.

Lesson #10: We run marathons for no good reason. But for a great reason, because it is more than we think we could possibly do.


  1. LOVE isn't a strong enough word for how much I enjoyed this. Congratulations, Thom. I am SO proud of you!!

  2. What great lessons! I love the video. So cute to see how excited Katie is with her arms flapping. :)
    Congrats, Thom!

  3. Running my first full in two weeks, and this just got me TOTALLY pumped up again about it! What a GREAT post! :)

  4. Thom, you are *most definitely* an English teacher and writer :)

    This is at the top of my list of all-time fave race reports, partly because it was so well-done, partly because I love all the lessons, partly because that's the cutest video ever, but mostly because I'm super proud of and excited for you. CONGRATS.

  5. Congrats on your first marathon!!! You did such a great job.

  6. Love your writing. There's so much contained within your words. HUGE CONGRATS on this real, life-affirming, serious accomplishment.

    I love the lessons you took away from it all.

    My favorite: "I think I have come to this. There is no reason to do it. It is beyond the point of exercising, or staying healthy, or staying young. It is more running and a longer distance and more time than serves any reasonable purpose. And that is why we do it, because it is beyond what we need to do."

    That's an ultrarunner talking.

  7. I absolutely love this post!! It is beautifully written and constructed and it makes me feel like I can relate, even though my farthest distance run doesn't even begin to compare to yours! I absolutely love your last line, because that is EXACTLY why I run. Each time I push myself to a new distance, I am never 100% sure I can do it, but then I do. And I find out what I am capable of, physically. And I love those moments of discovery. They are worth every ounce of discomfort along the way.

    Congrats on finishin something incredible, and something most people will never do. I hope to join that elite club one day.

  8. Congrats to both of you! Cutest couple ever.

  9. Congratulations Thom! This was a beautifully written post =) Enjoy the post-marathon glow!

  10. Beautifully said. Congratulations!

  11. I absolutely love this, Thom. You did AMAZING... I was rooting for you from afar. And you're right--we do this because we are not sure if it's possible...and that's why it's worth giving it a shot.

  12. Great piece - inspiring.

    Well done on finishing the race.

  13. I was hooked in by lesson 1 and crying by 7. Thanks, Thom, and congratulations on yr marathon and a some beautiful prose.

  14. Wow! What an amazing and thought provoking blog. I'm a runner too, so identify with all your feelings and the truth of those lessons. I've always thought a marathon was too much though, until now. You've just made it make sense.

  15. Possibly the greatest race report I've read so far. Love it.
    Congratulations to both of you for your accomplishment and for the amazing support you show one another.

  16. Seriously, this is a brilliant post. This one got me:

    Lesson #4: This is something you do by yourself, but you are not doing it alone.

    Summed up beautifully.

  17. What an incredible race report to follow an amazing day. I am so, so proud of you and honored to have been part of this!

  18. Uhhh.. Damn dude. What a race report! One of the best I've ever read.

    Anyway... that aside... CONGRATS!!!!!!

  19. Congratulations again Thom! You have summed up this experience far better than I ever could. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to train with you and run a portion of this race with you. And since there are more marathons in your future, hopefully we can do this all again sometime soon. :)

  20. What a great recap Thom!!! So proud of you!! I too will admit I may or may not have teared up a bit at the end and that video... You and Katie def give Spike and I a run for our money! :) <3

  21. WELL. I know why you two are married.

    Seriously, beautiful recap. I maybe cried at little at my desk. I mean, maybe.

  22. This is such an amazing post. Congratulations to Thom!

  23. Perfect post. Loved it. Congratulations!

  24. Simply amazing. Love love love this. I might have almost kinda sorta dripped a tear or two into my keyboard while reading. Congrats to both of you!

  25. Great race report. I have to admit, it made me a little weepy at times. Congratulations on a great run!

  26. Great insight and very well articulated. Congratulations on your finish!

  27. This is beautiful and made me cry. Can i just sign up for the next one already?!? have you? hehe. Congrats!

  28. What a great recap Thom. You should be so so so proud of yourself!

  29. Awesome post! Finally a post without puppies and/or butt shots! haha

    Congratulations on your first marathon! You did awesome!

    "And that is why we do it, because it is beyond what we need to do." <--- Love this!

  30. Great post Thom and great seeing you guys again and for the BILLIONTH time, CONGRATS!

  31. This was fabulous! Congrats Thom!

  32. This was quite possibly the best race report I've ever read. Terrific insight into the thoughts that go along with a marathon and terrific take away at the end.


  33. Beautiful recap. CONGRATS on doing more than you thought you could ever do—and for learning all the important lessons that are the REAL victory of the marathon.

  34. I really really love how you broke this up into lessons, and I ESPECIALLY love the last reason. CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  35. Well, geeze. I want to read that ten times over. I want to print this and hand it to every person who asks "Why would you run a marathon?" or says "I just can't get behind that "Full" thing...".

    Thom, Congratulations on the accomplishment & the finish! You will learn many MANY more lessons from here on out, and it never gets old.

    P.S. holy crap, that video is cute.

  36. Your blog has been cranky and hasn't let me comment on this. Hopefully today works!
    This is probably one of the BEST marathon recaps I've ever read. So full of heart! Congratulations Thom, and welcome to the club!

  37. It provides instant profit till your there after payday to interact with any urgent uncertainty.
    That you can borrow raise to £2000 will have to pay the some
    money back within 60 days maximum. These student
    loans are issued ultimately your next pay day.
    My web site :: pay day loans uk

  38. Having read this I thought it was extremely informative.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this informative article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments.

    But so what, it was still worth it!
    Feel free to visit my site ... Canada Goose

  39. Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful post.
    Many thanks for supplying this information.
    My web page ::

  40. Hi to every one, the contents present at this web page are
    truly remarkable for people experience, well, keep up the good work fellows.
    Here is my site christian louboutin sale

  41. Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic however I'd figured I'd
    ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa?
    My site goes over a lot of the same subjects as yours and I
    think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you are interested feel free to shoot me an email.

    I look forward to hearing from you! Superb blog by the way!
    Here is my weblog :: wholesale nfl jerseys

  42. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures on this blog loading?

    I'm trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it's the blog.
    Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.
    Check out my web site

  43. This design is spectacular! You obviously know how to keep
    a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog
    (well, almost...HaHa!) Great job. I really enjoyed what
    you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!
    Visit my web blog ::

  44. Hi there, of course this article is in fact fastidious and I have learned lot of things from it on the topic of blogging.
    Also visit my site ; cheap jerseys

  45. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was entirely right.
    This post actually made my day. You can not imagine simply how much time I had
    spent for this information! Thanks!
    Visit my blog :: Cheap Colin Kaepernick Jersey

  46. For the reason that the admin of this web page is working, no
    question very quickly it will be well-known, due to its quality
    Feel free to visit my weblog :

  47. You actually make it appear really easy along with your presentation but I to find this matter to be actually something
    that I believe I might never understand. It sort of feels too complicated and very huge for
    me. I am having a look forward for your subsequent
    submit, I will attempt to get the hold of it!
    Also visit my webpage - converse chuck taylor

  48. Hi there, You have done an excellent job. I will definitely digg it and personally
    suggest to my friends. I'm confident they will be benefited from this web site.
    Feel free to surf my web-site ; michael kors handbags sale

  49. Right now it looks like BlogEngine is the top blogging platform available right now.
    (from what I've read) Is that what you're using on your blog?
    Here is my webpage -

  50. Hi there, I enjoy reading through your article. I wanted to write a little comment to support you.
    Here is my blog :: key west tour

  51. We're a group of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with helpful info to work on. You have performed a formidable job and our entire neighborhood will be thankful to you.

    Feel free to surf to my webpage - Clarisonic Mia

  52. Do you have any video of that? I'd care to find out some additional information.

    my web-site; authentic louis vuitton handbags

  53. Heya outstanding website! Does running a blog similar
    to this take a great deal of work? I have no expertise in computer programming however I
    was hoping to start my own blog in the near future.
    Anyway, if you have any suggestions or tips for new blog owners please share.
    I know this is off topic however I just needed to ask.

    Visit my site :: how to lose weight

  54. Link exchange is nothing else however it is only placing
    the other person's webpage link on your page at proper place and other person will also do same in support of you.

    Have a look at my homepage ... diets
    my website :: lose fat

  55. I am no longer sure where you are getting your information, but good topic.
    I needs to spend a while finding out much more or working out more.
    Thanks for magnificent info I used to be looking for this information for my mission.

    my web-site ... mac cosmetics wholesale
    Also see my webpage - mac cosmetics wholesale

  56. If you feel that your record isn't as bad because it is, you should definitely have a copy of the latest credit profile and appearance for the accuracy pay day loans this is as it buys out your existing loans with one easily managed loan.
    my website > pay day loans

  57. Peculiar article, just what I was looking for.

    Feel free to surf to my web blog - ralph lauren outlet

  58. Hi there, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this blog post.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

    Also visit my page ralph lauren outlet store

  59. You can definitely see your skills in the article you write.

    The sector hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe.
    All the time go after your heart.

    My weblog ... cheap nike air max 90

  60. Hello, Neat post. There is a problem along with your site in web explorer, could check this?
    IE still is the marketplace chief and a large element of other folks will miss your fantastic
    writing because of this problem.

    Here is my weblog ... Fake Ray Bans

  61. I am curious to find out what blog platform you happen to be working
    with? I'm having some minor security problems with my latest site and I would like to find something more safeguarded. Do you have any solutions?

    Feel free to surf to my web blog - Replica Rolex Watches

  62. I am genuinely pleased to glance at this website posts which carries lots
    of useful data, thanks for providing these kinds of information.

    Feel free to surf to my weblog; Replica Watches

  63. Piece of writing writing is also a excitement, if you
    be familiar with after that you can write if not it is complex to write.

    Feel free to surf to my web blog ... cheap ralph lauren polo

  64. Hi there it's me, I am also visiting this web page on a regular basis, this website is really good and the people are in fact sharing pleasant thoughts.

    Look into my web page -

  65. Now we have observed an little by little growing interest while in escort knowledge within a few the
    London area. Changed men improved from the earth, men who vowed
    to live in a different way. After viewing the photos, please hit your
    browsers back button to go back to this page. Avonex
    is an intramuscular injection given immediately after a week.


Post a Comment