R o c k y _R o a d
Hitting the Sophmore Slump in the Phila Marathon

The race was as crowded as it was disorganized. Somebody forgot the start gun, and had to shout out a countdown; the teenage volunteers handing out water and gatorade didn't quite understand that you needed to have that fluid already poured and ready to shove in our hands as we flew by -- this was a race, not a restaurant! But all things told, the race was great - great weather, pretty course (though hillier than expected), the Rocky theme blaring from sidewalk speakers when the going got tough, peppy crowd offering up such motivational signs & slogans as "you are less than a marathon away from the finish," "pain is temporary, quitting is forever" and "2600 calories (how much you will burn during the race: priceless)." Even the local hash house harriers were handing out shots from a keg on the course, though the smell alone made me nauseous.

Crowded corrals:
Took three minutes just to cross the starting line

I had set an ambitious top-shelf goal of 3:30, or an 8-min/mile pace, as I surprised myself in my first and last marathon, in Richmond last November with a 3:39 time, and thought I might as well try to one-up myself. Again I joined up with a pace group team, this time sponsored by Clif Bar, thinking I would start out with the 3:40 crowd (mainly 30-something chicks hoping to qualify for Boston) and speed up midway if I felt strong enough.

So the pace leaders-- the boddhisattvas of the marathon world, these volunteers could easily run much faster than the assigned pace – keep a steady pace from mile 1 to 26, all you have to do is keep up. Easier said than done. I kept up for the first half, and then my legs just wouldn't cooperate, as I slowed down two minutes a mile. Once the pace group receded entirely from view, I just took it at the pace my body could handle without collapsing, though not without pain -- despite the painkiller I popped midway. One of my socks was soaked in blood when I took my shoes off afterward, as a blood blister had formed and popped somewhere along the way. My wrists, toes and inner thighs - everything hurt the day after. Even the geriatric crowd in the Fort Myers airport was passing me up as I arrived in Fla for a therapeutic post-race Thanksgiving week with the family. Ah, the joy of masochistic sports: If ya gotta ask, you'll never know.

The course looped back on itself for the final 10 miles, which meant that people like me in the middle of the pack could see the frontrunners coming and the stragglers going. It was inspiring to see the Kenyans swishing by at their Hermes five-minute pace, and even more so to see a plain-vanilla no-name shoot up to overtake all but Hosea Kimutai to capture a surprise second-place finish.

Around mile 24 we passed a cemetery, and though I briefly contemplated lying down for an eternal nap, kept going. The last few miles were torturous, and in my mind's eye I imagined I was just on my standard three-mile roundtrip to Howard U with my dog Quatorze - no big thing, just keep it moving!

It was hard not to feel a bit resentful to overtaken by people in the end, the clincher being the drag queen running in a red dress, feather boa and Kate Spade bag who passed me up. I consoled myself thinking he was probably part of a relay team (another way to run the marathon is to get four friends together and divvy up the miles). Later I learned this was a 75-time, 51-year-old marathoner who took to "drag racing" after being passed up by a blue fairy on one course.

So my final time was 3:58, not the time I shot for but still respectable nine-minute pace... But the Boston qualifying time I got last November is still valid thru next year, so next stop, Boston Marathon, which I will run to celebrate my 34th spring (the race is April 16, my bday April 14th - though I accept gifts year round). Come join me there for the big Patriot's Day party! It's on a Monday, but it's basically a holiday for local working folk - the whole town mobilizes for the race, which is the world's oldest annual marathon (since 1897), and also unique for being the only marathon in which the only way to run it is to capture a qualifying time, which differ according to your gender/age group.

My friend Shomari, a boxing promoter I met in
Tanzania, happened to be in town checking in
on one of his boxers, now stationed in Philly

I trained hard for Boston this past winter-into-spring, only to get wiped out by a nasty case of the flu -- an souvenir of Paris I paid for dearly -- that lingered for nearly two months... I don't think I have ever been so depressed. If this is what old age is like, I don't wanna go. So I'm excited to have a second chance to run Boston, even though it will mean training through another grueling winter. Refer me back to Fifteen reasons to do 26.2 when I start complaining about running the icy sidewalks in January.


Friend Ana P and lil sis Lauren:
Who could ask for cuter cheerleaders?

More pics from the course at and General news about the marathon also available at

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