I drop my warm sweatpants and top at the entrance to my corral, I stretch (kind of), my corral walks to the start line of the Philadelphia Marathon, and we go.
The first few miles are weird. The streets seem narrow and the race seems congested. I'm looking for 8:30's and I'm having a hard time hitting my goal pace. Around mile 5, the crowd starts to spread out and I do better with a little space to run and move.
Right now, it's just about the splits. Hit your splits. Hit your splits. Hit your splits.
Just past Mile 6 is the first timing mat. I hit it hard. I have this thing about timing mats. Whenever I know people are tracking me and are getting text updates, I think of them when I cross timing mats. I see their faces. Hi Mom. Hi Dad.
At mile 10, I see a row of porta-potties. And no line. I scan for an empty one. I see green. Green means go. I hop in, put my iPhone shuffle and my gel between my teeth (this is weird, but really there was nowhere to put stuff down), and I get out.
Mile 13 comes and, at 13.1, there's another timing mat. Hi Mom. Hi Dad. Time to bump up the pace a little bit. Negative splits, here we go. Running the second half faster is what I'm doing here. Hit your splits.
I fall into a really nice cadence at Miles 14-16. I am loving life. Just loving up all over it. Everything is great. Life is great. This marathon is great! While I'm a little punchy, I honestly didn't expect this groove. It's so good.
I read an article the other day about doing things on a "soul level." If I love something, I do it at 100%. But what about doing it on a soul level?
Soul level. Soul level. Soul level.
At Mile 18, I get a "battery low" warning from my iPod shuffle. What. I fully charged it. I have been running for only about two and a half hours. What. I make the decision to turn the iPod off for now, to save power for when I really need it. I am hoping it'll be cool, because I really, really like running with music and I always train with music. Now it's just me and my mind, heart, breath, and legs. Back to soul level, right?
I pass Mile 19 and a timing mat. Hi Mom. Hi Dad.
Manayunk is awesome. Just awesome. The crowd support is on point, I hear someone call out my name, the music is bumping. It's like a frat house. There's even beer (I'm not having any, though). I hit the turnaround and head back.
My legs feel like they just don't want to move. Hey legs, you have one job. Move.
At Mile 22, the earbuds go back in and the iPod goes back on. Miles 17 and 22 share the same cheer station; the mile markers are just on different sides of the road. I see super sassy, motivational posters from Lululemon and people wearing November Project grassroots gear. Oh hey, it's November Project - Philadelphia! My people! The words "November Project" spray-painted on a shirt may not mean something to you, but they mean something to me. Soul level.
I spend Miles 23 - 24 trying to maintain pace. I see 8:49 flash across my watch once or twice. Hit your splits. Hit your splits. Hit your splits.
Mile 25. I'm close. Only a mile. Let's go. Soul level. Soul deep. 8:20.
I get this weird feeling in my bicep. I don't know how to describe it exactly. It's a weird feeling - the best I can describe it is that it feels like electricity shooting through my veins, and not in a good way. Must be from pumping my arms for over three and a half hours. Shake it out, shake it off.
Mile 26. Sweet Jesus, we're almost there. The last .2 go by quick. 7:45.
Hit the finish line. Hit your splits. Last timing mat. Hi Mom. Hi Dad. I'm done. And when I'm just past the finish line, I see a face that looks a little familiar wearing a singlet that looks really familiar, a singlet from my alma mater. He ran on the same team that I did, the same year that I did. Soul deep.