by Paul Thompson
Last weekend I started the Philly Marathon with Mo’ath Alkawaldeh. Mo completed his in a little over 2:37, a great debut. I meanwhile DNF. Or more precisely I took ‘advantage’ of the option to bail out at half way. This option, open to all marathon entrants, gets you timed and scored as though you had started the half that’s run simultaneously.
My game plan all along had been to pace Mo through half way. Approaching 13 miles the course does the splits – turn left for another 13 miles or turn right for a 100 metre dash across the finish line. As I turned right course officials, spotting my marathon bib, gestured me to turn left. I almost had to run over them. I had mixed feelings crossing the line. I felt relieved not to be in Mo’s shoes with 13 miles left. I felt great for having logged 1:13:20 after weeks of battling sciatica. But I felt a bit of a fraud with the marathon bib – a job half complete. Was it a DNF? And, soon after crossing the line just ahead of me, Eric Shafer turned to announce he was a masters runner. That left me in second place for the masters, a one second deficit costing me $500.
Mo followed his first half 1:17 with a solid 1:20 second half. Mo and I used to train together when he lived in New York. Keen to run a fast debut marathon in the 2:30s he flew to New York from Jordan to stay with us for the week leading up to the race. We drove to Philly where we stayed, with Mo’s friend Osama Al Qattan (who PR’ed with 3:26) at a hotel in the city’s suburbs.
I had offered to pace Mo to half way at around 2:30 pace. We set out at 5:45 pace but after 2 miles he was a few seconds adrift. I felt ‘up for it’, my sciatica lost without trace. Pre race he suggested I race it. So I did. My pace making days were over before they even started.
As 6 miles approached, in the spectator packed Downtown area, I decided to step on the gas and, hopefully, do enough to take first masters and the $500 prize. My 10k split of 35:23 (5:41 average) compared with 5:30 average for the latter 11k which took in the two hills in West Philly.
Philly is a great race. Some 23,000 ran the half and full combined. The course was pretty fast and varied – city center, riverside, park ‘an all. Spectators came out in their thousands to bellow their support. In the Drexel University area this extended to students completing a marathon night of revelry with beers on the sidewalk.
Mo and I enjoyed elite entry status. This meant we had the ‘luxury’ of hanging out in the elite tent pre- and post-race. And a designated restroom with no line. The elite tent gave us the opportunity to study the pre- and post-race routine of real elite athletes.
One standout was the heightened security, a legacy of the Boston bombing. This extended to clear only baggage and restrictions on spectator access. But what was clear was that New York and Philly have overcome the restrictions and put on even better marathons than before.