Race Report: 2017 Philly Marathon

by Wataru Iwata

The challenge started when I crossed finish line at Boston Marathon in April 2017.
I had a feeling of accomplishment there, but at the same time, I thought I could achieve more.
So, I started the challenge to Philadelphia Marathon, thinking the course is a bit more flat and friendly than Boston, and the weather won’t be 70 degrees for sure.

The first thing I did was switch to Strava instead of Nike+ for my training tracking.  Nike+ was always giving me inaccurate mileage. I was always getting 1 mile recorded for every .9 - .95 mi  I ran, so I was only training 90-95% of what I needed. Soon, I got connected to bunch of NBR teammates and they started tracking my training and I got lots of encouraging words, kudos & etc. The "Strava effect" gave me quick results.

On May 20th, we had a one of the most important races for NBR - the Brooklyn Half. I was still in “semi-recovery” mode, as it was only 30 days after Boston Marathon, so I had no expectations. I went to the race without carrying my phone and not wearing any extra layers, so that I didn’t have to check my bag. (I had previous insight that Brooklyn Half bag check was notoriously hard to retrieve). Before the start, I spent some tiem with NBR LC guys feeling like one of “elites”.

When the race started, I was relaxed, since I didn’t have any real expectations. I was careful not to go too fast inside Prospect Park, and at the exit of Park I saw the NBR cheer squad. As I went down on Ocean Parkway, I had a “cut” on side of my abdominal.  Something I haven’t had in quite sometime.   I raised and lowered my arm few times and the “cut” went away.  That was when I realized my pace was 10 to 15 seconds faster than usual and I quickly did the math in my head.  10 seconds x 13 miles is 2minutes and change. "…wait, if I keep going for 4-5 more miles or so with this pace … I could PR!! " I finished the race in 1:26:54 - about 90 seconds faster than my previous PR set in 2003.

June 17th - Another Club point race, Queens 10K.  Boom, I hit another PR by 20 seconds. 40:30. August 26th - Percy Sutton 5K - another PR by 3 seconds. September 24th - Bronx 10 miles - another PR by 1 minute.  All of sudden, I had PR’d in almost every distance in 2017 except the full marathon!

In my mind, I had to PR in the marathon. Also, having a 1:26:54 half-marathon record, my previous marathon PR of 3:19 (Queens Marathon 2015, this was my BQ) is not quite up to standard. I started working harder and harder. In August, I ran 250 miles, September 270 miles and October 320 miles, something I have never done before. Going into Philly Marathon, my number one concern was to stay healthy. I told myself if I stayed healthy and injury free, the result will naturally follow. The night before the marathon, Q was kind enough to organize a team dinner.  In the last minute, I learned Becca (who is my closest performance rival) was going to run only 40 days after her Chicago 3:02 performance!! I‘ve been secretly comparing her performance against mine for sometime …

Date Race Becca Me
9/25/16 Bronx 10 Miler 1:08:32 1:07:39
12/10/16 Ted Corbitt 15k 1:01:57 1:02:34
5/20/17 Brooklyn Half 1:27:04 1:25:54
6/17/17 Queens 10k 40:43 40:30
8/5/17 Team Champs 33:17 33:05
8/26/17 Percy Sutton 5k 19:26 19:53
9/24/17 Bronx 10 Miler 1:06:09 1:06:34

Having seen her Chicago result of 3:02, I was like "Wow!! If she can do 3:02, I can do that too!"

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On race day, we all woke up with rain and strong winds. NBR Philly resident, David Lam was so kind to offer lodging in Philly as well as ride to start area. Thank you David!! I arrived early (60 minutes) to the start area, but since it was raining hard I stayed inside the tent and couldn’t do all my regular routine (warm up, bathroom, etc).

About 20 minutes before the start, the rain finally cleared and I stayed on the bathroom line close to my corral. The line was moving slow and by the time I got out of porta-potty, my corral was already closed. So I stayed in next corral and told myself to relax and stay calm. One corral won’t make too much difference. I later found out that they do a staggered start (about 2 minutes lag for each corral).

"Ok", I thought. "Just subtract 2 minutes from each clock I see on the course." My game plan was to keep 7 min/mi pace for first 13 miles and see how I feel. If I felt good, I had a shot for a sub-3 hour race. Another goal was sub 3:10. I know that good results are often produced by either even pacing or negative splits, so I was careful not to go too fast in the beginning. My first 7 miles splits were: 7:29 (lack of warm up), 7:11, 7:10, 7:14, 7:20, 7:14, 7:04. Keeping a 7 min/mi pace was really tough on that day for some reason. I felt somewhat stale. The next 7 miles got even tougher: 7:24, 7:17, 7:41, 7:15, 7:06, 7:17, 7:16. Coming out of Central Philly to run along the river, we didn’t have anything to shield ourselves from the strong gusts of wind.

Next 7 miles: 7:30, 7:58, 7:32 ,7:35 ,7:38 ,7:42 ,7:23. When I started seeing push rims and Elite runners coming back from the u-turn at Manayunk, I just told myself to stay relaxed and do not fight that wind!

Final few miles: 7:28, 7:25, 7:54, 7:45, 7:48. I realized there weren't any clocks on the course here (or did I miss them?) I was just a few miles away from the finish line ,and told myself "It’s just 8 or 9 more laps of McCarren Park track." (We ran hundreds and hundreds laps during training). That was when I saw the NBR cheer squad for the 3rd or 4th time through the course. They moved around in very windy day to cheer in 3 or 4 different spots along the course! Thank you all!!!

When I crossed the finish line, the main finish line clock was showing 3:19 and change, and my Garmin showed 3:16 and change. I knew I PR’d but not within the 3 hours and single digits I was aiming for … I just didn’t have the pace to go 7 min/mi that day.

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I am still digesting the result, setting my next target, and thinking of a training plan for the next race, but my initial refection is that my training had too much focus on mileage (quantity) and not so much on tempo runs (quality). Marathon running is about the art of pacing. It differs from person to person, how to train, how to approach the race … etc., and you can only learn from your own experiences.

Last but not least, I must mention what one of reasons I chose to run Philly is. One day in early summer of 2013, I noticed there was one message on my iPhone (I am a kind of person that hates leaving unread mail, or unplayed messages. I like to keep iPhone screen as clean as possible). I played it and it goes … “Hi this is Doctor _______.(couldn’t understand his name) from Thomas Jefferson Hospital, please call me at 215-XXX-XXXX." Initially, I thought it was some sort of sales call. Then, phone rang again and caller ID was showing 215 area code. I ignored the call. Another message was left. I thought to erase it, but I played it. It was same Doctor and this time, he said, “Do you have a sibling called _____? Please call back ASAP. This is an emergency." My heart started beating fast. I returned the call and found out my brother fell unconscious and had been taken to a local hospital where he lives in Bucks County. The hospital quickly decided they couldn’t handle the case, so he was transferred to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

MRI's showed a large brain tumor in his forehead. Long story short, I rushed to Philly on the same day, and my brother was operated on by the super neuro-surgeon who operated on late Bo Biden, son of former Vice President Biden. The operation went superb.  My brother’s tumor was benign and he is now fully recovered and in good health, thank God!

I therefore dedicate this PR to my brother and all people who supported us in this 4 years. Thank you so much!!

Wataru Iwata, Proud and thankful member of NBR. November 2017.