It’s been a couple weeks now, and I’ve finally finished the Philly recap, just in time for me to head to Alabama for the Rocket City Marathon this Saturday. I really didn’t want to write this recap. The race was terrible and I didn’t want to think about it. But I had to, not only because I have a compulsion to document every marathon, but also because I must warn you away from this stupid race.
There were over 27,000 participants during the race weekend (that includes the full marathon, the half marathon, and an 8k the day before). I heard someone say it’s the largest non-lottery marathon on the East Coast. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is a big race, which makes their failings even more unforgivable.
On that Sunday before Thanksgiving, the weather was perfect, there was still some food at the finish, and I even got to see my friend at the start. So why did I dislike this race so much? First of all, no one seemed to be enjoying it. I heard more griping and complaining than any other race I’ve been in, and most of those complaining were only running the half. That kind of atmosphere is a downer. (Although the kid who said, “I have to run 13.1 miles! <pause, slow realization> And then another 13 miles… Who came up with this?!” was kinda funny.) I can’t find the breakdown on the website, but the race was dominated by halfers, who are not as fun to be around when you’re running the full.
The course itself also catered to the halfers in that it had a stupid out-and-back for the second half, which meant you saw all the fast people returning to finish as you were heading out for your next 13 miles. This was also demoralizing. Sometimes I like out-and-backs to see the other runners, but this course had me watching people run home from mile 13 to 20, which is a terribly long time to run across from people so much closer to being done than you are. Besides, most of them had pained expressions on their faces and didn’t look like they wanted to be out there.
This was also the first race I’ve been in that started significantly late – the first runners started 15 minutes after the starting time, but add that to the over 30 minutes for the last corral to cross the start, and we started almost an hour after the official start time, which was a delay I wasn’t expecting. Other nitpicks include the fact that the first water stop almost ran out of water and the first gel station ran out of gel (and while I’m not so speedy, I was running at a 5:30 pace with a race cut-off time of 7 hours, so nothing should have been running out anywhere near my pace).
And yes, my legs were hurting, and I’m sure that influenced my negative feeling towards this race, but I’ve been in pain in races before, and I haven’t hated them with the passion that I hated this race. Ultimately, what made me so angry at this race? The medical help, or lack thereof.
Around mile 15, my legs were in bad shape. My knees were killing me, and my hip wasn’t feeling so great, either. Around mile 18 I started seriously looking for a medical tent to get some Tylenol (acetaminophen). Despite seeing some totally unhelpful “medical marker” signs, I saw no actual medical personnel for miles. I started asking at every water station where the next medical tent was, but no one knew. Eventually someone at a water stop went to get a small first aid kit that happened to be dumped at the side of the road, but there was no Tylenol inside. Thank goodness I didn’t have a true medical emergency, as who knows when or what kind of help I would have received.
Finally, at mile 24, I spotted a medical tent. I went up to it and asked for Tylenol. The guy manning the station (I think he was a cop) handed me Motrin. I said, “This is ibuprofen, I need Tylenol, acetaminophen.” He said, “yeah, it’s Motrin.” I said it wasn’t the same, and that it was bad for me to take during a race, and that I needed acetaminophen. He said, “well, we don’t have that. Just don’t take much of it.” I ran off, angry, frustrated, and in pain. I took one of the two pills because I was in such pain and because I was so pissed off. (I knew it was bad for me but I didn’t realize exactly how bad it could have been until I researched it for this post. Lesson learned – I’ll always run with a couple capsules of Tylenol from now on.) I ended up running my fastest mile in the whole race from mile 25 to 26. Sheer adrenaline from my anger got me across that finish line.
Lest you think my intense anger at their negligence of handing out ibuprofen is unfounded, here’s just one article from Runner’s World, published April 7, 2009, that details the hazards of taking NSAIDs like Motrin during exercise:
“Mix an NSAID with physical exertion and dehydration, and you can overwhelm your kidneys…. NSAIDs can bump up your blood pressure, and … you could have a mini stroke or a heart attack…. NSAIDs also block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) that normally protects the heart, and this might explain why many NSAIDs, including ibuprofen, may raise the risk of heart attack.
Some forms of COX also protect the stomach lining from digestive acids, so when an NSAID blocks this enzyme, you may experience nausea, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, and cramps. When used during a marathon or ultra, NSAIDs also seem to boost the risk of hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance that can cause the brain to swell. “It’s something you can die of during a race,” says Martin Hoffman, M. D., director of research at the Western States Endurance Run.” (emphasis added)
Runner’s World covered this earlier in 2005 as well, detailing how NSAIDs like ibuprofen can cause GI distress, increased heart attack risk, and increased risk of hyponatremia (aka low blood sodium, which can cause brain swelling and death). It’s been a known risk for years, which is why the NYC Marathon and even the Rock n’ Roll series of races never hand out NSAIDs along the course.
I just cannot believe a major race like the Philadelphia Marathon was so negligent as to hand out Motrin when a runner asked for Tylenol. Not only is any NSAID a danger in itself, but the fact that I asked for acetaminophen and was handed something else without correction or explanation, something I could have been allergic to – it just boggles my mind.
The best part (only good part?) of this race was, by far, the medal. It’s a mini Liberty Bell that actually rings! Definitely my favorite marathon medal out of all my medals. Too bad it had to be for such a stupid race.
But ultimately, just like pizza, even a bad marathon is better than no marathon. I’m so glad I can check Pennsylvania off my list. I enjoyed visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art ($20 adult admission, but the Rocky steps were the highlight there), and I really enjoyed visiting Independence Hall (tickets are required, but free, or you can reserve tickets online for about $2 each. Just note that either way you’ll have to pick them up at the Independence Visitor Center a couple blocks north of the actual site about 30 minutes before the tour starts. Tickets aren’t required for the underwhelming Liberty Bell, which is in a separate building across the street.). I also thought the food in Philly was excellent, especially the cookies from Pennsylvania General Store, which I got from Reading Terminal Market (located right across from the expo) but are also available online (with flat rate shipping of $10). Even if you don’t like cookies, I highly recommend a trip to Reading Terminal Market if you’re in the area – it is so full of food it’s overwhelming, even for my NYC state of mind.
Funny Sign Award Goes to…
“This way to the Pope.”
Thinking of Running Philadelphia?
Haha, don’t! Until they get their act together, go run Steamtown (highly recommended by other runners) or Pittsburg or some other Pennsylvania race. The only reason to run this race is for the medal, and you can get the same one by just doing the half.
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Note that this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of over 5 hours. Your experience may vary.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – From NYC, it was incredibly easy to get to – it’s only a 1.5 hour ride on Amtrak (roundtrip was $88, plus subway fare). It was about a half-mile walk to my hotel (Sonesta), and another half mile to the expo. I ended up taking a cab to the Art Museum because I felt tired and lazy, but the taxis were surprisingly easy to hail downtown, and cost about $10 each way. My hotel was a little over a mile from the Liberty Bell/Independence Hall, which is in the opposite direction from the Art Museum, so if you want to see it all in one day, I’d definitely recommend taking taxis to save your feet.
- Staying There – 7/10 – All the hotels seem to jack up prices around the marathon. I stayed at the Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia at 1800 Market Street (with taxes, it was $500 for two nights). It was clean, modern, spacious, and had a great location (walking distance to both expo and race start/finish), but the walls were incredibly thin so I suffered through long conversations and loud cackling late into the night from the women staying next door.
- Cost & Registration – 7/10 – The lowest registration price ($120 with processing fees) was a bit much, but that medal….<3 You also get a nice long-sleeved tech shirt with a map on the back (instead of sponsor logos), plus some free junk in your expo bag (gummy vitamins, toothpaste sample, beet juice, Advil, Cold-Eeze sample, reflective tape sample). Food at the finish included a soft pretzel (yum), assorted juices, assorted chips, peanut butter packets, and bananas – but no real protein.
- Organization – 6/10 – The expo was admittedly great. Spacious aisles, reasonably priced merchandise (still a little spendy but not outrageous), and ok give-aways. Not a great website, but they did offer runner tracking (via email or text). Oh, but the medical help might try to poison you.
- Course – 5/10 – I’m giving it a 5 because less than half of it is through the city and there’s a lot of highway. I’m also only giving it a 5 because even with the out-and-back looped course there wasn’t proper race support.
- Crowd – 6/10 – For a big city marathon, there weren’t a lot of spectators along the course, probably due to the layout.
- Other Factors – 6/10 – Two cheesesteaks + one hot pretzel + a dozen cookies + Rocky steps + George Washington’s original chair = 6.
- Overall Rating – 2/10 – One point for the medal, one point because I didn’t die.
19 down, 31 to go! My next marathon is the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama, this Saturday. Eeeek!
Why is cheesesteak so difficult to find outside of Philadelphia? Ketchup on cheesesteak – yes or no? Did you run Philly and totally disagree with my review of this marathon? Share in the comments!