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26 Strong: Philly Marathon Report, Round 1

Dimity McDowell and some of her teammates discuss their experiences at the Philadelphia Marathon as part of the Saucony 26 Strong program.

Today we bring you the first of two race reports from the Philadelphia Marathon, where the fruitions of our Saucony 26 Strong program crossed the finish line. As you may know, I—Dimity—didn’t get to cross it, and neither did Alison, Sarah’s cadet. Thanks, injuries; love you too! But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have an amazing weekend where we racked up plenty of super strong, smiley miles, as Sarah and Kelly represented Saucony and the mother runner tribe well.

Because I had to bail, Kelly had a team of two runners—Adrienne and Jo—step in to run with her. So this race report includes their experiences, as well as some thoughts from me and Carly, Kelly’s daughter, who were her 26 Strong support team.

Even though there was a lot of mother runner bonding and laughing on the days leading up to the race, we’ll start with the race itself … otherwise, it’ll be so long, I fear you’ll miss picking up your kids at school.

Kelly says: Sarah, Adrienne and I left the other folks in the lobby and headed over to the start. There were so many runners! It took a while for us to get back to the Blue Corral since it was the last one. We met up with mother runner Laura, who had loaned Dimity her husband’s bike to ride during the race.

We started right by the Rocky statue at the art museum: a nice touch. The corrals were well organized and the waves started right on time. Mayor Nutter released all the corrals except our corral, which was released by the Governor-elect, who told us we were “the best people in America.” We all laughed at that and it became a joke we reused many times during the first half of the race.

Near mile 1, I saw Carly, Dimity and Denise, another mother runner who was helping at the expo. The first 10 miles were amazing, as we were running through the city. There was good crowd support and lots of things, including funny signs, to look at to distract from running. Adrienne was an amazing pacer, reminding me to reel it in. We stuck to our intervals and stayed right on pace except for the 6-minute bathroom break. (I hate stopping to use the bathroom during a race.) I felt great and nothing hurt once my soleus warmed up. South Philly wins the neighborhood award because they really brought the party atmosphere at 8 a.m. on a Sunday!

Adrienne: The upside to leaping into a half marathon with little time to prepare for it was that my mind wasn’t full of thousands of worries, which had had weeks and weeks to grow. Instead, I was able to focus on just one simple mantra: This Isn’t My Race.

Kelly: We ran and chatted until we got back near the start and the sign came for marathoners to turn left and half marathoners to turn right. I said goodbye to Adrienne and turned left. I was expecting this to be mentally tough but it really was not. I just turned left and told myself, “half marathon No. 2.”

Jo: The morning of a big race—OK, any race—I’m usually a cluster of emotions. Philly was all that, plus a little extra.

Looking out my hotel window, watching the runners fill the street, I couldn’t wait to jump in (literally) and start running. But at the same time, I was sad: I was only there because Dimity was hurt and couldn’t run. That part sucked. I knew she wanted to be out there with Kelly and there I was instead, putting on her bib and feeling like … a poser.

But I was also grateful to be in a place in my life where I could pay forward all the support I’ve received. And lucky me: to be part of such a great group of women through AMR. They’re even more fun in real life!

And, of course, my mind was mostly on Kelly: I just really wanted her to have a good race. I knew I’d be ready to help her out, since anchoring the last half of the marathon meant plenty of time for my four trips to the bathroom. Phew.

It only took a few steps at her side for us to fall into an easy rhythm, forgetting all my stress from earlier. We talked easily about past races and life back home. We stopped for pictures along the way and a beer at mile 21. Cheers to Philly!

Kelly: Around mile 15, my left IT band and knee started to get a little stiff. I am really not surprised it decided to give me trouble. I was expecting it. I ran a speedy relay race on Nov. 1, and ever since then my ITB has been unhappy. I knew I was kind of wounded going into this race with the tendonitis in my left soleus, my cranky left ITB and my right SI joint discomfort. These nagging things, though, were not enough to make me not do this. I just figured they would make the last miles of the marathon more painful than I would want them to be. I was right. What I did not expect is that they would make me have to walk so much.

Jo: We waved to Dimity and Carly on their bikes and soaked up the cheers from the Black Girls Run (they were popping up everywhere!). Kelly was going to finish whether I was there or not, I was hoping only to distract her from the pain she was feeling. Even if we were walking more than she had hoped, she was still doing it, and was on her way to finishing her first marathon! Can you freaking believe it?! (I might have used different words). I stopped just before the barricade near the finish and watched her start to run the last .2 miles to the finish.  She was all smiles, just like when I first saw her!  And I was a little teary.

Carly: Cheering on my mom throughout the race was a really great experience. I was really excited that I got to ride my bike all over the city and see her many times. I felt her happiness, her pain and her tears at the end. Riding along with her was the closest I could get to running the race with her. Watching my mom succeed in something she spent five months training for was very emotional for both of us. When she first started running, she said she would never run a marathon and to watch her cross the finish line of a marathon, just goes to show you that you can do anything if you just set your mind to it. I don’t like running as much as she does, but one day, I am going to finish a full Ironman!

Dimity: Here’s what I didn’t get to do during my weekend in Philly:
— Run 26.2 miles in Philadelphia with a first-time marathoner by my side
— See Kelly cross the finish line (my flight logistics made things super tight on Sunday afternoon)
— Make a cool race video that I’d dreamt about for months (turns out, I probably needed to practice with GoPro instead of debuting it on race weekend)

And while it’s hard to not feel a little sentimental and sad about those things, I am so very grateful for all the things I did get to do:
— Coach Kelly for five months, and in the process, witness her stamina and confidence soar
— Make signs with her offspring and talk about how cool their mom is (I have a soft spot in my heart for chatty, 3-year-old boys … dang it that the video of Colin, her son, didn’t work out)
— See this badass community of mother runners rally around Kelly, offering to run, offering bikes, offering strength and love
— Cheer my lungs and heart out for Kelly and other mother runners, and do it with Carly, who was a total trooper on the bike (and smarter than me when it came to knowing where her mom was on the course)
— Feel the support of Saucony, which sent us both unbelievable gear (sweet!) and, more importantly, supplied the framework of a program that espouses the reason why the running community is so strong: You don’t cross a finish line alone.

Kelly: Being part of the Saucony 26Strong program was a great experience for me. I am a very social runner so all of the support was tremendously helpful. Knowing I was part of something bigger than just my journey to 26 miles meant a lot to me. Plus, it helped get me out of bed every single Saturday for 5 months.

I can’t put into words how it feels to run a marathon. It hurts—I think that is obvious—but the emotions defy description. I never once gave up mentally. Quitting, no matter what happened, was never an option. Am I disappointed with my time? Yes and no.

I am disappointed my body decided to quit so I could not stick to my desired 11:30-12:00 per mile pace. But I am not disappointed I finished in under 6 hours. In all honesty, my A Goal was to finish this race, in an upright position, with a smile on my face, because running, to me, is all about having fun and experiencing life. I met that goal.