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Tag: Philadelphia Trail Run

Philadelphia Trail Marathon – Running Your Own Race

Three weeks after my first 100-miler of the season, I had to switch focus to the Philadelphia Trail Marathon. Recovery was a struggle. Sickness had swept through the house, and I couldn’t seem to shake a cold for days following the Rabid Raccoon 100. It might also have been due to my body being run down from battling the “mud monster” that was that 100-miler. I focused on sleep and recovery because there wasn’t much running I needed to do. I just kept walking, as most do after a 100-mile race, to keep the blood flowing through my legs to speed up recovery. “Motion is lotion,” as the saying goes.

This wasn’t an “A” race for the season; the Rabid Raccoon was, so this marathon was more of a fun afterthought. However, I didn’t want to skip it—I had so much fun last year, and I love racing in the Wissahickon. For those who don’t know, I have been coming here since I was a little kid. I’ve explored every part of the park, documented it, and filmed it—you name it. There’s almost nothing in the entire 50 miles of the park that I haven’t seen. With that said, this is relevant to the topic of this post and race report. Life is not fair, and neither is racing. You will race against people who have trained in this park, running on these trails. That is so critical for performance that I’ve learned your training has almost identically to mirror the race you are preparing for.

I will not waste food! Getting some dirt off my orange slice.

If this was your first time racing the Philly Trail Marathon, you now have your benchmark. You must manage your expectations at all times in racing, and it’s only once you have completed a distance that you can gauge where you might perform come race day. There are other factors that can affect race day performance, such as sickness or injury. There’s only so much you can control! That part is crucial for truly successful racing. You are constantly managing the variables you CAN control. Don’t waste a single thought on the competitor next to you, the weather, or the aid station food they may or may not have. Great race execution comes from controlling what you can in the lead-up to and on race day.

My format for most of my race reports is the same: I write out three things—what went right, what went wrong, and what I would do differently. Why? It’s a brief recap for myself for the NEXT time, for the future version of me when he faces a similar race or course. History tends to repeat itself, so if you are not learning from your mistakes, you will make little to no progress in this sport. If it’s just about being out there, which is a lot of what my true intention is, then this might not matter to you. However, if you are getting frustrated with your performance, then start doing an audit of each race or benchmark performance, which you can do yourself, and see where there can be improvements.

What went right?

A lightweight kit, one water bottle, and minimal food. I had two packs of shot blocks, two RX bars, and tailwind packs to refill my bottle. The food was perfect. I saw the predicted weather and I knew this was going to be a fast race, only slightly sloppy in some sections, but a non-issue. The Wissahickon doesn’t hold water on the single tracks, just on Forbidden Drive. Had there been hot weather, I would have changed my strategy for hydration, but I ended up using one bottle and skipping some aid stations. This worked very well. I could tell I wasn’t sweating, and I was making sure to keep eating about 300 calories after the first hour.

I caught this dude sleeping at an aid station. Always grab and GO!

My mindset going into this was that I was racing MYSELF, nobody else. I didn’t care how I did in this race. I had originally thought about not bringing my hat camera since the video I got last year was decent. I was GLAD I did. Either I have gotten better at editing video, or just the clips came together well because I feel like I made a better video than the year before.

What went wrong?

I set a Pace Pro strategy on my Garmin watch for 9:20, which was a stretch as I knew I was still not fully recovered from the 100-mile race. This should have been more realistic and maybe a little bit slower. Part of me thought I should just take a shot at it since there wasn’t much to lose. I got a little lazy with putting Tailwind in my refills and just used water after the first bottle. There was one slip-up I made with pace. When I finished the first lap, I was so excited and started pushing too hard of a pace. That was a bad decision as it just intensified the effects on my already tired legs. I should have monitored the pace better and dialed it back some. I shouldn’t have had a 7:37 pace on mile 14. What happens is when you tax the system like that, it puts stress on your legs on the downhills. Huge mistake, that did nothing but wreck my legs and give them a really heavy feeling as the miles proceeded. You have to slow down for downhills; there’s no benefit in blasting down them with the amount of damage it does to your legs. Next time I will exercise more restraint.

Stephen cut down the tree the night before to add an obstacle

What I would do differently?

There wasn’t much that went wrong with this race. I was very dialed in for the first lap but got too excited on the second. I need to be patient, and I have had that same thing happen in 100 milers too. You start feeling good so you push, but that’s exactly the time you should be holding back. If you feel good in a marathon, it WILL pass.

So, I kept running my race. I didn’t care who passed me, or what else happened out there. I was just racing myself. Now, I didn’t beat my previous time, but I know that every day you line up at the starting line, the variables change. Conditions are never 100% the same; you get what the day gives you, you control what you can, and you have fun. My ability to stay happy increases my performance more than anything else. Laughing, smiling, and knowing there are just a handful of these experiences in life keep me pushing hard in most races because they are a rare opportunity at this stage in my life.

Getting a hug from my family at the finish line.

On a side note, it was pretty funny how many people saw last year’s video on YouTube and mentioned something. I was glad that it was helpful to some, and several people said they used my GPX file from the site to train on the course. That is why I am doing all of this—to help others achieve their running dreams and goals. 

The last piece of advice I’ll leave you with for training is this: My favorite new quote is, “Easy for those who work hard, hard for those who work easy.” If you found this race difficult, chances are it was either your first time, or you didn’t train on enough hills. It would be best if you replicated the vertical gain per mile in your training runs. For instance, this run has an average of 3,300 feet of elevation gain over 26 miles, which is about 127 feet per mile. So if your training runs don’t average that leading up to the Philadelphia Trail Marathon, you’ll likely have a tough day. It’s the best advice I can offer for those who want to perform well in this race.

Let me know in the comments below how your Philadelphia Trail Marathon went. What would you have done differently if you had the chance? Thanks for reading, and thanks to all those who help make this race possible.

I stayed up too late editing this on Sunday night, but I wanted to get it out into the world.

Philadelphia Trail Marathon Race Report

  • What went right?
    • I didn’t go with a vest as this was a “shorter” race for me.  I kept my kit light with only 1 waist bottle holder.
    • My pace was very dialed in.  For this distance and vert, I know I can handle 8:30 – 9:00 pace depending on the weather.  I had just done a race that went well last year with this exact same setup and kit so I know it was tested. 
    • I know every section of the course.  I have run every trail and every turn of this course multiple times.  Nothing beats having the home-court advantage.  This doesn’t normally happen for my races as I like to do different races every year.  I got the best sleep ever because I felt like it was just going to be a training run.  Maybe it’s worth it to visit a course beforehand to get that peace of mind?
    • Made sure to power hike almost every climb in the beginning to save my energy.  I saved it for where it counts, on the downhills and flat sections.  (really not many of those)
PHOTO CREDIT:  Doug Rafalski
This is my light weight 50K kit.
  • What went wrong?
    • I pushed the limits of dehydration.  I really should have made sure to drink on a schedule versus just doing it at the aid stations.  I wasn’t taking enough liquids and it was warming up at 11 AM.
    • Too fast of a start.  This wasn’t my choice, the trail narrowed so you had to jump out ahead to avoid the traffic jam.  The first mile clocked in at 6 minutes and I immediately pulled back.  I made sure to run my own race and that is critical in every ultra.
  • What would I do differently?
    • I got lazy with my eating and drinking and it happens almost every race unless I set a timer to go off on my watch every 30 minutes.  I just got to remember to do that BEFORE the race start.  That’s the biggest thing that can cause issues later in a race because once you are behind with nutrition, its a losing battle.  
    • I’m going to practice the crap out of this course.  If this race happens again next year I now have the GPX and course mapped out.  I’m gonna run this course once a week.  They had no GPX file before the race.
    • Light vs heavy shoe.  I swapped to a light vs heavy shoe and it was the right call.  This course drains well from heavy rain and wasn’t muddy.   I didn’t need crazy tread shoes.

Final Thoughts

Me as a kid at the Wiss wearing a bart simpson T-shirt.  This section was on the course.

The Wissahickon has been a place that I’ve been going to since I was young. The fact they put together a marathon here was incredible and it was a perfect course.  I was so grateful to be out there and racing.  This is my home turf and basically where I grew up.  This is by far the best event Uber Endurance put together.  I can see myself coming back every year to run this course.  It meant so much to me over the years and this was a near-perfect way to experience it. This park has helped me grow into the person I am today.  How can a park help you grow?  It can challenge you and introduce you to new people.  It can be a place for your kids to play and explore.  

The Japanese practice “Forest Bathing”, or shinrin-yoku as they call it. Spending time in nature is good for both physical and mental well-being. It is proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness and free up creativity, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness. As somebody who grew up in the city coming out to the Wissahickon as a kid always felt better. I never knew why, but after reading about shinrin-yoku I understand.

So if you had to choose between the Philly Marathon or the Philly “TRAIL” Marathon, that’s a pretty easy choice! 😉

If you want to download the GPX file of the course to practice on it is here: