Philly Distance Run Race Report-By Ryan McGrath
First and foremost, despite the name change to “Genre of Music” Philadelphia Half Marathon, this race will always be the Philly Distance Run to me. It’s a race with a great history, and no matter who is currently ruining it, the simple fact remains: it is the fastest half marathon in the US. It’s also one of my favorite weekends of the year. I’ve attended this race every year since 2006, when I first ran with my friend from high school. He hadn’t run more than 8 miles in at least 5 years, and managed to cruise to a 1:30. The next year I went back to race for myself, and was joined by a small crew of new-to-Baltimore runners in what was the first of our “travel” races, and the start of a great September tradition.
To steal a line from Bruce Springsteen, “on the streets of Philadelphia” is where I’ve had some of my best ever performances. It was at the Broad Street 10 Miler in 2008 where I ran my still-to-this-day PB of 58:12, and later that year I ran 1:18:42 at Philly Distance Run. When I got hit in 2009, I watched “PDR” on crutches, and in 2010 went back and bandited while running with some friends. Finally by 2011 I felt like I had returned to some of the form of 2008, and despite the race falling just 3 weeks after Ironman Louisville, perfect conditions, some amazing support from my friends and a perfectly executed race plan allowed me to run a PR 1:18:38. Seeing as I had lost hope of running PRs again after getting hurt, this meant a lot. It was also the day before I turned 30, so I was glad to end my 20s on a high note!
The 2013 version of PDR, for me, at least, was originally intended to let me take a crack at lowering my PR a few weeks out from NYC Marathon. After Boston, however, that plan dissolved. I knew I wouldn’t be able to prepare the way I needed to run fast, so I went in figuring it would just be my long run for the weekend. It was better that way, anyway, as I signed up for the Chesapeakeman Ultra – an iron distance race in Cambridge, MD, next weekend.
We were treated to another fine morning in Philly and I started the race running with my friends Brennan and Andy. Our first 3 miles were all on 6:15 pace, and we could see our friends Arjun and Melissa just ahead. By mile 5 we had caught them, and for a few hundred meters we were all together. Right before mile 6, my feet really started to give me a problem. I consciously made the rookie-est of mistakes: I wore a new pair of shoes on race day. And it wasn’t so much that I wore new shoes, because I generally don’t have problems with blisters if I wear a new pair of shoes. The issue was that I didn’t wear socks. I know, shame on me! I was given a pair of Under Armour Speedforms – it’s their newest shoe innovation and because of how the shoe is constructed, you’re supposed to be able to get away without socks. I found out the hard way that was not the case, but at least the shoes (otherwise) are comfortable!
I was forced to back off of my 6:15 pace a little and started to slide back a few seconds every mile. Andy was still running with me and by the time we crossed the bridge around mile 9, I was none too pleased. It wasn’t worth fighting to run a few seconds faster, so I allowed myself to ease back and just get home. I finished up a little over 1:26 – not quite what I would normally have looked to accomplish but the bigger goal was to get through this one and onto the next.
Perhaps the most notable thing about this event, and this goes for all Rock n Roll races, is that an announcement came out just a few days ago that Competitor Group – who owns Rock n Roll – was eliminating their elite athlete support program effective immediately. There was considerable outrage, and probably rightly so, considering this group literally has the word “competitor” in their name and effectively said they no longer wish to promote competitive events.
For me, it’s sad because I love this particular race, and it just happens that Competitor Group acquired it. It was a great race before. They’ve done nothing to make it better, in fact I’d say it’s a less positive experience for me than it was 5 years ago. At the same time, it’s still a fast race held during an ideal time of year. I’m not sure if I’ll go back now. Anytime I see organizations and races taking away money from professionals, it leaves a sour taste. I have a number of friends who are professional or are about to be, and this directly impacts their ability to pursue their passion. With no offense to those who may work hard to run 2 hour half marathons, but that’s not what makes people watch or be interested in racing.