Diary of a Half Marathon

What it was like to run 13.1

Jenna Bergen, far left, at mile 6.5 of the Philadelphia Marathon

I was ready. I had my clothes laid out; my glorified fanny pack was stuffed with Gu, Chapstick, and headphones; and my alarm was set for 5:00 a.m. Tomorrow I would wake up, stretch, have some coffee and breakfast, and then head down to the Art Museum to take my place among the thousands of other runners about to take on 13.1—like me—or the impossible-sounding  26.2.

So when my eyes popped open at 5:58 a.m., I freaked out.

“Ahhh!!!” Was the only sound that my boyfriend heard before I threw back the covers and frantically began trading my sleep clothes for running gear.

“What happened?” He asked.

“We slept in!!”

“I’ll make coffee.” He told me still shaking off sleep, as I shimmied my way into my spandex. “We’ll get you down there.”

Thirty-five minutes later, I was dressed, my bib number was pinned to my chest, an old Budweiser sweatshirt—don’t ask—was pulled on to stay warm, and I was chugging coffee from a tin mug meant for camping as we drove down Spring Garden toward the Art Museum. The boy wished me luck, told me he’d see me around mile 6, and I hopped out.

Ten minutes later, the sky just starting to turn pink, the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon began. It was a beautiful, beautiful fall morning, and as we ran through the city I couldn’t help but feel thrilled that I was one of the people running. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people who make a goal and go after it; who work hard and train hard and have fun doing it;  and who care enough about their health to make fitness a priority.

The other thing that hit me—aside from just how gorgeous our city truly is, especially now, when the leaves are vibrant golds and oranges—was how amazingly supportive the city is and how racing has showed me how much I love living here.  Street after street was lined with hundreds of Philadelphians. Whether they knew you or not, they were cheering for you, rooting you on, holding out their hand for a high-five, shaking signs that told you to keep going, that you could do it, that beer was in 22.6 miles!

I stared out slow—when I ran Broad Street in May I learned that it was better to build speed rather than burn out fast—but by mile four I really hit my groove. I felt strong, powerful—happy. My weeks of training had paid off. By mile six, when I was greeted by a huge cheering section of Philly Mag staffers (thanks, guys!), I couldn’t believe I was half way. I took my first gulp of Gu right before the big hill around mile nine, determined not to let the incline get the best of me. It slowed me down, but I made it to the top without stopping. Another mini-victory! By the time I hit mile 10, I allowed myself to pick up even more speed.

The last few miles on West River Drive weren’t easy—I was starting to feel some pain in my knees and the top of my right hip flexor—but the city was in sight and  I still had a good amount of energy left. When I saw the 12-mile marker I took one last swig of Gu (I personally don’t enjoy how they taste and I didn’t train with it, but I wanted to stay energized so I could have a decent time; all together, I had three gulps from three different packets throughout the race) and picked up my speed. When I rounded the corner by the Art Museum, where the half marathoners split from the marathoners, I pushed as hard as I could. I crossed the finish line feeling powerful, proud—I made it in before the first marathoner finished!—and shocked that it was over. My time: 02:13:32. It had flown by.

I cooled down as soon as I stopped running, so after picking up my medal and some post-race fuel (the Philly pretzel tasted so good!), I found my boyfriend and we headed home. My knees and right hip were definitely achy, so I iced them and took a bath to warm up. Today, the morning after, I’m still a little sore, but I feel good. And … to be honest, my mind is already moving ahead to my next goal: taking on the full marathon next year.

We’ll see if I can do it! But for now, congrats to every single one of you who was out there running yesterday!  And a big thank you to everyone one who was out cheering: You made my race, and I’m sure thouands of other peoples’ races, that much better.