Thursday, October 23, 2008

Philadelphia Distance Run (PDR) September 16, 2001

FName LName Age Sex ChipTime ClockTime Overall SexPl DivPl Half Result
TIM ALLISON 33 M 1:33:40 1:34:04 722/5937 636/3612 121 46:17

For any american, the date September 11, 2001, or simply 9/11 will always have significance. Whenever the date is mentioned in conversation, inevitably, a story will follow. The story recipient will have one ear sifting the incoming data following the story into their brain, while the other parts will be unearthing their own story of where they were, who they knew, and how the date has impacted their life since then.

Without delving too deeply, I have worked in Manhattan since 1998. My office is three blocks from the WFC site, and my daily commute typically led me through the trade center to and from the PATH tubes to and from NJ. When the first plane hit at 8:47am, I should have been somewhere in the process of detraining and walking through Ground Zero underneath the Trade Center Towers. But not this 9/11. For the first time in three years, (and not since) I was assigned to cover a bank in New Brunswick, NJ starting 9/10. Meaning I was near Rutgers University, and 50 miles south of NYC on 9/11. The closest I got was watching TV like most everyone else. That is until I returned home to Chatham, and could personally see the billowing smoke from the tower remnants 24 miles east of the house. My family was amongst the luckiest of the lucky, and I will always remember that.

Less than a week later, race organizers were vacillating whether to cancel the Philadelphia Distance Run in Philadelphia, PA 100 miles to the south. Perhaps taking a cue from the NFL, on Friday they declared the race was a go. Back in 2001 I had only run three or so 15K or 10 mile races, never a half marathon, even in training. My best ten mile time was about 77 minutes or a 7:45 pace.

Heather and I hopped in the car Saturday midday for the two hour drive down to the Doubletree and race headquarters inCenter City Philadelphia. No kids, no sitters, no bike, no transition zone, and worries only about our friends affected by the tragedy.

Packet pickup was a breeze, and Heather and I meandered around Center City toward Rittenhouse Square in the late afternoon. We find a cozy little Italian place for dinner and then walk back to the Doubletree for an early nite. The weather was cool in the 50s and the forecast was for 50s and a high in the 60s for Sunday morning. Downtown Philadelphia is actually a small town, bordered by the Delaware River to the east, the Schuykill River to the West, I 676 to the north. South philly wanders all the way down to the old VET, now Lincoln Financial Field or "The Linc", and the FU-Wachovia-whomever is buying that bank soon to be renamed basketball hockey stadium. When walking Center City the line from fine at Rittenhouse Square to over the line into south Philly sketchiness is a blurry one, but usually marked by broken auto glass.

The race route circles Center City west to east passing the Delaware River "Penn Landing" area and then heads west up the Schuykill, crosses over at mile 8 and then screams back down past the 30th st station to the finish. If you have PR half marathon race dreams, this course gives you every opportunity to realize them.

Race morning I hop out of the bed at 6am sharp, into the bathroom, and head down to the hotel lobby. There is a race breakfast set up, and I am off to the starting area. I love these races where you are already there, reducing transit time and worry time. Heather will sleep in, check out and meet me at the finish in three hours of so.

The PDR is one of the most popular halfs on the east coast. Therefore the race is generally 7,000-10,000 entrants. I arrive early and line up at 7:15, for an 8am guntime to ensure a speedy send off. I have to pee, but I elect to wait and not lose my positioning.

Pat Croce, the larger than life GM of the 76ers give some solid pep talk and hands over the mike to the race announcers. Without fanfare, he asks for quiet. He ask a second time and then he starts reading a race number, a city/state location, and then a name. He repeats the process many times. At first runners are looking at each other, and then one by one it hits people, and the silence becomes more silent. Before he finishes most all understand. These runners may not be physically running today, but everyone of them will be running the course with us. The national anthem starts and the tears are streaming down the faces of everyone including me. The sheer energy, resolve, and determination of the collective is overpowering. At the gun the mass jets forward at a breakneck pace. We cross mile 1 passing the Penns Landing area at 6:12 pace and no one is slowing down. I spot several guys peeing on a hillside wall area. I pause for 45 second to unload and collect myself. Emotions or not, this pace is nuts!! I reenter the throng and cross mile two right at 14 minutes. OK this may be sustainable.

I am still worried about pacing, but as the miles stream by, I am able to hold up, as many others are stripped away yielding some running room. I befriend a cute brown haired girl running my pace. She tells me she is running for her sister-in-law. I know she knows I know that she is not talking about "losing her" to an illness, or even an accident. I say I will run for her too. We are flying. We cross the halfway mark at 6.55 miles at a solid 46:17.

At mile 8 we cross the Schuykill bridge and I find I have been so focused discovering her story I feel no pain or effort. At mile 10 she is gassed and tells me to go. I hesitate. She looks at me hard and says go again, so I do. To this point I have no plans for a final time or a plan. I am just running in the moment and thinking about how fragile life is.

At mile 11 runners around me are well spaced out and the road is open. I am tired but feeling good. I keep my pace and am passing more now. A mile to go and I am still feeling good to go. Before I know it I hit the tape in 1:33:40. The time is good but cannot do the math. I have run an even split race with a 1:47 2nd half split and finishing in the top sixth or top 16% in age group and overall and a 7:04 pace. This PDR stacks up with one of my best finishes ever and I am not sure why I have never returned here since.

I spot Heather and grab a hug and an orange. We hit the hotel, check out and walk to our car. The runners are still streaming by but I can only see the runners that are 100 miles away from the finish line buried in rubble. Heather and I make a great stop in New Hope, PA for lunch and reflect on the experience. Yes this has and is the best distance run I have ever completed. Yes I am now an endurance athlete racer and have the mental confidence to conquer greater and longer challenges. and Yes, I will never forget 9/11 and the PDR will always be a part of my story.