Rocky 50K – Fun run through Philadelphia retracing the Rocky II montage

Today, I ran the Rocky 50k – an unsupported, unofficial race through Philadelphia that retraces Rocky’s training montage in Rocky II. Last year, a journalist wondered exactly how far Rocky went in his training run, and mapped it on Google Maps. The route came in at 30.6 miles – just a half mile short of a 50k. A local ultrarunner added a half mile to create a 50k course, then got people together for an unofficial race to run the route. When I learned about it last year (one day too late!) I knew I had to run it this year.

Despite a cease-and-desist letter from MGM claiming copyright infringement for use of the Rocky brand, the run somehow continued on for its second year, and that race took place today.

The route is pretty ridiculous in terms of its complexity. It’s also unmarked, which means there are no flags or chalk telling runners where to turn. For training, I ran a few of the legs beforehand; I wanted to make sure I knew where I was going on race day. This definitely helped get me psyched for the race – while running down Passayunk, a guy made the Rocky victory arms motion at me – and helped during race day, because I knew all but one of the turns without having to look at my awesome hand drawn map.

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My awesome index-card, color-coded map. Definitely not gonna get lost with this!

The morning of the race, Will came with me to the start line. He’s training seriously for an actual, official marathon next weekend, so he wasn’t going to run this, although he would pace me for the last 11 miles.

I was surprised how many people showed up to the start – probably 60-70 runners were gathered on a random street corner in South Philadelphia, many of them clad in the classic grey-sweatsuit-and-red-headband garb of the montage. Runner’s World magazine was there to cover the event, too. Race organizer Rebecca counted down to the start with a “well, this isn’t very official, so … 3, 2, 1, go!” Everyone sort of stood around for a minute, then started running.

At the “Start line.” Check out the red headband!

The first part of the race was very social; runners were grouping together to navigate the course. There were a lot of ultrarunners running this race, which made me really excited – several guys had run a local 24-hour race this year, and one was in the lottery for Leadville 100. It’s hard to find other ultrarunners, and one sure-fire way to do it is, not surprisingly, running an ultra.

I dropped back from the group at mile 6 to use the restroom, then spent the next six miles tracking down runners ahead of me, mainly looking for someone to chat with. The first guy I passed had his headphones in and hadn’t been very talkative earlier, and the second guy I passed was planning to drop out at mile 15 (although his longest prior run was only 7 miles, so I had a lot of respect for him!). The next group I passed all seemed to know each other and weren’t super interested in talking.

I made my way down Broad Street, which was, fortunately, downhill. Ahead of me, I saw one figure wearing Rocky garb, and I followed his bobbing form through Center City. I caught up with him when he popped into a convenience store to pick up a drink, and realized it was one of the guys I’d been running with earlier, so we fell into step.

We rounded Washington and headed up 9th, which is where the famous scene of Rocky running down a vendor-filled street, past an on-fire trash can, takes place. The Runner’s World photographer had set up camp right near an actual on-fire trash can, and took pictures as we ran down the middle of the street. Street vendors were super excited, too – they had their arms up in Rocky-victory-pose when we ran by. It was fun to do this with someone who was actually dressed up as Rocky; in my green rain jacket, I wouldn’t have been recognizable as participating in a Rocky-themed run at all.

My running buddy dropped off at mile 15 – his house was nearby and he wanted to grab another drink (he did get back on the course – he wasn’t dropping out).

Meeting Will at mile ~20.

I knew Will was meeting me around mile 20, so, despite my aching hamstrings, I pushed on to one of the sketchier parts of the course, in northeast Philly. I had done one of my training runs in this area, because the route’s sort of tricky, so I knew what to expect.

Part of the course doubles back, and I saw a pack about ten minutes ahead of me. I finished that mini-loop and took off towards the Schuylkill, passing many other runners going the other direction. I knew they were only ten minutes behind me, so, even though there were no finisher medals, and no divisions, and no placing, that motivated me to keep moving.

I found Will exactly 3 hours after I started, which is also almost exactly when I said I would be there. He brought life-saving hydration, and we kept moving towards the river. Running down the river was non-eventful, because that’s my usual running route, so I knew what was coming. It started raining a bit, too. It was great to have Will pacing for this part, because it was pretty monotonous and I was feeling very tired. We passed by the Art Museum (where the steps are) and took off for a final loop through Center City.

The last several miles were to run through the city to the Delaware River along Chestnut, then back to the Art Museum along Arch. Running away from the finish line, through the city, was really tough for me – I was tired, and stopping at every intersection for traffic was really frustrating, especially in the rain. This is also the only time I almost made a wrong turn, but Will had fortunately memorized the route (and had it on his phone!) so we were safe.

Once we turned around and started heading back, I was feeling better, and the last three miles went by pretty quickly.

On the Rocky Steps, people frequently will run up them once and then do the Rocky Victory Dance. I always felt weird doing this without doing all the work from the montage beforehand, because part of what he’s celebrating is all of that time and effort he’s put into training. However, after running 31 miles, I felt like there was no better time to do the victory dance than today.

Victory!

Will took a video as I ran up the steps (fortunately, his microphone wasn’t good enough to catch my awesome/ridiculous self-motivational songs) and did the Rocky Victory Dance. The video is below!

Our attempt to jump in celebration of our finish.

There were a few others there who had finished right before me, and the Runner’s World photographer took a picture of us. He asked us if we could jump for a photo, and we all enthusiastically declared we could. After taking a couple of pictures, Will and I headed back down the steps. Will informed me that we all looked ridiculous attempting to jump and had barely left the ground.

While it wasn’t an official race, I did PR for my 50k time, with a 5:11 – not bad.

This was probably my favorite race that I’ve run on the East Coast since coming to Wharton. It had all of the things I like about running; it was fun, a little silly, very relaxed, friendly, social, and geographically exploratory. I liked seeing parts of Philly I hadn’t seen before, and I liked meeting other local ultrarunners. Wharton students don’t get outside of the “Wharton bubble” very frequently, and this was a cool opportunity to do just that.

Marathon #47 – Philly Marathon (for a second time!)

On Sunday, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon for the second time. It was awesome to see lots of my Wharton running friends on the course and on the sidelines. Even in a crowd of 30,000+ runners, it really felt like there was a community of runners there and I was a part of it.

There isn’t too much to report on this one – it was a pretty straightforward race, and logistically super easy (the start line is about a mile and a half from my house). The course is fun because we run through the closed streets of Philly, which means a lot more when you live in a city, I’ve found.

I finished in ~3:53, which doesn’t suck, but my first half was a 1:48 … so I probably could have paced myself better!

Here are some photos from the race.

Dat quad muscle! This is from somewhere on the course

 

Lol that guy on his phone behind me. There were a weirdly high number of people just chatting it up on their cell phones this race …?! Is this a new thing?

Crossing the finish line. I started 8-9 minutes after the gun (which is what the timer is based on)

Just after finishing

Me and Will! He finished in 2:52:xx … so, pretty fast (and a NY qualifying time, according to the new standards!)

That’s all for now! Got a couple of fun races coming up in the next few weeks … so look forward to those. =)

Leave Nothing on the Table

I rarely plan races very far in advance. Usually, I’ll see a race happening in about a week, sign up, awkwardly taper for five days, then run it. This has the benefit of allowing for no anxiety buildup; because I wasn’t *really* training anyway, there’s no pressure to meet a certain goal. It’s just a fun run.

In organizational psychology, there’s a theory called normative influence. It’s a fancy way of saying that individuals get sucked into doing or thinking the same things as a larger group. Which is a fancy way of saying “peer pressure.”

I’ve been signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon for about five months, which is a lot of lead time. My fellow business school students have been training hard for this race. I found myself doing what they did: following a training plan, scheduling long runs, adding in speed work. This isn’t a bad thing – just a little unusual for me.

Probably due to training enthusiasm, I ran into several problems during this prolonged training period, most of which were related to injuries and nutritional deficiencies. On race day, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was very nervous. I was hoping to run a 3:35, but didn’t really know what that meant, especially given the speed bumps along the way.

Top of the Rocky Steps pre-race.

With most races I run, I have time to think during the race. Marathons are long, and relaxing into the distance is part of what makes them enjoyable. When I run for speed, there’s no relaxation. The race is stressful and confusing and I never feel like I’m running quite fast enough. Philadelphia was more like the latter.

We woke up in the dark and jogged a mile along the river to the start line. The day was perfect; cloudy and chilly, and the course was great.

We started out at the Philadelphia Art Museum (famous for the Rocky steps!) and headed across town, through the city. Once we reached the Delaware river, we turned around and shot back the way we’d come, along a different street. This was my favorite part of the race; I felt unstoppable, flying through the closed streets of the city I live in, right past my apartment. I understood at that moment that this was the feeling I’d been training for – this light, unstoppable immortality.

Miles 8 and 9 were tricky; lots of hills. I definitely need to do more hill work; I lost some time here. My 13.1-mile split was 1:49 or so. Aiming for a 3:35, I knew I’d somehow have to run faster on the second half than I did on the first half. For the next couple of miles, I picked up the pace – it felt very achievable.

Donchak running!

Around mile 20, I was in for a surprise: my left quad cramped. In over five years and 30+ marathons, I’ve never had a cramp during a race. I really felt like my leg could have fallen out from under me – which was a really fascinating and somewhat concerning experience. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I drank electrolytes, took some caffeine, stretched, and popped an ibuprofen, hoping one of those things would help. After about a mile or so, it cleared up – but I had lost a couple of minutes I was pretty sure I couldn’t make up.

Around the 23-mile mark, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make my 3:35 goal. I had two options: give up and take it easy for the last 5k, or see just how fast I could go – even though I wasn’t going to hit my time.

I played out the post-race thought-process in my head. If I didn’t run my hardest for the last few miles, I’d always wonder what I could have done. As a good friend said, “when you have doubt, there is no doubt.”

One of my first managers was a runner as well. In one our one-on-one meetings, we talked about managing energy. He said, “I know you’re good at this – you’re a runner. You know that in the final stretch, you don’t leave anything on the table. You go for it.”

I threw down.

The last 5k were very hard, but I felt strong. I finished in 3:39:24.

While I wasn’t thrilled that I didn’t meet my goal, it was my second-fastest marathon.

All in all, it was fun to train hard with my fellow students. It also put a lot of pressure on the race, and because I didn’t quite hit the goal I was aiming for, I felt a bit deflated afterwards. I run for the enjoyment of it; not for time. Putting time goals into a race takes some of the magic out of being out there.

That being said, I still think I can hit the 3:35 mark. So I’m signed up for another race … which is 21 days away.

At the finish line with another Wharton runner. One of us ran a 2:49 marathon … can you guess which one? (Hint: it’s him.)

Behavioral Contagion – or Why I ran a Solo Marathon this Weekend

I just ran a solo marathon. Google+ makes these gifs look good.

My usual training method is somewhat ad-hoc:

  1. Run a few miles a week
  2. Run a few more miles each week
  3. One day, notice I’m running a lot of miles
  4. Sign up for a 50k race that’s three days away.

This somewhat contrasts to my new Wharton MBA classmates plans. Several of us are running the Philadelphia Marathon; my classmates are following quite rigorous training plans, which involve increasingly long weekend runs: 18, 20, 22 miles. Out of laziness with regards to my own training plan, I’ve latched on to their long runs.

Behavioral Contagion is a fascinating type of social influence. It explains why members of a social group tend to do similar things , like all face the same direction in an elevator or all order diet-busting dessert at a restaurant. It also explains why I seem to be following a training plan for this race – everyone else is doing it.

Behavioral contagion played a part in my decision to run a solo marathon this weekend. Here’s how:

  • Hogfest. On Saturday, Wharton hosted an inter-collegiate rugby tournament. I know I would be celebrating with the team that evening, and I also knew they’d be glowing from post-tournament exhaustion.  I felt like I would be missing out if I weren’t also athletically drained and able to celebrate with them.
  • 20 miles is almost 26.2 miles. I also knew that my runner colleagues would be running about 20 miles this weekend. But, in my mind, 20 miles is just an hour short of a marathon. It seems silly to not just tack on an extra 6.2 and get the marathon.

Perverse logic. But, there it is.

I thought about all of this on Thursday. True to my historical training regimen, three days later, I woke up and ran a glorious, easy, solo marathon.

The weather was amazing – just around 50*F. I ran along the river, with a very slight breeze and the sun low on the horizon. There were a few stretches of gravel path with green branches arching up on either side. It wasn’t a redwood forest, but it was gorgeous nevertheless.

The geeky runner information: My goal was to run a 4-hour marathon without feeling terrible afterwards.  I was trying to run at a consistent pace – one that didn’t feel frantic, but also that was a bit of a push. I ran my first 13.1 in 1:59:53 (just under two hours), then finished the entire run at 4:04:22 – pretty close to goal. Legs were a little wobbly around mile 16, but a Gu helped with that. Overall, this wasn’t terrible – and I think I can improve on 4:04 for Philadelphia, especially since I hadn’t tapered at all for this particular run (the total mileage for the week was 56.2).

In summary: I was “contaged” to run a solo marathon. But it was the best kind of contagion – the kind that pushes you just a little farther than you would have pushed yourself.

Also – this happened to be my 30th marathon. Yay!