I don’t know how it happened. I woke up at 5 a.m. on Sunday with a scratch in the back of my throat. Not concerned, I slipped on my race day gear, carefully placed out the night before. Bib? Check. All-red outfit so my dad won’t miss me? Check. Visor? Check. I was ready to go. I woke up my friend Emile who had come along on the journey to stay with my parents in my small hometown of Pitman, N.J. I ate my bagel, drank half a cup of coffee and jumped in the car. Time for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. I was excited. I’d never run through the heart of Philadelphia before and the last Rock ‘n’ Roll race I ran was my first marathon. Let it be known that I have to read about it to remember much after mile 14.
With gear on and tired bodies in the car, we were en route. One thing I love about Rock ‘n’ Roll races is the pre- and post-race energy. Starting 72 hours ahead of time #rnrphilly was dominating my social media feeds and 13.1 was bouncing around all over my brain. The race expo was fun and exciting with a variety of awesome vendors and great speakers. I was bummed to miss RunWESTIN Concierge Chris Heuisler but was thrilled to catch Bernard Lagat who just missed the American 5K record that morning.
I got to the race full of jitters – unusual for me, but something was just a little off. Out of nowhere I hear a “Natalie DiBlasio!” I turned around to find who else? My high school principal and, more importantly, one of my favorite people in the world. Of all places to bump into her! It was just the jolt of positive energy I needed.
After a few (dozen) photos and a promise to text each other after the race, she headed to her corral and I headed to the start to try to catch a glimpse of Deena Kastor and Kara Goucher. They were both easy to spot and opposite ends of the start line. I couldn’t even contain myself. I was fangirling all over the place. Deena Kastor smiled at me when I gave her a thumbs up. I almost fell over.
As soon as the gun went off I hugged my dad and Emile goodbye and hurried to my corral. I was alarmed at how easy it was to find my way and get in. Fabulous race day organization, friendly crowds and likely the fact that I was in an earlier corral – #6 – made an easy start. About 30 seconds between corrals and then we were off!
The beginning part of the course looped through Center City Philadelphia with stints on Market Street and Arch Street. It was humid and overcast, but still a great way to see the city. I knew something was off at mile 3. This had been billed as a speedy course and I always get caught up in the race day atmosphere, but this time – I was struggling. I was able to push it and keep myself on pace, but it was a real challenge. Around mile 5 we looped back around the starting area and I knew to look for my dad and Emile. I spotted them and excitedly ran over to give my dad a high-five, accidentally smacking the woman next to him in the cheer squad. Sorry ma’am!
Again, I am easily excitable and seeing someone I know keeps my energy up for the next mile or so – but not this time. My mile 6 I was back to struggling. Even with the heat and humidity, this was not something I’d ever felt before. My body just couldn’t do it. I kept on pushing and kept pace, but at mile 8, it hit me. I started to feel feverish. Just about at the turnaround I started to slow a bit. Stopping at the water stop near mile 11 to dump water on my head and cool off. I got myself back together and powered through to the end. Throughout the entire experience, I was looking around at the beautiful scenery, smiling at the friendly volunteers and wondering why these things couldn’t get me to snap out of it. I had rested, I had fueled. What was going on? As I passed the mile 12 mark and needed to stop at a water stop – I knew my body was off. Stopping in the last few miles is just not in the cards usually. I powered through the 13 and the 13.1 and deliriously waddled through the finish area.
I was freezing. Somewhere between the scratchy throat and the finishline, I had gotten sick. Very sick. I found my family, got my bag and headed straight for the car. I didn’t even have the energy to be bummed to miss the awesome bands performing or to miss catching up with my running friends. Now it’s Thursday, four days later and I am just emerging from my sick coma. I spent Sunday night to Thursday morning taking antibiotics for a sinus infection, drinking fluids galore and getting more sleep than my body knew was possible. Wednesday I texted my running partner, wondering if I’d ever run again – chances were looking grim. Wednesday night I woke up from my three-day stupor ready to go. 30 days until the Marine Corps Marathon? YES.
Now that I can breathe out of my nose and can see straight, I wanted to recap what a fabulous race Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly was. Photographers everywhere, clearly marked corrals, clearly marked course, tons of aid stations, friendly volunteers (I even got a kick out of one troop of elementary school cheerleaders who seemed to all be crying) and a gorgeous course. My dad snapped these photos of Deena Kastor after her epic win. Four world records? No prob for Deena.
No doubt about it, I’ll be back at this race next year! If all goes well, I’ll be sinus infection free! My finish time was 1:56:09 in 8:51 splits – far off from my 1:49 PR but a huge triumph for a sick lady on a hot day. Plus, the 8:51s were the right speed for a pace run for my sub 4-hour marathon goal. We’ll see. Lesson learned: sickness derails. Drink fluids, rest up, rest some more then get back out there. Also, bananas.