The Philadelphia Half-Marathon
A Personal Journey

September 10-16, 2001
by Papa Bear

The Week

Monday:
Monday was to be the last hard workout prior to the Philly Half the following Sunday. I felt recovered from the beautiful Palisades run the previous Saturday and I was ready to go. According to my training plan, I had stayed away from all races and speed workouts until the beginning of September. Philly was to be the first real race in preparation for my running the Dublin Marathon. For the first time in almost a year I would run a race full out. Many months of hard training were behind me and now at last I would get some feedback on how I was doing. It was a long time to wait and I was a bit apprehensive. My goal for Philly was to break 1:40:00, something I hadnít done in 2Ĺ years.

The workout was 5 x 800 in 3:20. I warmed up a couple of miles and got to the 6th Street track on the East River at about 8:00 AM. I hit the intervals in 3:24, 3:17, 3:20, 3:19 and 3:20. I was exhausted but happy as I ran the mile back home as a cool down. As I said in a note to a friend that day: "The intervals went fine Ö pretty damn consistent. I am getting confident and really positive about Philly and then Dublin. Ö We can do lunch on Friday Ö you can wish me well for Philly."

Tuesday, Sept. 11 2001, 8:48 AM - the world changed:
I was on a train to visit my elderly aunt in Westchester. When we got off the train around 10:00 oíclock, we couldnít believe what we were hearing. The images on TV were like scenes from a movie. All day we spent our time watching the drama unfold and trying to call everyone, our family, our friends who worked downtown, everyone, anyone.

We couldnít get back to Manhattan and stayed overnight with my aunt. It was a sleepless night. We wondered every time we heard a plane, what it was, was it another?

Wednesday:
I thought about the half marathon I was supposed to do and I didnít know if I should go, I didnít know if it would be held, I didnít know if I could get there even if I wanted to go.

I read an email message from Ed Altman (thank God he was safe!) that there would be a group run that night in the Park in lieu of the regular speed workout. I knew it would help to go, so I went up and met the group. We had some discussion and a moment of silence and then we started north around the park. I couldnít help but think of that night in September 1995 when I ran alone along this same path in the twilight and ran by the candles in memory of Maria Montiero who was killed while running in the Park the previous Sunday. In reflection at that time I wrote: "There were flowers on one side of the road and candles lighting the twilight on the other . . . What can one do? . . . When we lose one of our own we are all diminished . . . The only answer is to help, to care, to love one another." † The flowers and candles are back again, but the same answer is true, truer today than ever before. We only have each other!

While walking back to get my bag I saw a chalk message scrawled by de la Vega on 79th Street: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind"

Thursday:
On Thursday, the web site for the Philly Half said that the event would go on as planned. I decided, based in part by the lift to my spirit from last nightís run, that I would go. I emailed those whom I knew to be going and Terry affirmed that he too felt it was the right thing to do. I took the day off from running

Later that day, my daughter Susan called from her home on Portland, Oregon and said the one thing she wished she had was an "I Love NY" T-shirt. I was touched in a nice way by this.

Friday:
It was raining on Friday morning and I went for an easy run with Sarah. We headed down along the East River Park but the deep puddles blocked our progress, so we decided to just do some loops on the 6th Street track. As we made the rounds I remembered the intervals I had done here on Monday, just 4 days but an eternity ago

Lunch with my friend was cancelled. She was going home to be with her mom. She had lost 2 close friends. "I need to go home. † Good luck this weekend. I hope that you have a great run! We're so lucky we can run." Yes, we are so very lucky!

I found a poem on the Internet written by the English Poet Siegfried Sassoon, who served in the trenches in World War I. The Dragon and the Undying - published in 1917. I found it strangely prophetic, and the images perhaps more relevant today than they were at the time they were set down:

The Dragon and the Undying
by Siegfried Sassoon (1917)

All night the flares go up; the Dragon sings
And beats upon the dark with furious wings;
And, stung to rage by his own darting fires,
Reaches with grappling coils from town to town;
He lusts to break the loveliness of spires,
And hurls their martyred music toppling down

Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze,
Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder'd seas.
Their faces are the fair, unshrouded night,
And planets are their eyes, their ageless dreams.
Tenderly stooping earthward from their height,
They wander in the dusk with chanting streams,
And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms up-flung,
To hail the burning heavens they left unsung

Saturday:
I took the train down to Philadelphia but didnít find anyone I knew either at the station or on the train. I got to the hotel and checked in and then went in to get my number. The energy of the crowd felt good and except for some grating music that seemed out of place, it was good to be with these fit and energetic folks. I met up with David and Marge Kos and we did a little catching up. I then bumped into Moninne from my Tuesday night group, and then I saw Joel, Simone, Jay and finally Terry and Anne. It was good to be among friends.

I wasnít up for anything organized, so I wandered down to the lobby to decide where to go by myself. There I unexpectedly ran into my old friend C. She had a happy glowing look on her face and somehow seemed to escape the somberness most people were feeling. She came over and, after a hug, said: "Iím expecting twins". This short announcement literally turned my mood around. The wonder and excitement of new life drove away the negative thoughts, and some of Cís happiness infected me.

Then I saw Debbie and Joel, together with some of their group, and realizing I belonged with friends, I invited myself along to the dinner they had organized. We took a few cabs to the Spaghetti Warehouse, and there we met more of the group. † We had a fun meal where talk alternated between politics and personal matters: a new girl friend, a hair color, what to have for dessert. I was pretty somber, and mostly stayed out of the conversation, but when I looked over at C, her obvious happy glow cheered my spirit. We returned to the hotel, very full and tired, and I slept better than I had for the last 4 nights.

The Race

Sunday, Race day:
I got up about 6:30 AM and was remarkably well organized, considering my mental state. I ate something and got dressed for the race. I jogged to the start, about a mile. There some Gospel Music was playing loudly on the PA system, but this time it was more uplifting than grating.

Before the start we had a moment of silence, and then the race organizer read off two bib numbers of people who were registered to be here, but were lost in the tragedy. One was for a woman named Danielle who was just turning 30. This was a chilling moment. We then held hands and all sang "God Bless America" which was quite moving. I did my best to focus on the task at hand and I was determined to do my best, and in so doing try to affirm life in the face of death.

The Start:
When the horn went off (Iím glad this time it wasnít a gun) we surged forward. My part of the pack had a few bumps and stops, but by the actual starting line we were running free. The race starts down Market Street and goes over a long highway overpass just in sight of the Delaware River and turns back, emptying into Walnut Street. This is a lovely street of shops and parks.

I never did see the marker for mile 1, but I tried to rein in my excitement and get into a steady pace. I was supposed to run the first two miles in 7:45s, but there was no way to know.

Mile 2, 15:20:
At the 2nd mile mark, the clock said 15:20. I thought I had lost about 15 seconds at the start so this gives a bit over a 7:30 pace, a bit too fast, but what can you do. (Couldnít go back, thatís for sure.) Later I would discover that the actual start delay was close to 30 seconds, so the first 2 miles averaged 7:26. Itís probably better I didnít know this at the time Ė one more thing to worry about.

Mile 3, 7:34:
As we came around the traffic circle by the museum, just before crossing over the river, I tried to lock myself into a steady rhythm. I repeated the mantra:
[Smooth, strong. Smooth, strong.]
and fell into a more consistent, controlled pace. I noticed that underneath my mantra, another rhythm, an inner cadence, came into my mind.
[dum da da dumdedum]
I realized it was the tune "God Bless America" which had gotten into my head and would stay there for the entire race. I seized onto it to help steady my pace. Very often while I run, a tune will keep me company for mile after mile.
[From the mountains, to the prairies,
From the mountains, to the prairies,]
I pushed the pace slightly to get under 7:30 per mile and felt strong as we crossed to the west side of the Schuylkill River.

Mile 4, 7:28:
As we started moving down the lovely parkway along the river, I noticed the beautiful old trees along both sides. I had a fleeting thought of the image of the spirits embodied in the trees in the Sassoon poem, and also thought of how this country is not just steel and concrete, brick and mortar, but trees, water and all the beauty of nature together with strong determined people like those around me now, which could not be taken from us.
[From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam.]

Mile 5, 7:20:
Miles 4 and 5 had been solid and strong. For some reason my thoughts suddenly turned to cell phones and those poignant messages that went out from those facing death. I though to myself what would I say if I could call Joy or the kids one last time, and had only a few seconds to talk? In practically all the conversations we read about, no one talked of hate or of revenge. It was just one thing. It was everything. "I love you". In the end there is nothing else.
[I love you. I love you
I love you. I love you.]

Mile 6, 7:34:
After a couple of miles on the parkway my pace fell off slightly and I knew I needed some help. Ahead of me I saw a young man who looked strong who was running just slightly faster than me. Call him "Red Shorts, No Shirt" (RSNS). I connected myself to RSNS and let him pull me along. I slowly closed the gap and stayed with him for about 2 miles.

Mile 7, 7:26:
My pace and strength was steady but I noticed a slight twinge in my right hamstring. I decided to squelch this with a new mantra:
[Strong form, strong form.
Strong form, strong form.]
At around 8 miles we cross Falls Bridge back to the east side of the Schuylkill and head back to the finish. As we approached the bridge I was able to pass RSNS and move ahead. My hamstring felt better but now I needed a new helper.
[Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.]

Mile 8, 7:26:
The marker for mile 8 is right in the middle of the bridge. When I hit my watch, I somehow hit the wrong button, and suddenly it was off in some weird mode. I was discombobulated and almost decided to give up keeping my splits, but finally I pulled myself together, got my watch back into the right mode and relaxed. Itís funny how a little unexpected stupid thing like that can break your concentration. I looked for another helper and saw "Woman with Short Hair and Tattoo" (WWSH&T). But after trying for a couple of minutes, I couldnít hold on to her, so I cast about, without success, for another helper.

Mile 9, 7:21:
At mile 9 WWSH&T started coming back to me so I made another attempt to connect. This time I could hold on and I felt that, unlike last year at his point, my strength would not fall off in these backstretch miles. I held on to WWSH&T.
[Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,]

Mile 10, 7:26:
By mile 10, I knew I would make my goal of 1:40. But wouldnít you know it, a voice in my head started to say: "OK, youíve made your goal, now slow down". I pushed to resist this temptation and hold my pace. It was not so hard physically as it was mentally.

Mile 11, 7:21:
Around mile 11, I was running next to WWSH&T. She had helped me through this difficult period and I felt bad to move ahead of her but I knew I must do that. As RSNS had done, WWSH&T had done what she had come here to do.
[From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam.]
The 12th mile goes up a gradual incline to the Museum. Hardly perceptible if you were driving, this mile can sap your remaining strength and slow your pace if you are unprepared Ė physically or mentally.

Mile 12, 7:34:
The split was slightly slower, but the incline was past and now there was nothing left to do but just do it. My mind and body complained that surely I could slow down now, but I endeavored to go on. I tried to look good for the photographer at the traffic circle but Iím afraid I just looked beat Ė which I was.

There was no 13th mile marker, but later I calculated I had done a 7:19 for this last full mile. Donít ask me how this came to be my fastest mile, but I guess I just hung in there. I wish there was a way to remember how to make these efforts, but it just has to happen when it happens. In the last .1 mile, who should pass me, but RSNS!. But this was OK, he had done what he came for, and now he could do his own thing. At the last, weíre all on our own.
[God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, my home, sweet home!]

Finish, 1:38:03 (chip 1:37:35):
Home! Yes, home, sweet home. Staggering past the finish line, I was exhausted, almost sick. I had given it my best shot. My time was very satisfying, and there was no doubt that the positive energy had trumped the negative. At the last weíre not all on our own, but weíre all together! My time was the best I have done in 4 years and my pace was more consistent than I had ever done before. At long last, my training showed some real positive feedback

I got some refreshments and started to look for friends who had finished, and I noticed that subconsciously, my inner cadence had changed itís tune. No longer was "God Bless America" going through my head but suddenly it was that old Sinatra Favorite: "New York, New York". Maybe it was the conversations with strangers who, seeing my New York Flyer singlet, would ask: "Are you from there?" "Did you know anyone?" It was clear that people from everywhere cared a great deal about our hometown. The tune would simply not leave my head and stayed in my subconscious even on the train ride home.

[Start spreadiní the news, Iím leaviní today,
I want to be a part of it - New York, New York.]

I bumped into WWSH&T on the refreshment line and thanked her for pulling me along from mile 9 through 11. She recognized me and thanked me also. She said I had helped pull her along and had finished just seconds behind me. It was good to know that energy can flow both ways and can help both, when two runners are pushing each other. (Or two peolple are helping each other!)

[These vagabond shoes are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it - New York, New York.]

I found first David and then almost at the same time, Marge Kos. I caught them right at the finish, so they were exhausted, looking for water, for relief, for food. I helped direct them to the food and headed back that way myself.

[I wanna wake up in a city that doesnít sleep
And find Iím king of the hill - top of the heap.]

I then found Anne, who was literally beaming; she had run a 6-minute PR! I told her I was very happy with my time too, but no, it was not a PR. (My PR was in 1990 and I wonít be seeing that again.)

[These little town blues are melting away,
Iíll make a brand new start of it in old New York.]

I circled back again and ran into first Jay and then Moninne, Jo, Joel and Debbie and the whole Tuesday night group together with the crowd I had dinner with last night. There was a general feeling of accomplishment from everyone concerned. And then there was C, just standing there, glowing with a new life force.

[If I can make it there, Iíll make it anywhere
Itís up to you - New York, New York.]

Going Home

I finally headed back to the hotel to clean up and check out. And as I walked from the hotel to Suburban Station around noon, the whole race setup was practically dismantled. I suppose the local travelers were glad to see this disruption to their everyday life gone.

[I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps,
And find Iím A number one, top of the list, king of the hill, A number one.]

The train ride home was long and tiresome. I didnít find another runner on the entire train, first the SEPTA train to Trenton, and then the NJ Transit train from Trenton to Penn Station. Numerous passengers got on, especially at 30th Street station and at Princeton. The car was filled to overflowing, with some passengers actually standing. I sat crammed into a seat with two young Princeton co-eds who were talking about doing their laundry and other day-to-day inanities. It seemed an inordinately crowded train for mid Sunday afternoon. My stiff, tired legs were uncomfortably stuffed into the seat in front of me.

[These little town blues are melting away
Iím gonna make a brand new start of it in old New York.]

When we passed the Newark station and crossed the Jersey Meadows, I glanced at the lower Manhattan skyline and got my first good glimpse of that empty, ghostly skyline. My head was filled with things that couldnít be put into words.

[And If I can make it there, Iím gonna make it anywhere,
Itís up to you - New York, New York.]

Finally the train entered the tunnel, and I thought: It sure feels good to be home.

We're gonna make a brand new start of it in old New York
Yes, we can make it here, theyíll see it everywhere,
Itís up to us - New York, New York.

Postscript

Friday, Sept. 21, 2001, 2:17 PM:
Life and love have the last word! Jarod, my first grandchild, is born.



Back to Papa Bear's home page


Comments? Suggestions? Send me a note.