Today's Mighty Oak

Race information

  • What? Pittsburgh Marathon (and 5K: Steel Challenge)
  • When? May 5, 2019 (and May 4)
  • How far? 26.2 miles
  • Where? Pittsburgh, Pa.


Mandatory ADon’t get injuredYes
Mandatory BThank the volunteersYes
Mandatory CGet some sweet high fivesYes
DPR the marathonYes
EStretch goal: PR the 5KYes

Marathon Pace Splits



I’m training for my first ultra in June, but still wanted to run the Pittsburgh full, so I swapped two weeks in my plan without too much trouble. I had a few weeks off due to some IT Band and then other knee issues, but ended up rallying back and having my biggest weekly mileage ever the week before this race week, so no taper for the marathon.

Pre-race: 5K

This was my first race ever, and always a good time and benchmark. Headed down to the North Shore, met up with some friends and headed over to the start line. Like last year, the DJ was decent, so that was a plus.


I didn’t have much of a goal for this, but a stretch was to PR, while still not pushing myself. Lots of jostling of crowds at the beginning, but it spread out after the first mile or so. Enjoyed the run through the North Shore, although it was super muggy. Tackled the hill on the bridge, through downtown and down to the finish line for the first time that weekend, shaving about a minute off my 5K!

Post-race: 5K

As is custom, met friends at ‘Lost Child’ and regrouped to head to the Toddler Trot where my friend’s 2-year old was running. I’ve never watched the Toddler Trot, but it was a great time. At least one child per heat would just sit down on the ground and refuse to move, but there were lots of cute moments and the crowd support was a lot of fun for this.

That evening, the Frontrunners did a pasta party, where we all gathered at one of our member’s home for a big potluck. Caught up with some friends I haven’t seen in a while and enjoyed the company.

Pre-race: Marathon

Woke up early, after a good night of sleep and went to the busway to catch a ride downtown. Local bus authority added “extra service” which meant a bus at 4 a.m. and a bus at 4:10 a.m., then regular service starting at 6 a.m. This is not what was publicized, but ended up making it downtown with plenty of time, despite the issues. Upon exiting the busway, everyone headed left. My friend and I turned right to go to an entire bank of unused portos!

Dropped off my bag at gear check (took a picture of which truck number for easy retrieval) and we headed towards the corrals. Ran into another friend, took a quick selfie, then she was off to the faster runners. Made friends in the start corral with a mother and daughter both running their first half to commemorate their recently dead mother/grandmother, which was sweet. We answered questions they had about the city and the race process, and wished them luck. We moved up as the corals were released, running through the drizzle.

Miles [0] to [11]

My race partner and I chatted for a while, entertaining ourselves and other random runners on the course. I got so excited that I missed the mile markers for 5 and 6, so I adjusted my nutrition a bit to get back on track. Was feeling good, although we stopped to use a porto around mile 4, but otherwise, just clicking off miles. The area around Allegheny Commons is always great, so enjoyed the crowd support through there.

After the first relay exchange, we picked up two more runners, one of which was his first race as part of a relay team, and he joined our conversation (we were talking about the importance of science) and stuck with us. As we came near the end of the West end Bridge, we could hear the polka band, and it did not disappoint. Turning onto Carson, we made our way towards Station Square where our relay friend left us.

Up on Carson Street proper in the South Side is always a big crowd, and I encouraged those walking to go grab a drink, most of he bars were open anyway. We approached the split, and I said goodbye to my friend who was running the half, leaving me alone to make new friends by myself as I ran the extra block then up and across the Birmingham Bridge.

Miles [11] to [26.2]

Running up the bridge, I fell quickly in with two other runners, both of which running their first fulls (despite one having finished a half Ironman already). I gave them some encouragement (which included cursing at the bridge beneath our feet), and we got across before making our way up The Monster into Oakland. I ran up with no problems, although the top of the hill is always a bit sad, as the schools of Oakland have already graduated and the neighborhood is a bit empty. However, as I was running near the museums, a spectator handed out icepops, and I ended up stopping with two guys who remembered me and my silly antics from the year before!

The part of the course down fifth (with a short diversion onto Walnut) can be brutal mentally, but I got some orange slices from spectators, so it was decent. On said detour, a friend of mine was out on his porch, so I looked out for him and got some cheers. Hit the next relay station at Mellon Park and we headed to the next mentally grueling part, Penn Avenue; this just seems to go forever. Grabbed a beer and more orange slices, made a few jokes; wasn’t too bad.

Around this time was when I found spotted some really good eye candy, so I just tucked in behind them and tried to keep up whenever I was falling behind. Left turn onto Braddock brings you to Homewood, which was rocking this year! The crowd support was amazing and a great boost.

At this point, I hadn’t seen a pacer in a while. I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to knock 20 minutes off my PR to break 5 hours. I looked up and saw the 4:45 pacer and couldn’t believe it. I caught up with her small group, and we chatted a bit. My mind told me to stay with them, to reign myself in a bit and and just finish strong, I remembered I had at least three decent rolling hills to get past still. My hearts said I had more in the tank, so I took off.

Ran through Larimer and Highland Park before hitting the last relay exchange. I passed the two guys and told them how much I appreciated running behind them and off I went. Clicking off miles, finally hitting my favorite crowd support section near Church Brew Works. The wall of crowd support is great, but as I grabbed a beer from the Hashers, noticed that an ex-coworker of mine was there on the sidewalk. The man is a giant, bigoted asshole and made my life a living hell for two years. Had I not been running I would have stopped to tell him off, but I let that anger power me as I ran down to the Strip and back to downtown.

The return trip down Liberty is also mentally grueling, but I was ready for it, I just keyed into my music, tried to find some zen and take a bit of time for some catharsis and reflecting on the fact that I don’t have to work with that waste of a human anymore.

Saw team members right as I was heading into downtown, and I got some quick updates on how everyone was doing/did, which was a great boost! Made the second to last turn and was trucking along, counting off the lights before I could turn onto the Boulevard of the Allies. Quick chat with someone else who was also in the Pain Cave, and I told her, once we hit that McDonalds, if you have it, that’s when you start to really kick. Sure enough, we get there, and we both kick it up another notch. I felt my chest burning, so held back just a bit for a quarter mile more, then rounded the corner and kicked for the finish line.

My goal was to cut 20 minutes off and break 5 hours. Chip time: 4:33:12.

Post-race: Marathon

It rained most of the second half of this race, and I just wanted to be dry; the temperature had been a bit lower than the 5K the day before, and the steady rain helped to at least make it feel like the humidity wasn’t as much an issue, but it was still less than ideal. Went through the chute, which is a feat unto itself (I have implored the marathon the last two years to give us the bag to collect water, chips, fruit, bananas, bagels and cookies after the medals and heat-sheets, not at the very end, but I have been ignored) and headed out towards the finish line festival. Ran into two team mates, congratulated them and then collected my Steel Challenge medal before doing a bit of stretching and meeting up with some of the Frontrunners.

I had to pee since about mile 19, but ignored it. Finally, about half an hour after finishing, remembered I needed to, but it was brown. Pretty sure it was just dehydration, but I stopped at the medical tent just to double check. Doubled up my water the rest of the day and was fine, but the combination of the humidity and Nuun Sport (instead of Gatorade) was just a weird mix for me, even though I had trained with the Nuun.

Grabbed the T (subway) back to my bus station, and was lucky enough to get on the bus just before it left, saving me about half an hour. I did some stretching on the bus, and wound up exiting the same stop as a volunteer. I thanked her for doing it, it was the first year she did, so I told her I oped she would do it again next year.

What’s next, mental health and lessons learned

My goal race is coming up in five weeks! Have a down week this week then one more big push before I head off to tackle my first ultra. I’m glad this race helped me to better remember to go in and accept the weather with everyone else, as well as teaching me a bit about how to stay better hydrated, although I’ll be happy to return to the world of real food for fueling instead of gels.

I had two weeks off, followed by one week on, and then another two weeks off, due to injury. During those times, I really had a tough time mentally, not only because exercise helps me keep better control of my emotions and mental health, but also because I put far too much stock on the number my scale says. Yes, I still have a bit to go and need to continue working on being healthy (with a holistic approach, not just a number), but after losing a significant chunk of weight, I’m realizing I have a more complicated and messed up relationship with my body than I care to admit, and I need to work on those things.

Recognizing these problems is a good first step, so hopefully, with some help, I can put together some sort of plan to explore these issues and find some resolution.

I basically repeated what I tried before, but with a small change. I had half a Bobo’s Bar the first two loops, and while I liked it, I was not drinking quite enough, so it was a bit tougher to swallow.

But generally, I still love the Bobo’s Bars, I’m glad they’re a normal part of my fuel now.

This was paired with Nuun sport, which I’m actually liking more and more. I think it’s a bit expensive, and I’m still unsure why the marathon switched from Gatorade, but it’s a good alternative, and I’m enjoying the mango flavor.

My last loop, I had another complete cookie (I found that they do a small version, so each cookie is 200 calories), this time, the birthday cake flavor. I liked the mint a lot better: for whatever reason, the birthday cake one was more solid and I liked the chocolate mint one being soft and basically melting in my mouth.

What a crazy week! This week and next are shaping up to be almost as busy, so no rest for the wicked I suppose.

  • Monday: 7 miles. Tiny loops in my neighborhood, which made for a good start to heat and pollen acclimation.
  • Tuesday: 10 miles. Spent the day north of Pittsburgh at an off-site meeting, which always throws a monkey wrench into things.
  • Wednesday: 6 miles. Day two off off-site meetings.
  • Thursday: Rest day.
  • Friday: 14 miles. Tiny loops (with the occasional stop at my basement). Lots of rain and mist and wind, but overall, feeling pretty good.
  • Saturday: 5 miles. Ran with a friend on City Island in Harrisburg! Met Steve from my Ultra Team, PRorER and we got in some miles between the two 5K races that were going on that day. The wind was brutal and we both had to fight against it, but it was so wonderful to run with him!
  • Sunday: 18 miles. I wanted to get in some of the miles I missed, plus this gave me an impromptu Stupid Week!
  • Core/strength: None this week, back at it next week.

Reading last week’s post, I enjoyed that I just threw out the advice to not run big the week before the marathon. No one is better at moving goalposts than ultra runners I suppose.

This week ended up being my biggest week of running ever, at 60 miles for the week! Previously, I had gotten to 48 (I think, I’ll have to double check this). While it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do so close to the marathon, I have to remember that the race on Sunday, at least for me, is just a supported long run, my goal race is Eagle Up.

The knee still felt a bit twingey at times, but honestly, doing 60 miles in a week will do that. And the fact that I hit this new mileage distance without having to stop is a great sign. I still think I’m at about 90%, so I’m hoping another week of stretching helps even more.

Race week is always a fun and exciting time, although I have trips to Ohio for work both this week and the day after the marathon, so that’s putting a damper on things. I’ve been trying to balance my miles and speedwork with both hills and flats, to help with both the marathon and Eagle Up, and both have been very beneficial. I feel like so much of both days is going to come down to the weather, keeping my fingers crossed for cloud cover!

Race reports owed: Jackpot.

  • Monday: 5 miles. Ran to the original cast recording of “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” of course.
  • Tuesday: 7 miles. Tiny loops in my neighborhood. Also did the first training mission of the Zombies, Run! Spring Virtual Race, the Train to Oban!
  • Wednesday: 10 miles.
  • Thursday: Rest day.
  • Friday: Rest day.
  • Saturday: Rest day.
  • Sunday: 6 miles. Easter Sunday, so I got some running in before hosting the family for dinner. Notes below.
  • Core/strength: None this week, back at it next week.

Slowly ramping back up during the week was good, but my knee was still shot. But let’s take this story all the way back to middle school, when I was in physical therapy for chondromalacia patella. Basically, the knee cap in my left leg used to go sideways instead of up and down. Well, it seems that my right knee decided to get in the action as well, after all these years!

So while I probably did have (and continue) to have some IT band issues, I also needed to include specific stretches for my kneecap. So I dusted those off after my run on Sunday on a whim, and felt about 80% better within half an hour.

As I write this today, I’m walking without pain in my knee, and honestly, for the first time, feel really confident about the marathon again. I have two 20-milers and one 22 miler under my belt already, and while yes, I did miss my 24, I’m not going to do that the week before the marathon to make it up.

My goal right now is to nail both the marathon and my 50K training run, then I can glide into Eagle Up confident and ready to go. It’s been a huge roller coaster of emotion, and I’m sure it’s not done, my knees may still act up, who knows, but for now, I’m excited again and raring to go.

I think, so much of me is just ready to get back to long hours alone with my thoughts, running and processing. I look forward to that time, and I’m excited to get back to it. Part of me, even while knowing it was wrong, was stuck in a loop thinking these weeks of training had been for nothing. I’ve made big gains this cycle, and while I hope they pay off in a new marathon PR, even if they don’t, I can still look back and see how far I’ve come.

Race reports owed: Jackpot.

Alright, let’s see what we have today. First up, the teaser for Star Wars, Episode IX is out:

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series is headed to Numenor, and that’s a good thing!

Speaking of Tolkien, there is a new biopic coming out about the man, which I had no idea. The trailer looks good:

The far, far right has taken over Brazil, and they are systematically removing all LGBT references in school textbooks.

The author of The Frontrunner, where my running club gets its name, has died. She was just recently made the first honorary lifetime member by Frontrunners International.

That’s it for now, have a great one!

One of my recurring posts.  Happy Easter!

I called my long run after 12 miles, but still had a chance to try some new fuel. After my first loop, had half a Bobo’s Bar, and after my second loop (when I thought I’d be able to go for more), I had half of a ‘Complete Cookie.’

I really liked the Complete Cookie, I’m a sucker for chocolate and mint, and it was super soft and easy to eat. The downsides are one, they’re expensive, and two, each cookie (which is huge by the way), is 400 calories. So maybe that’s something I’ll keep in my back pocket for the later hours of a race, a quick and delicious way to get more fuel than I otherwise would, plus a fun treat!

  • Monday: Rest day.
  • Tuesday: 7 miles plus speedwork: hill repeats. Went down to the Frontrunners early to grab some extra miles and get my speedwork before seeing them all at the end. Ended up seeing two harps as well as a race friend from the 20 miler!
  • Wednesday: 10 miles.
  • Thursday: 5 miles. Had a meeting right after work, skipped the meeting after the meeting to get in my miles.
  • Friday: Rest day.
  • Saturday: 5 miles. Saturday morning was the Harvey Milk Day of Service, so Gay4Good was out with Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership, this time, cleaning up the Mon Wharf. Hit the gym after before seeing a show that night.
  • Sunday: 12 miles. Oh god, all hail broke loose. It was supposed to drizzle a bit, then clear up, then pour all afternoon. I hit the trail just as it was drizzling a bit. Then it hailed. The temperature fell and it stayed nasty for the entire jail trail loop. The rain got worse on the second loop, and I ended up not being able to move my fingers. I stopped for the traffic crossing, and my knee screamed out when I started up again. I stretched and got back to the car, going slow for a while, but still running. Stopped again to assess, and my knee yelled at me as I took off down the trail. The rain got worse, and I decided to call it. Had 24 planned, but that didn’t happen.
  • Core/strength: None this week, back at it next week.

It was a great week of training until my long run. I’m really, really trying to not let that get me too down. I was prepared for what the weather was supposed to be, but the combination of cold and my knee made the decision the smart one, it took me longer than I care to admit to actually warm up, even after I got home.

I did spent more time with the TENS unit, and am planning to continue that, as well as to keep on stretching my legs and rolling my muscles. I’ll keep moving forward I suppose and see what happens. If I feel up to it, I’d like to take this long run and do it next weekend, that would still give me a two week taper to my marathon and help me get the mileage in for Eagle Up.

Race reports owed: Jackpot.

My long run was only 14 miles this week, but on the jail trail loop, gave me a chance to go past my car twice. Tried out nutter butters, which a friend uses as fuel for marathons, as well as ultras.

I grabbed two each time, and they were okay. But nothing spectacular I suppose, and maybe a little dry. However, I love peanut butter, so for a good mental boost, they’ll be something I’ll remember in the future!

  • Monday: 3 miles. Just going slow and feeling things out. IT Band is feeling better, still have a weird knot/dead spot in my calf, but had a session with a TENS unit, which seemed to help.
  • Tuesday: 6 miles, ‘increaser.’ For my speedwork this week, I did what Higdon refers to as a tempo run (but no other coach does), and my team lovingly calls an increaser: increasing the speed consistently throughout the run. Felt good to open up a bit, and my leg held up.
  • Wednesday: 4 miles. Just getting some more miles in at the gym.
  • Thursday: Rest day.
  • Friday: Rest day.
  • Saturday: 14 miles. My first big test of my leg after these two weeks. A few aches and pains, but nothing out of the ordinary (especially when I realize I did five miles in two weeks, and then came back into a 40+ mile week). No real IT band pain, so I just need to keep up on everything.
  • Sunday: 10 miles. Got some treadmill miles in, partially so I could catch up on some TV, but also, I’ve found I have to slowly acclimate myself to heat, and as it seems we might be skipping spring again this year, I didn’t want to push my luck with the weather and allergens.
  • Core/strength: BWF Recommended Routine once, would like to keep it up at at least twice a week, so I’ll keep working on that.

I’m so glad I’m back at it, and as much as I know I didn’t lose that much fitness in two weeks, combined with the quickly warming weather, it certainly feels like I have.

I’ll be confident in my return after this upcoming week’s long run (24 miles), but I’m really happy with how far I’ve come. The marathon is less than a month away, and yes, I’m treating it as a supported long run, but in the back of my mind I did also have a goal time in mind. I’m not confident I’ll make it, but I just need to work on making myself okay with that.

The Pittsburgh Marathon is tough, both in terms of weather and course. It’s also a great experience with amazing crowd support, so maybe with just a little bit of believing in myself, I’ll be able to make it happen, but I won’t be too bent out of shape if I don’t; the real goal is completing some ultra distance at EU the month after.

Race reports owed: Jackpot.

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