What? Pittsburgh Marathon (and 5K, Steel Challenge)
When? May 6, 2018
How far? 26.2 miles
Where? Pittsburgh, Pa.
|M1||Mandatory: Thank volunteers||Oh yeah|
|M2||Mandatory: High five some people||Epic high fives!|
|M3||Mandatory: Have a happy run||Of course|
This was my first marathon, and with the success I’ve had with his plans before, I did Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 marathon plan. It increased my mileage in a smart way, and for the first time ever, I’ve run over 100 miles a month (actually, for four months in a row!).
Generally I’ve felt pretty good, my legs have been sore, but in a good way, and I’ve been diligent with stretching and rolling, which has really helped, as I feel like I’m prone to ITBS. While I didn’t have any real ITBS problems this time around, my knees took a bit of a beating, but never more than normal wear and tear I think. After all, this was a big increase in mileage for me. I added in some body weight work each day, and that helped a ton too. January I did planks, February and March I did squats and April I did push-ups. I need to keep that up!
Due to the strange winter/not-spring we’ve had, I did a lot of winter running. I did a long run on a treadmill due to icy roads, and a long run doing ⅓ mile loops in my neighborhood with a windchill of negative eight, but all things considered, those were good mental exercises as well. For the vast majority of my runs, I could enjoy being basically alone (or dodging college students or cyclists. I ran a super windy half marathon halfway through as a tune-up race, and set a PR there. I only missed one run due to waiting on a plumber (but at least I had hot water after that!), although there is always some shuffling of days due to work travel.
I ran a 20-miler, and had hoped to turn my second 20 into 22, but the weather spiked and so did the pollen and I bonked hard after 18 miles. It was good training to know that that felt like (I was either going to throw up or pass out if I hadn’t stopped running and the chills I couldn’t seem to shake freaked me out), but I was still disappointed in myself. But, just passing the 20-mile mark the first time was a huge mental boost, and really increased my confidence since I felt pretty good afterwards.
Like always, a couple of us headed downtown to volunteer with expo set-up, getting the registration area ready with over 40,000 shirts A friend came in from out of town (sadly he couldn’t run, he injured his ankle), but we headed down the expo to grab bibs, shirts and all the commemorative stuff they were giving out since this is the 10th anniversary of the race being back. I enjoyed this motivational shirt and picked one up for myself.
I love how the city comes out for the marathon and love how I will just randomly run into people I know at the expo and all throughout the weekend, it’s such an amazing time!.
Race – Saturday: 5K
Saturday morning I headed downtown for the 5K, and met up with a couple Frontrunners at the start line. I do have to say, they got a much better DJ for this race than year’s past, and we were all dancing beforehand, so kudos to P3R for that! I lost them after the gun went off, and even though I tried to hold back, I just kind of enjoyed the race, not really pushing. There were a ton of high fives given out and I had a great time interacting with the crowd.
Two very sad things through. One, the woman I look for every year on a specific corner with a pot and a wooden spoon cheering was not there. I’m hoping she’ll be there on Sunday, but if not, wooden spoon lady will always be in my thoughts when I run past that corner. And two, I think I landed weird trying to dodge potholes and my shin was sore the rest of the day. Hopefully it’s nothing major and won’t affect my Sunday race.
I was less than 25 seconds off my PR, and with a new course (which, after having the same course for so many years, having to change for road construction made it weird to figure out my pace/relative distance), and without really pushing myself, I’m really happy with that.
These two are my biggest cheerleaders. Sean paced me in the first race I did a training plan (10-miler) and paced me to my first sub-30 5K. Both he and Cat never once stopped believing in me and both encouraged me to do this crazy thing, so it was awesome that the three of us were there together at the finish line of the 5K.
Spent most of the day catching up on some TV and then headed to dinner with some wonderful Redditors! I was super excited to host Craig for the night while he was in town for the Half and we met up with Jill and Mike for a delicious meal!
Race – Sunday: Marathon
Sunday morning woke up with no calf/shin pain thankfully and we took the bus in, which was pretty easy and we got dropped off across the street from the hotel we had access to through the Running Club Rally or as members of Steel City Road Runners. They put out a spread of breakfast foods, coffee, water, juice and give you access to indoor bathrooms as well as a private gear check, so it’s a good deal. At the end, you have catered food as well as private port-a-potties and massages.
We checked out gear and headed down to our corral, saying hi and bye to a number of friends and other Frontrunners. When we made our way into the corral, we stopped right next to a former co-worker of mine from camp who had decided somewhat last minute to come into Pittsburgh to run, so myself, Alandra and Justin took off together.
It was super humid. The cloud cover and temperature were great, but it was kind of like running through soup, and I was drenched within a mile. Knew that wasn’t going to change so I just tucked in and went with it. Lots of crowds, but normal for the first part.
My friend Alandra and I have identical paces and we’re consistent, so we race together a lot. We also both give tours to whoever is around us and each other by researching historical facts about the course. As we went over the 16th Street Bridge at mile 3, we were discussing it, and two people behind us asked for some more details and we obliged. They were from Chicago and had never been to Pittsburgh before, so we happily chatted until Alandra and I stopped to pee at mile 5. Also of note, the woman with the pot and wooden spoon was not on the course on Sunday either, making me sad. We said goodbye to Justin (coworker) and Elaine and Jeff (Chicago) and said we’d try to catch up.
Chugging along, ticking off miles. A random woman who was in line to pee with us was really upset she was losing time and we’re pretty sure she wanted to guilt us into letting her cut. No one did, and she left in a huff. Crossing the West End Bridge, we heard polka music (and then saw runners polkaing in the street), and we arrived in one of the best neighborhoods on the course: The West End.
From there, things were pretty standard until we reached the South Side, which is always a party, and it didn’t disappoint. While some of the other neighborhoods seemed damped due to the intermittent rain (looking at you, Homewood), the South Side was rocking and at one point I was dancing down the street to one of the DJ’s. I made a woman’s life when I read her sign for a friend that read “run, whore, run (and then her friend’s name)” when I told her that “I’m not a whore, I’m just friendly with my mouth!”
As we came up to the half/full split at the end of Carson, Alandra and I wished each other a happy run, and off we went. The full goes around a block before heading onto the toughest mile of the course, the Birmingham Bridge and the Monster hill up into Oakland. I had run The Monster two years ago in the relay, in preparation for this race, and I’m really proud to say I ran the whole thing again.
When I got to the top, I caught back up to Elaine and Jeff! We tucked in together and ran together the rest of the way. I facetimed with other members of their running club who came to Pittsburgh and we talked about Marvel, Harry Potter, Star Wars, social justice, cute butts, Pittsburgh history and craft beer for 14 miles. Remember how I said Alandra and I are consistent? Even though we ran the last three miles of it separately, my half split and her finish were only five seconds apart, even with the varied elevation. We really should be pacers!
Jeff was a little faster than us, but wanted to run with Elaine, so he would run ahead, see if he could find beer (for a bet they had with their club) and would wait for us, where the two of them would split it and I’d take a sip. All in all, we had six beers like that on the course. At one point in Homewood, Jeff went into a front yard of a family who was outside grilling and cheering and asked for a beer. Yinzers are awesome and they gave him one for us to split!
Miles 17-23 were the only parts of the course I hadn’t run before. So that was neat to see parts of the city on foot I’d only seen in a car before. Jeff sat down and petted some of the greyhounds who were at a cheering station, and in the most adorable fashion, when he tried to stand up, he found himself held down by paws and sad puppy eyes. Around mile 21, Jeff took off (giving me a pat on the butt, which I appreciated), he was starting to cramp a bit, and wanted to finish to see if he could stave that off, and by mile 22, the humidity was getting to me as well, my left thigh and calf alternating between which one was trying to cramp up. I adjusted my gait on the fly and dared it to cramp; I was not going to stop at this point!
Saw a friend I volunteered with earlier in the week who had randomly come out to listen to the bands on the course, and ran past another acquaintance’s house as he was outside talking to a neighbor. I had a conversation with a Boy Scout Troop to tell them to go to camp, and one of the Scouts volunteering will be working at the camp I used to run! As we hit the last couple rolling hills, I have to say, the crowd support, which had been amazing, was taken up to a whole new level by Bloomfield at mile 23. There was a huge crowd, some holding out drinks or oranges, others beer, and a huge line of high fives were waiting for me, and it was the boost we needed! We also finally passed Church Brew Works, which Elaine was going to go eat at that night.
I was in for one more surprise, as Mike and Jill, after having finished the Half, circled back to cheer me on at mile 25! With signs that Steve designed that…are me! That was a huge boost and pretty soon we had less than a mile to go, running through downtown.
Elaine was amazing, this was her 10th marathon (in 10 states) and she said she was super proud not only of my steady pace, but also my enjoyment of the run and overall demeanor. If I’m not having a happy run, something is really wrong! With about .7 to go, she told me to start my kick. I wasn’t sure I had it in me, but she knew exactly when to send me on my way.
I actually did have a kick left in me, and even though we had sped up to my 5K pace for the last mile, I pulled away a bit (and waved to an old college friend in the crowd at the finish line I wasn’t expecting to see) and I crossed the timing mats of my first ever full marathon! I slowed down, waited for Elaine to finish and she proudly put the medal around my neck and we grabbed a photo. We found Jeff and got a photo of the three of us.
Honestly, bonking on the second 20-miler was rough for me. Looking at it rationally, it was a 40-degree swing and I just wasn’t acclimated to that temperature yet and the pollen made it impossible for me to take a full breath. I still had one 20-miler under my belt, and people run marathons on plans that only go up to 18, and I did two of those, but I’m just prone to not believing in myself.
Otherwise, this plan fell during just a shit-show mentally for me. Some of it was work, some of it was family and some of it was relationships. And most of it was just my brain just not being cooperative. I’m better at accepting that and moving on, but it’s still a struggle in each moment.
If I’m being honest, I’m been trying to decide if I want to explore some medication options again, and for how long it’s been on my mind, I’m pretty sure that should be pushing me to yes. But it’s such a process and I’m scared to go through the trial and error again, and honestly, I have no idea if there would be any side effects that would affect my running. I mention that because running augments my therapy and I need both to stay healthy, so adding medication is something I need to approach with a plan.
I grabbed my Steel Challenge medal for doing a Sunday race and the Saturday 5K, and then headed to the Running Club Rally hospitality tent to celebrate with friends!
My nutrition plan seemed to be pretty spot on, my stomach was a little queasy at time, and I’m still trying to get my appetite back, but that all matches up with my long training runs as well. I took gels at miles 7, 12 (with extra caffeine), 17 and 22, and salt tabs every 5 miles. I used my handheld bottle, keeping it topped off with gatorade, and I grabbed water at most of the stops. I also grabbed orange slices I think four or five times from random people in the crowd. Still ended up a little crusty at the end of the race, but all things considered, including the high humidity, I was super thankful for having locked in that nutrition plan ahead of time.
I’m a little sore, but honestly, nothing more than I really expected. I’m probably still a bit dehydrated, so I’m trying to force myself to drink more water. I was really diligent for two weeks leading up to the race, and I need to keep that going to make sure my recovery is effective.
I’ll be crewing again for the runnit meetup at an ultra marathon in June and I’ll be running the GAP (Great Allegheny Passage) Relay in the fall. My Burn is coming up and would be the first week of my next training plan (Memorial Day Weekend), so I’m going to start a week early and just repeat what I can that week. I’m not really looking forward to summer running, but maybe actually being on a plan and forcing myself to get out there will be good for me!
Since this was my first full, I just wanted to run without getting injured. I had two super-secret time goals in my head, and I finished between the two of them, so now I have a new time goal to work on, maybe I’ll be able to find a fall marathon to see if I can break that time barrier!
Here’s the full album of pictures from race weekend which I have to get a picture of all the medals and shirts, so I’ll be adding that later!