Before we get started, I want to sincerely thank the staff and volunteers for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. Serving as an official blogger has been one of the best experiences I’ve had. From the community to the referral rewards, the blogger program is top-notch. Special thanks to Event Directors Patrice Matamoros & Troy Schooley as well as Public Relations Specialist Erin Carlin.
And now, let’s talk about that time I ran 29.3 miles across two days.
When I decided to take on the marathon distance, my youngest child just turned 8 months old. A lot of people asked me (and I often asked myself) what the hell I was thinking. The truth is that there is no “perfect time” to train for a marathon. Whether it’s a season full of inclamite weather, a growing family, or whatever — I can’t imagine that there would ever be a “great time” to dedicate so much of your life to training. You make the choice to train for a marathon, and you try your hardest.
And I did, and the training was obviously not perfect. I ran 16 miles a month before the race, and that was it as far as my long runs. I was so worked up and worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it the whole 26.2 miles. Marathon training is funny that way: You do not know what to expect no matter how you train. Again, you make the choice — and you try your hardest.
The weekend came in hot. I was really busy the weeks leading up to the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend. I’m a writing instructor at Youngstown State, and I collected final essays the week before the race. I also went through a lengthy interview process for my new job as an ESL teacher with VIPKID (and got the job!).
FRIDAY – TRAVEL DAY
Friday was full of ups and downs as I packed up myself, husband, three children, and dog (the dog was staying with a friend). Considering how chaotic it can be to travel with kids, the morning went great and we left on time. We drove a half hour in the opposite direction of Pittsburgh to pick up my oldest from school, and then we hit the road. Turns out that getting IN to the city on a Friday looked much easier and less-stressful than getting OUT based on the traffic we saw!
We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Pittsburgh, and we had no problem unloading and taking advantage of the valet (which was only for runners that weekend #perks).
Once we were settled, the older two kids and I went to the expo to pick up our 5K packets. Thanks to the blogger rewards program, I was able to get our stuff ASAP at VIP pickup. We got back and called it a night after feasting on McDonald’s (hey, whatever — it’s marathon weekend).
SATURDAY – 5K DAY
Rise and shine at 6 a.m. The baby decided he was having a blast exploring the hotel, so his usual 5:30 bedtime moved to 7. It definitely threw me off! Plus, he was up tossing from about 1-3. Still, I managed to get about six hours or so (even though they were broken). The good part: He slept in!
Jaxson and I headed out around 6:45 a.m. for the 5K that began at 8 a.m. I figured we’d get lost, so we left early enough for plenty of wrong turns (anyone who knows me will understand this). Of course…we didn’t take any wrong turns. We followed other runners over the 6th Street Bridge and to the start-line party.
This 5K is definitely one for the kids. When I think of 5K races, I think of small, local races. Those are fun for their own reasons, but the course and the finish line fine is such an experience for the whole family! Jaxson wanted to roll with the 9:00/mile pacer, but I suggested hanging back a bit so he could hold his energy over the 3.1 miles.
I. Was. Wrong. This kid has gained some serious speed over the past few years! I had to tell him to slow down so I could see him in the crowd of over 4,000 5k and kids run participants.
I was impressed! This was supposed to be a shakeout run at my easy pace. This is at least one minute faster, and it’s definitely faster than any marathon pace I’d hit at this point.
When we came over the bridge, his eyes lit up. It’s so cool for kids to see such an amazing, huge city that they aren’t used to. After we got our medals, we went back to the hotel where I got ready to volunteer in the Social Center.
I highly recommend volunteering for a major race. Obviously, major races are well-oiled machines — but you really don’t realize what goes into it until you are part of working behind the scenes. In the Social Center, official bloggers Deanna, Armando, and I manned social media stations. As questions or messages came through the marathon social media accounts, we were assigned them by our leader and used the FAQ to answer. Seriously — there was a room full of people making sure all of your questions were answered in a timely fashion. It was really cool, and we received awesome #swag for volunteering.
When my shift ended at 2, we went to the expo for a bit — but it was a little too crowded for a family of five. After checking out the Brooks virtual reality booth, we headed back to the hotel and got dinner before calling it a night.
An Italian restaurant less than a block away made my typical pre-distance-race meal: Plain pasta with plain grilled chicken + olive oil. After carb loading, we went to bed, and the baby let me have a full seven hours of sleep!
SUNDAY – MARATHON DAY
The baby woke up at 3:45, climbed on top of me (we co-sleep), and went back to sleep. We were having the best snuggles, but once 4:30 hit, I had to move him off of me and get up. My husband came in to take over.
I threw on my clothes and gathered up my gear. Low and behold, I was unable to find 1) the extra hair tie I set out (I wanted two for two braids), and 2) the freaking pack of hair ties I bought just for the weekend. So, solo-braid it was, and boy did I pay the price with the knots after I tried to take it out.
I was out the door by 5 am after drinking about 3/4 cups of coffee. I was solely a tea drinker until about six months ago, so this was the first time I drank coffee before a long-distance race. It’s way more acidic than tea, but I got it down and I felt great.
Cue crying: I got lost trying to find the Westin which housed the VIP breakfast. The more wrong turns I took, the mora anxious I became — I was on a schedule! If I didn’t eat soon, I would miss the almighty bathroom opportunity and have to stop along the course.
Finally, I found it — and I went up to get my typical peanut butter toast or bagel. Except there was no peanut butter. I knew if I ate a bagel with nothing on it, I’d crash and burn. So, I had some cream cheese, and that’s another first. I crossed my fingers.
Part of the VIP experience is indoor bathrooms. I hit up the bathrooms and hung out inside to avoid as much rain as possible, and at 6:15, I headed back to corral D (the last corral). Thankfully, there was shelter under a parking deck right by the corral entrance. Immediately before the entrance closed, I hopped in and stood by the 4:45 pacer.
Keep in mind that based on my recent half marathon time, my VDOT equivalent was around 4:30 for the marathon. LOLZ.
MILES 1-6: CRUISN’ AT A SUB 11 MINUTE PACE
When the gun went off at 7:30 am for corral D, I stuck with the 4:45 pacer. I hovered right around an average of 10:50ish (10:46, 10:48, 10:52, 10:57, 10:48, 10:28). The pace felt good, and honestly, the front end of the course isn’t nearly as challenging as the back end (which I will get to). I asked my friend Erik for a bit of advice, and he told me not to race the hills. So, the slower miles in this group are because I listened and took it a bit easier than planned.
With each mile, I kept losing site of Pacer Marie (who by the way paced London last week and has run over 400 marathons, even after a stroke). She had a balloon on her pacing sign, and I remember telling myself, “just keep an eye on that — if you can still see the balloon, you’re still able to finish around this time.” The pace felt comfortable, and my HR was about 161.
MILES 7-12: SEE YA, MARIE-AND-THE-BALLOON
When I finished mile 7 at 11:34, Marie was nearly 100% out of site. No balloon bobbing up and down with each of her steps. I was now on my own. My new mantra: “As long as you don’t see the five hour pacer, you’re fine.”
The rest of these miles were the calm before the storm. At about the end of mile 11, the half and full split. Half marathoners go left; full marathoners go right. Both groups head onto the Birmingham Bridge, but there’s a barrier between them. When the halfers really do split, the full marathoners are about to go through hell. No really. Hell.
MILE 13: UNLUCKY & UNFORGETTABLE
I’m still angry at mile 13! Once we ended our jaunt across the Birmingham Bridge, we ascended into Oakland. I was warned by multiple people that this was the most challenging part of the marathon.
That was an understatement.
I FOUGHT up what had to be about one mile of the. same. freaking. hill. The Birmingham Bridge is a slow and steady incline most of the time, so I figured that is what people meant about “the climb into Oakland.” Wrong!
The elevation change was crazy, and by the time I got to the top of that dreaded hill and into Oakland, I knew that my running would be different for the rest of the race. That hill tried to break me, and it was clearly unsuccessful.
Still, I didn’t have any pain other than fatigued muscles.
MILES 14-19: THE MENTAL GAME KICKS IN + RUN WITH THE HOUNDS
Once I got passed 13.1 and that insane Oakland junk, I was back on my game — but I knew my legs were starting to get reallllly tired. My splits became slower and slower: 11:58, 12:18, 13:20, 12:41, 13:06, 13:55.
At the end of this stretch, I remember getting into some kind of trans where I had to start looking as far ahead as possible (not at my watch, my feet, or other runners). Up to this point, I hadn’t drank any NUUN or other sports drink, so I took a cup of that. By now, I’d take probably 3/4 of my salted watermelon GU gels (which went down fine).
After mile 18, I really began to struggle. Luckily, Steel City Greyhounds was up ahead. We were able to take the retired greyhounds and run them to their cute little finisher tent about .2 miles up ahead. I ran with a rescue hound named Polo, and I was so happy I took advantage of this. It put a smile on my face, gave me a boost (that made me cry), and I felt like I was giving back somehow. During marathons, the volunteers give so much to US to achieve our dream — and it was heartwarming to help out one of the dogs.
MILE 20 + 21: Y’ALL ARE LIARS
I don’t know how many times I heard about the almighty “wall” at mile 20. I was waiting for it. Seriously — as soon as I saw the 20 mile sign, I was waiting to collapse or die or something…
And it didn’t happen. I kept running. Even though my pace slowed to 14:26, I felt a little tired — but surely not like I “hit a wall.” I was ready to prove all of you wrong! When I got to mile 21, I still felt pretty good and ran it at 14:12.
MILE 22: I AM SORRY FOR CALLING Y’ALL LIARS…
It happened. The wall stopped my dead in my tracks. I stood in the middle of the street and started sobbing. I forced myself to keep moving because I knew that if I didn’t, I would start to cramp big time.
I managed to run into a friend (@thelittlerunnerwhocould) who offered some encouragement that was much needed.
At this point, I swore off marathons and said I’d never do it again, that it wasn’t for me, and that it was complete hell. I texted everyone and made sure they knew my intentions.
And then, like most of us, I kept going.
MILES 23-25: JUST FINISH IT AND BE DONE FOREVER WITH THIS DISTANCE
Let the walking begin. I called my mom crying, but somehow, I was able to run in between those spurts of walking. It was DOWNHILL finally, but my calves were shot and that was challenging. Running down hill isn’t always some kind of coasting thing. It can be challenging, for sure, when you’ve been on your feet running for hours.
Once I got to mile 25, I got off the phone and zoned in on finishing the race. I knew I was finishing it at this point. I ran with my heart because my legs were DEAD.
MILES 26-FINISH: I AM DEFINITELY RUNNING ANOTHER ONE
I could hear the music. I saw the scaffolding. The ringing of cowbells filled the air. I looked to my left and saw my husband with a FitCrunch Bar because a half hour ago, I texted him that I was starving and “hate this.” He told me I had 400 meters to go, and I started crying.
I turned the corner and saw the big, bright yellow finish line. I picked it up and ran to the end, in tears, because I couldn’t believe I actually did it.
It became a marathoner in 5 hours, 46 minutes, and 44 seconds.
It’s been 24 hours, and the euphoria hasn’t worn off yet. I definitely want to do it again. I’d be lying if I said I was 100% thrilled with my time, but I am extremely proud of myself for completing 26.2 miles when I nearly failed gym class in high school and did the bulk of my training not even a year post-C-section. I hope to decrease my time in the future.
Pittsburgh, you never disappoint. You may eat us alive with your giant hills, but we always return. Who knows…I may have to get some revenge in the future and tackle that course again.
Cheers, and onto more miles!