Well…here we are approaching 1 month since race weekend. I’ve had plenty of time to process everything, so I’m going to do my best to recap my experience with this year’s events. I’ve done the Steel Challenge 3 years in a row, this one included. It consists of participating in the 5k on Saturday, and then running any of the events on Sunday (relay, half, or full). And for all 3 years, I’ve done both the 5k and full…a total of ‘29.3’ miles for the weekend. I use the mileage 29.3 miles loosely because that doesn’t include my failure to run the tangents, which adds at least a half of a mile or more to my total distance. Oops!
I always leave super early to get to races. I’d rather sit and wait for a while than worry about parking and getting wherever I need to be. Plus, I hate rushing. I need time to compose myself, use the bathroom 329 times, and warm up (or pretend to…). The 5k begins at the North Shore, which is great because parking is not an issue. I think I ended up arriving about 90 minutes before the start. The temperature was in the mid-upper 40s with rain. This was wonderful considering that just one week before, the temperature reached around 90 degrees. YUCK. The rain made it chilly, and I’m a big baby, so I stayed in the lobby of one of the parking garages until it was time to start. It’s fine once I start running, but I hate standing around in the cold. There were plenty of other runners waiting there as well.
I became sidetracked and got into the starting corral later than I had planned, forcing me to shimmy my way through the crowd to catch up to the 11:30 pacers. I use the 5k as a shakeout run, so I never run for speed. It’s a good time! The 11:30 pacers were a couple of my good friends from SCRR – Shelly and Sanchez! They are so fun and energetic! I spent the first mile or so laughing and smiling. Around the half way point, I sped up just a smidge. I started to get cold shortly after finishing, so I grabbed my medal and kept moving. I eventually bumped into a few people that I knew. I circled Point State Park with another SCRR member, and we briefly gawked over the little tikes doing the Toddler Trot. Just seeing them waddle around with their bib and medal made my heart melt. We took the T back to the North Shore, and then I went home to change before heading back out to get my hair braided for the marathon. I had some time to kill before my hair appointment, so I ran over to Panera Bread to grab some lunch. I had to carb load, so I shamelessly ordered a bread bowl filled with mac n’ cheese and a side of bread. After everything was all said and done, I went back home to get my gear ready for the marathon and to rest for the evening. I made a rather pathetic attempt at going to sleep early, knowing that I probably wouldn’t sleep a wink.
I woke up at 3:30 the next morning and began to get ready. I left my house around 4:30 to get downtown by 5. One of the best perks of being a member of SCRR are the pre-race accommodations for the Pittsburgh Marathon. We are lucky enough to have a warm place to sit, eat, and bask in the race day hype! For the past couple of years, the room has been at the Westin Convention Center. It’s awesome! They provide us with water, coffee, juice, bagels, etc. AND THERE ARE PRIVATE BATHROOMS! We also have our own gear check, which makes me feel more secure in leaving my drop bag.
It was amusing to see everyone’s toss away clothes, my friend Alyssa in particular. She wore a leopard print robe, and I just about died when I saw her!
It was a chilly morning, so it was necessary to wear extra layers before the start of the race. After we dropped off our bags, SCRR took a huge group photo, and then everyone started to make their way to their designated corrals.
I was assigned to corral D. Each corral had a set of porta-potties, so the first thing I did was get in line to use the bathroom! I think my bladder gets nervous before races because I always have to pee about 592 times. I bumped into my friend Darcy, which was great because I had someone to chat with while we waited. We were so far back, the start line banner was barely in sight.
There was a 20 minute delay for a reason that remains unknown to me. Last year, it took approximately 30 minutes for me to cross the start line. This year, I didn’t cross the start line until 7:51. Just prior to that time, I had to pee reallyyyyy bad, so Darcy and I got in line for the bathrooms. When there was just 1 person in front of me, a race volunteer informed us that we had to be across the timing mat within 10 minutes. There was no way that I was going to get out of line. Had I been in the back of the line, I would’ve waited, but I thought I was going to burst! I looked over and saw the VERY last of the participants beginning to cross the start line. Talk about an unsettling feeling. I peed as quick as possible, and unfortunately, I had to SPRINT to the start…not something I wanted to do at the beginning of a marathon. Butttttt, I had no choice. It looked as though I was running through a zombie apocalypse that had just ended. The street was practically deserted, and there were articles of clothing, bottles, and garbage all over the place. And let’s not forget the barriers that blocked those not participating. Bless the amazing volunteers.
TIME TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT!
The first mile is usually the most difficult for me, but it’s always the most exciting during the marathon. The first mile was so much fun! A general rule of thumb is to not expend extra energy weaving in and out of others at the beginning of a race. However, I was about 5 minutes behind pace since I was one of the final runners to cross the start line. I saw a lot of my friends, and I spent the first mile giving hugs, screaming with joy, and sending good lucks. I didn’t get into my groove until miles 3-4, which isn’t unusual for me. By this time, I had already passed the first water stop and was approaching the next. I can’t explain why, but I love the sound that is created from the cups hitting the pavement. This in combination with the cheering is an un-orchestrated symphony. And again, bless the volunteers! I always make sure to thank them for races would not be possible without these wonderful human beings! Not only do they have thousands of people snatching water out of their hands in an aggressive fashion, they have to scrape the flattened cups off of the sticky movie theater-esque pavement due to the Gatorade.
Still…those banners waving in the sky from afar showing the upcoming fluid stations were an absolute godsend. It was cool to see the elite fluid tables. Naturally, they were cleared by the time I reached them, with the exception of a couple of scattered bottles. But it was a reminder that I’m running in their footprints. We’re all chasing the same finish line, and that’s pretty awesome!
When I began running across the West End Bridge, I started to notice an all too familiar pain in my right pinky toe. It was the beginning stages of a blister. I took every precaution…broke in my shoes, applied body glide, carefully chose my socks, and it wasn’t even raining! I’m not sure what happened. The pain was bearable…for now.
The first 11-12 miles went fast for me. My pace was on target for a sub-5 hour marathon, which I’ve been chasing for 3 years now. Before I knew it, we were approaching the split between the half marathoners and the full marathoners. I won’t lie; I was envious that the half marathoners were almost done.
The half participants were guided to the left to begin their journey across the Birmingham Bridge, and the full participants had to make a short loop before we started our trek across the bridge. Everyone seems to get very quiet when crossing the bridge. It’s a steady incline before briefly heading down the ramp that leads to the climb up Forbes into Oakland. My nemesis. I feel like no matter how much I train on this Godforsaken hill, I crumble and curse every single step until I reach the top. There are “hill runners” that continuously run up and down Forbes as a way to motivate the participants. I was very grateful for the push!
Not soon before, the full participants were greeted with a sign that read “YOU ARE ON THE FULL MARATHON COURSE” just encase someone made a wrong turn. Those poor souls…err soles? It’s all relative.
The next few miles were a blur. However, I will note how amazing it is to see our community come together as a whole. There are unofficial volunteers who go out of their way to help. People prepared orange slices, set up water stops, and handed out candy. It definitely helps me get through the later of the miles!
The next highlight of the race, for me, is Homewood! They don’t get enough credit, so I’m here to give credit where credit is due. This neighborhood knows how to party! There’s loud fun music, people dancing, children of all ages looking for high-fives, and so much more! I love running this portion of the race – mile 18. My bladder must’ve gotten an invitation because I suddenly had to pee. I didn’t want to risk losing time on the clock, but I also didn’t want to risk peeing my pants. I still had 8 miles to run, and that’s a heck of a long time to add the additional discomfort of a full bladder to my cranky legs. I had no choice but to get in line at the next set of porta-potties. I fidgeted a lot to keep my legs from locking up. I quickly peed and went on my way.
After using the bathroom, a participant came running over to me to strike up a conversation – probably to distract himself for several moments. He asked me if I was running my first marathon. My response? “Nope. This is my sixth, but I still have the ability to make it look like my first!” He laughed, and we both talked about the different marathons that we ran. A few minutes went by, and he eventually took off at a pace I couldn’t bear to keep up with at this point.
There is was. MILE 20. This is where the marathon truly starts. My training, as with most others’, never exceeds 20 miles. For me, the benefits of running beyond that point during training do not outweigh the negative impact towards one’s body. It’s the weeks of training that get you to the finish line.
My quads were not having it, and my pace started to increase bit by bit. And I…dun dun dun…hit the dreaded wall. Same spot. EVERY. SINGLE. MARATHON. Mile 22. It literally felt like time was frozen, and that I would be stuck at mile 22 forever. Please just bury me here. Kay. Thanks.
I glanced at my watch and knew it was time to bag Goal A. I brought Goal B to the surface – to beat last year’s time. I really had to dig deep. My legs were becoming heavier with each step, and my brain was flooded with overwhelming delusional thoughts.
I started a rather pathetic attempt at trying to brainwash myself into thinking that I was almost done. CUE RUNNER’S MATH. My logic included getting to mile 23.1 for the fact that I’d just have 5k left. “I run 5ks all the time! No big deal! Who was I kidding? When I run a 5k, I also haven’t just run for 4.5 hours. Onto the next thought! FOOD. 26.2 miles = 5,729 French fries. Okay, maybe not. But I can dream, right? Maybe if I start counting sheep, I can distract myself. No? Okay. I spy with my little eye something yellow. Ooh! There it is! The next mile marker! *looks closer* Mile 3! WHAT THE WHAT?! Wait…no, that says mile 23. Phew. I thought I was losing it! Just a little over a 5k left. I’ve got this. Ugh. Why is it so windy?! With this wind, I could definitely end up back at mile 3. Why is the air so stabby! Maybe this is a good time to practice my long division. Look! Oranges! I feel like I’ve been running forever. *looks at watch* Mile 23.1. This will never end! Okay…I have to almost be there now! *looks at watch* Mile 23.2. I CAN’T GO ON! *starts singing* This is the raaaaaace that neverrrrr eeeends. It goes on and on my friends…”
Then came the incredibly long stretch on Liberty Avenue. It’s flat, but at this point, I was mentally and physically drained. I was running on fumes.
“…wait…Could it finally be? YES! My absolute favorite cheer zone!” There’s always a huge gathering of members from SCRR to cheer, celebrate, or coach runners during the final moments of the marathon. They are typically set up around mile 25. And even though there is “only” one mile left, it feels like an incredibly long and daunting distance.
CUE THE CHEERS THEME SONG!
Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.
Amen to that! The moment that a few people noticed me hobbling towards them, the excitement began. They screamed my name, gave out high-fives, and did everything in their power to make me smile. And smile I did. It was an awesome feeling! I continued on and alternated between walking and running. When I had about a half of a mile left, I spotted my friend Kelly, a coach from SCRR. She ran beside me and talked me through the pain. We ran to the final turn on the course, said our goodbyes, and she scurried back to find others who may have needed help.
I ran around the bend, fighting the wind, and there it was in all it’s glory.
THE FINISH LINE. This line represents so much. It’s not just the hundreds of miles comprised of blood, sweat, and tears that were put in over the past 18 weeks. The marathon in itself is the celebration of these moments. It’s the love and support from family, friends, and strangers. But the line? It means more than all of this. For me, it’s hard to explain. However, it can be said that I always cross the other side a little bit stronger and a little bit braver than I was before.
After crossing the finish line, I heard my name. I glanced to my left, and it was the race director of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Patrice Matamoros. I walked over to her, and she gave me a big congratulatory hug! It was an awesome moment! I made my way through the rest of the finisher’s chute, which should’ve instead been called a wind tunnel that afternoon. The medal I worked so hard for was placed around my neck as my eyes swelled with pride. My body temperature was dropping, so my next goal was to find the heat sheets.
I spotted them from a distance – people donning heat sheets that looked like superhero capes blowing in the wind. I grabbed one, and I couldn’t control it enough to get it wrapped around my body, so a nice volunteer tied it around me. I left the chute, and I started tending to the post race necessities – pictures, massage, food, etc.
How did I do, you ask?
Despite everything, I did great! While it wasn’t a ‘true‘ personal best (as my true PR is 4:14:02), it was a personal best since I started running again in 2014 after contracting Lyme disease in 2012. I finished in 5:00:57. I was SOOO close to sub 5 (stupid potty break)! I finished nearly 15 minutes faster than last year, and a 35 second per mile difference! For a while, I had an incredibly hard time dealing with the fact that I’m nowhere near as speedy as I once was. These days, I have something bigger to work towards. Getting back what my chronic illness took away. I’m already looking forward to next year!