Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend: Part 3

Okay, finally – I’m writing my race recap for the Pittsburgh Marathon!

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My annual Instagram countdown!

I painstakingly woke up at 4 AM after getting mayyyybeeee 2 hours of sleep. But it was time to make the donuts! I got ready and then headed to pick up Ashley so we could make our way downtown. The Steel City Road Runners have a WONDERFUL perk for being a member. We have the luxury of meeting inside the Westin Convention Center, where we have food and drinks, real bathrooms and a place to sit. I left my house around the same time as I usually do, so I figured everything would go smoothly in terms of parking.

WRONG.

We made it downtown rather quickly (5:15 AM), and we had just 2 more turns before we arrived at the garage. The road we needed to take was already blocked. Last year, I didn’t have any problems. We tried to ask a cop for help, but she was very condescending and basically said “I don’t know what to tell you.” At this point, I was shaking between being nervous about the race and also not knowing where to park. I was on the verge of tears when we came across another police officer in the midst of our 2nd U-turn, and he told us the roads closed earlier than anticipated. He advised us that the only way to get to the convention center was to get back on the parkway. There was absolutely NO WAY I was going to leave the city. I thanked him for his help and then frantically drove around in circles until we found a sketchy garage in an alleyway. The garage was steamy, dusty and there were several bicycles in the corner that clearly hadn’t been touched in years. We couldn’t even figure out the correct way to exit as pedestrians, so we left via the non-pedestrian ramp; we came across another runner who had the same problem!

After fussing with our dollar store ponchos, we walked to the Westin, and I found my group of friends whom I’ve been training with for months. I grabbed a plain bagel with jelly and tried to eat it without dry heaving. My nerves were definitely getting the best of me. After using the bathroom, everyone went outside to take our annual group photo, where we almost got plowed down by a driver who was either blind or a total psychopath. He literally tried to drive through us. Perhaps he couldn’t see the GIANT chain link fence behind us either.

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Annual SCRR group photo!

Then it was time to head to our designated corrals. For me, I was in corral D. I’m VERY grateful for the porta-potties inside of the corrals. Corral D has to wait the longest to start, and I always have to pee a lot before any race. Last year was super rough because there was a delay, and I was in the corral for an hour. This year, it was a 1/2 an hour.

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My running family!

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I absolutely love the first 5K of the Pittsburgh Marathon! Excitement completely fills the air, and the streets are flooded with runners and spectators. It’s amazing! I started the race with my training buddies, Abbie and Naomi, but I quickly lost sight of them after another bathroom stop.

Around mile 4 or 5, I saw Sean Jones ahead of me. I spent the next couple of minutes shouting his name and weaving through other runners to catch up to him. Then, I spent the next few miles listening to him scream and shout inside of every single tunnel we passed through. It was great entertainment, but if you don’t know Sean personally, you’d probably assume he was a nutball. Ha! We spent several miles playing leap frog with one another until we hit Oakland (halfway point), where Sean backed off of his pace due to complications surrounding his hernia.

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Posing for the camera in Oakland. Blurred.

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Looking into Satan’s eyes(?) in Oakland. Clear as can be.

Side note: I’ve been chasing a sub-5 hour marathon since restarting my running journey in 2015. The closest I’ve come was last year with a time of 5:00:57; that stung. My personal record (PR) before contracting Lyme disease was 4:14:02 in the 2012 Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York. Sometimes, I’m very hard on myself and other times, I’m thankful to be able to run marathons again (well, run at all for that matter).

This year, I decided to try a pace band. I purchased one that is personalized in terms of how you’d like to tackle both your pace and effort, and it bases the projected time of each mile on the elevation of your goal race. It’s pretty cool! And for most of the race, I was hitting my targeted times – almost down to the exact seconds.

I ditched my pace band shortly after Oakland when I noticed my pace increasing with each mile. I decided to just have fun because it was becoming clear that this simply wasn’t my day. I couldn’t wait to reach Homewood, which is, hands down, my favorite neighborhood to run through on race day!

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Homewood makes me want to do this.

If you haven’t seen the original video of the dancing grandmas, click here!

This year, it seemed like there weren’t as many residents out partying as usual. I blame the rain! Regardless, it still gave me the boost of energy I so desperately needed at this point in the race.

The next couple of miles were a bit of a blur until it came to the final climb before the long awaited downhill through Bloomfield. Usually, my quads are complete toast before the downhill, so it’s painful to run fast and fully enjoy Bloomfield. It’s more of an awkward hobble with internal swearing. To my absolute surprise, my quads were fine, so I cruised as fast as I could until I reached Liberty Avenue. I felt like I was flying! I knew I was approaching my running family very soon. The Steel City Road Runners have a cheer station 1 mile from the finish. If anything was going to keep me going, it would be these people. By the time I reach the cheer station, plenty of people have already finished, so it’s always a HUGE love fest. All it takes is one person to shout my name, and soon thereafter, others join. I’m graced with more high fives and words of encouragement than I can keep up with, and I can’t help but smile ear-to-ear. It’s hard to describe how I feel in this moment, and that’s something special to hold onto.

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Photo Credit: Suzanne Lancaster Natter

Sanchez came in for the rescue and ran with me for a short time before sending me off to embrace the final minutes of the race, which in and of itself, are truly remarkable. There are spectators every which way reeling you into the finish line. I wanted to create a memorable, fun pre-finish photo. I think I succeeded!

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Waving the towel that was given to each participant in the back half of the race.

Seconds later, I became a 9 time marathoner with a finish time of 5:07:40. While I didn’t make my time goal of under 5 hours, my last 2 full marathons were 1 to 2+ hours slower. I ran Morgantown in 6:11:52 and Walt Disney World in 7:21:01 (as part of the coveted Dopey Challenge).

I sobbed as I made my way through the finisher’s chute; it’s inevitable. I cry after every single marathon. It’s a combination of being exhausted and feeling immense pride in myself. I slowly made my way over to the FedEx Ground Hospitality Tent (after picking up my Steel Challenge medal) for food, dry clothes and a moment to collect my thoughts. I hung around for a while to make sure my friends finished their first full in one piece. And they did! Congratulations everyone!

Before heading home, Ashley and I wanted to take a special photo of our hard earned medals! They call Pittsburgh the City of Bridges for a reason!

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Here’s to next year! Please consider running ANY of the races offered next year if you haven’t before! You won’t regret it! That I can promise you!

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