Virtual Pittsburgh Marathon

What is it like to run a full marathon without spectators, road closures, hydration/nutrition stations and medical support? Well, I’m about to tell you!

As a participant of this event since 2012, the Pittsburgh Marathon was a little (okay, a lot) different this year. When they made the announcement that you could either request a refund or run the race virtually, it was a no-brainer for me. The money was already out of my hands, and I’d hate for P3R to lose excessive funding for future events. Plus, what else was I going to do?

I decided to run on the date that the marathon was originally scheduled for, which was May 3rd. I had just completed the L.A. marathon in March, so I wanted some time to recover (using that term loosely) from that. And it was also a way to keep myself motivated during the pandemic/lock down. The next thing I needed to do was plan. Prior to this, I’ve run the Pittsburgh Marathon route a total of 6 times, not including the hundreds of training runs throughout the city. That being said, I’m very familiar with the course.

I Googled the turn-by-turn directions for the course and found them pretty easily. Through online word-of-mouth, I decided to cut out the section (~1 mile) after crossing the West End Bridge due to safety concerns regarding traffic and to hop on the trail in the South Side due to a section of the course not having an accessible sidewalk. Other than that, the course, without official road closures, was runnable.

I also planned on running with one other person – a girl (Ellen) I met while pacing for the Steel City Road Runners. This was supposed to be her 1st full marathon, and she was still determined to earn that title. For safety reasons, I also liked the idea of having a buddy for the duration of the run. I would’ve hated for either of us to have an emergency and be completely alone. Twenty-six-point-two miles is a long way to go!

We texted back and forth for a couple of weeks to hammer out the details. I chose to start running at 7 AM on Liberty Avenue, which is when/where the marathon typically starts. Well, at least the Elites do anyway. Me? I normally don’t cross the start line until 7:30 AM or later due to being in corral D. Ha!

May 3rd rolled around, and I woke up, got myself ready and headed downtown. It was definitely a less stressful drive, so that was a perk. I truly expected to see a lot of other runners who planned on tackling the course on this particular day, but that wasn’t the case at all. I saw maybe 3 other runners on Liberty Avenue while I waited for Ellen. The city had an eerie feel to it – a far cry from the magical feeling you can only get on race day. Regardless, I wanted to make the most of it.

Once Ellen arrived, we got started. Right off the bat, the weather was not in our favor. It was very humid, and it was only going to get hotter throughout the day. But, I would’ve been running in this weather anyway if the race wasn’t cancelled. The first couple of miles through the Strip District are a bit of a blur as we were finding our groove. The course then took us through the North Side. As we approached Heinz Field, a local photographer (Mike McNeil) was kind enough to spend his morning taking photos of any runner who crossed paths with him.

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Los Angeles Marathon Part 2 – From Stadium to Sea

I should finally get on with this recap!

I woke up around the ungodly hour of 3:30 AM. I slept pretty well due to jet lag, but I still wasn’t thrilled about being awake that early despite the exciting reason! Reluctantly, I did my best to scarf down a bagel with peanut butter. But I knew if I didn’t, I’d definitely regret it at a later time during the race. I got dressed, took an awkward mirror selfie and waited until it was a reasonable time to grab an Uber.

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When I did, the Uber was scheduled to arrive within minutes, so I grabbed my stuff and rushed outside. It was obviously still dark out at the time, so I was a bit leery being alone. My Uber driver was really nice, and it wasn’t long before I arrived at Union Station to take the shuttle to the start. I was exhausted, so I unfortunately left my pre-workout/water in the car. I guess out of all the things I could have left behind, that was the least of my worries. It was still annoying because I didn’t have access to caffeine. I immediately asked security if the buses parked next to us were for the race. I was unsure as the shuttles were departing from an actual bus/metro station. There were 3 of them, and not a single person had a clue about what I was talking about. They sent me on a wild goose chase only for me to come back where I started and get on one of the very buses I had originally asked about.

The start was at Dodger Stadium, and I don’t know if it was because I was tired, the darkness, the size of the venue or a combination of all 3, but I really struggled to find the things I needed.

I did drop off my bag at gear-check quickly, but all I wanted was to find water since I left mine in the Uber. I didn’t drink anything at my Airbnb since I expected to do so while waiting for the race to begin. I somehow ended up near the entrance of the VIP hospitality area, so I turned around once I made the realization. I looked like a lost puppy as I made my way through the sea of people and around the various fences, which made things extra confusing for me. Finally, I found some water and chugged it down and did my pre-race ritual of going to the bathroom 27 times.

Before I knew it, it was time to head into the corral. I was in the “general” corral, so I was way in the back. While waiting, I overheard the announcer talk about runner demographics. Over 200 twelve-year-old participants from Students Run LA were running the marathon as well as the oldest participant being 87! At 87, I hope I’m able to be upright let alone be able to run a marathon! AMAZING!

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Los Angeles Marathon Part 1

Given the current global pandemic with Covid-19, I wasn’t even going to write a recap, because quite frankly, who wants to read about my marathon during this time? But I need to do something to keep my mind occupied. I’m having a really rough time dealing with the anxiety/stress that’s related to all of this. My mom and I are both immunocompromised. I have asthma and have had multiple bouts of pneumonia in recent years. My mom is a senior, and she has type 1 diabetes. My current mental state is a mess.

Anyway, I should get on with this recap.

My plane landed in LAX around 11 AM on March 7th. I retrieved my luggage and waited for the FlyAway Bus to take me to Union Station, where I would take the Metro to get to my Airbnb. My first Metro ride was interesting to say the least. There was a couple who, without a doubt, were under the influence. When I made it to downtown LA, the first thing I noticed was the strong smell of urine and weed and the little-to-no clothing some women were wearing. I had to walk over a mile to get to my Airbnb because I got off the Metro sooner than I should have. I received a lot of strange looks as I struggled with my luggage, especially through the crosswalks.

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You Never Forget Your First

First moments – they are equal parts exciting and scary. You never forget your first kiss, your first love or your first heartbreak. Life is full of firsts. As a runner, you never forget your first taste of the coveted runner’s high, your first finish line or your first marathon. I was never athletic growing up. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I was winded playing tag with my cousin and our childhood friends. I cut corners in gym class when the gym teacher wasn’t looking. I secretly hated running. It made me feel weak and inferior to my peers.

Then, something happened in late 2010 following my success with weight loss. I met a runner. They say people come into your life for a reason. It’s true. He was an avid runner who primarily ran marathons and ultra marathons. At first, I thought he was insane. Who runs for fun, I thought? Let alone 26.2+ miles? I associated running with painful memories. But, the longer I knew this person and the more he talked about running, I became curious. What was this “runner’s high” he was talking about? Why did he put so much effort into running? I needed to figure it out for myself. So, I started running in January 2011.

It was a slow process. It was a couple of minutes at a time on the treadmill. The first time I ran 10 minutes straight left me speechless. Who was this person I was becoming? Months went by and this person convinced me to sign up for my first race in April 2011 – the Mount Summit Challenge. It was a 3.5 uphill race. It probably wasn’t the best race to choose for my first race, but I signed up anyway. I finished the race and was instantly hooked. I. WANTED. MORE.

But how much more? On May 15, 2011, I spectated the Pittsburgh Marathon. I was so moved that morning, I went home and ran 13.1 miles which ended with me crying in front of my house because I was so proud. My previous distance record was 6 miles. This is not something I’d recommend anyone doing, but I was exploding with inspiration. This is the day I decided I wanted to run a full marathon.

I dove into distance running headfirst. I put in the work for days, weeks…months. My progress went from slow to fast. In the summer of 2011, I was consistently banging out 18 milers every single weekend. I wasn’t training for anything. I just loved running. I’m surprised I didn’t end up injured for as quickly as I had increased my mileage. Fall was suddenly upon me, and registration for the 2012 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon had opened. And after spectating the race just several months prior, I knew I wanted to be a part of it the following year. I jumped on the opportunity and registered. I joined the Steel City Road Runners club, which was new at the time, in order to find others to train with. Once January 2012 rolled around, it was time to start training. I had never trained in the snow, ice and bitter cold before, so it was an interesting learning process. But before I knew it, I was at the starting line of the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6, 2012.

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I’ll never forget the atmosphere. You could literally feel it – the excitement, the nerves and pretty much any emotion you can imagine. I knew my life was about to change.

There I was standing within starting corral C among thousands of other runners about to embark on the same journey, but for a million different reasons. I, for one, was chasing my fears. Then, the echoes of the National Anthem made its way throughout the streets and into our ears, instantly giving me chills from head to toe. In that moment, it was when I knew I was right where I had always belonged.

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The corrals were made up of an ocean of people wearing neon colors as far as the eye could see. I was lined up with the 4:10 pacer – my B goal. My A goal was to finish because REAL TALK, I had no clue what awaited me out there. Moments later, I crossed the start line. It was the end of what I had worked so hard for, but the beginning of so much more.

The first few miles were unforgettable. The streets were filled with smiling faces and handmade signs. The sounds that rushed into my ears were comprised of cheering, clapping and cowbells – a melody of praise and encouragement.

I’ll never forget approaching the 12 mile mark and seeing the marathoners and half marathoners split. That’s when it truly hit me; I was running a freaking marathon! This moment was no longer a dream. It finally became my reality after months of early wake up calls, bone chilling cold mornings and times when I questioned my sanity.

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Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend: Part 2

I woke up suppperrrr early on Sunday…I think around 3:45 in the morning. I wanted to make sure I left my house no later than 4:15 to get to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center parking garage before streets began to close. Last year, I ran into problems because roads closed much sooner than they were supposed to, so I couldn’t get to the garage I planned on parking in. This year, I made it with no issues at all, so I was very very grateful for that! I gathered my stuff and made the quick walk over to the Westin for the SCRR pre-race lounge –¬†one of the best perks of being a SCRR member.

When I made my way to the lounge, I set my stuff down, grabbed a bagel with jelly and forced myself to eat.

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Eating before a big race is difficult for me. My stomach is usually upset because of nerves, so I have to force myself to eat because it’s necessary. Once my friends started showing up, I perked up and was able to relax my brain. When it was time to leave the Westin and head to the start line, keeping track of my friends was a lot like trying to herd a bunch of cats. Every time I turned around, someone else disappeared. Normally it wouldn’t matter much, but we wanted to cross the start line together. Eventually, we all got together for a few group photos and made our entry into Coral D.

We were in the corals for maybe 30 minutes after the gun went off.

Just before crossing the initial timing¬†mat, our group chanted “WHO RUNS? WE RUN?” It’s been a tradition over this training cycle, so it was a must! I went into this marathon with the mindset that it was a training run, so I had absolutely no time goal in mind. The first few miles are always a blur because they are filled with so much excitement! I do remember having terrible left knee pain that literally came out of nowhere, Abbie running over to her hubby in the North Shore and Carla screaming “BALLS” several times. If you know Carla, that will not come as a surprise.

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