For a hometown race with a start line just 1.2 miles away from my apartment, the morning of the Pittsburgh Marathon, comes mighty early. The problem is the only way into town is going over the Allegheny and they shut the bridges down pretty early. Just like the previous year, I was up around 5-5:15am and out the door by around 5:40am. The plan like the last few years was to meet the group at the Westin. Once again, I easily parked at Theater Square Garage and headed down toward the Westin. There were already a lot of runners walking up and down Penn Ave at that point.
I met Jeff at the Westin and ran into Brandi and Mama K as well. Jeff wanted to get up in B corral, so he took off from the Westin pretty early. I was still waiting on Lauren and while I was waiting in the lobby, I ran into Mike and his girlfriend, Nikki. Mike was setting out for his first marathon. After Mike and Nikki departed, Lauren finally got to the Westin. She was meeting a friend of hers who was also tackling her first marathon. Together we all headed down to the corrals. Last year it was a fiasco getting into the corrals, but I have to say, the logistics were great this year. I couldn’t pinpoint what they changed, but Lauren and I had no issues walking right into corral C. What we did have a problem with again though for the second straight year was traffic being opened on Penn Avenue. This is now a one way and on the side of Heinz Hall they actually line up a bunch of port-o-potties, yet again cars were still trying to drive through. I am stunned that no one has gotten hit. Maybe next year they will finally get that one right.
This was going to be the 3rd half marathon in 2 months that I would be running with Lauren and probably the one that I needed her the most. Going into the race I knew I was going to be driving the struggle bus. Since my last half marathon a month earlier, my training miles went from nothing to negative nothing. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to running this half with Lauren and was grateful she even agreed to it!
Once we were inside the corral, Lauren hit the bathroom line. There were about 8-9 port-o-potties just inside the corral on the sidewalk, but the line for them probably took about 20 minutes. At about half way through the line, Corral C started moving up. We figured we would end up in Corral D, but because it took forever for the corrals to get across the start line, that actually wasn’t an issue. Once Lauren was through the bathroom line, we just jumped into the back of corral C. We thought that we would be through the start line pretty quickly, but again, we were wrong. Once we we settled in with everyone else, we just stood around. Last year, I went across the start line in about 20 minutes. This year, this was doubled and I didn’t cross the start line for my 40th half marathon until 7:39am.
I knew pretty much from the start of this race, that it was going to be tough and certainly not my best effort. The first few miles of the race are crowded, but not crazy. I think the first half mile is certainly the worst. This year was no different. Lauren and I were actually jumping around people. It also was a little annoying that people that early in the race were running 3-4 across. We decided for the race to stick to 4/1 run-walk. For the most part we certainly did and it wasn’t until later in the race that we deviated from that.
Miles 1 and 2 were truly a blur. George had told us he was planning on being on the right side of the 16th Street Bridge and we were just so excited to run by and see him! As soon as we turned right on the bridge, we started looking. We did see Joe and Lauren B. cheering everyone on at the start of the bridge. As we kept going across the bridge, I was starting to get worried that he didn’t make it out or somehow we missed him. Then, just as we crossed over Progress Street, I looked to the right and THERE HE WAS! I am so glad no one was behind us because I didn’t even look as I booked it over to give him a hug. It was so amazing to see him and MK out there. Seeing the smile on his face was truly a pick me up. We grabbed a quick selfie and got back to the course. Only about 10 miles to go.
The Pittsburgh Half course was changed up for the 2017 year due to construction. Instead of heading back into town over the 9th and 7th Street bridges, we stayed on the North Shore. Instead, we went around the commons and then headed to General Robinson and got to run by PNC Park and eventually Heinz Field. Between the two though, I had to make a quick pit stop around mile 5.5 at the first relay exchange zone. At the last minute, Johanna asked for a last minute fill in for her relay team. Since I was already running the half, jumping in as the first leg of the relay was super easy for me. At the relay exchange I was meeting Johanna’s dad. It was easy to spot him amongst the crowd. He gave me my relay medal and took off!
Coming out of the relay exchange, we went around Heinz Field toward the West End Bridge. This was definitely an interesting course change. From the West End Bridge until the Birmingham Bridge, the course was the same. It was probably around the West End Bridge that I just was done. I was trying to push through, but I was already starting to feel the fatigue. With the weather at the start around the high 30’s, I ended up also wearing capris, long sleeve and a short sleeve and I was starting to get hot in the sun. However, as soon as the course went through a shady area, I was so glad for the long sleeve. I was all over the place with the temps.
As Lauren and I came out of the West End, a few 11:30 pace group PBR members went by me. They were looking awesome out there! I however was definitely taking the captain chair of the struggle bus. I think it was starting to show as well. I really was trying to push through but it was this first part of Carson that I could feel the wheels really starting to come off. Around mile 9, Lauren’s friend caught up with us as she was cruising through her marathon. She hung with us for a little bit but kept going as we came to a walk break.
Then we were in the depths of the South Side. This is usually a pretty good spot, but it seemed lighter with the cheering this year. At some point there was this guy running around in circles and at some points literally jumping in front of people. Basically he was being the biggest asshole around. He cut us off at least twice. During one of our walk breaks he hit the last straw and be both just yelled at him about being an asshole. These other runners heard us and we were like, omg not you, that guy and they just laughed and agreed with us. Races should be fun, but they also shouldn’t mean you jump out in front of people every 20 feet and cut them off.
Eventually we got the point there the half marathons took a left over Birmingham Bridge and the marathoners did the old loop around Carson before they got on the right side of the bridge to head into Oakland. As we turned left and started running on the bridge, we cheered on all of the green bibs. For there to be a day that I was so excited to turn to the half marathon course versus stay on the marathon course, this was the day.
We hit the bridge and about a quarter of the way up, we ended up walking. I actually think the Birmingham Bridge is the worst of the bridges. It’s basically all up with very little down headed toward Fifth. Even though we had just over 2 miles to go, I really was struggling. I told Lauren if she wanted to go on ahead, to do so, but she’s a good friend and stuck with me. Normally the course takes us on the Blvd of the Allies, but this year we stayed all the way to the end of the bridge and turned right on Fifth. Immediately on Fifth, there was another small hill and I just was not having it and ended up walking again.
Then my toes and feet just cramped. My toes curled up and I was basically trying to prance and not have any pressure on my feet. Hard to do when you’re running. Every step hurt so bad. I could feel my 2nd toe digging into my big toe and nothing was working. My hip was also hurting and I was so ready to do done with this damn race. I knew it would be bad, but I didn’t think it would be that bad. Once we got to the top of that little hill on Fifth, Lauren and I did pick it up to a slow run until we passed PPG Arena. The last 0.5 miles or so though were pretty tough. My legs and feet just hurt. I have no idea why my toes were curling up and cramping, but I wasn’t enjoying it.
As we came into the finish chute though, Lauren asked if I was ready to kick. Well, that’s what I thought she asked. We had maybe 100 feet to go and when she said kick, I gave it all I had. Once we crossed the finish line, she looked over and said, “What the hell was that?” and we just started busting out laughing. I told her it was pay back from the year before. I think we were both happy to be done with the race. We grabbed our medals and headed toward the finisher’s area to meet Lauren’s family. It was great to see them all down there! I didn’t do much in the Finisher’s area other than grab my Steel Challenge medal and get some pictures on the 13.1 numbers. We hung out for a bit and then decided to go cheer on the marathoners.
The best part about the day was certainly going back up to Smithfield Street just before mile 26 with Lauren, her sister Lindsey and their dad. We got to see those people pushing hard for their finishes. I got to see several PBR members, like Kevin pushing strong in the last bit and Lauren got to see her friend come through for her first marathon finish. Of course we loved seeing Coach Jeff out there rocking his marathon. Sometimes it’s truly an amazing experience to step to the sidewalk and cheer everyone on! I’ve been there so many times where I am .3 miles away from the finish line and the push from a complete stranger is all it takes to get me there. A lot can certainly happen in that 0.3 miles sometimes. While we were waiting through, I looked over and said to Lauren, “I think that is the Superman Guy.. David Clark.” Sure enough, it was! He was there cheering on his girlfriend and was kind enough to chat with us a bit. If you aren’t aware of his story, make sure to check it out and definitely read his book, Out There: A Story of Ultra Recovery.
After Lauren’s friend went in, they all left. I was still out there and wanted to bring Mike in, so I actually started walking up toward mile 25. The people coming in at this point were over 5 hours. People were truly pushing toward the finish line and everyone looked strong. I had been back and forth on texts with Nikki as we tracked Mike and I knew he would be at the 25 mile mark pretty soon after I arrived. I saw my friend Victoria again cheering on everyone at the Liberty/Grant corner. I got to hang out with her for a few minutes, stole one of her fig newtons and then Mike came into view. I knew he was well off his time goal so something had to have happened, but I was so proud to see him still pushing along. I jumped right in and started running in with him. Somewhere about mile 13ish, his hamstring basically died. To get to mile 25 after all of that, was something fierce. He really dug down deep and although he wasn’t finishing in the time he wanted, he was finishing! For your first marathon, that really is all that matters.
I let Nikki know we were on our way and to expect Mike soon. As Mike and I turned on Smithfield St, we ran right by Kristy and Dee! It’s truly amazing to see so many people out there cheering on every last runner. I took Mike up to just short of the 26 mile marker and then let him go on. At that point you’re basically “in” the finish chute and no way to really jump out. I eventually met up with Nikki and we made our way to the Point to meet Mike. It was great to see him and I was certainly so proud of his finish! It was truly great to see a friend finish their first marathon!
The Pittsburgh Marathon race day is truly one of the best days of the year. Being a part of this race is something so incredible. Sure, it’s my hometown race, but this race is what gave me my true racing start. In 2012, I ran my first half marathon on this same course and to come back 5 years later and run my 40th is something I never thought would be possible. Needless to say, the Pittsburgh Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart.
Official Finish Time:
919/1,259, Female 30-34