I am a marathoner. It’s still weird to say that and even crazier to type that. Sunday I finished the Pittsburgh Marathon and gained entry into this elusive club and am still trying to process it all. It was only 3 years ago that I gained the privilege of calling myself a half-marathoner. In 3 years I made the leap and have earned this badge of
Saturday night really started the adventure as a whole big group of us headed to Steff’s for some carb loading. We easily had 20+ people there and SO MUCH FOOD! It was nice to just relax and enjoy everyone’s company. I am sure if I was at home, I’d be trying to chug bottles of wine to calm my nerves. The biggest accomplishment of the night was our 16-person selfie. One of these times we’ll get to 20. One day.
Sunday started really early.. well, early for me. My alarm went off at 4:50am and finally by 5:06am, I was out of bed and starting to get ready. I had laid out everything the night before, packed my change bag, my check bag and even put my breakfast together, so I wasn’t worried of being rushed. First thing done was I heated up my overnight oats. Before every long run, I had eaten a chocolate-coconut overnight oats breakfast and it had worked, so it the same thing on race day.
As I got ready, I started putting body glide pretty much EVERYWHERE! I had picked to wear shorts and the longest run I had in them prior was 12 miles, so the body glide went everywhere, just in case. The second big thing to do was apply ALL the KT Tape on my broken body. Some of it might not have been needed, but when I wore it during long runs, I noticed less pain, so again, why mess with something on race day. Lastly, once I had EVERYTHING on, I brought out the sunscreen. They were calling for a lot of sun and I didn’t want to burn and get weird tan lines. I went with 70spf (I don’t mess around) and basically got in my bath tub and just started spraying everything exposed. Finally I was ready to go.
Around 5:40am I announced I was ready and my boyfriend just gave me a look like “Really? Now?” He quickly got himself together and we headed into town. We easily parked and headed down to the Westin. The group was meeting there and I had planned to meet my parents there that morning as well. Kelsey and Charles won a staycation, so we headed up to their room, where most people were. We all did our last minute race prep and eventually headed down to the lobby to try and find the others.
As an official Pittsburgh Marathon blogger, they gave us VIP access, so I headed up to check my bag via VIP. This was just amazing. I walked in, saw the table, volunteers took my bag and it was over and done with within 30 seconds. This was so nice of the marathon to give us this perk as it was not expected but so appreciated!
Finally in the lobby, we starting gathering in small groups and started to say our good lucks and good-byes. It’s funny to me that everyone but me seemed anxious. You were think that the one who was soon to be facing down her first marathon would be the one freaking out about getting in the corral or something and I was like nonchalant. I wasn’t stressed. I figured I’d get into the corral when I get there. No worries. My only concern at this point was the weather. They were calling for higher temps than they originally said and I didn’t know how that would hit me. (Spoiler alert: It hit me hard)
Jeff, Lauren H, Natalie, Brandi and I headed dow Penn Avenue towards Corral D where we eventually met with Missy as well. There was a crowd to get into corral D but somehow we made our way in. As soon as we did, we saw Gloria. For some reason, Pittsburgh Marathon cut off Corral E, so there were so many of us trying to squish into Corral D.
No turning back now. We were in the corral surrounded by thousands of people so it was pretty much move forward and get the show on the road. If you recall way back, I had stated my time goal for the marathon was sub-5 hours. The plan was to line up around the 5-hour pace group and keep them in my sights. I felt pretty good about that idea, but Mother Nature seemed to have another idea.
It took 28 minutes to get up to the start line. It was about how long I thought it would take being so far back in Corral D. Jeff and I started the race with Lauren H, Missy and Natalie. I was slightly worried about starting too fast and feeding off the crowd, but I knew Jeff wouldn’t let me do that. During the first mile the crowd was great. Since the start line was pushed back more toward the bus station, the start crowd was pushed as well.
During the first mile, Jeff and I discussed starting the 60 second walk break at mile 1. I opted against this since the crowd was so thick still. I was still doing the good ‘ole bob and weave and I didn’t want to trip myself up in the first mile of the race. I told him we’d start at mile 2, which worked well since it coincided with a water stop.
Having Jeff out there was great for so many reasons. One reason is that he’d ask what I wanted at a water stop, run up, grab it and by the time I got there he’d be handing it over! One less thing for me to worry about. Score.
As we turned onto the 16th Street bridge, I saw Steff, Joe, Jimmy and the boyfriend hanging out on the left hand side. It was a great boost and really glad I was able to spot them! Random spectators are always great, but seeing a friendly face while you’re out there gives you such a bigger boost.
For the first 3-4 miles, we played cat and mouse with the 5-hour pace group. They’d get ahead when we’d go on the walk break, but then we’d slowly get closer. No matter what for these first 5 miles, I had them in my sights. That was the goal and I was feeling good about it. Around mile 3.5 we lost Natalie due to a pee break and then we slowly lost Missy as well. Somewhere in there we also lost Lauren.
Here we were.. 5 miles in and I still couldn’t believe I was doing this. For the most part, I hit my time goals for these 5 miles and if anything just went a little bit faster. Not fast enough to blow it through.
Here is where things got a little tough for me. Not physically, but mentally. And when I say tough, it was more I got so darn angry with myself that I wanted to just give up.
Mile 6 was one of my best miles and it should have been one of my worst. The West End Bridge is one of the worst bridges of the race, but just prior I had seen two different groups of friends and they really pumped me up. I got up the West End Bridge like a champ. However, halfway up the bridge, it hit me that I blew my time goal already.
Somewhere around mile 5, I lost site of the 5-hour pace group. No more cat and mouse. As I crested the West End Bridge, it really hit me that they were gone forever and I’d probably never see them. I got SO ANGRY at myself for this. I don’t know if Jeff realized it, but I was holding back tears and at one point almost choking trying to not lose it. I mean, I really lost it. I wanted to give up and just say if I can’t make this time goal, it’s not worth it, but I knew deep down that was just stupid. I forged ahead and kept going.
As we came into the Southside area, I was slowly starting to get over the anger, but not completely. It was almost like I started going through the 5 stages of grief. I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but when I look back, it almost makes sense. The Southside had so much support! I saw a few people I knew and it was great hearing CHELSEA screamed out by friendly voices. I also continued to take water at each stop and this is when I took my first gatorade as well. At this point I had also been taking a Honey Stinger chomp, Shot Block or something else every 3 miles. For some that seems too often, but it was working for and wasn’t upsetting my stomach, so I kept with it.
These miles seemed to go by pretty quickly and even though I was still trying to shake off the anger that I had failed my goal, I was still moving pretty strong. In all actuality, looking back at my splits, I still was on my time goal, but just wasn’t with the 5-hour pace group. I think losing them in my sight was just a gut wrencher for me.
And in these miles, we’ll just say I completely lost it. Again, physically I was feeling okay. I was surprised at how well I still was feeling. The heat was killing me and I was dying from that, but my legs still had some juice to them. Jeff ditched me for just under a mile while he ran to the bathroom and refilled his water bottle. This was just before the Birmingham bridge (last of the 5 bridges you go over) and so I tackled that bridge on my own.
I saw some good friends on the bridge and again, a HUGE boost to get up and over that bridge. I had done two training runs over the bridge and each run, the bridge totally beat me. I was 0-2 and finally though when it counted, I beat the bridge and ended up 1-3.
At the end of the bridge came the split. Again, I was still alone and there might have been a small part of me telling me to go left.. take the easy way out. This small part was telling me I had already failed and just go home and get it done with. Well, I ended up turning right and all I could see were signs telling me I was on the FULL course and that I was going to be running the whole 26.2 miles. Oh, thanks for that reminder.
As soon as you make that turn, you hit THE HILL. Some say this hill is no big deal, but as a person who hates hills, it’s a big deal. I ran about 1/4 of it (okay, maybe not that much) and then said screw it – I was walking. Why use energy? So many people passed me running up the hill and my hats off to those people. I was just going to enjoy the nice walk up. As we turned the corner and headed up the last bit, I actually turned around and started walking up the hill backwards. The cop at the top of the hill saw me and just started laughing at me. I know it must have looked weird, but it was actually feeling amazing and a good stretch at that point.
We crested the hills and hit Oakland. Kelsey had warned me that once you hit Oakland there is little to no crowd support. Oh boy was she right. THERE WAS NO ONE. Maybe a person here or there, but nothing as compared to the past neighborhoods. Oakland — You were a HUGE disappointment. The highlight was that a homeless person cheered me on.
I tried to get back into the running and walk each mile, but I just couldn’t. I was on the struggle bus (again, more so in the mental department) and after the long walk up the hill I think my body was just enjoying the leisurely walk. I tried my best to get into a rhythm, but it wasn’t happening. I did the best I could and just kept shuffling forward. I hit the halfway mark and really thought that there was no way I was going to get through another 13.1 miles, especially if I was already walking this much.
Three things did happen between miles 12 and 15. Two of which were glorious and one not so glorious 1) As we got up the hill into Oakland (I think this around then) someone was giving out blue towels soaked in cold water. Jeff grabbed me one and onto the neck it went. It felt amazing! Jeff mentioned they didn’t do this last year, but in that heat, it was perfect. Throughout the rest of the course they had more, so I would either get the old towel wet or grab a new one. Clutch! 2) Somewhere on Fifth Avenue a group of people were giving out oranges. I love oranges! I wanted to just stand there and crush a few, but I grabbed one and kept going. It tasted SO DARN GOOD! Like eating a slice of heaven. I was nervous to do this, but I said screw it and just ate it. 3) I saw fuzzies in my eyes. If you didn’t figure out, this was the not so glorious. This must have been just shy of mile 15 and all of a sudden, fuzzies started dancing in my eyes and I had a weird sensation come over me. I got really nervous and just started walking immediately. I pulled out some sports beans and ate about 5 and followed it with some gatorade I was carrying. I don’t even know if Jeff noticed this and I didn’t tell him, but I wasn’t going to go down like that, so I kept moving forward.
In these miles is where most people lose it in terms of hitting the wall. Well, for me, something quite opposite happened. Mile 16 was probably the lowest point of the race for me, but after that is when the good happened. At some point while I was walking, I hear Jeff scream out the name of the 5:30 pace group. URGH. WHAT? Can I go bury my head in the ground now?! That was a pretty big kick in the gut. This was not what I wanted to see, especially with more than 10 miles to go!
They were doing a 5m/1m ratio, so I figured I’d try and keep up with them for a few miles. Well, those few miles turned into about one. I lost yet another pace group around mile 17 as we got into Homewood. So again, I just kept trying to run when I could and well, even if I walked, I told myself I was moving forward and getting closer to the finish line.
Mile 17 was awesome. Homewood was AWESOME. This neighborhood gets such a negative rep and on this day all of that just went away. There were so many people out there cheering, dancing and I think in this 1.5 miles stretch there were about 3 water stops set up by the local residents. They didn’t have to do this but they did and they were amazing.
I also kept yelling to Jeff at this point that the puppies were coming at mile 18. I am sure he was so sick of hearing this as it started back at around mile 14-15, but I was so excited to see the puppies! Every year, the Steel City Greyhounds set up at mile 18 for a nice cheering section. I wanted to see those puppies so badly!! When I got there, they were not a disappointment! They had spread out along the course and OMG the cuteness overload! I really wanted to just go curl up with one and snooze with them. A few were actually walking around but then there might have been another set just lounging. The puppies gave me the boost I needed!
Around this time, we ran into a few friends (well, new friends I should say). One was a guy named Michael who was 62 years young and running his 80th marathon. What an inspiration! He looked great out there too! I was going so slow at this point, Jeff had enough energy to cheer, talk to about every runner and run around thanking every cop on the course and still not be out of breath. I don’t know how he does it, but because he was, we got to hear some pretty cool stories.
Mile 19 had another hill. I feel like no one talks about it, but it’s there. It’s no where near the Oakland hill, but it’s drawn out over some yards and isn’t in the best of places. It was on this hill that I think the first fire hydrant was open and we ran through it. Next to the blue towels, this was amazing.
Finally, we turn onto North Highland and I just started feeling good. I really don’t know what it was, but as we went through that 20-mile marker I was like man, this is going to be an easy finish. I still don’t understand what happened, but it’s like I hit the opposite of the wall. I think since I had gotten so angry at myself so early, everything finally vanished and I realized this was going to be easy since I just did all that hard work. It sounds weird, but I really just felt so uplifted and was excited for the last 10k of the race.
Here we were with just a 10k race. I think I even joked that I had done a long 20 mile warm up run for a lousy 10k race now, but in actuality, I was really excited for these last 6.2 miles. I was almost done and I knew there was really only one more hill to go and it’s hard to really call it a hill even.
I really enjoyed running through Highland Park during these miles. There were a lot of groups out on their front porches and lawns cheering all of the runners on. Jeff also kept running in circles and was just having a blast by this point. It was somewhere around mile 21 that I also started feeling like a bloated, beached whale. I really don’t know how else to describe it, but that. I was taking water, gatorade and really being conscious of taking in fluids and it was catching up to me. I didn’t think I could take down any more fluids, but I knew it was important to do it. A few places around here were giving out cups of ice and that was super refreshing! It was also somewhere around mile 21 that I realized I stopped sweating. Urgh, not fun.
Back around mile 18, I had told Jeff that I was craving some Italian Ice, slushie or something along those lines. Then, just prior to mile 22 in Friendship a whole group of people were giving away Flavor Ice!! The heaven’s were listing to me. I grabbed one and it was the most heavenly thing ever. It was just what I wanted and if I hadn’t been moving forward, I probably would have stood with the group and eaten more. Jeff probably would have slapped me silly if I had tried that.
Turning onto Liberty Avenue meant there was one last uphill. YES! This was getting to the easy part. I was just happy at this point it was almost over. Just about 5k left… that was easy, right? Somewhere in Bloomfield, I passed Dusty. We both looked at each with about the same look and was like THIS SUCKS but we’re going to finish. We both started complaining about how the heat just took us out so early and at this point it was just about trying to get to the finish line.
The Liberty downhill was such a beautiful site. There were two groups this year on the hill trying to give out beer. Maybe if I was more of a beer person, I would have taken a cup or two, but I was focused at this point to take advantage of that downhill as much as possible.
As we get into the flat of the Strip District again, I could feel the finish line so close. Passing over mile 24 was pretty amazing. Seriously, just over 2 miles left. What was that at this point. Now, don’t get me wrong… there was A LOT of walking still, but I mentally I was still there and just happy to be close. I was also screaming for Steff and asking where she was at this point. Since she had run the relay, she had planned to come back up Liberty Avenue to run to the finish with me.
Before we found Steff, Kristy found us and it was great seeing her smiling face! He offered me some beer and I said sure, why not. Even if it didn’t sit well, I was close enough I could suck it up and finish. She was a great push to the finish line! She even captured some great shots of Jeff and I in this last stretch.
We said good-bye to Kristy and not too far down the road we saw Steff coming toward us! She said some things but the only thing I heard was that a group of people up ahead had fresh watermelon. I have no idea what it was about fruit along the course, but I was loving it!! There was a huge group of people cheering just past 16th Street and they were giving out cold water, gatorade and fruit. I went right for the fruit and it was perfect.
Just as we were coming to the last few turns, I saw my friend Victoria out cheering. There was hardly anyone else around, so having her out there was beautiful. I have no idea how long she was out there, but she couldn’t have picked a better spot. It’s people like her who really make a difference in the race for runners.
Finally I was in the home stretch! I had just turned left onto Smithfield and all that was left was a right onto Blvd of the Allies! I just kept telling myself that this was going to happen. I was going to finish a marathon. About 14 miles ago, that was still being questing, but I was so close! The finish line was right there! As we came up to mile 26, my most amazing friends were there waiting and cheering us on! WHAT A BOOST THAT WAS!!! Steff kept saying they were there, but I just couldn’t see them and then I HEARD Lauren B. That girl could probably be heard a mile away.
As I turned onto the Blvd, something clicked and I just gave it all I had. There were four people in front of us and I think I passed all four of those people getting to the finish line. I sprinted, well it felt like a spring, because I just wanted to finish. Natalie captures what some of my favorite pictures of the race as you can see the finish is right there and Jeff and I are just stride for stride getting there.
I crossed the finish line. I was a marathoner. I didn’t cry and really didn’t have too many emotions. I got my medal and actually handed it to Jeff to put around my neck. I was so happy to have him there with me. He quickly scooted out and headed back out to grab Sarah to her finish. I kept walking through the finish chute and headed out. By this point the only food available was fruit cups. I passed on those. It was a little disappointing to see the lack of food at this time.
The first person I was was my mom. She started crying and I just kept thinking to myself why are you crying and I’m not? We made our way into Point State Park and headed to the SCRR/Hospitality tent.
I wanted to get a massage so badly. The staff working the massage area was actually pretty darn rude and they said it would be 30 minutes. My mom mentioned the massages were up in the VIP area, so after she got me some type of amazing sorbet we headed there instead. I picked up my Steel Challenge medal and a quick pit stop to the PR bell (Hey, technically, it’s a PR, right?) and then to the massage we went. My boyfriend was finally able to meet up with us at this point too.
Very slowly, I made my way up to the VIP area in the hotel. My stepdad had been hanging out there since the heat was getting to him and we all reconnected. I got in line for the massage while everyone else grabbed some food. It was amazing to get that massage right away and again, a huge thank you to the Pittsburgh Marathon for giving us the VIP privilege as a blogger. It was so kind of them and I truly appreciated it!! The nicest volunteer saw me walking to get my bag, but instead starting walking toward me and brought it over. She told me she didn’t think I wanted to walk any more than I needed to. Hugs to you, lady. You get it. You were awesome!
Eventually I said goodbye to my mom and stepdad and headed home. I made the boyfriend stop at Rita’s and I got a misto shake. Once we got to the apartment, I thought I was going to have issues getting up to my apartment as I have 31 steps. As I started up, I had zero issues. It was a small miracle! After finishing my misto shake, some stretching and some rolling, I went for an ice bath. It was so cold, but I really think it helped so much with recovery. Once I had regrouped from that and some more foam rolling, the boyfriend and I headed to Mario’s for food. I wasn’t crazy hungry, but I did munch on some awesome fried cheese curds.
Later that night I did a lot of thinking about this day. There was still (and still is actually) a lot of disappointment and even anger at myself for completely bonking my time goal. I had been training for that time and it was there, but I just collapsed under the heat. I am just so mad that I let this happen, but Mother Nature had other plans I guess. There is a part of me that says I didn’t hit my goal, I shouldn’t be so happy about finishing, but I know the bottom line is that I finished. Not many people can say they have done this and now that I am one, I need to be proud of that. I’m working on it.. let’s leave it as that.
People have already asked if I will run another one. My answer is yes. Of course I want redemption on my time, but there was also something about the regiment of training that kept me so focused and on top of things that I loved. Sure, it took it’s toll on a lot of things, but overall, I loved having a path toward my goal. I am toying around with a race at the end of this year, but that decision will be made one I have fully digested this race. I won’t make a decision while still on this runner’s high.
I am a marathoner and no one can take that away from me and one day, I will break that 5-hour goal. One day.
Official finish time: