Race Recap: 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon
I’m writing this and still can’t believe I can finally say I’m a marathoner.
Almost 12 years ago I walked into Woodrow Wilson High School’s cross-country practice not being able to run three miles. I never thought I would have a half-marathon in me. I never thought a marathon was something I wanted to do. I don’t know if it’s having a lot of friends who are amazingly talented, Boston-qualifying runners (Lesley, Emily and Lorraine to name a few – hi, guys) that made me finally want to run a full-marathon.
I went through most a training cycle – though not as good of one – over the summer and early fall. That marathon didn’t happen as I moved across the country a week before the race. Over Christmas, someone told me I needed to have a goal and to stop just going out and running without a purpose because I was never going to improve otherwise. Coming home to run the Pittsburgh Marathon seemed like a good idea – I would have the support of my friends and family, I assumed Lesley would be a pacer for a time that I could probably strive for and I knew the course pretty well.
I don’t know how it happened, but I somehow convinced Kay to come home to Pittsburgh with me and run the half-marathon. It’s a race that I really love and is near and dear to my heart and I thought it would be fun to bring a friend home. So Friday after work, we met at the airport and took the direct red-eye back to Pittsburgh.
As soon as we got to my house on Saturday morning, we ate some breakfast and immediately went back to bed for a few hours. I went on my shakeout run, cursing my incredibly hilly neighborhood but refusing to drive the 5 minutes to the trail so I could run flats. We popped into to see my girl Tu, had some lunch and went to the race expo to pick up our bibs where shit got very real. I think seeing the bib is what made the fact I was running a marathon the next day very real to me. I also got some new Lululemon Speed Shorts with a little Pittsburgh skyline outline on them.
Okay back on track – we’ll fast forward through some things, maybe saw Kris Letang at Fresh Market (TBD), came back to my house, went to my fave pizza place ever (including pizza I have eaten in Italy), Il Pizzaiolo with my dad and Angela and then took obnoxious flat runner photos to Instagram so everyone know we were running a lot of miles in the morning. I also realized at this point I left my favorite socks in San Francisco and had a minor freak out.
Angela stayed over so she could come cheer us on in the morning and we stayed up a little too late over-analyzing things, laughing over things we couldn’t remember in the morning and then talking about how much excitement and nervous energy I had.
Saturday night I had a lot of running dreams. I have running dreams a lot. I had a dream that I had run a marathon the week before but couldn’t remember it because I had a DNF. I forget the others, but that one stood out to me.
One thing that made me feel a lot more calm than I expected is the fact that I have run a lot of half-marathons. Emily mentioned this to me earlier in the week and I realized she was right – I have a race morning method down pretty solidly. When my alarm went off at 4:30 I just immediately went through the motions of drinking coffee and making breakfast and getting dressed without a second thought. The fact I was about to run a marathon still hadn’t totally sunk in yet.
Angela drove Kay and I down to Station Square (where I have parked for the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon the past two years) and my dad drove separately so he could take his bike to ride around the bike cheer route. This is the second or third year he has done it and I think it’s a really great part of this race. If your loved ones who are coming out to watch you run bike/have bikes, I totally recommend them taking part in the bike cheer route. They even have bike rentals available if you don’t have a bike.
When I got to Corral B, I was looking frantically for Lesley, who was pacing the 3:55 group. This is also about the time I realized I forgot my hat in my gear check bag and wondered WTF my problem was with getting it together for the most important race I had ever run was. For being a planner, I’m terrible at the execution sometimes. Anyway, luckily I found her and then the emotion of what I was about to do really hit me. I get real emotional at start lines like a nerd.
The first 10-11 miles, I felt great. I had run this part of the course so many times before, both in races and in training when I still lived in Pittsburgh. I loved running an 8:5X pace. I was able to chat with Lesley, really enjoy everything going on around me, read signs, etc. etc. Then the part of the course I was most nervous about, the hill going up from the Birmingham into Oakland, was in front of me. This is where the half-marathon and marathon split, so I felt very committed at that moment.
True Runner, one of the larger running stores in the city, had people running up the hills offering encouragement and good vibes, which I thought was awesome. For living in a city known for it’s ridiculous hills – and running hills (and a very nasty hill during a few races) a lot in the Presidio – I did not feel good about this hill. I started to back off the pace group a little, then caught up again when we got onto Forbes in Oakland.
Going down Fifth Avenue, South Aiken and onto Walnut Street I was still with the pace group. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the race because there were so many people out cheering and a really awesome drum line. Soon after, I realized I was not feeling very solid and watched as the group got further and further ahead of me. For another mile or so, I could still see them and thought to myself, “Okay, 3:55 is a really aggressive first marathon time. You can still get sub-4”.
Around mile 14 or 15, I had a real dark half mile or so. I say this because I literally thought about quitting. I didn’t think I had it in me to run another 10+ miles. I just thought maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a marathoner – maybe all this hard work and training and talking about this race would be for naught. I imagined having to call my dad to come pick me up. I imagined having to delete all the Facebook posts and Instagrams talking about the race and marathon training. I thought about the fact I made my friend fly across the country to run with me. I thought about all the words of encouragement that everyone in my life had given me and what it would have been like if I had to say I didn’t finish because I just didn’t feel like I could.
This really bad mile made me realize how important positive self-talk is to achieving things. I always tell people running is very, very mental and that day I took my own advice. Tearing myself down wasn’t going to do any good. Just because I wasn’t going to run a 3:55 didn’t mean I wouldn’t finish the marathon. I told myself I was going to cross that finish line no matter what and I was awesome and doing things not many people can say they have done. Finishing a marathon is not basic bitch level and I definitely am not basic (despite that Mad Mex quiz that said I was a Basic Burrito*, WTF).
It was a really hot and humid day in Pittsburgh and I have definitely gone soft when it comes to dealing with weather that is not between 60-70 degrees with 0% humidity and sunshine. I was stopping for water and/or Gatorade at every fluid station. I also remembered that when I start to get the least bit dehydrated, I get really negative. So when I started having negative thoughts, I focused on just running to the next fluid station.
I kept looking at my watch and until mile 20 or so, I was still running 9:10-9:20 pace. Then I hit mile 20 and even though I had a 10K left (and in my head, I kept breaking into pieces of my normal six mile route), I started to slow down unintentionally. I was now in a distance territory I hadn’t ever run before. I also kept reminding myself that many talented runners have said no matter what, that last 10K is Struggle City.
Miles 20-22 I somehow felt okay. At mile 22, I started feeling some real pain. My feet had been hurting since at least mile 18 and now my thighs were not cooperating with moving forward very well. I just kept telling myself all I wanted was to run the entire time (minus when I started walking for fluids around mile 16-17) and that I could push through it. I didn’t spend entire Saturday mornings running and mornings before work doing 10-mile track workouts for no damn reason. I was going to push through the pain because why bother leaving anything out on the road?
With a little under a mile left, I caught my dad on his bike again. I gave him a really big smile and wave and made myself look like I wasn’t in probably the most pain I had ever been in, minus maybe running on a sprained ankle or with tendonitis in high school. I kept trying to focus on relaxing my face and not looking miserable.
I was very close to the mile 26 sign and had a real fear my legs were no longer going to move. I was in sight of so many people and walking at that point would have been the biggest embarrassment. A race official or volunteer hopped onto the course and started running with me, forcing me to pick up my pace a little. I was so thankful for him. He left me with probably .05 of a mile to go and I just kept forward towards the finish line, which I never thought was going to come. I crossed the finish line and got a little Tear City, which I knew was going to happen.
I looked at my watch and saw 4:06:XX (I don’t remember the seconds) and was a little disappointed but also felt like I couldn’t really vocalize that. I ran my first full marathon – I had to stop being so hard on myself and just be proud and celebrate.
They lengthened the finish line corral this year, which was really nice. I seriously was having trouble moving very fast at all by that point but it was nice to not feel crowded. I think that also happens when most of the 30,000 runners don’t run the full marathon. Finally I emerged at the end and went to the family reunion section to try and find Lesley, my other friends and my dad. I was not walking very fast at all and was afraid to sit down for fear I wouldn’t be able to get back up. Finally I did because I needed to stretch out and everyone found me so we could take photos and make our brunch plan of attack.
I was asked afterwards what I would have done differently. Truthfully, I didn’t do the best job tapering. I went to SoulCycle. I played tennis. I walk around the city a lot. I may or may not have drank a lot of wine and maybe a whiskey and ate some indulgent food last week. I kind of just ran my tempo runs 8:40-ish pace rather than pushing any harder. I didn’t do any marathon pace miles during my long runs.
Will I do another marathon?
Probably. Definitely. I really loved this race and truthfully, I feel like new distances are always the hardest the first time because you don’t know what to expect. My next marathon I’ll know what it’s like to run 26.2 miles. Spoiler alert: painful. Overall, I had so, so, so much fun despite how badly I was hurting at the end.
I know you’re all super invested in my nerdy stats from yesterday (I secretly love math), but I was the first girl from San Francisco to finish the marathon (out of four) and second girl from California (out of 38). Now for real stats that actually matter – I finished in the top 25.9% of my division, top 21% of females and top 31.2% overall. I really love knowing I run faster than a good amount of boys.
I don’t know what my next goal to conquer is going to be just yet. I still want to run a 1:45 half-marathon this year (which is taking 6 minutes off my current PR, which would take a lot of work I believe). I’m considering running the San Francisco Marathon in July or at least one of the halves. I might take some time off training hardcore and focus on surfing for a few months. I do know right now I want to focus on losing the couple of pounds I have gained marathon training, get my strength and core back up, and enjoy this week of taking it easy and letting my body heal.
*I retook the quiz tonight looking for the link and got Shrimp Fajita, aka Cassie Death Fajita, so maybe I’m no longer basic.
Chat with me:
Have you ever run a full marathon? Do you want to? What would you have done differently if you were me?