Monday, May 12, 2014

Marathon Monday

Runners of Steel
If you would have told me in October that I would be posting about my half marathon experience today, I'm not 100% sure I would have believed you. I signed up, sort of hesitantly, sort of excitedly, for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on October 30th last year. I needed a goal to work on that would take time and energy. I don't know why I decided that should be a half marathon, but I knew if it was a half marathon it had to be Pittsburgh. The day I signed up I figured I could always back out. I didn't. There were days, maybe weeks, and sometimes months - mostly November and December - that I thought about quitting. Then it was the worst winter ever for training, but after 5 miles in the hot Virginia sun yesterday, I'm glad my training was through the winter. 

Back to race weekend. I had two friends coming with me to Pittsburgh also doing the half marathon. We left Friday night after school and headed north. After getting in late, we got going into town to pick up our packets on Saturday afternoon. We picked up our bibs and race shirts first. My race shirt is my biggest disappointment of the weekend. They were super tiny. Then we headed to the other end of the expo to pick up the rest of our bags. We listened to Jeff Galloway talk to for a little bit and then walked from booth to booth. I purchased a new hand band that I had wanted for a while to replace my arm band. I used it the next day during the race and it worked out well. I have also used it a few times since, and I highly recommend it. It's a lot easier to see and use than keeping my phone attached to my arm. 

After leaving the expo we decided to drive the race course to see just how bad the hills were going to be. We made a stop at Primanti Brothers in The Strip so that my friend, Brian, could have his first Primanti's ever. We got back in the car and continued on the route. Things were going well - hilly, but not too scary. Then we got to the infamous Birmingham Bridge and mile 11-12.5. It was scary. When we got to the top of the Boulevard of the Allies we looked down at the Southside where we had just been for miles nine and ten and realized that tomorrow we would be climbing a mountain. For real.

After driving the route, we took a little drive up Mt. Washington for a scenic view of the city. We then joined my mom and dad and sister and brother-in-law for a big pasta dinner at Lidia's.

Mt. Washington
After being mostly excited and anxiety free all day, I couldn't sleep at all the night before the race. I was so annoyed with myself which was making everything worse. I had my alarm set for 3:43 so that we could leave the house by 4:15. Sadly, I didn't need my alarm to wake me up. After quickly getting ready and getting my pre-race food and drink together, we were on our way downtown. We got there quickly and got a good parking spot with no problems. After hanging out in the car for a little while, we decided to find real bathrooms. We found ourselves in the Renaissance hotel for awhile with a whole bunch of other racers. We also met up with my uncle (who was also running the half) and my aunt before heading to our corral. We met my sister - also running - outside the corral before heading in. 

Just before the race started, it started raining. Not a bad rain, but raining. I should stop here to just mention how great the temperature was. About two weeks before the race I became obsessed with the weather the day of the race. As it turned out, it really couldn't have been a better day. I think the rain stopped somewhere around my mile three. We were in Corral C, the third corral to start. 

The race starts downtown on Liberty Avenue and is mostly flat (just know when I say flat, it's Pittsburgh flat) as you run the first two or three miles from downtown through the Strip District. At about mile three you cross the 16th Street Bridge to the North Side. We got to run past the Priory where Matt and I had our wedding reception between mile markers three and four. Mile marker four also leads you to the second bridge crossing back into downtown and then immediately back over the third bridge back to the North Side. While the bridges are a fun addition to the race, and a Pittsburgh landmark, they are also steep inclines. Just before one of the rougher hills at mile 5 we saw Matt, my mom, and my aunt. It was fun to have my family come out to see us. At the top of the hill at mile five we could see all kinds of black and gold balloons, and tons of people cheering. At first we thought it was a relay exchange point, or some kind of station sponsored by the marathon, but it wasn't. It was just a community organization that was out cheering. Now, I have never done a big race like this one, and I am a die hard Pittsburgher, but I thought the crowd support for this race was awesome. There were people everywhere. The signs were funny. They gave out snacks. And they were very entertaining for all 13.1 miles. 

a little before mile 5

I don't really remember anything too exciting about miles five and six, except for eating a peanut butter Gu. I do remember thinking that I was still feeling good and was so happy my legs weren't giving me any problems. And I was glad I was still awake. Approaching mile seven you cross the West End Bridge, the fourth bridge of the race. Running through the West End neighborhood was one of my favorite parts of the whole race. It's probably the part I will remember the longest. There were a lot of people and music, and there was finally a downhill! As we were about to leave the neighborhood I noticed there were people sitting in a bar. I knew that both Kathy and I needed to use the bathroom soon. The lines for the port a pots at this race were so long...and they are port a pots. This is when I had the genius idea to go in the bar to use the bathroom. We ran in and couldn't find it. I started yelling to some guy on the street asking where the bathroom is...turns out it was the owner of the bar. The bar wasn't actually open, but he did let us use his bathrooms. We ventured down a flight of stairs into a shady basement where I ran into a men's room so we could both go at the same time. It was an experience, but much better than waiting in line and using the port a potty. 

After this we ran past Station Square, one of the quieter parts of the race, probably my least favorite section. Station Square also led up a big hill into the Southside where things got a lot better. I think this was around mile nine. I do remember thinking to myself that I couldn't believe I was still at mile nine and still felt so good. I think it was also at this point that I knew I was going to finish and that without any major disaster I was going to happy and having fun the entire time. Mile ten was pretty flat through the Southside, and there were lots of people again that made things more entertaining. I also ate my favorite salted carmel Gu and there was a spectator handing out orange slices. Then it was time for the last bridge. The Birmingham Bridge. This is where things go from flat and a little hilly to scary mountain. Just look at the elevation chart below. Tell me who plans for that at the end of a race? Crossing the bridge you have the marathoners on one side and half marathoners on the other. I was happy to be on my side. Once you are off the bridge you make a sharp left and all you see before you is a giant hill. I just started laughing. It was huge. Then you think you get to the top of it and you turn onto the Boulevard of the Allies and realize there is more. The nice part about this is that once you get to the are downhill for the finish. 


Once you start running that downhill you can see the finish line. It's off in the distance but you can see it. I was excited. As you come down the hill you are back downtown and there are tons of people everywhere. We walked a little and then ran to the finish. I was just happy I could still be running parts at the end. Again, I really can't believe how great the whole race was. My legs felt great, I was happy and entertained the whole time, and I think most importantly the weather could not have been better. 

After we finished and went through the chute to get our medals and some snacks, we wanted to find ice for our knees. Well apparently the only place they had ice was in the med we ventured over there. It was quite an experience. We were treated like royalty. They gave us special snacks and drinks, and got into fights about how our knees would be iced. We even had to be discharged and talk to many people about our ice. Intense. 

The worst part of my day, and my biggest meltdown of the weekend, was our drive back to my parent's house. I could not find a way out of the city with all the road closures. I really did almost cry I was so frustrated. Eventually everything worked out and we made it back...about six hours later I realized I lost my car key. Really lost. With the spare key in Virginia and the other spare key with Matt on his way back to Virginia. We searched my parents house, my car, the grass, Matt pulled over and searched his car,  we searched everywhere five times over. We were stuck in Pennsylvania. Luckily we had planned to come back on Monday. I was going to figure things out with a Honda dealership in the morning. Then at 6:30 a.m. my dad found the key in his closet while getting ready for work. I was so happy. 

That, my friends, is the story of the Pittsburgh Half Marathon weekend. Seriously I couldn't have asked for a better first half marathon. It was such a great experience that I'm even considering a race in June. I haven't completely decided yet. Cross your fingers for me that something works out. Like I said, six months ago, I wasn't really sure what I was doing, or what would really happen come May 4th, but I'm so happy I picked this as a goal this year. What made my experience better is that my sister and my friends decided to do the race too. It was nice to have other people doing the training near and far to talk with and to prepare with. I completed this marathon alongside my friend, Kathy, who ran in the pouring ice/rain/sleet with me, who encouraged me go running when I didn't want to, who took time away from her busy schedule to travel to Pittsburgh, and listened to all my craziness, and entertained me in the miles we did in training for the race. I am thankful for her, and for every person who has encouraged me in the last six months! Especially poor Matt who had to hear my whining, and about my running schedule a LOT :)

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