And we were OFF!! It was finally happening!!
We crossed the start line and the whole stretch of road was packed with people. I took a minute to cheer with the crowds and wave and give some thumbs up to the spectators. One of my favorite things about this race are the crowds – I love high fiving the little kids (and big kids) and reading the signs that people made. Before I knew it, my watched chirped for the first mile. Except the mile marker was still waaaay up ahead. I may have done a little weaving but I was on Jen’s shoulder the whole time and her watch was right on. Then it occurred to me: if my mileage was off that also meant my pace was off. Shit. In the past I’ve usually gone with the idea to run on feel but that’s a risky move in a marathon. Starting out too fast would spell trouble in the later miles so I needed to make sure that I was sticking to as close to an 11:00 min pace as possible. If my watch said the first mile was 10:16, hers said 10:53! That’s a huge difference!! She assured me that we were right on track; I tried to settle down but it was driving me nuts not knowing. I would check in periodically to see how we were doing, but I tried to keep it to a minimum because I didn’t want to annoy the shit out of Jen, have her get pissed and push me off of a bridge. We passed her husband Dave and greyhound Django after the 16th St. bridge where Dave got this awesome picture of us.
This is my favorite race picture ever! We continued on through East Ohio Street, over the bridges and through the North Side. I started to calm down a bit and enjoy the ride – still high fiving and cheering along with people. BUT while I had settled in, I still couldn’t help but feel like I was working really hard for the pace. I took my first gel around mile 4.5 ish and my stomach cramped a bit but went away after a few minutes. the miles were ticking by, but while the two of us normally never shut up and at North Park you can probably hear us coming before you see us, we were not really talking. I felt bad, but was pretty sure it was a mutual feeling. Talking required a whole extra level of effort that I just couldn’t give.
We crossed the West End Bridge and it wasn’t just a little warm…it was very warm. We trucked up a little hill and cruised into the West End and there was a huge dance party going on. I can’t remember what song was playing but they were rocking and I loved it!! I apologized to Jen that I wasn’t talking – I felt terrible but it just wasn’t happening. She said it was OK, but I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t keeping up my part of the race. What I mean by that was – she was doing all of the work pacing us and I couldn’t even come up with a decent conversation. As we made our way through Station Square and got close to the South Side, she told me to go on ahead. I didn’t want to, and felt like a total jerk for doing it but I knew that I had a long way to go and I just had to put my head down and hang on for as long as possible. We said our good byes and I teared up a little bit knowing that I was on my own. Of course, I knew it would happen eventually and even the day before we had both agreed that at any point if the other person was feeling it to go on ahead. But, I still felt shitty about it. I made it into the Southside and it was another huge party. Even though I knew I was struggling, I was still having a good time cheering with the crowds, high fiving everyone that I could because even if the day wasn’t going the way I planned, I still wanted to have a good time. I took another gel somewhere in here – I think right after Station Square, and right before the South Side (Couldn’t tell you exactly because…Garmin was waaay off). Before we crossed into West End I had been looking for one of my coworkers and I assumed that I either missed them or they weren’t able to make it; then as I was turning onto the Birmingham Bridge I heard someone screaming my name and it was them – I was SO EXCITED!!
Once again, I almost started to cry. This was just the boost I needed before I hit the climb into Oakland. As we were crossing the bridge though, someone was announcing that a runner was down and we needed to move over for the ambulance. I saw the person surrounded by EMTs…and they weren’t moving. It was really scary to see and all I could do was hope that they were alright. The sun was out in full force by this point, there was NO cloud cover and it.was.HOT. Just in time to start the beast of a climb into Oakland. I started The Hill and just tried to use the strategy that I had been practicing – pick a landmark, run to it. Pick another one, run to it. It worked, but it was sloooooooooooow going like I knew it would be. A few weeks ago, I heard about a team of people that spend all day running up and down the hill to encourage the runners and I did see them but…there weren’t really encouraging. They were just running up and down the hill not looking at us, not saying a word. It was strange. The amount of effort it took to get up the hill made the heat feel even worse. Then. somewhere on Forbes they were passing out ice cold towels which was amazing. I wrapped it around my neck and kept it there for as long as I could. What’s interesting is that my splits for miles 6-8 are faster than Jen’s, even though we were still next to each other. This still has me all kinds of confused and irritated that the ONE TIME I need this watch to be accurate it was shitting it’s pants.
To be honest, these miles are kind of a blur. They all faded together as a lump of hot, miserable scorching miles. I knew it would be warm, but the sun was relentless and there was very little shade. My new goal became to make it each fluid station. I’d given up on mile markers, since my watch was so far off. It was disheartening to hear my watch beep for mile 14, 15, etc and have to actual sign not even in sight yet. Around 14.5 or so, I started to really feel it and even though it killed me to do it…I started walking. Earlier it had just been walking through aid stations, but now it was a necessity. I was starting to feel tired, lightheaded, fuzzy and a little nauseous; this would be the theme for the rest of the race. Run as best you can until you think bad things are going to happen and then walk until it goes away. Sometimes that feeling went away quickly….sometimes it didn’t. Somewhere in these miles, I grabbed another icy towel that had actual ice cubes in it and, even though this is beyond gross because who knows where that ice came from and how many grubby paws touched it…I ate it. The ice not the towel. It was SO good. I finally felt like I was cooling off a little!! THEN at an aid station (maybe around 17? Not sure) they were handing out FULL CUPS OF ICE!!! It was like manna from heaven! I munched on that for over a mile and it was glorious!! Eventually though, the towels warmed up…the ice went away and I was back to square 1. Then the aid stations stopped passing out towels – they must have run out because the street was full of them but there were no new ones to be found. I also decided at some point, that I NEEDED an ice cold pop after the race. Diet Pepsi, Diet Coke…didn’t matter as long as it was fizzy and cold. I had my phone with me so I texted the tall one to
demand ask that he grab one for me.
Despite all of this though…I was still enjoying myself. I knew that if I let all of it get to me, I would completely unravel.
I took another gel somewhere along here…mile 15? The crowds were still cheering and encouraging us – passing out orange slices, water bottles, spraying us with garden hoses – the support along the course was amazing. Fire hydrants were opened so we could run through and get cooled off as well. I have to say, I know that these miles are through some of the “rougher” sections of Pittsburgh, but the way we were treated was like members of their family. Residents set up their own water stations with Styrofoam cups and little kids handing them out, people passing out FULL SIZE water bottles out of coolers, candy, oranges and cheering their hearts out. I’d heard this section was had great crowd support and I was NOT disappointed. Anytime I started to get overwhelmed, I remembered that my stepdad was with me and that he would help me get through this.
Despite my run/walk strategy that I had to implement, I was still on track for a PR! I missed the 4:50 pacer pass me, but I knew really early on that today wasn’t a 4:50 day. That time would have been tough in ideal conditions, and it was getting hotter, and sunnier, and did I mention HOTTER?! As we got close to mile 20, I looked behind me and saw a stick with some balloons and my heart sank a little. I knew it was the 5 hour pacer; I tried to pick up the pace and start running again but I couldn’t. He was gaining on me and after mile 20 he finally caught me. I was disappointed, but kind of knew that it was inevitable. As he was passing me, he offered me a chocolate chip cookie!? I looked and he had a huge bag of them – it was so bizarre! I politely declined because the thought of eating a cookie right then made me want to hurl, and he looked a little offended. Sorry I’m not sorry – who eats cookies at mile 20? Around mile 21 or 22, we ran past an Aldi’s and they were passing out FREEZER POPS!!! Whoever had this idea should get a VIP wristband into heaven because it was brilliant. I knew that some more of my coworkers would be at the Church Brew Works which was coming up soon so I tried to get my shit together so I could look strong when I ran past. Then I started worrying that I was so far behind my goal, that they might have left thinking that they missed me. I made my way into Bloomfield and it was the biggest party I’d ever seen. It lifted my spirits a bit and I started looking for familiar faces. I FINALLY got to the Brew Works and saw my coworkers who went NUTS as I went past!!
I was so excited, even though my face doesn’t really show it. I thought this would be just the push I needed for the last 5K. HAHAHAHA. Right.
At this point, I was STILL on track for a PR. It wouldn’t be anywhere near my 4:50 goal, but a 5:22 would still be a PR and I’d still be happy with that. From my obsessive readings of Kim’s course description, I knew this would be tough despite the boost I got from my cheering squad. There is NO shade and very few spectators. I thought that I could keep pushing and run it in but that wasn’t happening. I saw a girl down just past the 25 mile marker and my heart absolutely broke for her. To be THAT close and have to stop is brutal; I’m not sure, but I doubt they let you back onto the course after they have to treat you, but I could be wrong. I didn’t want to end up like her, so I knew that I still had to be smart about this. Most people probably think It’s just a mile. Run it, you pansy. But that just wasn’t the case, and I wish it would have been that easy. I finally made it back to downtown and I started to look for Jen. I knew she would be by the Kaufman’s Clock but again, downtown stupid over here, so I wasn’t exactly sure where that was. No worries though, because I could hear her cheering people on WELL before I saw her. Girlfriend was working the crowd hard and people were going nuts! We saw each other and it was the biggest boost ever!! Even though it was Mile 26….I still didn’t know if I would make it. It was that hard. Once I saw her and her husband and got that last boost I needed, I knew I that I could keep going. Tall One had texted me a few minutes earlier and let me know that he got a spot near the finish line at Wood Street. Of course, I had no idea where that was so once I made the turn toward the finish I started looking for him.
I was scanning the crowds, and this is one of the many times that being tall really comes in handy because I spotted him almost right away, along with my Mother in Law who was really getting into the cheering and going crazy!! It was FINALLY time to start the big sprint to the finish and I gave it absolutely everything I had left, including NOT letting a girl finishing the relay pass me at the end. Doesn’t matter the situation – when it comes to the finish line I do NOT want to get passed. I’m just a tad competitive.
I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, got my medal and nearly lost it. I couldn’t catch my breath, and walking was a challenge. Everyone knows the finish line rules – if you stop walking, you go to the Medical Tent. That’s the last place anyone wants to be, and an incredibly nice gentleman started walking with me to make sure that I didn’t collapse. He kept telling me “Keep walking. Breathe through your nose out your mouth. keep walking, if you stop I have to take you to the tent. I don’t want to have to do that. Keep breathing” he was wonderful and stayed with me until he was satisfied that I was OK. I hobbled my way out of the finishers area to meet Tall One and his mom and it was brutal. I was so hot, it felt like my body was on fire! All I wanted was something cold and I was so looking forward to my cold pop! BUT by the time I got it from Tall One it was warm 😦 Still delicious and fizzy though. We looked up my official finish time: 5:25:35….a new Personal Worst.
To be honest, I’m not even a little bit upset about it. It was a TOUGH day with really challenging conditions that we were not able to prepare for. Disappointed? Yes. We all know how frustrating it is to spend so.much. time training and preparing for a specific goal only to have something completely beyond our control dictate the outcome. This is why they say the marathon is the perfect metaphor for life – you are always going to face obstacles and adversity and this shows you that you can overcome whatever life throws your way. Regardless of the time on the clock: I finished a marathon.
I think this post is long enough, so I’ll do a Pt.3 to talk about my post race thoughts, next steps, etc.
I KNOW I have a much better time in these legs, and I just need a way to find it.