Well, the time has come. I was going to run my sixth marathon! After a fun evening with friends and a pretty good night sleep, I was ready to go!
Almost ready. There was one thing I had to do. My training partner Carrie has been sidelined for a few months after getting a heart valve replaced. I know how much she would have loved to have been running this race, so she was going to run it with me!
The five of us headed downtown nice and early with all of our layers in tow. We were meeting our friends at the Omni to get pictures, pee and stay warm. Joe would head down later and meet up with Lauren (aka the greatest cheering section ever) so I gave her my bag of layers and headed to my corral.
I had made the decision a few weeks ago (with only a few people knowing) that I would start with the four hour pace team and stay with them as long as I could. I knew I didn't have a four hour marathon in me yet, but I knew I was running this race for fun and if I crashed and burned, at least I could just enjoy the ride.
The race started late. I don't know if it was just my corral, but I felt like we were standing there forever. It was cold and I'm the only one in a tank and shorts. I did have arm warmers on, but still everyone else looked like it was winter. I felt like Carrie for sure. Oh man it's time! 3...2...1...GO!
The start is always congested. I knew it would be. I had warned the pacer I would be around for at least the first half of the race but wasn't sure where he would lose me. He said he would be happy to have me for some of the ride. When we turned down to the strip district and the first water stop I was getting warm. Thank goodness I made the decision to wear the tank.
I knew I would see Lauren and Joe on the 16th street bridge, but I didn't know what side of the street. I warned the pace group to be ready for cowbells. I spotted them and I gave them the thumbs up. Everything felt good! It was moving along and we were already at the 5k mark!
We headed back up to the North Side and the spectators were coming out. This is also the opposite way from part of the 5k course. We were also coming up on the first relay exchange, which was the first timing mat. Also known as, how your mom still knows your alive.
4.4 mile split: 40:03
After this point is where the course changes came in. Instead of going across the three back to back bridges we ran down the North Shore past PNC Park. I knew I would see the Oiselle girls sometime around this stretch. Guys, it breaks up a marathon so much looking for people you know! I spotted Ashley and waved frantically to them!
5.3 mile split: 48:35
Heading out of the North Shore and to the West End Bridge was weird. It was totally different from the way you usually go and it threw me off. There were a bunch of tight turns and It was very congested. It was a nice reminder to breathe and not worry. Just take it in.
I knew I would see Randy (aka Big Yellow) on the West End Bridge. I took the bridge smart and spotted Randy right at the crest. I yelled, he chucked some Skittles at me (that I missed) and I had to explain Randy to the pace team. Out of the bridge brought us to my least favorite part of the course, the West End. It's not for any reason except it is really crowded. Crowded with runners and spectators. Plus, there is a downhill and I always panic that I'm going to fall. Then I saw a spectator in a Macho Man shirt and I felt much better.
I'm still holding it down with the four hour team heading towards Station Square when I hear my name from really close to me. It was Amanda! Guys, I could not have been any happier to see her. She is just an incredible ball of positive energy and I am so lucky to have her as a friend. By the time she went off on her journey we were just about at the next relay exchange, and the fun of the South Side was coming.
9.1 mile split: 1:23
South Side is intense. It is a strange elevation and the crowds are rowdy. Plus, the half/full switch was coming. We made sure we pointed it out to the half marathoners to stay to the left. They all seemed quite excited. Once the split happened I felt like I could breathe! There was so much space and I felt like the race was finally happening. There are about 10,000 more people who run the half than the full. Plus, the second half is where the fun starts.
11 mile split: 1:40
It was time for the Birmigham Bridge. The marathon runners are on the right and the half runners on the left. It is a steady incline for half of it then back down. I listened to the pacer when he said "DO NOT TAKE THE DOWNHILL FAST, THE BIG HILL IS COMING!"
The hill up in to Oakland is everything I remembered it being. I knew I would lose the pace team here because I had planned on taking the hill slower. Gosh, even though I train on hills, and I have done this before, it was still rough. My legs were feeling it for sure. Through the rolling hills of Pitt's campus I caught back up to the pacer. I was promised we would sing at the half marathon split, and we did. WOAH WE'RE HALFWAY THERE!!
13.1 mile split: 2:00
Okay, made it to the halfway point with the four hour pacer! I've done this once before on this course and had my heart broken on the second half. At this point I'm doing runners math. I can give 13 minutes back on the second half of this course and PR. That's pretty cool. I'm feeling good let's see what happens.
A little bit down the road someone was handing out freeze pops. THANK YOU GOOD BROTHER! It was perfect. The second half of this course is super rolling. You need to know when to pick and choose your battles. Right when we got to Walnut Street in Shadyside, I knew my time with the four hour pacer was finished. It's not that I was struggling, my fingers were starting to swell. With all of the medication I was on and the problems with my eye, I didn't want to risk anything. So, at mile 15 I watched the four hour pacer head off without me and started my journey alone.
15.5 mile split: 2:23
I knew I would see Lauren and Joe at some point on the second half of the course, but I didn't know where. Well, it was right about mile 16 I hear my name being screamed! I look to my left and Lauren and Joe are SPRINTING to catch up to me. Thank goodness I can ditch these arm warmers! Joe is telling me I ran a two hour half (duh) and tried to offer me Diet Coke. I told him have Mountain Dew waiting at the finish line and was off.
I also made the decision to walk the water stops in the second half of the course. It gave me the opportunity to thank the volunteers and try to get my swelling down. My legs feel good any my breathing is good, so I'm taking it as a win.
When I got to the turn at mile 17 I was hit with the wind. Holy wind! Little did I know I would be running in to it until the finish line. I'm still thanking people, waving to puppies, giving out high fives. I'm the queen of the parade! I stopped to pee somewhere in mile 18 and I remember when I got out saying to myself that I couldn't believe I was already at mile 18. It didn't seem like I was out there that long! Oh, and the greyhounds were around this time. You could stop and pet a puppy for luck! It was awesome and I always love seeing them!
Then I saw Joe again. He ran along side me for a little bit, telling me my paces are really good and he was really proud of me. I told him I was taking it easy since I was still pretty swollen. He said the next time I would see him would be right before the finish line and that he loved me. Here we go, it's all me now.
Mile 19 was the roughest mile for me. I just couldn't fight the wind anymore. I was taking a quick walk break when a lady came near me and was clearly cramping. I offered her some jelly beans and we chatted quickly. She had torn her calf muscle and this was her first marathon back. She was clearly in pain and I wished her the best. I took my last gel in this mile and while walking the water stop I was spotted by Jennifer! She said I looked great and I told her I was having a great time, which I was! I also saw Lori and seeing her face right before mile 20 really boosted my energy.
20 mile split: 3:11
Here we go, game on! I picked up the pace when I hit the mile 20 mark. I knew there were more downhills than up in the next four miles and I needed to use them to my advantage. I knew I had two miles until the last hill of mile 22. I had two of my fastest miles here and felt like I was flying.
The party in the last 10k is real. Friendship welcomed us all with open arms, and fruit. Thank you so much for the watermelon! It was exactly what I needed. I saw the final relay exchange signs and knew it was almost over. I can't believe it! Plus, I'm still kinda close to my PR!
22 mile split: 3:30
I climbed that last hill in Bloomfield and made it to their party. Wow. Music pumping, fans out in the street. Puppies everywhere! Plus, it's downhill time. I let my body go. Man, I'm really feeling good but I know how the final two miles are. I just need to enjoy it now.
And then it happened, I made it to Church Brew Works! Plus, I knew the girl who handed me my beer! I chugged it and was so happy. I only have a few miles to go!
After you go down for about a mile, it is all of a sudden flat to the finish. Guys, this crushes me every time and this year was no different. I started to cramp in my right quad. At mile 24 my friend Toni was there with the Lulu cheer squad. She jumped on the course and ran with me for a little bit. Her energy was so wonderful and I am grateful she did that for me. Then I saw Dustin a little bit down the road and I took another salt tab to try and get the cramping to go away. It actually worked!
Mile 25! I made it and boy am I slowing. I looked at my watch and I was around 3:57ish and my PR is 4:14. Gosh I was going to be really close but I am fighting this wind and not having it anymore. Then I saw Bethany and Sarah. They also jumped in with me for a little bit! Bethany tried to block the wind and just kept talking to me. They left me right as I got in to the heart of downtown. I cannot thank them enough for being such a wonderful energy.
As soon as they split off, the wind picked up. Seriously, this is some sort of awful joke. Just get to my friends, get to that finish line, you freaking got this. The crowds started getting bigger which meant the finish line was near. I take off my headphones and stick them in my water bottle. I want to feel this energy.
I hear my name to my left and it was Ashley again. She had waited to cheer! It was so awesome. Then not too far down the road on my right was my crew, my ohana and my husband losing their minds. I tossed them my water bottle, blew some kisses and told Joe it was going to be really close. I could not move my legs any quicker. This was they pace they have chosen.
Getting closer getting closer! Where is the turn? OMG THERE IT IS! I did not get upset when the relay runners passed me. I took in all of the cheers and even pumped up the crowd as I made my way to the finish line. Here it is!!
I crossed that finish line with the biggest smile on my face. I stopped my watch and looked. 4:15!! Even though I missed my PR by one minute, it was a 14 minute course PR and I could not stop smiling! It was everything I had expected it to be.
I got my medal, hugged the nice lady who gave me my medal. I got my bagel and smiley cookie and found Joe. I got my Steel Challenge medal and cracked my Mountain Dew. I freaking did it.
We headed back to meet the ohana and celebrated all over again. I can't believe I ran a 4:15. I can't believe I cut 14 minutes off of that course. I also can't believe how good I feel. I'm walking normal, there is no blood and my eye had cooperated! Overall it was a really great day!
I have to tell you, I have vowed to not run the full marathon in Pittsburgh again ONLY because of the hill in to Oakland. If that wasn't there I would totally run it again. I am excited to take on the half again and maybe even run the relay. This year really made me love this race again. I am so happy I had the experience! Below is the course map and elevation chart for the Pittsburgh Marathon.
Disclaimer: I was provided race entry to this race as a port of the Pittsburgh Marathon blogger program. All opinions are my own.