Thursday, May 08, 2014

Race #6: Pittsburgh Marathon

There are so many things to write about my first marathon experience and I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around everything. I have lots of pictures from the first half of the race and a couple from the second half (my focus was clearly elsewhere!) as well as a few that my mom was able to get of me while I was running. 

Overall, I'll say that this run was worse than any of my training runs - I had some digestive issues during the race, so I ended up eating all of my peanut butter crackers pretty early and didn't use as many GU packets as I normally do. There were lots of on-course food options, but since I didn't train with PowerBars, I didn't want to risk trying them for the first time when I was already nauseous. I did grab a pretzel that someone was handing out somewhere after 20 miles, but it tasted sweet, which is not what I was expecting, so I only ate about a bite of it. 

There were almost 20,000 people running the half marathon and the marathon on Sunday, so it took about 35 minutes from the actual start of the race before I was able to cross the starting line. It was overcast and started to sprinkle a little bit while we were waiting, but the temperature was in the 50's, so it really was perfect running weather. I lined up near the 12:00 / mile sign, but since there were so many people (and I was in the last corral), I knew that the first couple of miles would be crowded. I adjusted my run walk ratio (2 minutes running, 1 minute walking) slightly at the beginning just to be able to get around people and not stop in front of a bunch of people who were trying to run past me, but I kept it within 30 seconds of what I was supposed to be doing and I figured the crowds would help keep me from going out too fast.

The reason I wanted to do this race as my first marathon was two-fold. One, I loved going across all of the bridges last year in the half marathon and I wanted to take some time to get pictures of the great views of the city as I ran it this time (bonus reason to do a walk-run ratio!). Even though it was overcast, I was still able to get some great pictures of the city and you can really get a perspective of how far you've run when you look back towards downtown. The finish line party was held near the fountain that's in the two bottom pictures.

The second reason I wanted to do the marathon is because the marathon course takes you through part of the University of Pittsburgh's campus and since I spent 4 years there, I really wanted to run through my old stomping grounds. The bad news is that the worst hill of the entire race is leading up into Oakland!

But, as you crest the hill, you can see Pitt's iconic Cathedral of Learning and you know that (for the most part) the hills are done and you'll have a pretty flat course until starting the decent back to downtown.

I was still feeling pretty good when I hit Oakland and started towards Squirrel Hill, but I started to feel some twinges in my left knee because of my IT band and I was still fighting with nausea. I did get a boost from one of my high school friends who came out to cheer me on between miles 14-15, but after that is when the doubt started to creep in. I tried to keep my 2:1 ratio, though there were definitely a few more walk breaks thrown into some of the miles. After looking at my splits, I didn't break down as early as I thought I had. As I was running the race, I felt like I had started to slow down a lot around mile 14 or 15, but my splits don't tell the same story. I kept up my pace (though it varied quite a bit between 11:30 and 12:30) until mile 20. Miles 20 - 25, the wheels really fell off and I only had 1 mile that was less than a 13:00 pace, but as I got through the major downhill section to get back to the flatter downtown portion, I knew I only had a couple miles left and I finally started to feel good and no longer nauseous. 

I completely missed the 23 mile marker sign, but I knew based on my Garmin that I had passed it and I think after I saw the 24 mile marker (and verified that's actually what it said), I knew I only had a couple of miles to go and that I could finish the race! For some reason, my Garmin was quite a bit off of the mile markers (my Garmin said I went 26.76 miles total), but somewhere between the 24-25 mile marker, I decided I would just run as long as I could and then take a walk break as needed. At that point, my left hip was really sore (but no more pain from my IT band near my knee) and my right hamstring decided it was going to try to seize up every 5 minutes or so. I also heard a pacer behind me yelling about coming in under the 5:30 mark and I definitely didn't want them to pass me, so I just ran until I thought my hamstring was going to cramp, then I'd stop for a few seconds to stretch it out and start running again. 

I saw the sign for the 1/2 mile to go marker and tried to pick up the pace a bit, but I quickly realized that 1/2 mile wasn't even close! I don't know exactly how much farther the finish line was, but it took quite awhile to even see the 26 mile marker. I'm pretty confident that the sign wasn't in the right spot, but considering my Garmin had me finishing at 26.76 miles, who knows! I finished that last .76 miles in under 10 minutes, accepted my Runner of Steel medal and headed through the finisher's chute to get some food and check out the finish line party. 
I was very impressed at the amount of food that was left when I arrived - the finish line party was supposed to go until 2:00 but there was a ton of bananas, water, bagels and, of course, Smiley cookies. I will say that I was disappointed that a lot of the vendors were already gone by the time I made it to the finish line party (even though it was only 1:30 and there were lots of people still running the race when I finished). Luckily, the medal engravers were still there and I was able to get my name and official time put on the back of my medal. 

My official time was 5:28:34, which is slower than I had hoped to finish, but I finished and was very happy to beat the 5:30 pacer after I heard him coming up from behind me with a little less than 2 miles to go. Even though it wasn't how I had hoped (or expected) my day to go, it was a great experience and I haven't completely written off doing another one in the future, though I'm definitely not ready to sign up yet either!

Check back tomorrow for a recap of the marathon by the numbers.


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