Friday, May 8, 2009

Pittsburgh Marathon '09

It has been a little less than a week since I ran the Pittsburgh marathon, and I've spent it resting and recovering. I can proudly say that I accomplished my goal of a sub-four hour marathon, coming in at 3:58:02, with a smile on my face and extreme fatigue in my legs. I did it!

Marathon weekend began with a visit from one of my oldest, nearest and dearest friends Paki, who flew in for the occasion from Chicago. We went to high school together and have remained in touch since then, which includes a summer he couch surfed at my place in Atlanta which managed to strengthen our bond immeasurably. Needless to say, he's the type of guy you want around when you are pushing yourself to the limit and not quite sure what's going to happen, not only is he an excellent support system, he's also great at taking photos (coming soon to this blog).

I met up with my running buddy and her sister, who came in from LA, on Saturday morning to collect our packets and check out the expo. There's something about an expo combined with previous pre race jitters that just makes me want to shop, shop, shop. I came away with a new pair of Race Ready shorts, more GU than a reasonable person needs, and a sweet Pittsburgh marathon t-shirt. We reconveined later for a shared night before dinner -- full of tasty foraged morels, pasta, veggies, and some fancy Klondikes for dessert.

I headed to bed early that night, though my nerves did not ease me into a gentle sleep. I woke up before my alarm at 5:06 am, ready to fuel up and prepare for the day. I made Paki and I a hearty breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and toasted pecans, along with coffee and a banana to charge up my potassium stores. My best friend who ran the half met us at my place and together we made our way around the road closures to the start.

There's nothing like the prerace atmosphere -- folks collective nerves gathered together on the City streets. I felt a mixture of disbelief, excitement, and terror, was I really about to do this?

We were able to meet up with everyone we planned to - saying goodbye 10 minutes before the race start to find a place in the sea of runners. We settled into the 8:30 pace group, right in front of two women who were sponsored by Dunkin Donuts, I'm not sure how they got that gig, but it sounds like a good one to me. I contained my nervousness and tried to remain calm and focused, and before I knew it, we were off.

The race started on Smallman, in the Strip District, which is probably one of the widest streets in Pittsburgh. This made for a very smooth start as we didn't have to bob and weave through a bunch of folks to reach a comfortable pace. The group we were in seemed about right and we road the adrenaline until we got into a groove, passing through the familiar streets of Lower Lawrenceville.

After Lawrenceville and bit more of the Strip we turned into the Northside, where I live and do a good bit of training. I was thrilled to run through my 'hood, that is until I tripped over someone's errant hydration bottle and hit the pavement. Everyone around me let out a gasp (including me, I believe). Luckily it left me with a road rash and little else, I brushed myself off and continued, a little brush burn was not going to slow me down. We headed out into Manchester, which turned out to be the most desolate stretch. It was early and not an incredibly populous residential area to begin with. I turned inward and used some energy for the first major grade onto the West End Bridge.

The Southside was burgeoning with people, bands and lots of loud cheerers. The sudden flurry of activity caused me to become disoriented, and perhaps speed up, and I hit my first real low point of the race. I hung in, sucking down a Gu and just focusing on getting through. It was rough, but by the time I got to Oakland I felt better, and ready to tackle the only major hill on the course. A light rain began to fall, which I saw as a gift, cooling my way up the hill. I made it up and got a push from the accomplishment which stayed with me until Shadyside.

I met up with my friends Heather and Nat around mile 15 and picked up some more Gu, which I really needed at that point, Jess' sister met us about a quarter mile from there with more, and I happily stored it away for the tough miles ahead. Things began to get a little hazy at this point, as we both dug in and dug deep. We ran down Penn, rounding the corner in Regent Square to lots of cheers and some fab homemade signs.

We continued on, through Homewood and lot of folks cheering us on from their doorways -- I really enjoyed spectators who pumped up the jam from there cars, homespun entertainment on the fly is always appreciated. Coming up through East Liberty and into Highland Park I really began to feel the burn on my quads. I could still run, but every footfall caused me pain. I focused on just keeping going, the pain I felt was nothing to sideline me, just the natural result of the 20 miles I ran at a decent pace.

One of my favorite moments of the race was right after the Taza D'Oro party in Highland Park. There was a jazz band playing, and as I rounded the corner I heard 'It's Ellen Maddock, give it up for Ellen Maddock' which made me smile from ear to ear. I went to church growing up with one of the performers, and he not only recognized me, but called me out, hearing my name and all the applause at that point was second to none.

I kept on trucking, finally making it to Bloomfield and the downhill -- which is the promised land for many runners. I struggled, as it was downhill and I could feel the impact with every stride. I took the hill slow and steady trying to just hang on until the flats of the Strip and the finish.

I made it with the cheering on of good friends (complete with pom-poms) in Bloomfield and again at mile 25. I focused and tried to ignore the pain and before I knew it I was rounding the corner to the finish and tearing up. The crowd was simply amazing, and a huge smile broke out on my face when I saw that I was going to make it in under four hours. Amazing.

I hobbled through the exit chute, gathering sustenance and waited for Jess -- she came through not too soon after -- we got our photo taken and then went off to find our people. I was met by a group of friends and my brother, and was somewhat overwhelmed with flowers and a beautiful 26.2 necklace which was a gift from some of my nearest and dearest. After lots of hugs, changing into dry clothes and bandaging of a pretty nasty blister, I parted ways with Jess and her crew onto home, a shower, and food.

There's not much I would do to change this race experience. It was wonderful. I pushed myself pretty hard, and used everything I had, which is exactly what I set out to do. I plan on savoring the feeling of accomplishment for a good while, taking it easy, and then setting my sights on what's next. I am ready.

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