Monday, May 10, 2010

Pittsburgh Marathon the Second Time Around

It's taken me a week to get around to writing about this year's marathon -- a week where my energies where devoted to absorbing the race, resting, and recovering.

I showed up at the starting line full of enthusiasm, energy, and a touch of fear. I worried about what might go wrong, even though I arrived there with 16 weeks of solid training under my belt and the experience of 2 previous marathons. Fighting shape. I ambitiously affixed the 3:40 pace group number to the back of my shirt -- a lofty goal, sure but I figured there was nothing to be lost by stating my intention. Thankfully the port-a-potties were well placed this year, and I managed to make 2 pit stops with minimal waiting before the race start. I found Jess and an assortment of other friends before the race, which calmed me as much as I was able to be calmed. With a few minutes until the start, Jess and I lined up with the 3:40ers, and wished each other luck.

The start went smoothly, we didn't have to dodge many mis-lined-up runners and we were able to establish a groove early on. The moment I crossed the start line all of the pent up anxiety started to melt away into the effort of the race itself. At mile 2 the rain started, which was a welcome respite from the heavy heat and humidity. Cooled considerably, if a bit soggy, we circled back through the Strip and into my North Side stomping grounds -- the fans were amazing coming out in the rain, seeing Karen, then Sandra (+ family!!!) and then the Harper-Blackwell family gave me quite a boost. At this point Jess and I were keeping a decent pace, right around our goal pace of 8:24. I felt like it was a bit challenging but do-able.

The rain continued and so did we, over the picturesque West End bridge and down onto Carson Street, the big windup to the one and only major hill. Jess and I psyched each other up and approached the hill positively. Tackling the hill was one of the highlights of the race for me, in no small measure due to the excellent Jock Jams and cheerleaders, blasting 'Woomp, There It Is' and 'Push It'. Simply perfect. Coasting into Oakland I spotted Mike, champion cheer-er and relished the feeling of the 1/2 way point.

The good feelings didn't last long as I approached the bend at Craig street fatigue began to set in. I watched as the pace group gained on me, and felt simply like I couldn't keep up. I felt it, big time. By the time we reached Shadyside I felt like I was seriously dragging -- I did the best I could but it was at this point when I knew somatically that 3:40 was not going to happen. I made sure to drink lots of fluids, took some Gu and just hung on. Another boost came around mile 17, with a party of the bestcheerersever, Ehrrin (with foam finger AND pom poms!), Barbara, Logan, and Lisa -- I was feeling so drained at this point I was unable to enjoy it much but it really, really helped. Around this time I started to feel some serious nausea set in, the like of which I had only experienced at the end of 5k races. I slowed down enough to feel comfortable and Jess pulled ahead. Staying in the race was the only thing on my mind at that point and I just kept going. I just kept going.

Around mile 21 I was beginning to get a second wind, feeling better if not great when I heard the announcement that all runners where to stop running due to an emergency. I spotted an ambulance and figured there was a major medical emergency of some sort, so I slowed to a walk (stopping outright would not have been a good idea at this point!). Without much information I wasn't sure what to do -- so after about a minute or so I picked up running again (turns out it was due to a bomb threat, but I didn't find that out until later). Coming into Bloomfield I really felt my energy pick up and I picked up my pace as much as I could reasonably -- the fans are fantastic in Bloomfield, especially the dancing nuns, a runner around me remarked that you really don't see that every day, and I'd have to agree with him.

Running down Liberty hurt a lot less then in 2009, which I attribute to my slowed pace in the middle miles and my overall greater fitness level. The downhill was, dare I say it, a treat. Hitting that final mile I gave it all I got, pulling in at 3:57:52 -- 11 seconds faster than last year.

I found Jess in the finish area and we stocked up on fluids, pretzels, and the very Pittsburgh smiley cookie. Walking slowly and soggily I found my best-dawg Paki and crew, who shepherded me to the car and warm and dry clothes.

Overall, I am happy with how I did in the race, I know I gave it absolutely everything I had. I had hopes that my performance would be better, but I also know that despite all the preparation in the world things don't always go as planned. I feel great, mentally -- partially because I hit the wall and made my way through it. Physically I am not faring as well, but I feel better with each day, and am getting my quad checked out this week. Now my only task is complete rest and recovery --- enjoying activities and friends I've neglected during my training. The second time around may not have been as sweet as the first but it was no less meaningful.

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