The day had come. My hometown race day. The full marathon. All 26.2 glorious miles around all three rivers and 13 different neighborhoods around the city.
In 2013, I ran my very first half marathon.
In 2014, I ran the Pittsburgh half marathon with my sister, and it was her first.
In 2015, we ran the Pittsburgh half again, but this time with my brother-in-law, too. It was his first.
In 2016, I was signed up to finally tackle the full marathon in the Steel City. When I signed up, we were also in the throws of paperwork for our international adoption. I needed something to keep me occupied through the waiting times, and running was it. The 2016 Pittsburgh full marathon was the first and only race I have paid for and registered a DNS (did not start). Why? Because it happened to be the SAME DAY that we brought our daughter HOME to the U.S.A.! Absolutely NO regrets on that one!
When it came time to register for 2017, I had to sign up for the full again. It was a bucket list item to run my hometown all the way through. Plus, let’s be honest, the medals are always great, and I knew the full marathon medal was WAY bigger! ;)
As my running partners and I had created a trio, we decided that the three of us would tackle a 50K ultra marathon in May 2017. I had no intention of putting an ultra on my bucket list, but...there it was. We registered in December for Playin’ Possum 50K and started our 20-week training plan in January. As part of our training, we sprinkled in a few other races for good measure: our first 15K trail race, St. Patty’s Half Marathon in Louisville, Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington, and ...the Pittsburgh Full Marathon. (Cassie ran Hall of Fame Marathon in Canton one week prior to Pittsburgh, so it was just me and Jennifer at my old stomping grounds).
Note: It SEEMED like a good idea at the time to make Pittsburgh a “training” run for the ultra. At the finish line, I wasn’t so sure of our sanity when that plan was created.
Let’s get to race day…
Since I was very familiar with the first half of the race, I was excited to finally see the back 13 miles of the course. Over 20,000 runners participated in the weekend race, including the 5k, relay, half, and full. 3,439 finished the full marathon.
The weather the previous week was sweltering HOT, so I was extremely grateful for cooler temps, even though we battled a bit of wind. Everyone thought I was crazy for only wearing a tank and skirt, but it was perfect for that day. By Mile 3, I would have been hot in any more layers when the sun came out.
My husband decided to surprise me a few months prior, and arrange to bring our three children to the race and put us up in the Renaissance Hotel in downtown. It was a beautiful hotel, and only two blocks from my corral start. Perfect! It was nice not to have to worry about getting up at 3-4am, driving and fighting traffic/road closures, and try to find a good parking garage. If you know Pittsburgh, the way you get in is NEVER the way you get out. Aside from the logistics, I was pretty thrilled to have my kiddos experience a big expo for the first time, and to see me cross the finish line of such a big race. The boys had seen me finish two different half marathons a few years ago, but they were too young and quite a handful. This year, not only did the boys finally see their Mommy finish a full marathon, but my DAUGHTER got to see Mommy finish a race for the first time ever! There is nothing better than having my family supporting me!
Jennifer and I were at the corral very early, and I was spotting other friends here and there, who were running the half. We got settled into the crowd and huddled up in the cold and wind, waiting 40 minutes after the initial gun went off for us to actually cross over the starting line. The first few miles were frustrating, as the crowd was thick, and we should have been positioned closer to the front of that corral. A lot of bobbing and weaving and running on sidewalks to be able to keep from stopping around people. My goal for the race was 9-minute miles the first half and 10-minute miles the second. That first mile was about 10:30, just because of congestion. By Mile 4 it lightened up a little bit. It was nice to see the course changed so that we could run by PNC Park, The Carnegie Science Center, and Heinz Field. By Mile 5, I was chasing Jennifer, and I knew I would have to bless and release my speedy running sister. At Mile 6, I no longer saw her white jacket, and I knew I had to run my race.
Miles 7-10 were pretty uneventful, other than I noticed I was running with, and then ahead of, the 4:10 pacer. I don’t do well with sticking with pacers, but it was good to know where I was in relation to them. I was actually on track to sub-2 the first half, which I had been doing in training runs all season. I kept a small water bottle with Sword hydration in it, and pockets of extra Sword, dried fruit pieces, and an emergency almond butter packet. I don’t remember anything by water and gatorade on the course until about Mile 9, where I think they handed out GU packets. I have done all of those things, with no luck on my stomach. I decided to stick with what I had, and take water from every other water stop on the first half. I planned to run the first 13 without stopping at all...and that’s what I did. When I hit the halfway point, I was at 1:59:38. Perfect.
Before Mile 11, the course split between half and full/relay runners. I was honestly really happy for this. The crowd went down considerably, and I felt like I could breathe. I also realized, as we crossed the same bridge with only a barrier between us, how easy it would have been to stop at 13 miles that day. But no, I had 13 MORE to go! Mile 12 was uphill, and the biggest assent. I was expecting this, but it didn’t make it easier, considering my vow to not stop and hit that sub-2 half. I also had drunk a lot of water and Sword to keep from dehydrating, causing other problems, like needing a porta-potty! I told myself if I hit my first half goal, I would stop and go #1. I had never used a porta-potty during a race where I was trying to PR before, but I figured the one or two minutes wouldn’t make much of a difference over four hours.
I met my goal, made my pit stop, and felt so much better….except my legs. They were getting tired. I was like, “What the heck, legs! Tired already? That’s crazy!” Around Mile 14, I saw someone handing out pineapple pieces and I just about ran down a big guy to get some fruit. I felt desperate, because at this point, I had not eaten anything, only drank Sword and water. That pineapple was HEAVENLY. Shortly after that, another guy came up to me with my headband in his hand. He said he thought I had dropped it...and I guess I had! I was blown away that he would stop and pick it up and give it to me during a race! Awww, kindness! Love it!
Miles 20-23 were a bit tougher, but I could do the math well enough to guesstimate my time. If I kept 11 minute pace, I could still come in close to 4:20, if not AT 4:20. Why this time? Well, my very first marathon was at Walt Disney World in 2015. I ran for a charity I love (ShowHope.org), and I ran all 26.2 miles injured with tendinitis in both knees. It was a painful, 6:35 marathon. In 2016, I had redemption with much better training, no injuries, and finished my second full marathon with 4:35. It got stuck in my head that when Oprah ran her marathon in the 1990s, it was a 4:29. I just wanted to beat Oprah! I mean, come on! So, during the training season, I had long runs that would give me an estimated marathon finish time of 4:20, and my 23-miler was even on point to finish at 4:11. So, I really believed that 4:20 was possible, based on my training, but honestly, I just wanted to PR and beat Oprah, and I knew I could.
Mile 23 was glorious. Thank you, Pittsburgh Marathon, for Mile 23. It was a gradual decline the entire mile! WOOHOO! That felt nice to have some relief at that point. 3 miles to go. And more. I realized back at Mile 12 that my watch was clicking over mileage sooner than I saw the markers. I figured all that bobbing and weaving at the beginning added a lot to my distance. So...3.2+ more miles...I can do this….2 miles...I can do this...1.2+ miles...I can do this!...I saw my 4:20 slipping away. I cared, but not enough to push my legs to the capacity they would need to achieve it. I knew I would hit 4:20 or less at Mile 26, but I had a bit further to go. And it was ok. I was going to get a PR.
At Mile 26, I knew there was a turn to the finish line. I was looking all over the crowds on the street, searching for my daughter’s orange umbrella stroller, but I never did see it. Photographers were in the middle of the street, taking pictures as I could see the finish line ahead. I smiled...I waved...I was setting a PR...and I was almost done! I just hoped my family saw me.
I crossed the finish line, clicked off my watch, and it sunk in...I DID IT...and MAN, I HURT!!!! It was SO incredibly painful to stop, and once I got my medal, Jennifer spotted me and gave me the BIGGEST hug! WE DID IT! She was a marathoner for the first time with 4:08, and I set a big PR with 4:22:59.
WE DID IT!
We gathered up snacks in the shoot for the kiddos, and waddled our way to the exit area and family meeting area. As we exited, I realized, “Oh my gosh! I have to do this again at Chicago in October! Who’s great idea was that?”....and THEN, I remembered, “Oh my gosh! We have to run a 50K in 13 days! What were we thinking?” And then...just pain. Everything hurt. My back, my legs, my everything! We stopped for pictures a few places, and rang the PR bell (which I had never been able to do before because any PR race I have run did not have a bell)! That was SO rewarding!
We met the family at Point State Park, as they were enjoying the fountain and they were all so excited to see us and excited to tell how they saw me running and saw me finish, and got pictures!!! We all had a blast chattering away about everything on our little walk back to the hotel.
I can never thank my husband enough for bringing the family for this weekend. Having their support was AMAZING and more than I could ever have imagined! I want my children to always see me chase dreams. I want them to know that they can do ANYTHING they want to do and DREAM BIG and NEVER GIVE UP. I want them to see it takes HARD WORK to reach a goal. I want them to see the hours of dedication and the thrill of a win!!! It was truly an incredible day!
If you have ever considered running this race, do it! Of course, I am partial to my hometown, but the city of Pittsburgh does a fantastic job with this event. Top notch service, awesome volunteers and cheer squads, fluid stations at almost every mile on the back half, GREAT BLING (I mean, that medal is HEAVY!), and a super fun expo for the whole family. I am proud to say I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From my very first long-distance track meet in the ninth grade to 26.2 miles (well, 26.42 for me ;) )...I can happily close this chapter of racing in the beautiful Steel City ...for now.
Wife. Mother. Runner. Coach. Adoption Advocate. I strive to share HOPE through my journey and help others reach their goals.