After training through the cold, dark, snowy winter, spring started to peek through and I made it to the finish line of my 15th marathon on May 3 in the fabulous city of Pittsburgh. Now this was a marathon, very rolling and taking us through all parts of the city. We ran across the bridges of the city with gorgeous views of tall buildings in the skyline, water, and green trees and landscape. The weather was perfect, low 50's and completely overcast. The people of Pittsburgh came out in force on the sidelines and volunteering at aid stations to cheer the runners on. All of this made for a memorable and outstanding race that I would love to run again and again.
A whole group of us got the bulk of the toughest training in together. This consisted of Saturday long runs in snow, below 0 temps, and sometimes nice, weather. We also hit our favorite Cobbs Hill for hill repeats every Tuesday night. Those Tuesday night hill runs turned into distance runs of 11 to 14 miles with hill repeats sandwiched in the middle starting at 6 PM every week. Yes, we ran most of it in the dark! Everyone was excited for our final day to be in Pittsburgh and run our goal race. There were 9 of us running the marathon and two running the half marathon. With spouses and a couple kids we had 22 for dinner reservations the night before in a fabulous Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh. It was so much fun to hang out with the crowd all weekend and wait for each other at the finish line to celebrate our success. Everyone had great races and three people set PR's.
THE TIME GOAL
I needed to run an 8:35 pace to meet my finishing goal and was just shy of hitting the mark. I crossed the line in 3:48, missing my goal of a 3:45 Boston qualifying time by 3 minutes! But still, it was my best marathon of my past 5, many of which I ran with injury, so I finally feel like I am back within reach of running those 3:40 and 3:30 something marathons....Needless to say, I'm happy with this race and finishing time.
Standing at the start I realized I had to pee! Great, no porta potties in sight! So I had to wait for the race to start and I hit the first porta that I saw at about a half mile. I still managed to run an 8:37 first mile with the RR stop! Oh well, what can you do? At least I didn't have to stand in line for it. I started settling into a pace that was between 8:20 and 8:30's which was perfect. The course turned out to be very rolling with hills and I thought it would be flat with one huge hill at mile 12. Nope, I'd call this a gently rolling hilly race. It was great though, gave a nice change for your legs and didn't feel monotonous, still, I kept waiting for the "one big uphill."
THE MENTAL TRAP
The first 10-13 miles of the marathon is mentally grueling for me. I was trying to settle into a pace and in my head I was having turmoil over the whole thing. "Why do I do this again? What if I can't hold this pace? Am I going to meet my goal? Is anything going to start hurting? There's my plantar fasciitus steady in the right foot, what if it becomes excruciating?" And the mental anguish continued! I ran a couple of slower miles but knew I had time in the bank with some faster previous miles and my 3:45 goal was still within reach. Miraculously, later about halfway through the race the pain in my right foot completely disappeared and it wasn't even sore the next morning. This never happens and I've been dealing with plantar fasciitus for a year and a half, maybe it's gone!
Every hill I hit I kept thinking, "Is this the hill? The half marathoners turned off just after a nice uphill, and I thought "That can't be the hill." Well, there was no question when we finally hit the hill around mile 12, and it was fine. It was close to a mile long and decently steep but completely manageable. And it was a relief to finally run it! Whew!!! Now to continue on the rolling hills, ha!
The thing about a marathon is it's never the same race, no matter how many times you've run the distance. I'm painfully aware of the fact that anything can happen, paces can drop off, injuries can flare up. So I feel like I was running the first chunk of the race with those worries hanging over my head. Then from around miles 13-18 I hit this mental slump and slowed down, off of my goal pace, and there was nothing I could do to speed it up. Then a bright spot! The 3:50 pace group caught up to me and I heard them chatting. I asked them a question or two and they said, "Latch on to us and we'll get you through." I thought to myself, I'll try but I'm probably gonna' end up dropping back and not be able to keep up. At that point, I thought I would continue to slow down...
THE SECOND WIND
I was wrong! This group was incredible! They asked me my name, where I was from, if it was my first marathon and told me their names and stories. Suddenly, we were on a great downhill, it was mile 20, I had more energy then I had previously. Talk about a mental boost! I quit looking at mile markers, I quit looking at my split times. Seriously, I didn't look at a single split time from there until after I crossed the finish line. I was simply running and talking to my new friends. The pace leader was Pacer Rick and he easily chatted us all up, telling us what was next on the course and mentally prepping everyone for it. At water stops we would get water and they all looked around for each other to make sure the gang was all there. I paced off with a man in his late 40's maybe early 50's (I'm guessing...) and his name was Dan. He lived in Pittsburgh and people knew him on the course. It came out that he was a doctor, Doctor Pickle, to be exact. Great guy! We had a great chat and near the end of the marathon, Pacer Rick said "okay I'll cut any of you loose now if you've got energy and want to pick up the pace, go for it. " Surprisingly, Dan and I picked it up and brought it to the finish. He waited for me to make sure I would make it, he said "I'm not leaving you now." In the last two miles I looked at my watch and told him I was missing my BQ by a minute or two. He said "you want to lean into it? I'll help you." First I said no because I knew I wouldn't make it anyway. Then I thought well I might as well know I gave it everything I've got and we took off with a harder pace. We crossed the finish line and I high fived Dan and he gave me a hug! Our last two miles were each 8:15's, go figure! I'm happy we finished strong and have hope that a 3:45 or less is in my future.
This race is yet another great memory. I'm so thankful to be able to run and I love marathons. God is my strength and so faithful and so good to give me the joy of a simple pleasure like running. Why do I do it? The challenge, the addicition of it all, the training, the friends, the feeling of crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles. Until next time...