2013 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend – Sunday

On Sunday, May 5th, I participated in the 2013 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. This was my second Pittsburgh marathon, after running the 2012 race, and my sixth marathon distance overall. Last year, I finished in 5:47:20, my slowest marathon time (excluding my 26.2 mile time during my ultra).

I spent eighteen weeks training and preparing for this marathon. My training plan accounted for a 4:30 marathon, so that was my goal. Very aggressive, seeing as my PR was 5:43 on a totally flat course. However, as training went on, I nailed the distance, speed work, and race-pace runs, so I figured that meant this thing was doable. In theory.

I spent much of the second half of those eighteen weeks completely consumed with stress. I obsessed over the marathon, my time goal, the course, becoming injured. This all came to a head the Sunday before the race, when I began laying out the gear I would need for race weekend. One would think that it would have calmed my nerves, but it seemed to do the opposite. I barely slept that night.

Then, the week before, I spent a lot of time without feeling any sort of pre-race anxiety, which, to some might be ideal, but to me was extremely alarming. Did I just not care anymore? Was it simply taper madness? Who knows. All I knew was that thinking “I’m not running a marathon today” is really bad BECAUSE ACTUALLY YOU HAVE TO RUN A MARATHON TODAY. It made me think something bad was going to happen.

I spent the weeks prior to race day staring at the weather forecasts, willing the sky to be cloudy and the temperature to stay under 50 degrees. Of course that was not the case, but at least this year the temperature stayed probably 15 degrees cooler than 2012. The sky was cloudless, but this year I managed not to get burned. Yay!

swag bag

swag bag

The morning began very early, with oatmeal, hydrating, and still… no anxiety. My things were packed as much as they could be, in case I got back to my room close to my 1pm check out time, so that packing with the post-marathon shuffle could go much faster. I had all my gear laid out and ready to go.

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The race started at 7, had to be in our corrals by 6:45, and I needed to meet my fellow Steel City Road Runners for a group photo at 6. Somehow I did not budget my time well, and found myself leaving the hotel 5 minutes before photo time. Our photo-op meeting place was the Warhol bridge, about a half mile away. I found myself running to make the picture, something I didn’t want to do because… marathon. Fortunately I made it with a couple of minutes to spare.

602588_10151641852097915_1554501272_nDuring the 5k, Jen said that I could leave a drop bag at her tent in Charity Village, which is part of the finish line festival. I was incredibly grateful and opted to do just that, because I knew if I went up to my hotel room to change, I wasn’t going to venture back out to the finish line party. I had packed a bag with a dry shirt, face wipes, and flip flops, and I dropped it off at the ABOARD’s Autism Connection of PA tent.

I guess I'm ready?

I guess I’m ready?

After hanging out at the Point for a little while, with more time to kill, fellow SCRR member Shannon and I went up to my hotel room (to use a clean bathroom with no line!). I grabbed a granola bar and a small hotel-provided bottle of water, and we headed out to find our corrals.

Shannon was looking for the 2:15 half marathon pacer, and I was looking for the 4:30 full marathon pacer. This meant we would be together in Corral E, the last and MOST GIGANTIC CORRAL EVER. Corral E is for anyone running over a 9 minute mile pace, which is the majority of the runners. This was a total disaster, especially in the wake of Boston, because there were more “security” measures. Basically these measures meant only a few entrances for runners, and we couldn’t even get into the corral for 20 minutes. We had been told that our bibs would be checked at the corral entrance, but we weren’t. We were told only runners would be allowed in the corrals – a dude with a camping chair and an inexplicable bucket passed by me in the corral. It was all a mess.

During the messy time, I ate my granola bar and panicked that I couldn’t find my pace group, and therefore couldn’t find the friend I had planned to run the entire race with. This caused me anxiety. There were two 4:30 pacers, but if we all didn’t cross the starting mat together, it would be hard to gauge what their time was compared to mine. As the front corrals began running, this eased the congestion ever so slightly, and we were finally able to get into the corral. Shannon headed off to the 2:15 pacer, and I could see a 4:30 sign way up ahead in the corral. I tried to squeeze in between people to get to the group.

This went on for several minutes, and I finally crossed the starting line. The race had begun, with me already trailing my pacer. Arg. Fortunately I managed to spot Kim, a woman I had run with a lot this training cycle, and we both realized that the other 4:30 pacer was even further ahead of where we were. We decided to try to catch him, and hopefully find our friend Mira, who I had planned to run with.

The first mile was spent dodging four-abreast runners, walkers (WTF – this is why an additional corral is needed), and trying to keep sight of the 4:30 pacer. We finally managed to catch up and got to Mira. We planned to stick with the pacer for as long as we could. We had trained for a 4:30 marathon, where the average pace is 10:18/mile. When we got to mile 5 and my split was 9:28, I knew I couldn’t stick with the pacers. The next thing I knew, I heard one say to the other that he was going to bank time early in the race. This was a bad sign.

See, the first couple of miles had plenty of distraction: dodging walkers, keeping up with the pacers, spectator-spectating. However, I couldn’t be distracted by the fact that the soles of my feet were already burning and my legs felt as heavy as lead. This was another bad, bad sign. I wondered later if my legs felt heavy from standing at the expo on Friday, because really, I should have had fresh-feeling legs. I very quickly began to think negatively.

Mira and Kim agreed that we should try to maintain our own pace (10:18), and fell back from the pacers before crossing the West End Bridge. We hit the 10k timing mat at 1:04:22, a new 10k PR for me. I managed to keep a decent pace over the bridge and through the West End Village, but I felt myself slipping. We began our journey down Carson Street, and close to mile 8 I decided to start taking fluid at the water stops. Basically I wanted the walking break, because I had 20 ounces of Nuun-flavored water on me.

The South Side is where I began to fall apart, and soon I was struggling to keep up with Kim and Mira. I tried to keep my mind on the spectators and my breathing, and soon Shannon came up beside me. I voiced my displeasure and she did her best to lift my spirits, but we were right at the course split, so we didn’t get to run together for very long. Still, it was a great pick-me-up.

Oh, Birmingham Bridge. How many times had I run you during my training? Through wind, rain, and snow? On tired legs? Why did you destroy my soul on this particular day? My pace slowed, and I watched as Mira and Kim got farther and farther ahead. I realized very quickly that I would be running the rest of the race alone. The 4:45 pacer, Tom, came up behind me towards the end of the bridge and sped past much more quickly than I expected. This may have been the point of no return for me, as far as realizing my 4:30 was at the bottom of the river.

This is a REALLY inconvenient point in the Pittsburgh marathon to totally lose your shit, because it’s the dreaded 230 foot climb into Oakland. Knowing that it was already a bad day, I decided to hike much of that hill. Despite all my training up that hill, I walked. Despite knowing how hard it would be to start running again, I walked.

I was so disappointed in myself. I know that I shouldn’t have been, but I had such expectations. I followed my training plan to the letter. I was 15 pounds lighter than I had been last year at that time. I hadn’t been perfect, but I suppose I felt that I had done enough that this shouldn’t have felt so difficult. I just couldn’t seem to get out of my own head.

Despite all of this, I reached the halfway point in 2:20:30, yet another PR. My previous half marathon PR had been achieved at the downhill Deckers Creek, so to have reached a half marathon PR during a full marathon on a difficult course is pretty amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t come to this thought until days after the race.

mile 14

mile 14

I spent the next several miles running with intermittent walk breaks, trying to talk myself down. I tried to run the flats and downhills, and hike the uphills if I felt I needed it. I honestly can’t remember very many details about how I was feeling other than generally negative and self-loathing.

I remembered Homewood fondly, and again, they did not disappoint. So many people out cheering us on! Lots of Penguins fans, too. Some folks had an unofficial aid station, handing out Styrofoam cups of water. Back in the South Side, I had begun taking water and Gatorade from every aid station, while still drinking from my own bottle in between.

Again I saw the Animal Rescue League and the Steel City Greyhounds in between Homewood and Larimer, and around mile 18 I began to feel better. I got excited – was this my second wind? It would be perfect timing, since most people tend to crash and burn around this time in a marathon. Unfortunately, my good feelings lasted for approximately three minutes. ARG.

Soon I found myself in the beautiful Highland Park neighborhood, and tried to force myself to feel better. The twenty mile mark was coming up soon! I also had to try to not hate the relay runners – looking all fresh-legged and high-kneed. Smug bastards.

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I don’t remember my thought process behind thinking this would be cute.

Anyway. Just past the 20 mile mark I began to feel a burning on my ankle, as though a blister was forming. I was not pleased. Fortunately for me, however, was the giant aid tent complete with Vaseline on a stick at the 20.4 mile mark. Hooray! I stopped for a few seconds to dab some on what turned out to be a hotspot, not a blister. Double hooray!

I set off down Negley Avenue, still run-walking (ARG) and just trying to keep going forward. I really felt like I was moving in slow motion. I was so frustrated and disappointed, but the tears wouldn’t fall. I wish they would have so that I could have gotten it out of my system, but no such luck. I moved through Bloomfield and began the descent down the quad-killing Liberty Avenue.

My pace was decent for mile 24, but once that downhill ended and gravity stopped helping me along, my spirit broke. The tears finally came when I saw the 5:00 pacer pass me by. Instead of getting angry or resolute, I just watched her go. It kills me now. I know I could have at least attempted to keep up. Instead, I gave up.

Knowing that I had let a sub-5:00 marathon pass me did not help me keep moving – in fact, mile 25 was just about my slowest mile. I just totally lost it. I don’t know how I made myself keep going other than to just get it over with. I was crushed.

hodnick1We made our way back into downtown, and I began to run slightly more than I walked. Basically, I was shamed into it because there were more people around me. Shannon popped out of nowhere and ran a few steps with me in her flip flops! It was so sweet. I also saw Jeannette and Eric, who took this picture (of me dying):

UGHHHHHHHHH

UGHHHHHHHHH

I had very little left in me (or so I thought), so I didn’t turn things up until I could see the actual finish line. At that point I was running around a 9:30 pace, which to me said that I still had plenty of gas left in the tank, and why hadn’t I used it earlier?

I guess I was angrily-happy to cross the finish line?

I guess I was angrily-happy to cross the finish line?

So, I finished. My time was 5:02:51, or an 11:34/mile pace. However, according to my Nike+, I had run 26.6 miles with an 11:22 average pace. I cut tangents all over the place, so I think the extra mileage was most likely in the beginning of the race and at water stops.

I was extremely unhappy with my time. In fact, I felt no pride in what I had done. I posted this later in the day:

I wish I could say that I was proud of myself, but I’m not. I think I just need some time to let everything sink in, and then maybe I’ll feel good about a 40 minute marathon PR and a 44 minute course PR. I fell off pace early in the race and did not feel good at any point. My legs were like lead from mile 1, my feet burned by mile 2, my pace group decided to bank time early in the race. The weather was beautiful for anything but running a marathon.

Unfortunately, it was just not my day. I’m going to spend some time reflecting on the day, and on the 18 weeks of preparation, and try to learn what I can do better for next time. I will probably feel better soon, because I know that sort of PR is nothing to be ashamed of, but I can’t help but feel great disappointment in my performance. I feel like I gave up way too soon. I still don’t know what it feels like to leave it all out on the course.

As whiny as that sounds, it’s pretty soul-destroying to train for a certain goal and know that it’s impossible within 5 miles of 26.2. To be honest, after all my reflection, analysis and denial of the situation, I think I figured out the biggest reason that I did not run my 4:30 marathon: I simply didn’t believe that I could do it.

That’s a heavy thought to process. I did all the work, although I certainly could have done much more.  I did the work for a 4:30 marathon, but as race day grew nearer and nearer, I couldn’t visualize it happening. I felt the fear telling me that I couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t possible. I guess I listened, and it certainly manifested itself on race day.

This is not meant to discount what I did on May 5th, 2013. I ran a marathon. I ran the fastest marathon I’ve ever done, by over 40 minutes. I ran this exact course 44 minutes slower in 2012. These are some real accomplishments.

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2012 2013 Difference
10k 1:15:50 1:04:20 11:28
13.1 miles 2:46:35 2:20:30 26:05
15 miles 3:19:12 2:48:04 31:08
20 miles 4:22:13 3:44:36 37:37
26.2 miles 5:47:20 5:02:51 44:29
Pace 13:15/mile 11:34/mile 1:41/mile

The times in the 2013 column are all PRs. My prior marathon PR was at Erie, a totally flat course, where I ran in 5:43:29. My new marathon PR is 40 minutes and 38 seconds faster. I can’t be disappointed with these facts, yet I am disappointed that I didn’t believe in myself and try harder. Now I know what I have to do in the future.

In the meantime, let’s look back at the past. I’ve definitely made some strides in the last year.

Pittsburgh marathon comparison 2Pittsburgh marathon comparison 3Pittsburgh marathon comparison 1I’ve put Pittsburgh behind me, although I am looking forward to my rematch in 2014. I’m going to work hard over the summer to become better, faster, stronger – all in my quest for the 4:30 marathon. Steamtown, I’ll see you on October 13th.

[In case you missed it, here are recaps of Friday and Saturday.]

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2013 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend – Saturday

On Saturday, May 4th (MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU), I participated in the UPMC Health Plan/UPMC Sports Medicine Pittsburgh 5k. Christ, that is one long sponsor-y name. I signed up forever ago, when the idea of a shakeout run the day before a marathon was a completely foreign idea. I’m more of the “total rest” camp, but my training plan outlined doing 2 miles. I decided to run the 5k at a very easy pace. Bonus: finishers medals!

shirtAlso, how awesome is the shirt? Last year I think they were short-sleeved and white. This is awesome. The design is the same as the marathon shirts, which I was initially disappointed in when I saw a men’s version: dijon mustard yellow. Like… why? The women’s shirt is much nicer, I think, and will be great for running visibility in the fall and winter.

bag o' swag

bag o’ swag

Since I wanted to run this at an easy pace, and I didn’t trust myself to be able to hold myself back if I was alone, I planned to run with Jennifer, a fellow lady of Steel City, and her friend April. This would be April’s first race ever, and she claimed that she would only be able to do a 14 minute per mile pace. I was totally fine with run-walking, as again, I’m used to total rest for days pre-marathon.

I was staying at the Wyndham, which faces Point State Park, and it’s basically the perfect location for all marathon weekend activities. My room overlooked the Point, and I remember thinking that I would never get tired of that view. I wish I could wake up to it every single day.

IMG_7974IMG_7976My morning started after some restless sleep, at least when I was trying to fall asleep. My mind had been racing from the expo Friday night. When I closed my eyes, all I could see was the bright colors and motion of everyone moving through the expo. Talk about literal sensory overload. I woke up feeling fine, with the exception of my feet and legs. They ached from all the standing I did on Friday. It wasn’t a soreness from running, but just a general pain and ache. I was a bit worried, but figured that since most of Saturday would be spent sitting on my ass, I should be fine.

The start of the 5k was across the river, at PNC Park.  Many of my fellow Steel City friends were running the 5k also, so we planned to get a group photo prior to the race start. I headed out, greeted with a chilly wind, with air temperatures around 55 degrees. Normally the wind would worry me, but I wasn’t racing. I took my time walking over to our meetup point, taking photos like a tourist.

IMG_7980IMG_7981IMG_7983Many of our SCRR folks showed up for the morning photo:

IMG_7989Since I was running for funsies, I didn’t feel any of the usual pre-race nerves. Also, this was the first time I would be running with my camera. I wanted to take pictures on the run, especially since this was April’s first race ever. I always wonder how runners take pictures while they’re racing. Holding a camera and trying not to spill water on it would make me mental. I had no issues since this was a short, easy race, but I probably won’t attempt this running anything longer than 10k.

Soon it was time to line up, and after the national anthem, we were off.

IMG_7991We kept the pace around 11:30/mile, nice and easy. It felt very different not to go balls-out, and it was a nice change. I was able to enjoy myself, looking at everyone around me, listening to spectators cheering. April was doing great during the first mile.

April on the left, Jen on the right. All smiles!

April on the left, Jen on the right. All smiles!

Our pace slowed a bit during the second mile, due to a water stop. I wasn’t expecting one, but I was happy to have a drink mid-run. Soon we had a nice downhill to enjoy, with gravity doing most of the work. We began to cross the Warhol bridge, where the famous “Runner of Steel” banner hangs. I ran up ahead of the girls so that I could get a photo of them running underneath. It looked badass!

IMG_8006April had basically had enough at this point, so Jen and I encouraged her. No, you aren’t going to die. Yes, you can do this. Yes, the finish line really is close by. Only a few more minutes of running! Think of that medal! Soon the finish line came into view.

229791_10200914574887168_1715694815_nAt this point, I told April that if she had any gas left in the tank, now was the time to turn up the effort. She was ready and picked up the pace!

April was so worried that she would finish over 40 minutes. Here we all are, with a 37:29 finish!

IMG_4965This was the most fun I think I’ve ever had during a race. We chatted the miles away, encouraged each other, and just had a great time. I need to figure out how to make more of my races to be this way, even the ones when I’m competing.

Post-race, I met up with (another) Jen and Michael. Michael had run (insanely fast) and Jen was a spectathlete. The corporate challenge tent was pretty empty, but we enjoyed nice warm pancakes courtesy of Fischer Nutrition.

To be honest, the cookie was slightly tastier than the medal.

To be honest, the cookie was slightly tastier than the medal.

I spent the rest of the day in my hotel room, carb-loading, Epsom-salt-bathing, preparing, and sitting. My outfit was all ready, my fuel prepped, my bags packed as much as possible (in case my finish time cut it close with my checkout time). Technically, physically, I was ready. Emotionally, mentally? Stay tuned to find out.

(If you missed it, Friday’s recap is here.)

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2013 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend – Friday

Instead of writing one obnoxiously gigantic post about my marathon weekend, I’ve decided to break it up into a few. After all, this was a three day affair.

I was asked weeks before the marathon if I would be able to volunteer at the Steel City Road Runners booth at the GNC Live Well Expo. The expo opened up late Friday morning and ended Saturday evening. I decided that I wanted to stay off my feet as much as possible on Saturday, so I volunteered for a Friday shift. I planned to work a half day and then volunteer from 4-8pm.

Since I volunteered, and since I was running the UPMC Health Plan/UPMC Sports Medicine Pittsburgh 5k on Saturday morning, and since I live an hour away from the city, I decided to splurge on a hotel stay. I had already anticipated staying in the city Saturday night, but with all the activity going on Friday and Saturday, I decided that it was best for my sanity to spend some extra money and stay two nights.

I left work around lunchtime on Friday and left my car parked in my work garage. No sense in paying for two garages over the weekend! Fortunately one of my work perks includes free transportation with the Port Authority, so I hopped on a bus, luggage in hand, and headed downtown. I was able to get an early check in at my hotel, ensuring I had plenty of time to unload all my junk, walk over to the expo, pick up my packets, and do some browsing before my 4:00 shift began.

IMG_4906My friend Jeannette was running the half this year, through the same charity as last year. Unfortunately, there was some debacle with assigning race bibs, and she was told to show up at the expo ASAP, because the bibs would be first come, first served. One of the problems with this plan was that she lives out of state, and wouldn’t be coming in until late Saturday afternoon. She asked me if I could pick up her bib Friday, and I figured there would be no problem since I’d be there so early.

After an uneventful hotel arrival and walk to the convention center, I made my way into the expo. It was immediate sensory overload, but the lines at bib pickup were non-existent. I picked up my marathon bib, shirt, and my 5k packet. The marathon goody bag pickup was all the way across the convention center, so I decided to stand in the Runner Services line which was right beside bib pickup. I needed to get Jeannette’s bib here.

The line was really long, but I assumed that it would go quickly. I was tragically wrong because the Runner Services was severely understaffed for the volume of people needing assistance. For what resulted in a three minute fix, I stood in line for an hour and ten minutes. All the while there was a mouth breather who continually invaded my personal space and seemed to have a lack of queue etiquette when he repeatedly ended up standing in front of me. After a few death stares and me going “DUDE!” when he bumped into me, he seemed to get the hint. Then he would forget and do it all over again.

I was pretty annoyed at this point, because WTF LINE, but I wanted to leisurely browse the expo vendors before my shift began. By the time I had Jeannette’s bib in hand, I had about 45 minutes before I needed to be at the SCRR booth. I scurried through the expo like a lunatic, completely inefficiently, hitting up several vendors and finding some fun things. It was total sensory overload.

I'm really looking forward to wearing this to an out-of-state race.  http://www.myfreshfactory.com/

I’m really looking forward to wearing this to an out-of-state race.
http://www.myfreshfactory.com/

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Unfortunately this is not a tech shirt, but I liked the design so much that I couldn’t pass it up.

There was a poster wall for people to leave words of support for Boston. We also sold #runforboston bracelets at the SCRR booth, and ended up raising over $4400 for the One Fund Boston! All bracelet proceeds went directly to the One Fund. It was gratifying to feel like we made a difference.

IMG_4907IMG_4908After doing a few laps around the booths, I headed to the restroom to change into my vendor shirt and tame my windblown hair – after all, my main goal in working the booth would be to recruit new members. Can’t do that with crazy eyes and crazy hair, but really, I can only fix one of those things.

When I say that working a four hour shift on my feet on the hard concrete convention center floor without carbs was my favorite part of the entire weekend, I am not lying. I had an unbelievably awesome time, hanging out with my fellow runner friends, and meeting new ones. I think the reason this was so much fun is because I believed in what I was saying: that joining this club has changed my life. I met dozens and dozens of people, and I repeated the benefits I’ve enjoyed until my voice was hoarse. And I loved every minute of it.

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Later we learned that over the weekend, we had recruited something like 150 new members! Evidently our goal had been 60-70, so I think everyone overachieved. Hooray!

The expo came to a close, and I was ready to eat and get off my feet. Despite wearing my compression sleeves, my legs ached from the hard floor. I stopped for a burrito bowl on my walk back to the hotel and settled in for the evening. It had been a great day, but the weekend had just begun. Check back soon for my recap of Saturday!

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It All Comes Down to This.

Well, here I am. It’s finally race weekend. I’ve spent the last eighteen weeks training for one single goal: a 4:30 marathon. I’m a race and marathon veteran at this point, but I can’t remember ever being this nervous and anxious before a race. Not even before my first race ever. Not even before my ultramarathon. You see, I went into those things with training. Just not proper training.

For the first time in my running “career,” I have followed a valid training plan to the letter. In the past, I’ve made things up as I went along, skipping workouts when I didn’t feel like doing anything, and running longer distances than were recommended, without the aid of a fallback week. I was a mess, I half-assed things, and my race times last year showed it.

This time, though, I know that I’ve done absolutely everything I can. This should be reassuring, but it isn’t at the moment. I’ve been so focused on this goal of 4:30 that I don’t know how I will feel if I finish in 4:31, or 4:45, or 5:30. I need to remind myself that any of these times would be a drastic improvement over my current marathon PR of 5:43.

So here I sit, looking back at the last eighteen weeks. Sunday will be the culmination of eighteen weeks of hard work. I’ve nailed mostly all of my training runs, I’ve done the speed work, the hills, the race-pace runs. However, I have no idea what it will feel like to lay it all out on the course. I’m so used to trying to save just a little bit of energy for later. How will I know if I’m giving it everything I’ve got, or just being plain foolish? This has been the main cause of my anxiety over what should be an amazingly exciting time.

I guess it’s a good thing that I’m anxious. If I didn’t feel this way, it would probably mean that I didn’t really care about my performance. Lawd, do I care about my performance this year. I want that 1:13 PR so badly. I can’t believe it’s time to try to reach my goal, the goal I’ve spent all of 2013 working towards achieving. By this time tomorrow, it will all be over. Will it all have been worth it?

No matter what time I cross the finish line, I already know that the answer is yes.

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13th Annual Burgh’s 10K/5K Run

On Sunday, April 21, I participated in the 13th Annual Burgh’s 10K/5K Run on the Montour trail. I signed up for both the 5k and 10k forever ago, after hearing nothing but good things from my friend Alicia. This race was on part of the Montour that I had never run, out in Cecil Township. I was really looking forward to running a new trail.

I had convinced my other friend Angela to run also, so we planned to all stick together. Then, as race day approached, Alicia expressed her desire to run a sub-30 minute 5k, and the flat rail-trail was a good place to try. I offered to pace her, since I’ve become something of a pacing goddess during this training cycle. Angela wasn’t entirely convinced of nailing this pace, but she decided to stick with us as long as she could.

I originally thought that these races were on a Saturday, but after looking at the calendar realized it was in fact going to be a Sunday. This meant I could run my usual Saturday run with the Steel City Road Runners, and then race Sunday. However, since it was the beginning of our taper in anticipation of the Pittsburgh Marathon, I decided to skip running with the group.

We didn’t want to miss out entirely, though, so Alicia, her fiancé Mark, and I volunteered to man (woman) a water stop along the 11 mile course. Despite the completely insane wind and hail, we had an awesome time!

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The runners wore blue and yellow (Boston Marathon colors) and had bibs with the photo in this picture – “We are all Boston Marathoners at heart.” I had printed out this picture the day before, in anticipation of taping it to our table, and when I showed up in the morning, they had the exact same thing on the bibs. It was awesome.

After seeing everyone running, we were ready to race on Sunday. As usual, I agonized over the details: would I get lost? (I had a rental car with no GPS) What would the weather do? Would I be able to pace the girls well? Where would I park? I’m a mess before races, especially new ones.

I arrived about an hour early, found rockstar parking, and Alicia pulled in like three seconds later. We headed to registration to get our bibs and awesome shirts (purple!) before finding a bathroom. It was really chilly – probably around 40 degrees – so we decided to hang out in our cars until it was time to run.

I decided to hit the bathroom one more time before the race start, but ran into Angela on the way, so I hung out with her in line while trying not to chatter our teeth out from shivering. Before I knew it, it was about time to head to the starting line, so I had to jog back to my car to get all my stuff ready to go.

I had planned on wearing my new SCRR singlet with arm warmers and gloves, but standing outside convinced me I would be too cold. I decided to wear the singlet over top a long sleeve shirt with gloves. By the time I got to the starting line and spotted a fellow SCRR member, Francie, the sun was pretty warm and I decided to ditch the long sleeve shirt. People were looking at me kind of strangely, but I was actually pretty comfortable. Besides, I get unusually warm when I run, so I knew that I would be fine later.

Angela, Alicia and I found each other, which was impressive because there were over 500 runners alone – not counting spectators. That was a lot of people to cram onto on a narrow rail-trail. Fortunately this was a chip-timed race, so we didn’t have to worry about the accuracy of our times. It was an out-and-back, so the start and finish line were the same.

Alicia and I christening our new SCRR singlets

Alicia and I christening our new SCRR singlets

Francie wasn’t running, but instead was what I like to call a spectathlete. She also had her camera, so she was going to take lots of photos. Yay! I love photos. They make blog posts way more interesting.  Francie generously offered to hold onto my shirt, and soon she became Coat Lady for several other people. She was awesome.

For a sub-30 5k, I had told Alicia that we should try to maintain a 9:30 pace, which would have us finish around 29:30. We of course took off faster than this, with the excitement of racing and the crowd of people.

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Alicia stopped to tie her shoe about a half mile in, and I slowly left Angela behind while trying to keep the sub-30 pace. I wanted to keep the pace so that if Alicia was behind me, she could see the pace (her watch was acting up), but I decided at the turnaround, I would stop and wait for the girls. They had maintained a very respectable pace because I didn’t even see them as they flew by the turnaround! I ran to catch up. Alicia was having some trouble – her heart rate was too high – and Angela wasn’t accustomed to running this fast. We decided to reign things in – after all, we still had a 10k to run after this!

We ended up finishing in 30:53, which is still a sub-10 minute pace. Alicia was happy with that, so I was happy too! I was worried about her, though, with her heart rate. She had donated blood earlier in the week – apparently you need blood to run hard. Makes sense, but it was something she (or I) had thought of before the run.

We stood near the start/finish line, had some water, and tried to stay warm. I had worked up a good sweat, but the air was cool, so I became a bit chilled. Alicia still wasn’t feeling right, so I ran down the hill to the pavilion where they had all the post-race goodies. I found an orange and ran back up to the girls. It was pretty good for me, because it kept me warm.

Soon enough, it was 10k time, and we set off at an easy pace. We decided to run comfortable, and walk if we needed to do so. It was so much fun, especially when we saw the race leaders heading back our way. We walked a bit, enjoying the scenery (seriously a beautiful part of the Montour) and chatted. Close to the turnaround point was a creepy tunnel that we had to run through. It was dark, dripping water, and chilly inside – perfect for a Halloween race.

It was a bit warmer at this point, and we enjoyed the sunshine. I distinctly remember telling the girls that I would cry tears of joy if marathon day weather was that perfect. After our turnaround, we enjoyed a noticeable downhill grade for awhile. I also noted that we were running a few miles at my goal marathon pace.

Soon we neared the finish line, and there was Francie with her camera, and Sam, Angela’s husband, cheering us on! We were pretty happy that so many people were still out, cheering on the finishers.

"Time to turn it up and look good doing it!"

“Time to turn it up and look good doing it!”

Angela and I, post-double race

Angela and I, post-double race

After the race, Sam and Angela headed out. Alicia and I decided to find the promised finish line beer! Down in the pavilion area, we bumped into Tom, another fellow SCRR member. He had run both races as well – in fact, he runs races almost every weekend, doubling up also. He had run a half marathon the day before. He’s a badass and I basically want to be him when I grow up.

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So much deliciousness in this photo.

We got some food and sat in the grass, enjoying the sun and listening to the awards being announced. I never before realized how delicious pasta with red sauce topped with salty potato chips could be. In case you’re wondering: GLORIOUS.

At the end, they began drawing race numbers to give away raffle prizes. It seemed that a lot of people had left because hardly anyone was claiming prizes. To improve this situation, they decided to just call out numbers that they could see. It became a huge mess with everyone climbing over each other to get their bibs in the announcer’s line of sight. I was annoyed, and we didn’t win anything. Boo.

All in all, though, an awesome couple of races, and I look forward to running both again next year. I hope to run both for speed, as it’s been a long time since I’ve run a flat 5k, and I have yet to run a flat 10k. See you next year, Burgh’s 5k/10k!

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Boston

What can I say about the Boston Marathon attack that hasn’t already been said? There are thousands of blogs and articles out there, far more eloquent than I could hope to be. I feel like I have truly nothing important to say here, but I want to at least acknowledge what’s happened.

When I learned what happened via the internet, my heart sank to the floor and I felt utter disbelief. I was shocked at the photos, video clips and headlines that kept appearing. I distinctly remember feeling hungry before I learned what had happened – in fact, I was trying to figure out what I was going to eat for dinner. After I saw the news, I felt completely sick to my stomach. I actually felt like I might throw up.

I frantically refreshed Facebook, hoping to see updates from the friends I knew who were there. One by one, they became accounted for. I felt relief, then guilt for feeling relief. I felt guiltly for being glad a friend hadn’t qualified for this year’s race, despite his best efforts.

I ended up going home, taking some Advil PM washed down with cabernet, and slept. When I woke Tuesday morning, there was about a thirty second window when I had forgotten what had happened. Then my mind woke up fully and I went about the day in a haze. I later realized that I wasn’t just feeling bummed out – I was grieving.

I felt grief for those killed, and what their families would have to go through.

I felt grief for the hundreds of people who were injured, because they were cheering on friends and strangers.

I felt grief for those who lost limbs, and how their lives changed in an instant.

I felt grief for the first responders, the spectators, and the race officials who had jumped into action before the smoke had cleared, and for the post-traumatic stress they will probably suffer after sifting through such carnage.

I felt grief for the runners and spectators desperately trying to contact their loved ones, to find out if they were safe, and having the cell network become unavailable.

I felt grief for the runners who were not able to finish the race for which they had spent months or years preparing and training.

I felt grief for the runners who were not able to finish the race, and having 2013 be their only opportunity to run Boston.

I felt grief for the runners who did finish, and who felt their pride in their accomplishment was inappropriate.

I felt so much grief, all for people I didn’t know – because I did know them.

Runners are a different breed, and so are the spectators who support them. Runners sacrifice a lot to achieve a goal that non-runners may not even understand. We wake up early on our days off so that we can run for hours, and we hit the pavement before and after work. We don’t let wind, snow, rain or heat get in the way – we train right through it all. We’re perpetually tired, hungry, and sore.

And our spectators understand us. They don’t get mad when we miss yet another social event because we have to wake up early and sober. They watch the kids or take care of chores while we get in our long run. They wake up early too, so that they can stake out the best spot along the race course to cheer us on with the signs they made.

I know those people, and those people know me, without ever having met. Our spirits are the same.

We somehow have to figure out how to keep going, keep running, keep spectating. Keep believing in the human spirit. We have to believe the good will always outweigh the bad. We will continue to toe the starting line, remembering why we’re there in the first place.

If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.
- Kathrine Switzer

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13th Annual Just a Short Run

Last Saturday, I participated in the 13th Annual Just a Short Run 30k on the 30th day of the 3rd month of the 2013th year, 13 days after I turned 30. COULD THERE BE ANY MORE THREES. Maybe, but I’m not going to make the effort to find any.

I decided to run this race again back in January, after my training plan outlined a 20 mile run for that day. 30k is approximately 18.6 miles, so I figured I would run the extra mile and a half before the race to warm up. Besides, I know myself. If I run an 18.6 mile race, there’s no way I’m going to skip the snack line at the finish line to run for another 15 minutes. THEY HAVE COOKIES.

Last year, this race kicked my ass. I decided that I was up for a rematch, especially since I had trained so poorly last year – not for this race in particular, but all around. I’ve learned a hell of a lot this cycle, but this is not to say I’ve been the perfect runner. I’ve skipped runs when I wasn’t sick, eaten many a burrito bowl, and not cross-trained like I should have. However, I’m running better than I ever have, so I know I’m doing something right.

The week leading up to the race was one of my bad weeks – I skipped every single workout I had scheduled. At first, when I skipped my track workout on Tuesday, I told myself I was still recovering from the hills of the Marine Corps 17.75k. Wednesday night I was tired, so I didn’t go to spin. Then I talked myself out of Thursday’s run because it was windy. Yep. Windy.

So, there I was, going into a 20 mile run with a full week of rest in front of it. I’m not sure that it was the best idea, but to be honest, I didn’t feel that nervous about the run. This is strange, because in case you didn’t know, 20 miles is really far when you have nothing to propel you except your own feet. Why wasn’t I worried?

I figured I would be a nervous wreck the morning of the race, so I went about my Friday as usual. Electrolyte-enhanced water all day, extra carbs for breakfast and lunch, and then a truly epic bowl of carbs for dinner. And then a giant bowl of cereal after that.

Carb day is my favorite day!

Carb day is my favorite day!

I prepared all of my race gear, laid out my clothes, and packed up my car. Now all I had to do was sleep. I had gotten magnificent sleep Thursday night, so I figured I would sleep terribly Friday night. Fortunately this was not the case, but I did have to leave the house earlier than usual. See, I needed to be able to secure rockstar parking, because remember the last time I parked at North Park?

In order to park where I wanted to, I needed to leave home at 6am… for an 8:30 start. Wheee! However, it was worth it. I was able to secure a good parking space that was along the race course – in fact, it was basically the same one I had last year. This way I could wear some decent gloves and be able to ditch them onto my car instead of throwing them away somewhere along the course. Plus if I was having trouble, I would be able to stop at my car and get whatever I needed.

I was parked by 7am and put on my giant fluffy winter coat to walk the quarter mile to the start/finish area. Despite my awesome parking, I wanted to leave a bag at the drop tent so I could put on dry clothes immediately after finishing. The weather was freezing at the start, but promised to quickly warm up. It turned out to be a perfect cloudless day, although I would have preferred a few clouds because I forgot that I have to wear sunscreen. Yep, I got burned. In March.

I hit the bathroom before returning to my car, and then prepared everything I would need. I situated my fuel belt with gels, my phone, and key. I put on arm warmers and gloves and headed out to wait in what I assumed would now be an epic bathroom line. My plan was to meet up with my fellow Steel City Road Runners for a pre-race group picture at 8, and then run my 1.4 miles to warm up before the race.

Of course the bathroom line was more epic than I imagined, and I watched the time tick by as I waited and waited. I finally made it through, took care of business, and basically sprinted to our meeting spot. Of course I had time to spare as we were waiting for some other people, but I wish I had realized that there was a porta-potty right near our meetup. I would have saved myself some stress.

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After our photo-op, I hurried off to finish my warmup before the starting gun fired. I ended up running too fast (shocker) but I was eager to get to the start line to meet up with a few people. Shannon, Keith, Lori and I planned to run the race together. I was excited to have people to run with again – in fact, I’m now actually finding myself anxious about running longer distances alone.

Our plan was to try to maintain an 11:00/mile pace, which of course went out the window almost immediately. The excitement, the chill in the air, and the huge crush of runners encouraged us to run quicker. However, about a mile into the race, we faced our biggest hill and slowed down appropriately. I always have to remind myself that effort is more important than pace when climbing hills. Keep the effort even, and the pace will even out later. Besides, what goes up must come down (usually) so there’s almost always a chance to make up the lost time later.

The 30k event begins with a 3.6 mile loop around the roads by Marshall Lake before returning to the boat house parking lot, at which point you have three North Park Lake loops to run. Hooray, only three laps! The laps were run clockwise, which I find to be slightly more difficult than running counter-clockwise.

I had removed my arm warmers during that first challenging hill and tucked them into my fuel belt, but I didn’t want to worry about losing them for the next 15 miles. With my convenient parking space, I was able to make a lucky toss of arm warmers and gloves, which landed right on my windshield. No time lost. Bonus! There was also no wind, so I didn’t worry about them blowing away.

We finished our first 3.6 miles in 39:17. Last year, it took me 43:26. Yay, improvement! The first lake loop was also our fastest, and we realized that we had better save up a little something for the last lap. At the end of the first lap, Shannon stopped for a porta-potty break and said she would catch up to us. At this point, Keith and Lori had pulled ahead, and I was running alone. I kept looking over my shoulder, looking for Shannon’s bright blue shirt, but I never saw it. I worried that she might have been sick or injured when she stopped, and didn’t let on. I chastised myself for not running slower to wait.

I really struggled with the second lap. I think a lot of it was being alone, but my legs were starting to fatigue. Particularly, my IT bands – something I notice a lot when running North Park. A friend mentioned that he thinks it’s the camber of the running path along the lake, and I agree. You’re basically running sideways on a hill for miles at a time. Eventually, you’re going to feel it.

With about a half mile left in my second lap, I heard someone call my name behind me. It was Shannon! She had run this lap impressively fast, trying to catch up with us. It turned out there was someone in the porta-potty who took quite awhile, and she had the internal argument we all have: wait them out, since you’re there, or push forward while feeling uncomfortable?

My spirits were lifted, but my body was still pretty achy. Lori must have been feeling the same way, because we caught up to her within about a half mile. Keith was long gone at that point, so we all decided to finish the third lap together. When we reached approximately the 14 1/2 mile point, I had to ask the girls if they minded stopping to walk with me. I was extremely disappointed in myself, but had to remind myself of the momentousness of what had happened: I had run fourteen and a half miles, without stopping. I had run the distance in the past, but always with walking breaks or just plain stopping interspersed throughout. It was a big moment, but I didn’t truly appreciate it because I was feeling so negative.

After this point, we run-walked the rest of the lap. Running mostly, and walking through and after aid stations. I had my hydration pack with me, but it was becoming hotter as the time went by, and I was losing a lot of salt. I began taking fluid at the aid stations, both water and gatorade.

Soon we could hear the finish line festivities, and realized we were a mile from crossing that line. We ran the last mile, steadily increasing our pace until we finished. It was so great crossing the finish like together!

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Let’s look at 2012 vs. 2013, shall we?

Laps

2012

2013

3.6 miles

43:26

39:17

5 miles

1:05:42

53:47

5 miles

1:07:32

55:47

5 miles

1:17:06

1:00:58

FINISH

4:13:46

3:29:47

In case you can’t math, I will do it for you. That’s a PR of 43:59. FORTY THREE MINUTES AND FIFTY NINE SECONDS. Look at what happens when you train properly! (And not run a 50k two weeks prior.)

We did it!

We did it!

My 20 mile (actually 20.2 miles) time was 3:44:04, which is definitely also a PR. Despite my disappointment in walking during the last lap, it was a huge accomplishment, and I’m pretty proud of myself. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my running buddies – they made it so much easier to push through. The best news: I don’t have to run the lake loop again until I decide to sign up for another North Park race!

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Marine Corps 17.75k

On Saturday, March 23, I participated in the Marine Corps 17.75k event in Prince William Forest Park, Virginia. I had been eyeballing this race ever since December. Why? Well, I can’t remember when I made the decision exactly, but I decided that I wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon. I knew that just signing up would be a difficult task – after all, this is “The People’s Marathon,” and one of the most popular marathons out there. It sells out in record time.

In order to avoid playing what I like to call “online registration roulette,” I set my sights on registering for the Marine Corps 17.75k. Finishers of this race would be guaranteed a spot in the 38th annual Marine Corps Marathon, held in Washington DC & Arlington, VA on October 27, 2013. I set a reminder on my both my work and phone calendars to remind me of the registration’s opening at noon on January 23.

I had also coerced my friend Alicia to run this with me, in the hopes that we could run MCM together. Registration for the 17.75k filled up quickly, but fortunately she and I were both in. Always the over-preparer, I had booked a hotel for us back in December. I’m glad I did – it was the perfect location because the starting line was right outside!

Our plan was to drive down Friday morning, first to check out the local running shop. Packet pickup had been there the day before, but we wanted to peruse the merchandise. After some nightmarish traffic on I-95 (think an hour to drive eight miles), we finally made it. I didn’t find anything (I was quite fond of the “Virgina is for Runners” shirts, though) but Alicia picked up some sweet clearance deals. We then headed to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico.

Since I-95 had been such a nightmare, I asked my GPS to avoid freeways, because it appears there were secondary roads that paralleled I-95. I figured the worst we would sit through was traffic lights. In a way, I was right, but I hadn’t accounted for all our fellow rush hour commuters doing the same thing. It was 5:45pm and I was worried that we wouldn’t make it to the base, 7 miles away, before pickup shut down at 7pm.

Finally the traffic cleared (inexplicably) and we made it to the base with time to spare. They were not doing packet pickup the morning of the race, so we had no choice… or so we thought. Apparently traffic was a nightmare everywhere that evening, because there was, in fact, packet pickup right outside our hotel in the morning. This would have saved us some time, for sure.

Packets in hand, we headed to our hotel to check in. At this point we were starving and after dropping our stuff in the room, hit the nearest Panera to carb load. I was already battling some stomach uneasiness (most likely due to the pasta I had eaten Thursday night), but bludgeoned ahead and ordered more pasta, half a panini, and soup. I also got some goodies for later. I basically overdosed on carbs – you would have thought I was running a marathon, not 11.03 miles.

Carbed up, we headed back to the hotel to settle in and try to relax before it was time for bed. Alicia set out her race outfit and took a picture, saying “I’m going to Instagram the shit out of this!” It was awesome because her race outfit was pretty cute. We had decided to go matchy-matchy with pink! Our shirts from the Wineglass marathon (yeah, I didn’t write that recap) were perfect.

As we settled in to relaxing, we realized that the course elevation might be a bit scarier than we had originally thought.

course map

Oopsie. I quickly realized that this may not in fact be a race pace run (10:18), and Alicia was regretting the intense leg workout she had done the day before. We decided to just see how we felt, and if we needed to split up, we would. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to run at race pace, because there are only a handful of training runs when I’m supposed to do this. The next one would be 16 miles, and I wanted to at least see if I could manage it for 11.

For some reason, both of us somehow did not sleep for the entire night. Or, if we did, it was in short, broken increments. There was really no reason – there wasn’t outside noise, the beds were super comfortable… maybe anxiety? Who knows. We both got up to get ready, not feeling all that positive about what we would be attempting.

As we ventured outside to the drop bag trucks, we saw that there was indeed packet pickup prior to the start. Wish we would have known – it would have saved us some time, stress, and expletives. We met up with a fellow Steel City Road Runner before the race start to grab a photo, and Paul went on to start towards the front of the pack as he is a fasthole.

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The weather was basically perfect – sunny, clear, and around 35 degrees to start. It was pretty exciting to be running in warmer weather for a change – winter in Pittsburgh has outstayed its welcome. Alicia and I decided to start out together and see how we felt as we went along. I amended my goal pace to my long run pace of 11:00 per mile.

The first three miles or so were on a busier-than-expected road, and there was a lane blocked off with traffic cones. I was a little bit nervous about this, but there were police everywhere and drivers seemed to be taking things slow, so I felt better about racing with traffic.

We made it to the turn into Prince William Forest Park and enjoyed about a half mile of downhill. However, it was a gravel & dirt trail, so I tried to be careful not to roll/snap an ankle. It was pretty fun, despite my caution. As with every race, what goes down must come back up, and we were quickly greeted with a 130 foot climb over the next half mile. At this point, I lost Alicia, who was feeling that leg workout.

Knowing I would possibly be alone for part of the race, I had brought my iPod along, so I switched it on for company. The next seven miles were on paved roads, so my footing was much surer than it had been on the trail portion. I tried to concentrate on my breathing – three steps inhale, two steps exhale. Read more at runnersworld.com about this method – it’s really interesting.

Things stayed relatively climb-free until mile 8, and from here till the end we had some seriously rolling hills. I made myself focus on effort over pace on the uphill portions, and enjoyed gravity helping me out on the downhills. Unfortunately, the downhills can be a real quad-killer when you’re already tired. I made it my goal to run all the hills, and I did!

There were some pretty great signs along the course – at the beginning: “You’re NOT almost finished” and other Marine-style messages like “Today, Barbie,” “Let’s go, twinkle toes” and “You Can Stop When I’m Tired.” There were also Marines serving as course marshals, and lots of volunteers at the aid stations.

In true Marine Corps race fashion, the finish line was uphill. I had pretty much nothing left in the tank, and my last mile was the slowest. I tried to smile as I crossed the finish line, especially when I saw that I was finishing under two hours! Very exciting for me. Then I realized I started way in the back, so my actual time ended up being 1:55:14. I placed 1300 out of 2184 finishers and 529 out of 1083 women. 6 of my miles were at or below race pace! I couldn’t believe it.

I had a quick cool-down walk and realized that I should stay at the finish line to get some photos of Alicia, in case the finish line photographer charged for photos. Soon Alicia came bounding up the hill, as though she hadn’t just run 11 miles of cray-cray hills.

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We headed up yet another hill to the finish line area to get our Access Granted cards, which would give us a link and passcode to register for the Marine Corps Marathon before general registration opened.

Woohoo, we're in!

Woohoo, we’re in!

Check out the awesomest feature of a finish line area I have ever seen:

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We picked up our cards and drop bags, and had a short stretch/yoga session when we noticed that the shuttle line was epically long. We grabbed our free beer and joined the line, quickly realizing that we may not make it back to the hotel in time to shower, pack up, and check out before noon. Fortunately we made it with a few minutes to spare, took the fastest showers of our lives, registered for the marathon, and hit the road for home.

I was incredibly proud of my performance at this race. It was probably the hilliest non-trail race I’ve ever run, and to have finished within my race pace was amazing. I had a lot of factors working against me for this race, and I was able to overcome them all and perform above my expectations. It was a huge confidence booster for Pittsburgh in May, and I would definitely run this race again.

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Angry Sinuses and Lessons Learned

I’ve been so careful, since the flu season started, to do everything in my power to avoid illness. I obsessively took multivitamins, washed my hands, didn’t touch doorknobs, Purelled like it was going out of style, and took Emergen-C when someone who worked near me had a cold. I eventually got a flu shot, too. Since marathon training started January 5th, I’ve managed to avoid the death flus and the colds that have been floating around. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

I managed to get taken down the first week of March. It began innocently – I figured I was just hungover. I woke on Sunday morning with a headache and scratchy throat, which I assumed was from a friend’s birthday outing at a bar the night before. Unfortunately, that headache lasted for four days, and then the sinus pressure began. I missed several days of work, but even laying my head down on the softest pillow felt like trying to sleep on a cinder block. I hate missing work for non-fun things.

I didn’t go to the doctor until that Saturday, and with barely a glance-over, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection. Funsies! At that point, I had missed three days of running and two days of cross-training. As a truly paranoid runner, I believed that I had lost all of my stamina. It’s such an unsettling feeling, and I’ve actually experienced it when healthy, too. Basically I tell myself I can never stop running, because I don’t want to lose my mileage base and have to start all over again. I’m insane.

Fortunately, with lots of hydration and antibiotics, I was able to run last Tuesday, for the first time in nine days. It was a speed workout to boot – 5 Yasso 800 repeats. I managed the workout, a bit over my goal times, but I did it nonetheless. Lingering side-effect of my sinus infection, though, was achy teeth, which was even worse in the cold. I’m actually still feeling it today, seven days later.

I don’t know how I got sick – I had slacked a little bit in my vitamin and Purell consumption, but I doubt it was simple as that. If this is my only illness of the year, I will be a happy runner. However, if I do start feeling something similar in the future, I will definitely go to the doctor sooner, with the hopes I can feel better faster.

The other thing I learned? It’s hard to negate 184 running miles over nine weeks with one week of no activity. My body is stronger than I think, and muscle memory is awesome. In fact, maybe my body even benefited with a week of rest. There’s no way to know, but what I do know is that I am on track to meet my goal on May 5th.

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38th Annual Spring Thaw

Last Saturday was the 38th annual Spring Thaw, which is a 10, 15, and 20 mile race held at North Park. I signed up for the 10 mile race this year, because it fell perfectly in conjunction with my marathon training plan. Last year, I signed up for the 20 mile option and ended up dropping to 15. I was in the midst of training for the JC Stone 50k, and most of my training had been done around that 5 mile lake loop. I attribute this over-training and lack of variety to my drop in the race. This year, though, I’ve been doing things the right way.

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Cute shirt this year!

This was my third 10 mile race – I recapped my first and second 10 milers previously on the blog. My 10 mile PR was one hour, fifty nine minutes, and one second, which is an average of 11:54 per mile. I’ve been training hard to run faster than this, and Saturday’s 10 mile training run was supposed to be run at race pace (i.e., my marathon goal pace) which is 10:15/mile. If I was able to keep race pace, I would be looking at a new 10 mile PR.

Despite the race not starting until 10am, I arrived by 8:30 in order to get decent parking. The lot I usually park in was full, so I ended up getting (what I thought) was rock-star parking, in a lot directly above the finish line. I got my gear together and headed over to the Rose Barn, where registration was taking place, to see if any of my fellow Runners of Steel had arrived. We planned to take a group photo before the race and to coordinate pace groups.

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For all of our long runs, we’ve been breaking into small pace groups. As a mentor, I’ve been consistently leading the 11:00 pace group, which is also my long run pace. We’ve been having so much success running as a group, so I suggested that we try to get together before the race and run together.

I felt nervous, because I had skipped a few runs lately I had not run the lake loop since the Just a Short Run 30k last year, which was an awful experience (again, due to over-training). I knew the hills and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep the pace. As the race started, the first mile was so incredibly packed that I figured that would keep us on pace (slower, instead of starting too fast). Instead, the first mile flew by and was my fastest mile at 9:37. Uh, oops.

Obviously, this pace allowed me to warm up very quickly. I rolled up my sleeves and took off my gloves within the first two miles. My friends Michael and Jen were at the finish line to cheer us on, so I hoped to be able to hand off the gloves as I finished my first lap.

I ran with a few people – Keith, who I’ve been running most of my Saturdays with, but who has gotten progressively faster and I can no longer keep up with him! There was Francie and Steven, who were running 15 for the day, and Nancy, who was running 20! The four of us ended up running together for most of my race. It was great to have fellow Steel City folks to chat with and basically just hang out with. We had an awesome time and soon the first lap was over. I never thought of running as a social event until I began training with the group this year, and now I wonder how I managed my 15, 20, 25, and 30 miles runs on my own last year.

I had brought a Clif Shot gel to take after mile 5, along with my own fuelbelt with Nuun-enhanced water. This is what I’ve been training with, and I wanted to have that same thing on race day. Also, I don’t like to stop (anymore) while I’m racing, because it makes starting up all the more difficult. Plus, having my own water means I never have to wait for an aid station. I may end up doing this on marathon day, too.

As we rounded the bend to the finish line/timing mats, I was able to hand off my gloves to Michael. I was really grateful – holding onto the gloves for another 5 miles would have kicked my paranoia into gear, because I kept thinking I had lost one, despite them both being in my hands. I don’t need to worry about such things when I’m racing!

I completed my first five mile loop in 50:56, which was a massive improvement over last year’s first lap of 1:03:46. To be fair, I thought I was running 20 miles that day, but still. I was thrilled with my time. My prior fastest lap was exactly 60 minutes, at last year’s March Mad Dash. Pretty awesome progress! We began the second loop and I felt good – I knew exactly what was coming, and I was ready to keep pushing with my fast friends.

I know if I hadn’t been running with Steven, Nancy and Francie, I would not have pushed my pace as much as I did. It was an interesting thought, one I’ve not yet figured out: how will I know the difference between pushing the pace, and just plain running too fast too early? Perhaps I won’t really know until I’ve run too fast too early.

We were about a mile into our second lap when we came up on a fellow Steel City runner (seriously, we were everywhere in this race. The gear made it easy to spot each other!) who was walking ahead of us. I called out “You’re doing great!” as we passed, and she started running with us. Her name is Jenni (yay, new friends!) and she said what I’ve often thought during races: sometimes you just need that simple encouragement from a total stranger to inspire your legs to get moving. Jenni stayed with us for a little while and dropped back when some of the angrier hills appeared.

Soon we were within about a half mile of the finish line and I realized that I still had gas in the tank and it was time to turn up the heat. As this point another Runner of Steel, Dave, had caught up with us, and he ran with me to the finish. We left Francie and Nancy behind, since they had many more miles to go. We rounded the bend in the parking lot and full-out sprinted across the finish line to excited cheers from Jen, Michael, Shannon, Lori, Keith (fasthole), and other Steel City folks. I lit up when I heard the cheers and when I saw the clock! My second lap was 50:33.

Coach Jen (in the white coat) was super scream-cheering us to the finish. I'm so happy in this picture!

Coach Jen (in the white coat on the right) was super scream-cheering us to the finish. I’m so happy in this picture!

When I finished, my Nike+ watch told me that I had a new 10k PR of 1 hour 2 minutes. It did not inform me of a 10 mile PR (because maybe it only does 5k and 10k?), but I had in fact earned a new 10 mile PR of 1:41:28. That’s an 17 and a half minute improvement over March of last year! That’s pretty awesome. Fun fact: I was also 10 pounds heavier when I previously PR’d. Losing weight plus consistent training makes Lora faster. Yay!

...oh dear. Well, it could have been worse.

…oh dear. Well, it could have been worse.

Unfortunately, my happiness was short-lived. While I hung out at the finish line for a while, watching and cheering on other runners, unbeknownst to me, someone was hitting my parked car. They selfishly didn’t leave a note, despite having hit my car two separate times – no way they didn’t realize it. My not-even-a-year-old car is scratched and dented.

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Somehow in my 14 years of driving, I’ve never been hit before (without someone leaving a note), so I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I changed into a dry shirt and walked back down to the finish line area, but stopped to talk with an Allegheny County police officer. They were blocking traffic for the race, as they always do at North Park events, so I asked him what he thought I should do. He said there wasn’t much they could do for hit and run incidents, and I said that it certainly could have been worse. He advised calling my insurance company. I thanked him for his advice and headed back to my friends at the finish line, where I ran to get into this picture!

I had an incredible performance and I wanted it to show!

I had an incredible performance. SUCK IT, HIT & RUN WHORE.

I’m glad I could smile despite the circumstances. I had an amazing race and it shows!

While I was hanging out, the police officer I had talked with found me and said that he had looked at my car – the damage was more than he thought based on my description, so he said he would have someone come take photos and a report. This perked me up a little bit – it was significant enough to warrant a report. I waited for another officer to arrive and we surveyed the damage together – not just to my car, but the park itself.

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He took photos and my information, and during this a girl walked over and said that she had seen a woman in a small silver SUV hit my car – it actually interlocked with my passenger side mirror, which was folded in as a result. She didn’t get a license plate number (I really really really wish she had), but at least it was something to go on.

The fact that it was most likely a fellow runner, or a fellow runner’s supporter, really bummed me out. I mean, we were all there for the same reason: to run a race. Perhaps it’s naive of me, but I feel a kinship with other runners. It’s come to the point where I see a person running and think, “Oh, a runner! Do I know them?” It’s frustrating to think that this woman hit my car not once, but TWICE, and felt okay about fleeing the scene without leaving a note. It also goes to show you that you can commit a crime with hundreds of people around and get away with it.

Finish line photos were released from Elite Runners & Walkers, the race sponsor, and I decided to do a little (read: A LOT of) detective work. I managed to narrow down the timeline and guess what Detective Lora found? Photos of the vehicle hitting my car. And photos of people who were complicit in this woman’s crime, because they helped to push her car out of the mud. I’m glad they all felt that there was nothing wrong with helping her leave the scene. At any rate, I sent the photos to the police, and I’m hoping they can use them.

What irritates me the most? I did nothing wrong, and I have to pay for it. Her selfishness took away from what should have been an amazing day for me. It dulled my accomplishment. She obviously went about her day feeling fine, and I’m left with the consequences. Please: if you ever see someone commit a hit and run, take a photo or write down their license plate number. Even a few numbers plus the make of the vehicle would help in these kind of situations.

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