Thanks for all of your positive comments yesterday :) I didn’t want to leave you hanging too long, so here’s my Pittsburgh recap! I’ve organized it with a review of the overall expo/ race first, and then my personal experience running the race at the end.
The expo for Pittsburgh was phenomenal – definitely the biggest expo I’ve been to! It took place over two days (Friday and Saturday) at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Alexa, Andrew and I headed over to the convention center on Saturday and had no trouble finding parking nearby.
There was no line for packet pick-up, and we quickly got our long-sleeve tech t-shirts and drawstring bags. I really liked the bag – even comes with a handy zippered pocket!
We wandered around the huge expo a while; there were a ton of vendors and even a free spin class set-up in the middle of the expo space.
I ended up buying a travel Marathon Stick (link) to roll my muscles in the car after the race, as well as a waterproof car seat cover that will come in handy after long runs and hot yoga classes (Mike was very happy about this purchase).
After the expo and some touring around the city, we ate a customary pre-race pasta dinner at Café Amante – highly recommend this place for their freshly made pasta!
After dinner and some ice cream back the hotel, we called it an early night and turned off the lights around 9.
The Marathon: Course and Organization
First off, I should say that I was really nervous about the logistics of race day because of the size of this race; with over 30,000 runners (marathon and half marathoners), it is probably the biggest race I’ve run. I worried that the traffic to the metro would be horrible, we wouldn’t find a parking spot at the metro station (we took the metro in from across the river at Station Square), that we would have to wait a while to get onto a train, that the lines for the port-o-potties would be insane, and that I wouldn’t be able to find Mike at the finish line.
None of those things happened; I would say this is the smoothest pre-race experience I’ve ever had. We woke up around 5 AM and quickly got dressed and ate. I ate the bagel and banana I had grabbed from the free hotel breakfast the day before and also drank some coffee and a bottle of water.
Transportation: We were out the door by 5:30 and had no trouble finding a parking lot at the metro station a mile away. It was a quick ride across the river to Gateway Station, which was conveniently located right by the bag drop and port-o-potties, and a short walk away from the corrals. I highly recommend using the metro for transportation to this race if you aren’t staying within walking distance of the race start; it couldn’t have been easier :)
Corrals: The start corrals (there are 4) were also well organized and start times were spaced apart by a few minutes, which was enough to prevent crowding. Despite the fact that the marathoners and half marathoners start together, I never felt boxed in and didn’t have to weave much at all (unlike big DC races like Cherry Blossom). I think it helped that the streets/ course was so wide?
Course: The course was well organized with lots of water stops (Gatorade at every stop as well), and I believe some stations also had Powerbars and/or Power gels. There were bands and music playing along most of the course, and because the race also winds through the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, the residents turn out to cheer the runners on during the last half of the marathon course! I greatly appreciated the pretzels and oranges they were handing out; this is one time that I’ll gladly take food from strangers, lol.
Elevation: This is NOT a flat course at all, but the big hill I was nervous about around mile 12 wasn’t as bad as I expected – it isn’t very steep, just long. The course also incorporates a number of Pittsburgh’s bridges during the first half the race, which have a small incline/ decline to them as well. There are a few small hills in the last half of the course, but they aren’t too bad with the exception of the uphill at the end, which wasn’t very steep but who wants to run any incline at that point in the race?
Going into the race, I was more excited than nervous because I felt that I had trained properly and was ready to set a great PR. My goal was to get close to 4 hours, and I felt a 4:10 or 4:15 should be doable based on my half marathon PRs and several solid pace/ tempo runs during training.
The weather was perfect that morning, around 50 degrees and cloudy. I had no trouble getting on pace right away and I stayed on track and felt great the first half of the race, running a conservative 9:20-9:30 pace. I drank Gatorade and walked briefly at each water station and took my gels around mile 5, 9 and 13. The big hill at mile 12 wasn’t the monster that I was expecting, and I knew that was the worst one on the course so I figured I should be able to speed up in the second half and finish around 4:10.
And then at mile 16, I felt a crippling pain hit my left knee and travel up my thigh. I could barely walk, much less run, so I hobbled over to the sidewalk and sat down. I was so crushed that I would have to drop out of the race after months of training, that I wouldn’t finish my marathon, that I wouldn’t get a medal that day. I was on the verge on figuring out how to get to the nearest medical tent, when my inner voice spoke up and said, get up, Dawn. You did NOT train this hard to give up this easily. You haven’t even tried to run through the pain. You need to hop? Hop. You need to crawl? Crawl. But the only way you’re going home today is over that finish line.
Wise? Probably not. But I had just read Eat and Run, and I felt inspired by Scott Jurek’s ability to run through injuries suffered on the course and WIN 100 mile races with blown out ankles and broken toes. I felt that the least I could do was give it my all to finish the race.
I got back up, and winced each time my left foot touched the ground. I began to hobble my way forward, and slowly picked up the pace. Each time I felt pain, I forced my brain to ignore it and push the message away (again, definitely not wise). I knew at this point that a massive PR was out of reach, so I ignored my watch and focused on simply finishing the race. When I wanted to quit, I told myself that that I might be physically weak, but I lacked nothing in mental strength.
Here I am, semi-delirious at the end of the race. I have no idea why my mouth is open.
My pace for those last 10 miles averaged to about 11:00 because I never let myself walk for long, knowing how painful it would be to start running again. And the last half mile of a race has NEVER felt so long (I’m still convinced the half mile marker was incorrectly placed). But that feeling when I crossed the finish line? I can’t even describe it. I knew that the last two hours had changed me, that I wasn’t the same person as I was at the start. So despite the numerous times I promised myself during the race that I would never do this again, I know I’ll be back at the starting line next year.