Fit Friday Motivation: 4/20/2018

Happy Friday everyone!  We have *almost* made it through another winter-wonderland-wonderful week (here in Southwest PA, at least).  Seriously, is winter ever going to end?! We better have an awesome summer after putting up with all this snow nonsense these past few months.  I’m no stranger to running in freezing temps, but snow and ice and COLD are definitely not my favorite conditions to run in.  Or live in, really.  I’m sooo ready to log some springtime miles.  Soon, hopefully.  If not, I’m going to become an early-age snowbird and ship myself off to warmer climates.  Preferably near a beach where I can lay and sip margaritas every night after the kids go to bed… okay, now I’m just daydreaming.

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Source: Google Images

Enough griping about the weather.  On to more important things– it’s the day before a race weekend! Woohoo!  That in itself is all the motivation I need to get myself through the day.  Tomorrow I’m waking up early and running one of my favorite local races– the Takeoff 2018: Trooper Kenton Iwaniec Memorial Race.  This race supports a great cause– honoring DUI victims and raising awareness about the serious implications of impaired driving– and always brings a large crowd with many members of law enforcement attending.  There is a beautiful and moving service prior to the race to honor local State Trooper Kenton Iwaniec, who was killed in a tragic DUI accident in 2008.  It’s so empowering to see so many members of the community come together in support of such a great cause.

This race holds a special place in my heart because it was the first 10K I ever ran back in 2011.  Despite the terrible conditions that day (I can still vividly remember the rain, cold, and extreme wind), I enjoyed the race so much and was in awe of the fact that I could not only run but race for a distance of 6.2 miles.  It was the start of my love for “distance” running (“distance” being relative at that point in time).  The 10K still remains my 2nd favorite race distance to run (13.1 being my all-time favorite, of course).

Since that first 10K in 2011, I’ve only had the opportunity to run this race two other times, so I’m really looking forward to running it tomorrow.  My fastest time here was in 2014 when I ran it in 54:44 (an 8:50 pace).  Ah, the speedy (for me) days.  My main goal for tomorrow is to finish in less than an hour (a 9:39 pace minimum).  I haven’t run a 10K distance race in over two years, though, so I don’t even know if that is realistic.  My most recent 5K pace was 9:02 and that included some unfortunate walking incidents, so I’m hoping that a 9:39 pace for 10K is sustainable.  Only time and my Garmin will tell, I suppose.

My past few races, I’ve been getting sidetracked (not completely sidelined, but sidetracked) by side stitches.  Ugh.  Aren’t they the worst?!   I have no idea what is causing them, but I’m planning to use the next few weeks to try to figure it out so I can hopefully avoid them during the Pittsburgh half in May.  My first thought is that my core isn’t strong enough, because after two babies (one being a c-section) and zero core work, it’s not strong at all.  I’ve done some core moves this week, although for this race it might be too-little-too-late.  My second thought is that my nutrition is completely inadequate, because it isn’t focused on my training at all right now.  My plan for yesterday & today is to go heavier on refined carbs and lighter on fats, as well as hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  The side stitches that I got during my 10-miler a few weeks ago were 100% the result of not being hydrated sufficiently.  I used to make sure I was drinking plenty of fluids the entire week before a long race, but during my two-year-running-hiatus I guess I completely forgot that was something that I do, haha.  I drank too much during the race itself to compensate for my dehydration (I was SO thirsty), and the side stitches showed up not long after that.  Big oopsie.  Live and learn, I guess.  So hydration is the name of the game today.

I’m really looking forward to hitting the pavement tomorrow; I’ll be sure to come back and update with how it goes.  What are your plans for the weekend??  Are there any “sprinter” (spring that’s actually winter) races on your calendar?!

It’s Friday, so it’s time for some fitness motivation.  I don’t know about you, but Des Linden’s first place victory at Boston has been my all the motivation I’ve needed all.week.long.

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Source: Google Images

Watching replays of her victorious finish seriously gives me goosebumps!  I don’t know that I’ll ever be blessed with the opportunity to run Boston, but Des and so many other women like her are my running role models– I would LOVE to not only be able to run another full, but to be competitive when I do it.  After her victory on Monday, I’ve set a new goal for myself: run another full marathon, and beat my previous time when I do it.  Although the logistics (i.e. two babe under 3) make this a long-term goal, it’s a definite new goal of mine.  When the time is right, I want to start training for another 26.2.

So, in the spirit of competitive running, this Friday’s Fit Motivation comes straight from the champion herself:

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Source: Google Images

Any fitness endeavor, running most definitely included, gets to be hard at times.  We get tired.  We lose our spark, and wonder why we ever started in the first place.  In these moments, it’s easy to talk ourselves into quitting.  All motivation seems to be gone.  But, there was a reason you started– and that reason doesn’t just go away because you’re going through a hard time.  Even when you lose sight of that reason, just keep showing up.  Even when you don’t want to, just keep showing up.  Don’t give up on your dreams and goals.  Just keep showing up.  If you do, you’ll get through it.  You’ll improve.  You’ll remember why you started.  And you’ll find that spark again.  Whether it’s a tough race or a months-long fitness funk, just keep showing up.  If you do, you’ll be proud of yourself for reaching your goals.  If you don’t, and if you give up– you’ll never reach your goals.  You’ll only be letting yourself down.  Disappointment is a downwards spiral that you don’t want to pull yourself into.

I don’t know about you, but as an overwhelmed mom-of-two who is struggling to get back into the running scene after taking too much time off, this really speaks to me.  I look at my pre-baby paces and get discouraged because I’m nowhere near where I used to be.  So many times I go into a race with high expectations and get let down when I see the clock at the finish line, minutes later than where I had hoped to see it.  Or I am mid-race, holding a great pace, and ruin it all by making a rookie mistake (e.g. dehydration).  In these times, it’s easy to say “what’s the use?” and give up.  Some goals just take time.  And time takes dedication.  If you give up, you never reach these goals.  If you keep showing up, you do– it’s as simple as that.

There are so many ways you could interpret Des’s words, but this is how they speak to me.

Happy Friday, everyone– enjoy your weekend!

 

 

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Race Recap: Yough River Trail Council 10-Miler (3/31/2018)

Last Saturday, I ran one of my favorite local races in the small town of Connellsville, Pennsylvania.  The annual race, hosted by the Yough River Trail Council, takes place on part of the Great Allegheny Passage, which is a rail-trail stretching 150 miles from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD.

One of the reasons this race is so popular is that it offers a variety of distances for runners of all abilities– 5K, 10K, 10-Mile, and half marathon.  Typically held the day before Easter, it’s also a great “training run” for anyone running in the Pittsburgh half or full marathons.  I run the 10-miler each year that I run the Pittsburgh half, and I ran the half marathon the year that I ran the Pittsburgh full.  It gives me a good gauge of whether I’m where I want to be in my training for May.  Another great thing about this race is the cost– for a pre-registered price of just $15, you can run any distance of the race.  This price includes a free T-shirt, finishers’ prize (this year it was a medal for the half marathoners and a ribbon for all other distances), and refreshments along the course as well as at the finish line.  How many other 5K’s have you run at that price point, much less half marathons?!

Because this race is an out-and-back course on the trail, you don’t have the frills and fanfare of the larger races, but the scenery is beyond beautiful and offers a great distraction as you count down the miles to the finish line.  I don’t miss the fanfare, and I never get bored.  The trail can be somewhat desolate after you pass the 10K turnaround point, but this is actually my favorite part of the race.  Not only do I not feel pressured and distracted by other runners, but the views after this point are amazing.  You are running with the Youghiogheny River flowing in sight to your right, and historical coke ovens visible just off the trail to the left.  If you have done the 5K or 10K but have never done the 10-miler or half marathon, I highly recommend it just for the scenery!  This is all-around a great, well-organized local race with great volunteers.

Okay, that’s my spiel about the race itself.  I swear I have no connection and am in no way affiliated with the Yough River Trail Council, haha– I just really enjoy this race each year and want so share how wonderful it is so that everyone knows they need to run it.  😉  Now for my actual recap.

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A picture of the morning fog lifting off the Youghiogheny River before the race start (edited just a touch with a little help from Instagram)

I arrived about an hour before the 9:00 a.m. start to give myself plenty of time to pick up my packet, use the restroom, and relax before the race started.  I absolutely hate rushing around before any race– it gives me more anxiety about the race than I already have.  And I already had a lot of anxiety about this race.  I signed up for the 10-miler knowing I needed to cover that distance before the Pittsburgh half in May, but my training has been really lacking lately and I haven’t run that distance in about two years.  So I had no clue what to expect.

The temperature at the start of the race was unseasonably cold (in my opinion)– about 30 degrees, but it felt cooler running along the river.  I wore running tights, a long-sleeve tech shirt, a light jacket, and gloves.  By mile 2, though, the jacket came off.  The sun was shining and made for a very comfortable running temperature.

I started this race hoping to finish with an average pace of 10:00 (optimistic) – 10:30 (realistic).  When I ran my first mile in 9:55, I knew I needed to pace myself a little better if I wanted to run a consistent race.  I slowed down to a 10:22 pace for the second mile and tried to hold that steady as I moved forward.

The first few miles of any run are always a physical and mental struggle for me.  I’m not sure why.  I have trouble finding my stride and have doubts about whether or not I”ll be able to finish every time.  Somewhere between the 3-mile marker and 5-mile marker is always where the endorphins kick in and my race begins.  I like to call it “Magic Mile 4.”  This race was no different.  It wasn’t until after the 10K turnaround point (about 3.1 miles in) that I started to really feel confident about my race.  The beautiful scenery I mentioned earlier helped, too, I’m sure.

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A view from the trail of historical coke ovens nestled into the hillside. 

At the turnaround point (5 miles), I was feeling great, but I stopped at the water station to eat some Shot Bloks and take a sip of water before starting the second half of the race.  From past experience, I know not to wait until I feel my body slowing down to do this.

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A view from the trail after the turnaround point.  Hardly anyone in sight.  Beautiful view of the river off to the left.

 When I start a race, I always think about how many miles I’ve run so far. After the turnaround point, I always start counting down the miles to the finish line.  I’ve found this little mental trick to be extra helpful with longer races like this one.  The total distance doesn’t seem as dauting once you start telling yourself “only 4 miles to go… only 3 miles to go… rather than “I’ve run 6 miles… I’ve run 7 miles…” etc.  It seems to help me, at least.

I’m happy to say that my fastest mile during this race was mile 8 at a pace of 9:45.  At that point, I was on an endorphin/shot blok high and feeling great.  Although my last two miles were a little slower because of it, I was glad to know that I could still pick up the pace in the second half of a race, even though I’ve taken a 2-year hiatus from distance running.

The last two miles of the race were tough, but I pushed through and finished within my goal time.  Final race results aren’t posted yet, but my running watch is showing a finish time of 1:43:06, which is an average pace of 10:20 per mile.

The slowest I ever ran this race was in 2015 when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and I finished with a pace of 11:03.  The fastest I ever ran this race was in 2014 when I ran the half marathon with a pace of 9:18 (oh, to be that speedy again).  So a pace of 10:20 after very little training is a pace that I can deal with, knowing it’s a base upon which to improve.

Bring on the half in May.  =)

This weekend I’m taking a break from distance running to run a local 5K in the snow and cold.  Fantastic (note my sarcasm).  Is this winter ever going to end?

What are your running plans for the weekend?    

 

The Procrastinators’ Guide to Half Marathon Training: Day 4

First of all, I would like to apologize to anyone who found this page in search of a short-term, quick-fix half marathon training plan, as the title might suggest.  That’s not what this post is. At all.  My current training is not a “guide” or “training plan” (or really anything that I would ever recommend any runner ever do)– if anything, it’s more of a guide to what NOT to do when you are training for 13.1.

That being said, I know it’s been a while since I posted, so I’ll give a quick recap of what I’ve been up to (if you want the long version, check out my older post here).  After having my 2nd baby in two years last May, I took a few months off from running until my new-found hectic life mellowed out.  Late last fall, I started running with my local running group again here-and-there just to ease back into things.  I got sick a total of three times this winter (I swear my immune system is so much weaker since I haven’t been running regularly), which put me out of commission for most of the cold winter months.  Now that the worst of cold & flu season is *hopefully* (knock on wood) behind us, I’ve been hitting the pavement more often with a goal of increasing my pace and building up my mileage.

If you follow my blog at all, you know that I love, love, love the Pittsburgh marathon/half marathon events.  I ran my first half marathon there in 2011, so it’s a race very near to my running heart.  I haven’t missed a year since then except in 2017– my daughter was actually born on race day that year (I swear that wasn’t planned), so I’d like to think that I participated in the day’s events in my own way.  It’s just that instead of a bib and medal, I got a living, breathing human to add to my collection (ha).

Each year, I enthusiastically sign up for the Pittsburgh half marathon on the day that registration opens, and this year was no different.  I signed up as soon as I could last August with the goal of killing my training and making my return to distance running as epic as possible.  I cut back my hours at work and was now only working three days a week– I shouldn’t have any trouble finding time to log even more miles than before.  Or so I thought.  When you have kids, especially young kids, often things that seem simple and logical (you know, like well-thought-out, reasonable plans) become complicated and impossible.  And that, in a nutshell and for too many reasons to list here, is what happened to my seemingly logical training goals.

So, just about two months out from the half marathon, I realized that the half was drawing very near, and I was very far from being prepared for it.  Missing my favorite event in my favorite sport, though, is not an option for me.  So here I am, cramming my training in, two months before the half.

Before having kids (and barring any injuries), the only things stopping me from reaching my training goals were laziness and lack of motivation.  I love running, so neither were much of a problem and training usually came fairly easily.  Now that I have kids, the only things stopping me are laziness, lack of motivation, and two little ladies that are 100% dependent on me and their dad.  That last one is a biggie.  My days with my babies are wonderful, but they are long and they are tiring.  Training no longer comes easily.  Many days, finding the energy and motivation to run are hard.  Especially in the cold winter months in Pennsylvania.  And especially when neither of the kids are sleeping through the night (my toddler sometimes sleeps worse than my infant!).  For many months, I’ve given in to the tiredness, allowing myself to sleep in and miss my scheduled runs.  Now that the weather is taking a turn for the better, and my baby is starting to sleep (a little) better, I’m finding my motivation to run again.  Thankfully.  Having two half marathons on my schedule is also a little bit of a motivator as well, haha.

So, without further ado, here is my completely unofficial guide to training for a half in 8 weeks**:

**DISCLAIMER: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS

3/17/18: 
SCRR Training Run
8 miles
1:23:16, 10:24 pace
TRAINING NOTES: I got stuck in the port-a-john at this run and had to be rescued by
four grown men.  So much for my epic return to running.  Did you know that the Steel City Road Runners host free training runs every weekend in the months before the marathon and you don’t have to be a member to participate?  This is a great opportunity for those who want to try some new/different routes in their training.

3/25/18: 
Treadmill Workout
8 miles
1:21:00, 10:08 pace
TRAINING NOTES:  I despise the treadmill, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil when you’re trying to train in the wintertime around here.  A great playlist is absolutely necessary for me to be able to run more than three minutes on a dreadmill.

3/27/18:
Tempo Run
3.25 miles
31:18, 9:37 pace
TRAINING NOTES:  I was originally planning to run 5 miles with my running group this day, but the timing and weather didn’t cooperate, so my husband and I actually went out for a quick run while we still had a sitter for the kids.  I had a long race the following weekend, so a faster/shorter workout was probably for the best anyways.

3/31/18:
Yough River Trail Council Races – Connellsville, PA
10 miles
1:43:06
10:20 pace
TRAINING NOTES: I sign up for this race each year I’m training because it’s the perfect distance at the perfect time before race day.  It really allows you to gauge your fitness level and help to give you an idea of how you will do at the half.  I’m not going to say much more here because I plan on writing a recap later in the week, but I was happy with my results given the amount of training (or lack thereof) I’ve had.

So, training has been off to a slow/late start, but I have a concrete plan in place for how I want the next few weeks to go, and I’ll be sure to come back and keep you updated each week.  Have a great week all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fit Friday Motivation ~ 10.13.17

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Happy Friday the 13th! The weekend is finally upon us, and I don’t know about you, but I’m counting down until I’m off to spend time doing the things I love the most with the people I love the most.

I thought this meme was perfect for my Fit Friday post.  How true is it?!  When I tell someone who doesn’t run how much I absolutely love running, one of the things I hear most is “oh I could never do that; I don’t like to exercise that much.”  And of course my response is always that, to me, running really isn’t exercise.  Well technically it is (and it’s a great workout at that), but it’s so much more than “just exercise.”  It’s free therapy.  It’s the greatest self-esteem booster there is.  It’s a great motivator.  It’s an endorphin rush.  It’s an instant mood lifter.  It’s a mind clearer.  It’s an anxiety reducer.  It’s a stress reliever.  I could go on and on about the mental and emotional benefits of running– there are so, so many.  Although I appreciate the physical benefits too, the mental and emotional benefits are what first got me hooked on running and what keep me coming back for more miles.  It’s hard to explain to anyone that doesn’t run, but once you’ve experienced the “runner’s high,” it becomes a (healthy) addiction.

What are your weekend plans?  I’m running one of my favorite local 5K’s tomorrow morning, followed by a well-deserved buckwheat pancake breakfast with my family! I’ll be sure to recap the race sometime next week.  Have a great weekend. =)

Back at It

After taking an embarrassingly long hiatus from running, working out, blogging, and all-things-healthy in general, I’m finally getting back into the swing of things, and feeling more and more like myself again in the process.  I wish I could say I had a good excuse for taking such a long break, and typically I try to chalk it up to having two-under-two, with my youngest just having turned five months old a few days ago.  Yes, things are very busy in my household at the moment.  And yes, I have been pregnant for the better part of the past three years.  But, in all reality, I have no excuse for falling off the bandwagon.

I worked out fairly regularly when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and I continued to eat healthy foods well into my third trimester.  Although life hit a rough patch after she arrived (difficult delivery, postpartum/seasonal depression issues, insane sleep deprivation, the list goes on…), I was determined to get back in shape as soon as possible.  Although I felt like I had lost a lot of my fitness, I was still able to {slowly} run one of my favorite half marathons at 6 months postpartum (read my recap here).  I knew it would take time, but I was determined to bounce back to my former fitness levels.

When I found out I was pregnant yet again when H was just 9 months old, all of that determination went out the window.  I was tired.  I was busy.  And I just didn’t have it in me to keep reaching for my fitness goals.  I really wanted to be back in good shape before getting pregnant again, but when that didn’t happen, I let it deter me from even trying to sustain the level of fitness that I had attained since having H.

So I quit working out, and I quit trying to eat well.  Even though I knew it wasn’t what was best for me or for the sweet baby girl growing inside of me, I let myself slip.  And once I was on that slippery slope, things all went downhill from there.  I regret that for so many reasons.  One – delivery is SO hard when you’re not in shape.  If, in the rare event I ever get pregnant again, I will 100% commit to working out the entire time, just to help ease the labor of delivery.  Trust me- if you are pregnant, you WANT to be maintaining your current level of fitness. TRUST ME.  Two – after taking nine+ months off, you are essentially starting from the bottom again.  All the hard work I put in and all the miles I logged over the course of a few years before reaching my PR’s went out the window, and that’s really discouraging.  And three – running is such an important part of who I am, and that part of me was missing the entire time I was pregnant with M.  I love running, and I missed it dearly when I wasn’t doing it, even though just the thought of lacing up my shoelaces exhausted me.

Now that our little family is complete and things are starting to settle down at home, I’m looking forward to getting the fitness and nutrition aspects of my life back in order.  I’ve run a few races this summer just to gauge where I’m at and how hard I’m going to have to work to get to where I want to be, and let’s just say I have a LOT of work to do.  But, I’m determined to get it done, and I’m determined to have a great year of running in 2018 (is it too early to be making New Year’s running resolutions?!).  I want to be a healthy role model for my two young daughters, and I just want to feel like myself again.

With those two motivators in mind, I’m setting some simple goals for myself in the coming months.  My main goal is to commit to running twice per week.  One shorter run during the week, and one longer run on the weekend.  I’m also going to try to sneak a weight session in when possible, but I’m not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t happen regularly.  Eventually (once the baby starts sleeping through the night, hahaha), I plan to add an early-a.m. spinning sesh in there too.  Another goal is to clean my diet up.  A lot.  No more frozen pizza for lunch because it’s quick and easy.  No more putting off eating until I’m so hungry I’ll eat anything in front of me.  Meal prep is going to require more time planning and less time cooking now that I have little ones at home, so I’ll be on the lookout for easy/healthy meal prep ideas.

My ultimate goal?  To knock the socks off of the 2018 Pittsburgh half marathon in May (which I already signed up for!).  This is my favorite race of all time, and I have run it every year since 2011 except for this year.  All for a great reason, though– I was in the delivery room snuggling my new baby girl that day.  So I’m looking forward to returning in 2018 with, hopefully, a great finish time.

What are your current running and/or fitness goals?  Have you ever returned to running after having a baby?  Do you have any quick and easy healthy meal prep ideas?  

 

 

 

Fit Friday Motivation ~ 5.6.16

Happy Friday!!  We have officially (almost) made it through the week!!  I know that I personally cannot wait for two entire days off of work in a row.  This week feels like it’s been dragging on forever.  What does everyone have going on this weekend?  Last weekend was so busy with the marathon going on, plus I had a hair appointment, plus Miss H had her 6-month shots, so I’m looking forward to a relatively relaxing weekend.  We are ordering pizza for lunch at work today, so I’m planning to cook a healthy dinner with my hubby tonight and RELAX with him and Miss H afterwards.  I’m going to do a shake-out run tomorrow at some point then do some super-clean grocery shopping afterwards.  My diet has been less-than-ideal lately, and it’s been taking a toll on my energy levels and my waistline.  It’s time to plan ahead and make some clean meals for the week.  I’m thinking oatmeal, grilled chicken salads, and sweet potatoes will be on the menu– I plan to make a “What I’m Eating This Week” post next week so I’ll update you then.  Sunday is my very first Mother’s Day, and I cannot wait to spend it with Miss H and my husband! I have no idea what we are doing yet– we’re last-minute like that– but I’ll be happy as long as we are together.  I’m really looking forward to it.

You may or may not remember that I have two half marathons on my schedule coming up in the next month, and I was waiting to see how Pittsburgh went before I decided whether or not I was actually going to do them.  Well, Pittsburgh went reasonably well for me (see my recap here) and was actually a good reminder of why I love running in the first place.  With a new baby in the picture, running has obviously been on the back burner for me for the past few months.  It’s easy to fall out of love with something when you aren’t doing it regularly, and I have to admit that I was falling out of love with running before the Pittsburgh half.  Which isn’t a good thing, since running is essentially a necessary therapy for me (read about why I run here).  Although I took a much-needed hiatus from running right before and right after Miss H was born and I have no regrets about that at all, I’m ready to start logging the miles again. I love the endorphins that come along with a challenging long run– they keep my emotions on an even keel and keep my stress levels manageable.  If I’ve learned anything about my return-to-running the past few months, it’s that a happy mama is a better mama, and I would give anything to be the best mother I can be to Miss H.  So, although spending time with my family will always be my first priority, I know that I need to continue running long distances whenever my schedule allows.  Miss H is on a more predictable sleep and nap schedule now, so it will be easier to plan my long runs for a time when she will be (mostly) napping or sleeping.  Since I am already signed up for the two upcoming half marathons, I have decided  that I want (or need, rather) to run them.  I feel like the picture below pretty much sums up how I feel about long runs, and it was kinda perfect for this particular Fit Friday post.  Enjoy.

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Source: Google Images

What’s on your fitness agenda for the weekend? 

2016 Pittsburgh Half Marathon Recap

This past Sunday, I ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon for the fifth time since 2011 (I ran the full marathon in 2014, so this was my sixth consecutive Pittsburgh Marathon event).  Running Pittsburgh is a tradition that I look forward to each year; “the most wonderful time of the year” as I call it.  As always, I signed up for the race on the first day that registration opened in August.  I was seven months pregnant with my first baby at the time.  I ran the 2015 half while I was pregnant, so running it at six months postpartum was a no-brainer for me– how hard could it be to train, right?!  After all, I would have 9 whole weeks off for maternity leave.  I could train a ton with all of that time off.   Wrong.  Very wrong.  I summarized my training in an earlier (short) post, but let’s just say that I didn’t have the free time or energy to train like I had anticipated or wanted.  Not running the race, though, was not an option to me– I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was looking forward to race weekend and was determined to make it to the finish line even if it meant doing a lot of walking.

So, on Saturday I packed up my running clothes and the baby and made the hour-long trip to Pittsburgh for the expo.  My brother and I run the race together each year, and each year we stay in a hotel closer to the city to avoid any traffic hangups (and extremely early wake-ups) in the morning.  This year was no different, except this year we took my mother along as well to babysit Miss H while we ran the race.

EXPO
Because I wasn’t sure how well the baby would do with a long & hectic day, we left later than usual and arrived at the expo at 4:30, 1.5 hours before it closed.  The expo is always booming and there are a lot of interesting exhibits to see, but we were familiar with most of the vendors and just wanted to pick up our packets and get on our way.  My brother and I were both very disappointed to find that they were out of both of our shirt sizes by the time we arrived at the expo!  In all of the years I have been racing Pittsburgh, I’ve never had this issue before.  It might seem like a trivial problem, but we were both beyond disappointed– I love sporting my half marathon shirts after my races.  The shirts, although we didn’t receive one, were of a lesser quality than they have been in the past too.  We were also disappointed with the attitudes of the volunteers at the shirt swap station.  We were told to go there to inquire about getting a shirt in our size, and we were met by several hostile, defensive volunteers who were gruff with us.  I’m sure they were tired of dealing with ticked off runners all day, but that’s no reason to treat us with hostility.  We were pretty nice about the situation.  That was a Pittsburgh first for me– rude race volunteers.  Another first for me was that my bib was messed up– it wasn’t personalized with my name, and it didn’t contain a corral letter (so I had to wait in line at runner services to get a corral assignment, and the volunteer there was also less-than-friendly with me!).  Again, these may be somewhat trivial things, but when you pay close to $100 to run a race it’s disappointing when things aren’t as planned.  Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed with my expo experience this year.

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Miss H’s First Race Expo

PRE-RACE
After the expo, we headed to Monte Cello’s in Ross to carbo-load for the race with their pizza (one of my favorite pre-race meals).  My brother and I found Monte Cello’s before last year’s race by scoping out local Italian places online and calling for their wait times.  Surprisingly, we didn’t have to wait at all to get get seated there last year!  And their pizza was amazing.  But this year was different, and when we were told it would be an hour wait we scoped out other options so we could get to the hotel before Miss H’s bedtime.  We ended up settling for Olive Garden, and I had to forego my beloved pizza for Portobello Ravioli (which was delicious, but probably not my best pre-race choice).  After dinner, we headed to Panera to pick up the bagels that I had pre-ordered for the morning, then headed for our hotel room.

Miss H still isn’t sleeping through the night, so I wasn’t sure what our night of sleep would be like (especially in a new & unfamiliar place).  Luckily, she only woke up once around midnight and again at 3:45 a.m.  Since I was planning to get up at 4:15 anyways, I just stayed awake and got my shower and breakfast ready for the day.  I ate a Panera Cinnamon Crunch bagel with peanut butter on it– a pre-Pittsburgh tradition.  Yummo.  We left for the city around 5:30 and got there with plenty of time to park, hit the porta-johns, and line up in our corral before the 7 a.m. start.

MILE 1
The weather at the start was being somewhat cooperative– the temperature was in the mid 50’s and it was slightly raining, which I didn’t mind at all.  I was worried that a heavier rain would result in a bunch of chafing, but luckily the rain quit fairly early in the race.

My brother and I started in Corral B, which was designated for 8:00-9:00 mile pace runners.  Although that’s appropriate for my brother, that is more of a PR pace for me than a realistic pace at this point in my life.  I’m not sure how I got in that corral, but I wasn’t complaining because I knew a earlier start would mean I would get back to Miss H sooner.  I started at the back of the pack so that I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way, but I couldn’t help but try to keep up with the crowd after the gun went off. Although my Garmin wasn’t working for the first few miles of the race, my brother told me that we ran our first mile at a 8:45 pace, which I think was a little too fast to start out for me.

As soon as we started running, I realized that I had made a mistake by going to the bathroom too early before the race start, and now I had to go again.  I  hate waiting in line at the porta-johns along the race course, but I knew it was something I’d have to do if I wanted to be comfortable running the race. So, right after the first mile marker, I spotted a bathroom and stood in line waiting my turn.

MILES 2-8
Two words can sum up these miles: side stitches.  When I ran the full marathon in 2014, I stopped to go to the bathroom at Mile 20 and was plagued by crippling side stitches for the next 6.2 miles of the race.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson then, but I didn’t.  Sure enough, after I paused to go to the bathroom after the first mile, I had terrible side stitches after I started running again.  Side stitches so bad that I actually considered a DNF by the 2nd mile marker, which is something I’ve never done.  They only got worse as the miles went on.  My optimism about being able to finish the race dwindled each time I stopped to stretch and each time I ran down a hill, when the pain was almost enough to stop me in my tracks.  In all the half marathons I’ve run, I’ve never had such negative thoughts about my ability to finish so early on in the race.  All of the negative self-talk coupled with the fact that I had to stop and stretch so many times was very discouraging, and I honestly can’t believe I didn’t give up.  I’m not one to give up easily, though, so I pressed on across the city’s bridges, through the North Side, and through the West End Circle despite the pain in the hopes that the pain would eventually just go away.  I’m glad I decided to persevere because by the time I reached the 8-mile marker, the side stitches had somehow managed to near-disappear, and I was finally able to focus on (and enjoy) the race at-hand instead of the pain.

MILES 9-11
In contrast with the rolling hills in the early part of the race, the Pittsburgh course from miles 9-11 runs along East Carson Street and is relatively flat.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though– by that point my legs and lungs are usually spent and my endurance is waning, and this year was no exception.  My longest training run (and longest run since last year’s half in May) was 9 miles, and I could definitely feel it as I pushed past that point in Sunday’s race.  I had officially entered uncharted territory in my training.  My side stitches were gone, though, so I still felt better than I had in the earlier miles of the race.  The crowd support at Pittsburgh is amazing, especially along this stretch of the course.  I pushed through these miles tired but still very much enjoying the race.

MILES 12-13.1
Mile 12 began as we made a left off of Carson onto the Birmingham Bridge.  I know from past experience that these last few miles of the race are by far the toughest, which is as rewarding as it is cruel.  As we traveled across the bridge, one spectator sign in particular stuck out to me (and to everyone else that I talked to)– it said something along the lines of “You’ve Made it This Far, Now F This Hill!”  Everyone that runs Pittsburgh knows “the hill,” and if you don’t, you will after you’ve run it once.  It’s a +/- 173 foot elevation climb spread over the course of a mile right at the near-end of the course.  “The hill” is always lined with extra medical personnel, and it’s easy to understand why.  It’s tough.  Do-able, but tough.  At the bottom of the hill, there were several people handing out free beer, and as a major beer-aficionado I almost stopped to grab a cup.  If I wouldn’t have been slowed down by side stitches for the first part of the race, I totally would have.  But I just wanted to finish with the best time possible given the circumstances, and I knew the beer would only slow me down (maybe next year I’ll grab that cup).  This is my official “thank you” to the person who was holding that sign, because it was just the motivation that I needed to push up over the steep incline that is Mile 12.  The last mile of the course is a fairly steep downhill with a small level section of road at the very end, which is always a welcome and refreshing change from the climb the mile before.  I sped down the hill to the finish with an official time of 2:24:13 and an average pace of 11:00/mile.  I met up with my brother at the finish line for a few pictures before heading back to the hotel room to meet up with Miss H and my mom.  Afterwards, we went to Monte Cello’s to catch up on that pizza that we had all so looked forward to the night before.

OVERALL
Of the fourteen half marathons that I’ve run, this is my 3rd slowest– my slowest was the 2015 Pittsburgh half when I was pregnant (2:32:55), and my 2nd slowest was my first half in Pittsburgh in 2011 (2:25:45).  As with any race, it’s easy to pick apart the results and to think about how I could have done better, but overall I’m thrilled with my finish time.  At six months postpartum and with completely inadequate training, I’ll take an 11:00/mile average pace any day.  Could I have done better if I hadn’t had side stitches for the majority of the race?  Probably.  But then again, maybe not– maybe a faster start would have resulted in slower miles later in the race.  There’s no way to know for sure.

There is one thing that I do know for sure, though– I need to find the cause of my side stitch dilemma so that I can avoid them at all costs during my next race.  The pain was excruciating, not to mention extremely disappointing.  I’m not sure if it was a first mile that was too fast, or an unfamiliar pre-race dinner, or my unplanned bathroom break one mile in that was the culprit.

Oh and another thing I know for sure– I’ll be back next year!  Hopefully the expo goes a little better, but I never have any complaints about the race itself.  Thanks for another great year Pittsburgh!

Today I’m linking up with Mar, Courtney, and Cynthia for their Friday Five Link Up– be sure to check out their pages and see what they are up to!!

Have you ever done any of the Pittsburgh races?  Have side stitches ever crippled a race for you?