2018 Pittsburgh Half Marathon Recap – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

On May 6th, I ran my 15th ever half marathon, and my 6th ever half marathon in Pittsburgh.  If you follow my blog at all, you know that the Pittsburgh half is my favorite race ever.  It was the first half I ever ran in 2011, and the first (and only) full I ever ran in 2014, so it is a race very near and dear to me.  I look forward to running it every year.  I missed running it in 2017 because my dear daughter was born on that day (although I’m not complaining at all about that)– so I was really looking forward to returning this year!  Also, 13.1 is my favorite race distance, and I haven’t had the opportunity to run a half since 2016, so this race marked my “triumphant” return to half marathon-ing.

Each year since my younger brother started running in 2012, we train for and run this half together (besides 2017, of course).  This year was a bit different because the weather and our schedules didn’t give us many chances to train together, but we still spent the weekend together for the race!

Any big race in any big city requires a certain amount of planning and logistics to make sure things go smoothly, and Pittsburgh is no different.  Over the years, we have developed a fairly steady routine for the entire weekend that works for us, and we didn’t even think to deviate from our plan this year.

On Saturday, we left home around noon to head for the expo downtown.  We grabbed a quick lunch at GetGo on the way and were at the expo by 1:30.  Packet pickup was easy as always, and we were both thrilled that we actually got shirts in our size this year (a few years ago they ran out of shirts in the appropriate sizes; I’m not even sure how that happened).  Since we were so early, we did a little browsing and a little shopping before leaving the expo.

We made a quick stop at the mall so my brother could pick up some BCAA’s because he had forgotten his at home (he swears by drinking them before any workout), then we headed to our favorite carbo-loading spot for dinner– Monte Cello’s!  We found this gem a few years ago while looking for a good Italian spot in the North Hills, and it’s become a staple of our race weekend each year.  We shared a deep dish pizza (heavy on the carbs) and each ordered a beer to wash it down (also heavy on the carbs- right?!).

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After dinner, we stopped at Panera to pick up our race morning bagels before heading to the hotel.  We both love Panera Cinnamon Crunch bagels with peanut butter before any half marathon, so I always order two of them ahead of time just to make sure they don’t run out before we are able to get there.

Once we got to the hotel, I unpacked all of my race day essentials just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything and was as prepared as possible for the morning.  With a 4:30 a.m. wake up call, I knew my brain wouldn’t be processing things well enough to make sure I didn’t forget anything important, haha.  The weather forecast for the start was 55 degrees with a chance of rain, and I wasn’t sure what to wear so I packed a little bit of everything.  If it were 55 degrees with NO rain, I would have worn a tank top and capris with no question.  That rain in the forecast was throwing me off, though, and I was afraid of getting soaked and cold.  Because I hate being too hot when I’m running, I decided on a tank and capris anyways and just hoped that the rain would decide to hold off at least until late morning.

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The morning of the race, we were en route by 5:45 a.m. and parked on the North Shore by 6:00 a.m.  I like to get there early in case we hit traffic and to make sure we have plenty of time to wait in line for the restrooms, but we had no problems with either.  After taking the “T” to the start line area, we actually had time to relax and casually make our way to our corral.  Not rushing is always a good thing, especially at a race with 30,000 people.

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Corral B Excitement

We were in Corral B, so we didn’t have to wait too long to cross the start line.  Thankfully– since I’m not known for being a patient person, especially before a race when my anxiety levels are at an all-time high, haha.  I waited until this point to turn my Garmin on, which was a mistake.  I’m not sure if it was because of all the tall buildings surrounding us or because everyone in the general area was using their Garmin at the same time, but my GPS could not locate a signal despite trying the entire time we were waiting in the corral.  In fact, it didn’t locate a signal until we were almost at the first mile marker– I was so disappointed.

Staring at the my Garmin the entire first mile did make it go by quickly, though, so at least I had that going for me.  Ha.  I ran Mile 1 at a slightly uncomfortable pace but had no clue what it was.  Not a good way to start a race, at least not for me.  Since I’ve been out of practice at running for so long, I never know what my pace is or if I’m going too fast or too slow.  I count on my Garmin to keep me on track with what I’ve determined I’m capable of doing, at least until I am back in the routine of running regularly and figuring out my “new normal.” I used to love running by feel, but I’ve lost touch with what running 13.1 miles is supposed to “feel” like.  When my Garmin finally started working, it was showing an average 9:30 pace.  That was a little faster than my 10:00 completely-arbitrary-goal-pace, but I felt pretty decent so I decided to try to keep it up.

My brother stuck with me the first three miles or so before taking off ahead of me.  I was glad to see him go because I knew he was capable of a much faster pace and knew he wouldn’t be happy if he didn’t push himself to finish in the best time possible.

The first six to seven miles felt pretty good.  This part of the course was different this year than in previous years.  We ran past the stadiums and casino, which was an exciting change of scenery.  I was able to maintain a 9:30-10:00 pace the entire time, but I knew I was pushing it.  I knew I would eventually have to slow down, but for the time being I was able to hold that pace, so I kept pushing it.  I felt unusually warm and thirsty for such a cool day despite making it a point to stay hydrated the day before (with the exception of the one beer at dinner).  I grabbed a quick drink of water at the 4-mile water stop, and I took 3 Shot Bloks and water at the 6-mile water stop.

When we came into the West End Circle (always my favorite part of the race– the crowd here is always SO much fun) around Mile 7, something changed drastically.  I became very thirsty, and my legs started to feel heavy even though I had just eaten some Shot Bloks.  Usually by this point the Shot Bloks would have kicked in and I would have felt like I was running on air, but that wasn’t the case.  Whatever my body was doing felt very foreign to me.

Typically I carry a water bottle with me when I run a half, but I opted to leave it behind that day because it was so cool outside and I knew there were water stops every two miles on the course.  With nothing to drink, I trudged along to the next water stop at Mile 8, where I took a huge gulp of Gatorade and chased it with a huge gulp of water.  I know better than to drink that much liquid when I’m racing, but I was THIRSTY.  So thirsty.  And my legs felt like cement pillars.  I decided to stop and use the restroom here to give my body a chance to absorb the Gatorade because I knew I needed it.

After my restroom break, I hopped back on the course full of optimism.  I expected to feel like a new person and finish out the race at the 9:30-10:00 pace that I had started with.  I had run enough half marathons to know the magical powers of Gatorade and Shot Bloks, haha.

What happened though was exactly the opposite.  My legs were heavy, my mouth was dry, and my infamous side stitches had now joined the party.  Ugh.  I knew right away that my race was shot, and I also knew that I still had five miles to go before I crossed the finish line.  I can normally find a way to mentally power through a tough spot in any race, but not this time.  Something was different than any other difficult race that I have ever run, and I still don’t know what it was.  I knew I wasn’t bouncing back from whatever was ailing me.  I stopped.  I walked.  I cried.  I was angry.  I was sad.  I looked around to see if any medical tents were nearby because I didn’t want to finish the race.  I didn’t think I could.  Then I thought about my girls and how disappointed I was in myself for failing to be the kind of role model that they deserve.  Then I cried some more.  My mind just kinda went numb.

I’ll spare you the details of the next five miles of the race because they aren’t pretty.  I didn’t bounce back.  I walked more than I ran, even though walking didn’t help me feel better.  I felt so awful that I truly don’t recall what was going through my mind.  Near Mile 12, the strangest thing of all happened– I got cold.  I don’t know if it’s because I was walking so much that my core body temperature had cooled down, or if I had reached a point of dehydration that no runner should ever reach (although I didn’t think of that until later), but it wasn’t typical for me.  Against my better judgment, I powered through to the finish line with what must have been the most unpleasant look on my face.  I finished (in 2:13:59), but I can’t even say I was happy about it.

After making my way through the finish line area and taking in a lot of liquids in the process, I met up with my brother.  I found out he finished in just under 2 hours, which is fantastic!!  I am so proud of his finish time!

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I was feeling a little better at this point, so we headed to the finish line festival to check out the festivities.  I swung in the VIP tent and picked up my complimentary Chipotle burrito and special running club medallion.  This is the first year I joined the “Running Club Rally” and had access to the VIP tent, and let’s just say the free Chipotle makes it sooo worth it.

Looking back, I realize I probably should have taken a DNF and gotten medical attention once I figured out something didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t thinking straight by that point in the race because of all the endorphins I had banked in the first seven miles, or else that’s what I would have done.  If anything like this would ever happen again, I’m not hesitating to slow it down and assess what’s going on with my body and whether or not it’s smart to try to finish the race.

All of this was so uncharacteristic of me.  I am still trying to figure out what happened and how it could have been prevented– did I start off too fast?  Did I not hydrate properly in the days leading up to the race?  Am I just not in as good of shape as I thought I was?  I really don’t know.  I have another half marathon coming up in 3 weeks, and to say I’m a little nervous about it is an understatement.  I’m planning on taking it easy and listening to my body; hopefully there are no issues like I had in Pittsburgh.

As for Pittsburgh itself, I can’t say enough good things about this race, despite the fact that my personal race was hell.  Everything about this race– from the scenic course to the crowd support to the finish line festivities– is SO much fun.  I love running across the bridges and seeing all the landmarks that Pittsburgh is famous for in one run.  It’s still my favorite race ever, and I will be back next year to take it on once again– hopefully with better results than I had this year.

 

 

 

 

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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 ~ 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?

My Pittsburgh Half Training: In a Nutshell

We are officially 9 days out from the half marathon in Pittsburgh, and I admit– my training hasn’t been exactly where it needs to be (which is why I haven’t been posting too often lately).  Before I had Sweet Little Miss H in October, I had a perhaps unrealistic view of my “epic” postpartum return to running.  I took 9 weeks off for maternity leave, and I had intended to make getting back in shape my #2 priority during that time (second only to my #1 priority– taking care of Miss H, of course).  I quit running last May but continued to stay in shape throughout my pregnancy by attending spin classes regularly, so I figured it wouldn’t be difficult at all to return to running at my previous or an even better level of fitness.  I signed up for the Pittsburgh half on the first day that registration opened– I’ve raced in Pittsburgh every year since 2011 (including last year, when I was pregnant), so that was a no-brainer.  I then proceeded to sign up for two more half marathons. One at the end of May, and one at the beginning of June.  That makes three half marathons within one month, 6-7 months postpartum.

Then, first-time-motherhood happened and completely changed those plans.  Due to reasons beyond my control, I had to have an emergency c-section, and recovery from that was brutal.  Then, the first few months of Miss H’s life were a blur of sleepless nights and exhausting nap-less days.  She had her days and nights mixed up to the extreme– she would wake up at 11 pm and stay awake (no naps) until sometimes 8 or 9 in the morning for the first seven weeks of her life.  It was very a very atypical sleep pattern for a baby her age.  She ate every hour during the day.  I was lucky to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep total each day, and getting a workout in had to take a back seat to my first priority: sleeping whenever I could.  Fast forward to January: she was finally sleeping a little better at night, but I was back to work, so I would fit in workouts whenever I could (usually only on the weekends).  Then came February.  I got sick twice that month, both times over a weekend. I ran a few times, but I knew that my “big” training plans had gone out the window at that point.  When March came, I knew I had to get back in shape, and I knew I only had two months to do it.

I’m not making excuses for my lack of training; I’m just saying that getting back to running after having a baby was much harder for me than I expected it to be!  I know it’s not that way for everyone– so new moms please don’t be discouraged by my post– I just had the perfect storm of circumstances that caused me to get a late start on my return to fitness.  Nothing beats the joy and happiness that a new baby brings, so I’m not complaining– I wouldn’t trade those first few trying months with my sweet baby girl for a long run any day.  I’m just giving a bit of a background as to why I’m going into this half more unprepared than I’ve ever been.  And I’m totally okay with it.

So far, I’ve run 12 times this year in preparation for the half for a total of about 45 miles.  No bueno.  Those miles included one 5K race and one 10K race, so I’ve already had a bit of experience with the “race atmosphere.” I’ll probably run two more times before next weekend– one long hilly run this weekend, then a short run of intervals/speedwork next week– making 14 runs and approximately 56 miles total.

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My view from last night’s speedwork/hill training run.  PA mountains make for some of the best training routes. =)

I honestly don’t know how many times I usually run in preparation for a half, but I do know that I’ve trained significantly less for this one. Given the circumstances, though, I’m content with my training and feel like I’m in the best shape I could possibly be in at this point.  I’m confident that I’ll at least finish the half, and right now that’s really my only goal– to finish and to have fun doing it.  I’ll take it easy, and when my legs get tired, I’ll run with my heart– same as I do every race.  And I’m sure blasting my workout playlist will help the miles go by a little more quickly, too.

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Source: Google Images

I certainly don’t condone this type of lackadaisical training and am not encouraging it at all– so please don’t mistake my post for that.  It’s more of a caution/warning than a recommendation– if you’re training for a half, do NOT train how I did, haha.

Will I run the other two half marathons that I’m currently signed up for?  Maybe; maybe not.  We’ll see how Pittsburgh goes and whether or not I’m able to get a long run in on the weekends that follow.  I’m throwing around the idea of giving up distance running for the rest of the year and just focusing on speedwork to improve my 5K times.  That would give me more time to spend with Miss H; something I’ve been craving a lot lately especially since I’m back to work full-time.  I haven’t decided yet, though.

On a side-note– I just started an Instagram page!  So now you can check me out there and on Facebook, too, if you’re interested in following my postpartum-return-to-running journey on a more regular basis.  I’ll be trying to update those pages more often than the blog.

What races are you training for?  How is your training going??  

Any tips for a new mom on how to fit running and training into her already-busy schedule?  I need all the pointers I can get.  

Four Miles Done & Weekly Goals

The weather in Pennsylvania was absolutely beautiful over the weekend, and after sickness had me down & out for a few weeks I FINALLY got outside for a run!  My little-brother-slash-training-buddy had some other things going on this weekend, so I went for a solo run.  I rarely run by myself and am usually not fond of it, but it was actually nice to get out by myself for a change.  I find it calming to just listen to the repetitive beat of my shoes hitting the pavement, and I enjoy the scenery much more when I’m running without distractions.  It’s nice to do that every once in a while.  Not to mention the fact that I’m just getting back into shape after having Miss H, and I always feel like I’m slowing my brother down– it was a good chance to just go at my own pace and focus on increasing my fitness so that hopefully I’m a somewhat competitive training buddy for him soon.

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Southwest Pennsylvania has some beautiful scenery– the perfect distraction on any run.

I do get bored more quickly when I’m running alone, so it’s definitely not something I like or plan to do often.

I headed out Saturday morning after I put Miss H down for her morning nap with a goal of covering 4 miles regardless of my pace.  This was only my third run since last May (eek), so I just wanted to know that I am physically capable of covering that distance without worrying about my speed.  My first runs were 1.6 miles and 3.1 miles, respectively, so this would be my longest postpartum distance.  I usually shoot for a goal pace of at least 10:00/mile for my longer training runs (4 miles is considered a “long” training run for me right now), but I’m definitely cutting myself some slack this spring.  I feel like I’m just starting out running again.  I’m really hoping to be back up to my pre-pregnancy speed before the fall racing season if not before!

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55 degrees and sunny = perfection.

Because I didn’t want to venture too far from the baby (it sucks working all week– I hate taking time away from her on the weekends too!) and because the running routes are fairly limited near my house, I ended up doing a nearby 2-mile loop twice.  The loop is basically downhill for one mile then uphill for one mile, so I always have to remind myself to slow down & pace myself for that first downhill mile because, if not, that second uphill mile really kicks my butt.  My splits were as follows:

Mile 1: 10:52 (downhill)
Mile 2: 11:41 (uphill)
Mile 3: 10:06 (downhill)
Mile 4: 11:52 (uphill, and I was running out of steam)
Average: 11:08 min/mile

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It wasn’t easy and it was certainly not my best time, but I covered all four miles and could still walk yesterday, so I call it a success haha.  Not bad considering it’s been practically nine months since I last ran.  I’m looking forward to hitting the pavement more often in prep for the three (yes, three) spring half marathons that I’m currently signed up for!  Woohoo!

Running without a partner gives you plenty of time to think, and I had a lot to think about on Saturday’s run.  As I huffed and puffed through those four miles, I realized that it’s time for me to get serious about getting back into shape.  The baby is almost four months old, she’s sleeping better at night (I’m only getting up once or twice a night, which is a huge improvement over her newborn days), and my c-section incision is feeling much better.  It’s time to get back into a regular workout routine.  I bought a spin bike over Christmas plus I have all the free weights that I need in my spare room, so it should be easy to fit in a home workout here and there whenever I can.  I decided to set some fitness goals for myself for the week.  Because I’m back to work full-time and I’m far out of shape compared to what I used to be, my goals are small but completely do-able:

  1. Fit in one 45-minute spin session,
  2. Fit in one good leg training day (I know this will help my running immensely),
  3. Train abs one day (totally necessary to help me bounce back from my c-section), and
  4. Run 5 miles next weekend.

That’s all.  Cheers to a healthy and happy week ahead. 😉

Did you run this weekend?  What’s on your fitness agenda for the week?     

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my Facebook page!