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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It’s Official…

I’m officially registered for my first FULL 26.2 miles!!!! Wahoo!!! I’m so looking forward to the training, the race, and all the pain and glory that goes along with it!

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I’m excited to see me at the start line, too!  Hehe =)

Like the OCD-type runner that I am, I already have my training plan figured out.  I’m going to follow one of Hal Higdon’s plans, which you can find at www.halhigdon.com.  And, of course, I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated on my training along the way.

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Anyone else training for their first full marathon??

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Recap – A 13.1-Mile PR!!!

Have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE the Pittsburgh half marathon?  If not, well then I gotta tell you, I LOVE the Pittsburgh half marathon!!  Not just the running part itself, but everything about the entire race weekend.  Yesterday I ran in the half for the third consecutive year.  In 2011, this was my first ever half marathon.  I don’t know if that is why I am so fond of it (it’s my first- half-marathon love), or if it’s just the race itself, or if it’s a combination of both– but every year, I am like a little kid at Christmas time when that early weekend in May rolls around.

The first year I ran the half, I had no amigos to run it with me.  It was something I did on my own, which made it all the more emotional and special to me.  Last year, in 2012, two of my best-est running girlfriends and I ran it together.  It was their second half marathon and my third.

This year, I conned my younger brother and his best friend into running the half with me.  My younger brother and I ran the half in Myrtle Beach together in February of this year (that was his first half).  Yesterday was our friend’s first half marathon (and second timed event) ever.  My younger brother is one of my best friends, so I really enjoy doing things like this together with him.  And his best friend is like a third brother to me, so we all had a really great time.

We hit up the race expo on Saturday to pick up our race gear and bibs!!  The race expo is when the excitement really starts setting in for me.

{An expo and/or race gear picture would’ve been really appropriate here.  I promised I am working on getting better at this picture-snapping thing!}.

After the expo, we checked in to our hotel for a few minutes of relaxation before heading out to dinner.  I took a few minutes to go through my goody-bag and to set out my clothes to wear in the morning.  This year I, along with so many other members of the running community, was running for Boston.

My commemorative Boston shirt!

My commemorative Boston shirt!

Getting ready in the hotel room.

Getting ready in the hotel room.

I always make a "lucky" bracelet with 14 beads (that's 13.1 beads "rounded up") to wear for each half marathon.  This year I made my bracelet with Boston in mind.

I always make a “lucky” bracelet with 14 beads (that’s 13.1 beads “rounded up”) to wear for each half marathon. This year I made my bracelet with Boston in mind.

We stopped at Panera Bread to pick up our race-day fuel while we were en-route to dinner.  I have a tradition of eating a Cinnamon Crunch bagel from Panera (topped with peanut or almond butter) for breakfast before every half marathon.  I’m pretty sure my brother and our friend picked up this tradition after yesterday’s half, too!  Who doesn’t love Panera bagels?!

We enjoyed a delish pasta dinner at Bravo’s Cucina Italiana (one of my favorite Italian restaurants ever) on Saturday night.  The service was terrible, it took us two hours to get our meals, and my meal was removed from our check because it wasn’t made how I ordered it.  We were good-spirited about everything though, and just passed it off as one-of-those-things-we-will-always-remember-about-the-Pittsburgh-half kind of things.  At least the food was great!  And it filled our tummies with high-quality carbs for Sunday morning’s run.   One of the best parts of running a half-marathon = pre-race carb loading!!

I was the first one out of bed on Sunday morning– my alarm went off at 3:50 a.m.  I’m pretty sure a half marathon is the only instance where I will never complain about dragging myself out of bed at such an unsightly hour of the morning.

We left the hotel room at 5:15, made a pit stop at Sheetz for some hi-test coffee, and made our way downtown by 6:00 a.m.

At 30,000 runners, this year’s participant field was the largest ever for the Pittsburgh marathon/half marathon event.

And this was only a fraction of the people waiting to cross the start line!

Sunday’s weather was PERFECT weather for a distance event, in my opinion.  If you ran in last year’s event, you’ll remember the temperature climbing to nearly 80 degrees in the morning.  None of that nonsense this year, thank goodness.  The temperature ranged from the mid 50’s to probably the early/mid 60’s by the end of our race.  Perfection.

I always rely on my heart rate monitor to carry myself through any distance event (I try to keep my heart rate somewhere between 170-175 BPM– that seems to be the most efficient range for me).  By doing this– with the occasional bump-up to 180+ BPM on the hills– I was able to feel really strong for the entire race distance.  I love running through all the different neighborhoods in the city.  In my opinion, the course is perfectly designed to take you through some of the most beautiful areas around town.  And the crowd support at Pittsburgh is always amazing– it’s like running through a 13.1 mile long parade.

I stole this pic from my buddy’s Facebook page. Thanks, Clint!

I love the half marathon course.  For the most part, it’s mostly flat with some rolling hills, which is just enough to keep things interesting.  Between mile markers 11 & 12, though, there’s a fairly steep grade.  A lot of people complain about the challenging hill being placed so near the end of the race, but in my opinion it’s in a great location.  It gives you a chance to really find out what you’re made of– just when your mind is telling you that your legs and body are too tired to take on a hill, you dig deep and conquer that hill with not much left but a lot of heart and willpower.  It’s a humbling experience to crest that hill before your descent into the finish line.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Although each mile was marked with a timing clock, I wasn’t paying much attention to my splits during the race.  I wanted to run the race at a comfortable pace (based on my heart rate).  I didn’t feel the need to push it too hard just to get a better time.  I wanted to enjoy my third year of the race.

As I passed the timing clocks at mile markers 12 and 13, however, I knew I was going to PR.  I wasn’t sure how far behind the clock time my chip time would be, but I knew that even if I finished at the clock time I’d have a PR.  This late in the race, I let that be motivation to high step it and push my limits to the max.

I crossed the finish line at 2:00:37.  That’s nearly 18 minutes faster than my time in Myrtle just 2.5 months ago, and that’s almost 10 minutes faster than my previous PR of 2:10:08.  Yikes.  I was stoked!!  My brother and our friend also kicked the race’s butt with times of 1:50:16 and 1:59:12, respectively.  I am so proud of them!!

We followed up with the race with a beer-accompanied lunch with several friends at the nearby Rivers Casino– replenishing is also one of my favorite parts about running the half marathon distance!!  I’m big on food, in case you haven’t noticed.

All-in-all, I must say that this weekend was one of the best race weekend’s I’ve ever had.  I can’t thank the race organizers and everyone involved enough for putting together such an awesome event year after year.

I’ve already decided that I’m not doing the half marathon next year in Pittsburgh… That’s right.  Next year will be my first full marathon.  26.2.  Right in the city that introduced me to my love of the 13.1 distance.  Is it too early to start counting down?? =)

Fit Friday Motivation

Since I will be running in the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon (!!!!!!!!!!!!) this weekend, I thought this was appropriate.  And believe me, I will be referring back to this post on several occasions over the course of those 13.1 miles– I’m sure of it!!

Good luck and have fun in all your fit adventures this weekend!  In Western PA, at least, it’s supposed to be beautiful weather all weekend long.  Get out there and get active!! =)