April 27, 2014
Last long run. A lot has changed since this 16 week journey began. Our running group faced and conquered many challenges over the course of this training season. Perhaps the most difficult and obvious obstacle was a harsh winter that brought freezing temperatures, snow, ice and sleet. But that wasn't the only obstacle. We ran up long hills, traversed city bridges more times than I can count, and even had to deal with a sudden heat wave a few weeks ago.
Our last run of 10 miles had a cool start to the morning. But it was a beautiful morning! We ran through the neighborhoods of Shadyside, Point Breeze and East Liberty. Once we reached Oakland we starting seeing University of Pittsburgh graduates taking photos around campus. Dressed in caps and gowns you could see pride beaming from their faces. Maybe even more happy were the faces of their parents. It was pure joy. It made me feel hopeful, inspired and renewed.
We were enjoying our run so much in fact, we got lost. Not just a litte lost, but, "Crap I'm two miles away lost." So there really no choice but to run back. Although the extra two miles didn't bother my legs any, it did bother me mentally. I had ten miles in my head and I was ready to be done. I thought I would be enjoying a latte by now. At the time I was mad, but the more I thought about it, I realized that it was a good lesson to learn one week before the marathon.
Things won't go perfectly during the marathon. I doubt I will get lost, but I may lose an energy gel, or have my shoe come untied. Heck, I might even put my shorts on backwards the morning of the race. But it's not going to do any good to get upset or mad. I'll just be wasting energy. The marathon is a long race and I'm going to have to work through a solution whenever I encounter obstacles.
All of us, whether first time marathoners or repeat marathoners have defeated an obstacle in our path. The last run is always exciting, but for me it's also a little bit sad. I'm sure I'll learn to appreciate sleeping past 6 AM on Sundays once the marathon is over, but maybe in a perfect world, we would never get tired, we would never be hurting and we wouldn't have real world responsibilities so we could continue to conquer the roads of our great city.
Most of the people I've trained with I don't know outside of running, but I know their stride, I know their favorite hat or running jacket. I know if they are running their first or second marathon. You form a special bond when you run with people. You look at each other and you understand the sacrifice, the determination and the pain. You understand the lack of a social life on Saturday nights. You understand waking up in the dark and running in 17 degrees while the rest of the world sleeps. You understand constantly checking the hourly weather forecast for Sunday mornings. You don't question each others' goals. You know that you are here to simply be a better version of yourself.
All of this I will miss, but I know the end of the marathon is not the end of our running journey. It's just another chapter in our story. Running a marathon is extremely difficult. It can be grueling, intimidating and painful. But it also can be joyous, beautiful and amazing. What could be more amazing than achieving something that once seemed impossible? For this reason, the marathon is just the beginning. And once you conquer the marathon, you will know that you can do anything you put your mind to. Even what once seemed impossible.
During the past two years I've had the pleasure of running the city of Pittsburgh. I've discovered new places and unique views within the city I love. I've also realized that running has put me in unusual places at unusual times. Normally I would not be on the West End Bridge on a Sunday morning in the winter. But thanks to running, I find myself there and am able to witness a beautiful skyline. Below are a collection of my favorite photographs of the City of Pittsburgh. The photos were taken with an iPhone and edited with Instagram. All photos were taken "on the run". Enjoy.
View of Pittsburgh from West End Bridge.
Runner of Steel
Allegheny Cemetery along Penn Avenue.
View of Pittsburgh from 31st Street Bridge.
East Liberty Presbyterian Church
Mexican War Street
West North Avenue in Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood.
Greeting in the Sky
Entrance to Highland Park
All Stairs Lead to Pittsburgh
Marshall Shadeland Neighborhood
West End Bridge
View of West End Bridge from North Shore.
View of downtown from Station Square.
Meet Me at the Fountain
Wall along Fifth Avenue.
Sun Peaks Through
View of "The Point" from Station Square.
October 1, 2013 should have been an ordinary fall day. A Tuesday in Pittsburgh marked with the first day of October, most would have expected to be filled with thoughts of the Steelers and anticipation of the Penguins. Maybe it would have been a nice day for a walk to see the leaves changing or a great day to start looking for Halloween costumes or pumpkins. After all this was the way of life in Pittsburgh during fall in October. But October 1, 2013 had something different in mind. It would be one of the greatest days in Pittsburgh sports history. That's not an exaggeration. When your baseball team has not had a winning season in 20 years and your ballpark has never hosted a playoff game, it's not an exaggeration. When you have no memory of a winning baseball team and no playoff games to remember because you were nine years old (now thirty years old) when it last happened, it's not an exaggeration.
20 Miles. The last "long" run of marathon training was here. Some days, it felt like it would never come and then all of a sudden it appears. The marathon countdown goes from months to weeks. The weather suddenly turns and the marathon is right around the corner.
Speaking of weather, in typical Pittsburgh fashion we went straight from winter to summer skipping over spring. Hello 80 degrees! Yep, that was the predicted high for today with the low being in the 60's. Last Sunday's run, I was scraping a frost off my car window. This week I was in shorts and a tank top. Not exactly a smooth transition.
We started our run from Peet's Coffee and Tea in Oakland. This was the same location for our first run of the training season. Today was a stark contrast to that day as it was just 19 degrees.
For this training run we covered the entire second half of the marathon course. I was really excited about this because the second half of the course was where I really struggled last year. I wouldn't call it a complete crash and burn, but let's just say the wheels were coming off. This run would be a good chance to battle some of those remaining demons from last year.
We started out at a nice easy pace. It's important to conserve energy on these long runs. Before I knew it we were five miles into our run and at our first water stop along South Braddock Avenue.
After our first water stop we continued into Homewood and then turned left onto Frankstown Avenue. Last year, this was where the wheels started to fall off for me. It was interesting to see the course on fresher legs. I think I had worked it up in my mind to be much harder than it was after last years race. Was it challenging? Absolutely. Was it doable? Totally.
Around Mile 7 rain starting coming down. Since it was warmer I thought it felt pretty good. Fortunately it was just a light sprinkle and didn't turn into a downpour.
We contined on our course to the Higland Park neighborhood and then back to East Liberty. We reached our next water stop at Mile 10. Halfway there.
After the water stop we continued through Bloomfield and down Liberty Avenue through the Strip District. In my mind, the Strip Distirct is without a doubt the toughest part of the course. It's long and flat and it feels like you're never going to make it back to downtown. I kept my head down and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
By Mile 13 I knew I wasn't drinking enough water and I had already drank all the water in my hydration belt. I just focused on making it to Mile 15 which was our next water stop. Once at the stop, I started gulping as much water as I could and taking another energy gel. I needed a severe boost to get through the next five miles. I also made sure to fill up my water bottle before we left.
After crossing the Fort Duquense Bridge we ran through Point State Park and continued all the way to Fort Pitt Boulevard and then to Smithfield Street Bridge. After crossing, we made an immeaduate left onto East Carson Street. Now at Mile 17 we were back on part of the marathon course.
Ugh. It was hot. Not only was it hot, but it was busy. People were everywhere; coming out to enjoy this beautiful day. The bars and restaurants were packed. Windows were open and I could see patrons enjoying their day. They were having brunch. They were drinking bloody Mary's. They were having fun. I was suffering. I was in the pain. I wasn't having fun anymore.
I never thought I would be so happy to see the Birmingham Bridge, but I knew it was my ticket back to Peet's in Oakland.
Push through the pain.
At this point, I knew things were not going to get better. Things don't get better at Mile 19. Things get better when you get done with your run. I tried to maintain my pace over the long bridge. Finally, I reached the crest and the downhill makes things easier although it hurts a little more. I shorten my steps to ease the impact.
Next up is the Oakland Hill. I take a few walking steps to get on the sidewalk. I want to get back to Oakland. I'm going to run this hill. Slow and steady I go up the hill. The trouble is it steepens the further you go.
C'mon. Get up this stupid hill!
I vocalized my thoughts. I grunt. I'm pulling out all the stops to get up this hill. I pick out objects to run to: a sign, a street, a bus stop. Before I know it, I'm there and I can see our meeting point.
As I reach Peet's, I look at my watch. It says 19.90 miles. Oh heck, no. This watch is going to say 20 miles. I keep running down the block, dodging pedestrians to get my 20 miles. At this point I may be slow, but I'm on a mission. Finally, a beep on my Garmin goes off, the number 20 appears and I feel like I've conquered the world.
By the time I finished the run, the temperature was 75 degrees. After a brutal and cold winter this heat wave took a toll on me. I knew it was going to be warmer and was hydrating more, but I was still surprised by how much water I needed.
After this run, I felt really prepared for the marathon. I had overcome a lot of obstacles. I knew the sudden heat wave would be difficult for me, but I was glad it happened. I know what mistakes I made today and how to correct them if we have a warm day for the marathon. I also overcame my fear of the second part of the course. Running it again made me realize that it is manageable, but I just need to be really conservative in the beginning of the race. Also, I've totally debunked the myth of the Oakland Hill. If I can run that entire hill at Mile 19, then you better believe I can do it at Mile 11.
April 6, 2014
For any Fleet Feet runner the words "Tudi Run" invokes fear, hesitation and excitement. The Tudi Run is challenging, intense and long. While the course is challenging, it is a great way to prepare for the marathon; because nothing in the marathon is as daunting as what is encountered in this run! The 18 mile run began in McKees Rocks. Once departing McKees Rocks we took Island Avenue (not sure where the island was) to Chartiers Avenue. Chartiers Avenue is a long and winding hill (perhaps could be considered a mountain?) to the Sheradon neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I wanted to run up this hill as much as I could but once I realized my "running" was the same speed as others walking, I decided to save my energy and walk up a portion of the hill. After reaching the top, a long downhill was very enjoyable before reaching yet another long uphill. This time we climbed the hill into the neighborhood of Elliot.
Fortunately, yet another downhill gave me a chance to recover and catch my breath. We were already five miles into the run, and had climbed two massive hills. On all the long runs, I tell myself that I'm only running to the next water stop. I knew we were close to our water stop and then I saw a blue tent for our first stop. But this wasn't your ordinary training run water stop. This was a "race like" water stop sponsored by Brooks (yes, the running apparel company) and it was glorious! Our water saviors were dressed in grass hula skirts and beach apparel. Maybe Island Avenue took us to a Brooks Island?!? This water stop made me smile and completely forget about those last five miles and two hills.
After the much needed boost from the water stop we ran through the West End taking the steps down from the West End Bridge to East Carson Street. I was happy that it would be a while until we would see a hill again. The chilly morning was giving way to a beautiful Sunday. After an oppressive winter, the sun is finally shining, and signs of life are being seen around the city. We ran past a soccer game at Highmark Stadium and even ended up in the midst of a race on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail!
Our next water stop was in Uptown, directly across from the Birmingham Bridge. Nearly ten miles into the run and I was feeling pretty good!
We then headed downtown and through the Strip District. After crossing the 16th Street Bridge, we headed to the North Side. This nieghborhood is one of my favorite parts of the marathon course. Although parts of the North Side have been neglected over the years, I think it has some of the most picturesque streets in the city.
After our scenic run through the North Side, it was onto our final water stop at Mile 15. I really needed this one! The sun was coming down and it was getting warmer. I definitely needed to hydrate and fuel with a gel. After the water stop I was ready to tackle the last three miles of our run.
We started our final hill climb up California Avenue. Ouch. This hurt. Although this hill was not as steep as the hills we encountered in the beginning of the run, it was long and seemed never ending. A sliver of hope appeared as I could see the McKees Rocks Bridge in the not-so-far distance. I kept my eyes fixed on the bridge as I conquered the hill. I just had to get there and the down slope of the bridge would carry me to the end of this run. It seemed like it took forever, but I got to the top of the hill at Brighton Heights Avenue. From here it was all downhill. In a good way! We crossed at the traffic light and headed over the Ohio River via the bridge.
As we crossed the bridge, I stopped to take it all in (and a few pictures.) At this point I knew I had conquered this run and it was an exhilarating feeling.
Once we arrived back to our starting point I couldn't help but feel accomplished. Last year I really struggled with this run, but today it felt different. It felt like I had conquered the Tudi Run, instead of it conquering me.
The next day I was really tired and sore. I could tell that I had done a tough run the day before. As the mileage has been increasing on the long runs, I have been taking two rest days during the week instead of one. Training for my second marathon has been a lot different than training for my first. I listen to my body. I know when I need to rest and when to push. Hopefully this same knowledge will serve me well in the marathon.
In January I started to hear the phrase "the open" being used around my crossfit gym. I had never heard of "the open" before, but it seemed to be a competition of some sort. Did you go somewhere to do this competition? I envisioned a large venue, like a gymnasium with bleachers, and lights shining brightly down on you. Then I found out "the open" was a series of workouts announced online and could be completed in the comfort of my home gym, Mt. Lebanon Crossfit. Still, I was unsure. I didn't think I would have much to offer to the open workouts, but I was willing to be a cheerleader for others. Our coaches suggested we give it a try. It would be a good way to measure our progress from year to year. It seemed like most people at the gym were signing up. I finally gave in and signed up; with my biggest reason being that I didn't want to be left out.
Before the open began I had two wishes for myself: to be able to compete in one, maybe two, of the workouts and to not make a fool out of myself. Obviously, I was setting the bar pretty low, but I didn't know what to expect. Here are four things I learned during the crossfit open.
1. I am capable of more than I thought I was.
As mentioned above, I was hoping that I could compete in one or two of the workouts. As it turned out, I was able to compete and get a score in every one of the workouts. In fact, I was able to do all but two of the movements included in the open workouts. Eleven for Thirteen? I'll take that any day.
2. I am stronger than I thought I was.
I've competed in a lot of competitions that have tested my physical abilities. But I had never tested my weight lifting abilities until Workout 14.3. It included box jumps and deadlifts. Heavy deadlifts. It's hard to put into words what I experienced during this workout, but I found a part of myself that I didn't know existed. I struggled. I was in pain, but somehow I lifted the heaviest weight I've ever lifted in my life. Now I know I have much more strength than I ever thought.
3. I have a lot to work on.
So, I already knew this one. There are many crossfit skills that I have yet to develop. But during the open I realized how one skill can make or break you. This became apparent during Workout 14.4. It included a skill called "toes to bar". I had just achieved my first "toes to bar" a week earlier. Now I had to do 50 of them in a row. I couldn't do them in succession, so I attempted them one at a time. A lot of my attempts resulted in my toes not touching the bar. At the end of fourteen minutes I had only managed fourteen reps. I ended up with a bruised ego and skin missing from my hands. Although it was a disappointing performance, it made me want to work harder and improve on my weaknesses.
4. There is inspiration all around us.
So often in life we get busy. We have tasks to complete and often we don't notice the great things others are doing around us. One philosophy that has been stressed in Crossfit since I joined the gym is that once you complete your workout you must encourage others until they are done. On the last night of our open workout (complete with an after-party) my friend, Christina, was the last athlete completing the 14.5 workout. She's the main reason I was here in the first place, as she encouraged me to join only months earlier. Now she was struggling. Standing less than five feet tall, completing 84 thrusters at 65 pounds (more than half her body weight) was a daunting task.
Everyone else in the gym had recovered from their workout and had found a bite to eat. But she didn't care. She turned her back to the buffet of food and the ticking clock. It was one of the most gutsy and grueling performances I've ever witnessed. She couldn't always get the weight overhead, and that was consuming time and energy. She attacked each thruster one at a time. By the time she had three thrusters left to complete the entire gym had gathered to watch this epic finish. It took one hour and eighteen minutes. She never waivered. She never gave up. She had achieved something remarkable.
And it was in those final moments of her workout, it hit me. For most of us, the open wasn't about the numbers. It wasn't about how much we could lift and how quickly we could complete it. It was about life. It was about being better today than we were yesterday. It was attempting something that seemed impossible and conquering it. It was accepting a challenge and completing it. No matter how long it would take. It was facing fear and doubt head on, and defeating it. It was the realization that we were stronger and better than just five weeks ago. It was realizing that we can be even better than we are right now. Now that was something we could all aspire to be.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.