May 4, 2014 was the sixth annual Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. This was my second full marathon, as last year I ran this race for my first full marathon. Last year, I had also hoped for a sub five hour marathon, but quickly learned that a marathon is a different animal when it comes to running races. Late in the race I hit the dreaded wall and saw my four hour and change marathon slip away.
Another difference for this year's race was that my husband, Bobby, would be running part of it with me as he was running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. This was his first year running this race and I was really excited for him to experience this race and the amazing crowd support.
We met up with my running group before entering the corrals. Being in the corral is probably the least favorite part of a race for me. This year, since I was planning on running a 11:00 min/mile marathon, I was in Corral D: at the very end. Even though the race started at 7:00 AM, my corral wasn't started until 7:30 AM. It was nice to have Bobby with me. Just having someone to share pre race jitters with while waiting for a half hour to start was such a relief. Right before we started, some rain started coming down. I was just hoping it would stay as a light drizzle. Fortunately it did. Finally around 7:30 AM we were off!
Mile 1: We start slow. Around a 12 minute mile. Slow is good.
Mile 2: I stop at the first water stop. It never hurts to hydrate early
Mile 3: We hit Mile 3 on our first bridge, the 16th Street Bridge. Our pace is speeding up a little bit, but it still feels easy and comfortable. We are making our way into the North Side - one of my favorite parts of the race. As we near Mile 4 we make a left turn onto Cedar Avenue, passing a mimosa party. Pretty soon I realize Bobby is no longer next to me I turn around. He's at the mimosa party! I stop to wait for him. Wait a minute, I can't wait for him! I'm running a marathon! Fortunately I'm at the beginning of a water stop so I decide to get some water. He can catch up. He does; with a green cup filled with a mimosa.
Mile 4: As we cross the Rachel Carson and Andy Warhol Bridges there are wall to wall people cheering us on. I can't help but smile.
Mile 5: After a bit of an uphill we weave into the North Side again.
Mile 6: As we start to leave the North Side, the song "Renegade" by Stix is blasting through the speakers. It seems fitting since we are only blocks away from Heinz Field. (This song is played at every home game, usually in the 3rd or 4th quarter.) We start crossing the West End Bridge. I love running this bridge because of the view of Pittsburgh. It's the best.
"This is a little steep," Bobby mentions of the bridge.
"We're almost there," I reply.
"No, we're not," he says.
"I know. I lied. You just have to lie to yourself whenever you're running a marathon," I tell him.
Mile 7: Coming into the West End, people are starting to walk. We are weaving around walkers and it's hard to stick together.
Mile 8: I start looking for my friend, Stacey. I know she's along Carson Street. I see her! She runs alongside of us, taking pictures.
Mile 9: We see even more friends! It gives us a boost as we travel down Carson Street and helps us pick up speed.
Mile 10: The signs for the half/full split start coming up. I'm getting really sad. I know that Bobby is going back to downtown and I'm headed to Oakland. Neither of us want to run without each other. But we both agree that today is not the day Bobby should double his longest run and attempt a full marathon. As we split into our respective races, I feel a little bit of panic. Bobby assures me I'll be okay.
Some of the half marathoners look over and shout, " Good luck full marathoners! We're only half as crazy as you!"
Mile 11: This is the first mile without the half marathoners. It feels lonely, but I am surrounded by familiar faces from my running group and it makes me feel better. After crossing the Birmingham Bridge my first big test is coming up: the Oakland Hill. At the base of the hill I take a few walking steps and a deep breath. I'm ready to tackle this climb. I start running the hill, not too fast, but not too slow either. I also know that someone is waiting for me. My friend, Susie, is volunteering at the water stop at the top of the hill. I'm so relieved to see the crest of the hill. When I reach the top I start looking for Susie. I see her at the very last table and she sees me. She starts yelling my name. I'm so happy to see her! After drinking my water I tell her, "Well I'm going to get moving." She chants my name as I run down Forbes Avenue.
Entering Oakland is like being in a ghost town. The University of Pittsburgh graduated last week and it seems like no one is here. I can count the number of runners around me on my hands. I hope its not like this the rest of the way. It's going to be a long and lonely marathon.
Mile 13.1: I hit the halfway point at 2 hours and 29 minutes. I'm still on pace for a sub 5 hour marathon, but I need to be careful. I have to keep my pace or better yet: speed it up.
Mile 14: I make my way into Shadyside. Hello! Party! Music, cheerleaders, pom-poms, signs. This is awesome!
Mile 15: I hit a bit of an uphill but it's not affecting me much.
Mile 16: Last year this is where the five hour pacer passed me. This year the five hour pacer is in my sights and I'm gaining on them. Things are getting tough but if I can hang on till Homewood I know I will forget all about how tough this is. As I go to turn the corner at Penn Avenue and North Braddock Avenue there is a woman standing there. It almost feels like she's waiting for me.
"Let's go Sarah. You've got this girl!" She cheers as she gives me a high five.
She's right. I've got this.
Mile 17: I've entered Homewood. I've also caught up with the five hour pace group. I decide to stick close to them for the next few miles.
Mile 18: Only two more miles to 20. I can make it to 20.
Mile 19: The last long climb into Highland Park feels like a true test of willpower. Many around me are walking, but I don't want to give in. Just keep moving. Just keep moving.
Mile 20: I hit the 20 mile mark at 3 hours and 45 minutes. I feel good. I know the course and I know I can start pulling away from the five hour pace group.
Mile 21: Wow! This is hard. Really hard! In fact, I forgot how hard this is. Now I remember why I don't do this often.
Mile 22: The last hill is here. I'm slowing down but I just need to get to the top.
Mile 23: The descent begins. I pick up speed on the downhill. I decide I'm going to try to hold this pace the rest of the way (10:34 min/mile).
Mile 23.5: The downhill course flattens out into the Strip District. I look ahead. No! Keep your head down! I'm not playing these mind games with you, Strip District! (This part of the course is approximately 1.5 miles of flat and straight road: a rarity in Pittsburgh.)
Mile 24: No! No! No! My quads are spasming. My mind is pushing, but my body is failing. Out of the corner of my eye I think I see Susie. I wave and she comes running over to save me from my misery. She runs nearly the entire mile with me. I'm so grateful for that. Last year I had a complete meltdown here.
Mile 25: I enter back into downtown. Left onto Smithfield Street and I see Bobby. Even from far away I can tell he's smiling and I can't help but smile. I can see the flags ahead and I know that's the last turn. As I turn onto the Boulevard of Allies I'm stunned by how many people are there.
Mile 26: The screams and cheers are getting louder. It's starting to hit me. I hurt so bad, but I'm just trying to hold it together till the finish.
When I crossed the finish line at 4:52:40, all the emotions came rushing out. I couldn't hold back the tears anymore. I had waited a whole year for this.
Yes, a whole year. Last year when I had crossed the finish line, I felt empty. I didn't cry. I didn't feel happiness. I just felt like a shell of myself. The marathon totally drained me mentally, physically and emotionally. I had nothing left. Hours later I started realizing my accomplishment, but I also felt disappointed. I knew I could do better.
It's hard to explain to others that you feel disappointed with the completion of your first marathon, but that's exactly how I felt. A day after the 2013 marathon, I knew I was going back. I had unfinished business.
I needed a new game plan. I changed my training. I ran shorter mileage, but at a faster pace. I did speed workouts. I did Crossfit. I squatted, deadlifted and overhead pressed. I ran long runs in the coldest winter I can remember. I changed my race strategy. I ran a faster second half than the first half. I got stronger and faster as the race went on.
Going into the marathon I had my doubts. Would my new plan work? What if I didn't reach my goal? When I crossed the finish line I had all my answers. I had blown away last year's time by twenty one minutes. I knew that the person who just crossed the finish line was much stronger and more determined than she ever realized. I knew that I could do anything with hard work and perseverance. I knew that I had just accomplished one of my biggest goals. I knew that this wasn't the finish, but rather, this was only the beginning of what I could do.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.