Race Recap: 2015 Pittsburgh Half Marathon

First, congratulations to everyone who ran a Pittsburgh Marathon event and to Clara Santucci for winning top female and Tyler McCandless for winning top American male! And thank you to all the volunteers, spectators, and performers who supported all the runners!

This is the not the recap I hoped to write. I did not PR, did not finish strong, did not meet my A, B, or C goals, and did not have fun for much of the course. I'm disappointed but not crushed. I still am really happy with a great training cycle. May 3 was just not my day.

You know that my confidence going into this race was through the roof. I was 100% certain I would run my 11:00 target pace and thought it was probable that I would achieve 10:50 or better. In fact, when I told my husband about what time I would finish so that he could be at the finish line, my "if everything goes bad" time estimate was only two minutes off from when I told him I'd be finishing. "That's not a lot of leeway," he said. "There's no way I'm finishing later than that," I adamantly told him.

What I hadn't planned on was the sun and heat. I had exactly one training run in hot weather before this race. The 79 other runs I did this training cycle were pretty much all in very cold temps, so I was very unprepared for the weather on race day.

If you don't want to read the full story, the short story is that I finished in 2:33 at an 11:43 pace, five minutes slower than my 2:28 PR. Ouch. Read on for the details.

My race day outfit--light, airy, comfy and colorful tank, capris with lots of pockets,
and purple bra because, purple!

I slept like a baby Saturday night, like I didn't have a care in the world. Sunday morning getting ready went smoothly, until I started walking from my house to the start Downtown. It was 52F out, and I planned to wear a windbreaker for the first few miles of the race and then toss it to my husband when we passed him on the course. Before I was even halfway to Downtown, I started to feel pretty warm. Hmmm. I decided to put my jacket in gear check instead of wearing it for the beginning of the race.

Checking the forecast before the race, I wasn't concerned at all. It was only predicted to be around 60 at 9:30, when I'd be finishing.
In the VIP area before the race. My side pockets in my capris are stuffed!
Amanda and I are ready to take on the race!

I had access to a VIP area in the Westin Hotel because I'm an official blogger. There was a big breakfast spread and access to nice indoor bathrooms. I met Amanda there, who won the same VIP package. As soon as I got there at 6 a.m. I got in line to use the bathroom. It was awesome to be able to use a nice, indoor bathroom! We left at 6:30 to go to our corral and almost immediately got in line for the port-a-potties. The lines were so long and took forever that we actually missed starting with our corral and had to start with the next corral. That set us back a good half-hour, probably starting around 7:30, which meant we were in the sun longer, so in retrospect starting with a later corral wasn't a good idea.

Our plan was to run together until the course split at the Birmingham Bridge at an 11:00 pace. My own plan was to speed up to about 10:50 pace at mile 5 if I felt good, and then really speed up at mile 10. Ha, ha. How confident I was!

Start line selfie...all smiles because nothing could possibly go wrong!
Waiting for our corral to go at the start line. This is the only time we were in the shade. You can see
we were going to be running into the sun.

Miles 0-3
1: 10:53
2: 11:00
3: 11:00
The start line was, of course, very exciting, and we started off from Downtown heading into the Strip District neighborhood. There were cheering spectators almost nonstop and several bands. Amanda did a good job of helping us to start slow, though the first mile was a little fast. I tried to really pay attention to pace, and we had to keep slowing down. We did a pretty good job of starting slowly. I can't say that this pace felt easy, though, and my heart rate confirmed that. Already, I was working much harder than I did in my training runs at that pace. For example, my heart rate running the same course for the first two miles on a training run April 12 was 146 and 152; the first two miles of this race I was at 159 and 164. Still, I was having fun at this point. So many cheering spectators, and so many signs! It was crowded throughout the whole course, but I never felt like I was tripping over people and never had to weave a ton, even at the beginning. Right after the 3-mile marker as we came into the Northside, we passed my husband and my greyhound, and my husband got these great shots of us running. I called Django's name, and his ears went straight up and he looked so confused, like, "I think that was my momma!"
My favorite picture from the race!

Miles 4-6
4: 10:57
5: 10:53
6: 11:23
Still having fun, we headed down East Ohio Street and then back and forth over two bridges. Again, cheering spectators and music were everywhere. It was such a fun, party vibe! We kept a good pace on mile 4 but went a bit fast in mile 5. I am guessing that was the result of running up the bridge inclines and the hill off the second bridge too fast. That's something I practiced countless times on training runs and still cannot get right! After the hill in Allegheny Commons after the mile marker for mile 5, I started noticing a lot more that I was working hard and that I was very hot. I stayed focused and calm and thought I was holding pace well, so when the 11:23 split popped up, I was pretty surprised. I should say that throughout the whole race, we didn't really talk. We usually chat nonstop on training runs. Part of it was taking in the race, but I know that for me I was working hard enough that I didn't want to use up energy with talking.

Miles 7-9
7: 11:11
8: 11:03
9: 11:41
Right after the 6-mile marker, I knew things were not right and that I was struggling. But, taking Carina's advice, I thought maybe it was just all in my head, and I just focused on pushing to keep the pace. Mile 7 included the big downhill on Western Ave., which was a really nice little break, and then the climb onto the West End Bridge. We did pretty good at keeping pace, even though we slowed a bit to 11:11. Right after the bridge, we came into West End and the only part of the course I didn't train on. There was (of course!) a hill into the neighborhood, and then (of course!) tons of cheering spectators, music, and a dance group performing. At this point, I was definitely working hard. I didn't dare look down at my heart rate because I knew it would freak me out, but I was struggling. I'm happy I managed an 11:03 pace during that mile. Then we left the West End via another incline and got onto Carson Street, one of the only parts of the course without crowd support. At that point, my struggle was really serious. I felt awful. It wasn't even my stomach--I actually had no stomach problems except for a minor cramp that went away in minutes. I think taking a Salt Stick cap before I started and halfway through really helped. But what I was experiencing was major fatigue. It felt like running through quicksand. I could just not hold pace, no matter how much I tried. When the split at mile 9 came up at 11:41, I knew I was going down and didn't want to take Amanda with me, so I told her to go ahead. I knew she didn't want to leave me and felt bad, but I knew that she could not jeopardize her race so early on. So, that's where we parted.

Miles 10-13.1
10: 12:53
11: 13:01
12: 13:49
13: 11:53
.02: 10:15
Almost as soon as Amanda left me, I started to walk. Running seemed impossible, and that's when I first started having doubts that I could actually finish. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I could see myself unraveling, and it seemed there was nothing I could do to stop it. What an awful sensation, along with knowing the course really well and knowing just how far I had to go. Seriously afraid that I was going to get picked up by the sweep van, I made myself start running, though slowly, and it was truly painful. You know how non-runners always talk about how much running sucks? Well, I could finally relate. My contacts were blurry because sunscreen had run into my eyes, I was very hot, very tired, and just wanted to be done with the race.

We passed Station Square, where there were lots of spectators, and it was only because of them that I continued to run and not walk. I actually felt a little irritated by all the spectators, because I just wanted to walk and be alone in misery. Shortly after, I stopped to adjust my heart rate monitor. While I hadn't been checking my heart rate, I wanted the data for afterward. That's when I realized that I had sweated so much that my monitor had slipped way down below my chest. In fact, it must have slipped even before mile 3, because I had very low heart rate data after mile 3, an indication that it's out of place and not accurately measuring heart rate. While I tried to adjust it, the monitor part popped off the strap, and I was too irritated to put it back on, even though it just snaps on. I leaned over to put it into my pocket, and when I did the magnets I use for my bib instead of pins snapped together, so I had fix that. Ugh. The mile from Station Square to mile 10 in Carson Street was almost entirely an incline, and I walked a lot. With all the walk breaks and stops, that mile took 12:53.

By the time I got to mile 10, the flattest mile in the course, I was so done. I felt like I had nothing left in me. My goal for that mile was just to make it to the Birmingham Bridge, where I knew I'd be close to the end. I was in really bad spirits at this point and didn't even look at the crowds. I walked a lot and didn't even care that there were lots of spectators there to see me. That mile was 13:01 pace.

The Birmingham Bridge came right after the 11-mile marker. This bridge was always tough for me in training, but I was so happy to get to it because I knew I was that much closer to finishing. I tried to run but took a few walk breaks. There was a runner down on the side, and announcers were telling us to get over to the right because paramedics were coming up. After that, runners started dropping. I think I saw about four runners down.

At the end of the bridge was the big hill of the course--a short, steep hill followed by a long, gradual hill. Again, I was happy to see the hill because it meant I was that much closer to finishing. I started running the hill but quickly gave up and walked that whole first hill. After that, I wanted to try to run the rest of the way. I knew the second hill wasn't steep, just long and gradual, like a bridge incline. I actually was able to run up most of it, only taking a short walk break at the top before starting the downhill to the finish. Mile 12 was pretty much all hill, and with all my walk breaks, it was my slowest mile at 13:49.

The last mile was mostly downhill, and in my many visualizations of the race, I pictured myself sailing down and being able to speed up easily to make my final mile my fastest. Again, ha. That last mile was at 11:53 pace. Even though it was downhill, it was still a struggle not to walk. Once we got down the hill and into town the amount of spectators and noise of the crowd was insane. But I couldn't even appreciate it, even then, because my eyes were on that finish line and I was giving it my all just to make it there. Just before the finish line--literally, about 30 feet away--there was a runner down with paramedics and her friend around her. I felt so bad for her. "Girl, I feel your pain," I said silently as I passed.

And then I was across the finish line! I did it! I finished! My Garmin recorded 13.20 miles for an 11:38 pace.

It took me about 10 minutes to recover. I couldn't eat or drink and had to stand there for a while in the finish chute, holding on to the railing. As I was calling my husband to tell him I'd finished, I swear that Charlie Batch from the Steelers walked by, just outside the chute! It was a restricted area, so it could have been him, or I could just have been delusional. He smiled in acknowledgement, which either meant, "Yes, I'm Charlie Batch" or "Yes, I look like Charlie Batch" or "Yes, I see you checking me out." It took me forever to get out of the finish chute and find my husband, and by that point I started feeling better. We headed away from the finish line festival at Point State Park and instead to a bench in town where there were fewer people. He sat with me for a while until I felt normal, and at that point I ate my banana and potato chips. While we were there, we saw this couple with this great sign, and I couldn't help getting a picture.
For the record, my answer was no.
So happy to be done!

With my half marathon and steel challenge medals

I headed into the VIP area at the finish line to change. Again, it was so nice to have an indoor bathroom where I could change my clothes, from which I could have wrung out buckets of sweat, and freshen up. I thought I should eat real food (there was a buffet in the VIP area, but there was nothing I could eat), so we went to Chipotle in Market Square. The line was crazy long, and only after I was ordering did they tell me they were out of guac. HOW CAN YOU BE OUT OF GUAC??? A burrito is just not the same without guac, and I couldn't finish it. We then headed up to Smithfield Street, where we got a great spot on the course to cheer the marathoners who were just approaching mile 26.

I saw Amanda and cheered loudly for her. I was so proud of and inspired by her! It was such a struggle to finish the half that I could not imagine running the full. Again I'll say congratulations to everyone who finished!

I stayed around a bit, hoping to see Chelsea, who was finishing her first full, but I was starting to fade and still had to walk more than a mile home. That walk home was tough, and by the time we got home I was very tired and hot again. We sat outside on our shady patio for the rest of the day, enjoying some Redd's Strawberry and Apple Ale, my favorites.
Cuddling with my boy later in the afternoon

I got a long sleeve tech tee in the same design as the 5K tee, a spike bag, and a medal. Because I ran the 5K the day before, I got a third medal for completing the Steel Challenge.
Long sleeve tech tee

Spike bag (Django decided he needed to lie there as I was taking the picture.)

Pittsburgh Half Marathon medal

Steel Challenge medal--my favorite medal of the three

5K, half marathon, and Steel Challenge medals together

Final Thoughts
Emergency medical staff treated 80 runners during the race, 49 of whom were taken to hospitals. Some runners I know did pretty well, but many more were also affected by the heat and sun. I finished a half-hour later than I planned, partly because of my slower pace and partly because we missed our corral start and started later. So I was out in the sun and heat longer than I planned, and it was about 65F, not 60, when I finished. I know that that doesn't seem hot, and in the shade it's not. But there was practically no cloud cover, and we were running in the sun almost the whole race. I'm generally a vampire when it comes to the sun. I don't even like standing in it for a minute, let alone running in it for so long. As prepared as I was, the sun just took me down.

So what now? Do I try another half as a redemption race? Do I really want to run the 2016 Pittsburgh Marathon as my first full, knowing that the weather is such a wild card? Or should I try for a fall marathon instead...and if so, this fall or next? I have a lot to think about so will be doing a post when I make my next plans.

I'll end by saying that even though it wasn't the experience I'd hoped for, this race is really fantastic between the great support and fantastic crowd support. And I'm happy I got to share the weekend with so many great running friends. I will be back!

Labels: , ,