There is NO WAY that the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon weekend was over a week ago, is there? As I walked through the city on my Monday morning commute (a week AFTER the Monday after the Marathon) it still felt like black and gold yinzers should be running those streets. Not sure how I’m going to survive until the next big race, anyone else? (Psst, if this is you, check out the official blog for tips from Karl Gruber on how to survive the post-race blues.)
2019 Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend: The VIP Experience (part three of three)
The day started with me and my VIP’s getting breakfast at the Wyndham Grand, right beside the Gear Check trucks (which BTW you don’t need if you’re VIP because they check gear from you at the breakfast). I’d been doing keto off and on but let my eating slide, so I was okay that our breakfast was primarily carbs – bagels, croissants, butters and jellies, yogurt – but I was cautious to not eat anything too heavy. I’ve had gluten issues, so I did my best with some cream cheese and peanut butter and a big bottle of NUUN Hydration’s Ginger Lemonade (which I have become “addicted” to and you can get at your local running store or on Amazon as I’ve linked above).
But the best part of this experience for me? The indoor bathrooms. Guys, I drink so much water then you add in race day nerves and I visit the porta-potties pre-race many times (5, maybe?). This year, I didn’t have to because I was using the indoor bathroom at the VIP experience (okay, I did use one once I got to corral C just to be sure) and I was able to make it all the back after the race to use it, too! Wins. And just in case you didn’t grab enough safety pins? They had you covered, too.
The morning was rainy, so Greg decided to keep the kids in the VIP room instead of watching me at the starting line. Soon he’d head over to the North Shore and Station Square, but this was a good place to camp out and wait. He snapped a quick picture of me before I headed out, dry and warm (and covered in prayer)!
Now this part is for the VIP Fans – the spectator tent at the Finish Line was full of food (I’m told bacon and breakfast burritos) and a covered area to watch the racers finish. Unfortunately, Greg didn’t snap a selfie of him and the kids, but they LOVED this part and he said it made the cost worth it for future events.
After the race, we all got to come back and be spoiled with a hotel catered lunch (pasta with chicken, sandwiches, cookies) and have a gathering spot that was warm and dry.
We’re so grateful for this part of our experience because it made the day smooth for my biggest fans and made me comfortable all race weekend knowing we had a place to meetup and relax.
2019 Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend: Leg 1 of the Relay
After I left the VIP experience, it was time to head to Corral C to do my duty as Leg 1 (and Captain) of my work’s relay team.
Firstly, let’s address how cool my tank is (scroll up if you missed it). Logistically, I was a bit cranky about having to wear two bibs + the tracker + the bib on the back (this comes into play later in the race) but I figured I’d stick with one shirt because who wants to wear two wet shirts and/or risk not having your half marathon timer track your start?
It seemed like this year was the fastest start of the four years I’ve done the Half, maybe that’s because I was in Corral C? And speaking of fast, I started out a bit fast with the energy of walking past my client to the starting line and then being in a corral of mixed pace runners who were doing the relay (more on that in my “half” section of this post).
This was the first time I was on the “handoff” side of the relay – when I neared Exchange 1 on the North Shore, it felt like FOREVER until I got to the co-worker running the next leg. He was waiting very patiently (bless him!) for me (again, see below) with Greg and the kids. Since I was continuing on, it was a little awkward to get back into the sea of runners, but I managed.
All in all, my relay team did amazing. They took what they were handed from my slow leg 1 and ran with it, bringing our overall pace to 11:05/mile overall. Now bring us the tacos!!!
After I was done with my lunch, our final runner crossed the finish line and we met in the hotel lobby for some conversation and photos. After seeing it, I’ll admit that I have some work to do before our next race together!
2019 Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend: The Half Marathon (Mile by Mile)
If you’ve been following along on my blog(s) for the last few years, you know that I like to try to recall the races by the miles. Let’s see how I do this year! (Note, I am wearing a FitBit Versa which is fine enough, but I didn’t use the running feature – it died by the end of the race with just the timer running sooo – OR my Nike+ to get my laps, but just know they were slow. Maybe next race I’ll have a Garmin Forerunner like this?)
Mile 0-1: This one was fast at first. I’d set out to do a 5-minute run followed by a 3-minute walk which went well in this mile; however, my first run was fast and I got some rocks in my shoes (Altra Escalante Racers in Tokyo, if you’re wondering) and had to work that out. My feet were soaked just a tenth of a mile in, too. I set my eyes on some other run/walkers just in case I needed to find some buddies.
Mile 1-2: This one was a little tough, emotionally. It might have been one of my faster miles because I had the folks from Corral D bearing down on my back (and they start like 8 minutes after C – sigh) and because I just wanted it to be done with. The first water station is right near my previous workplace and I thought I’d lose it, so I wanted to just run and run I did.
Mile 2-3: This was my old running path – Penn Avenue to the 16th Street Bridge. I love to hate this section of town. At one point someone from the 11-ish minute mile pace group yelled to me, “keep it up RELAY, just 2 miles to go”. Heh. What he didn’t know was that I had to keep on keeping on.
Mile 3-4: As I crested the hill from 16th Street Bridge, my knee gave out. It was slipping and popping and I slowed that 5/3 to a 4/2 and walked up the hill to East Ohio Street. There’s this energy on that section of the race (and a few downhills) that helps move things along and I tried desperately to feed off of that; however, I decided I was going to quit once I got to the exchange. Running with an injury isn’t worth it and I was hurting.
Mile 4-5: This mile starts out with the run up the hill to Urban Impact cheering us on. As “Old Church Choir” played from their station, I got the strength to run that hill and high five everyone I could along the way. I don’t honestly remember running past the Children’s Museum (did we?) because there was a section here where we cheered on one of the hand cart racers (and I stopped feeling sorry for myself).
Mile 5-…: I was quitting, don’t you remember? At 5.4 miles, you hit the relay exchange. As I said above, it felt like forever until Rick gave me my medal and I had Greg help me with my bib and tracker. I decided to stay on the course but told Greg it was going to be a LONG TIME until I could get back to him downtown. I ran away and then realized that I still had “RELAY” on my back so I had to turn back and ask Greg to rip that off. I didn’t want to be yelled at for not going through Exchange 2 or having my relay bib on the front! Logistics, you see.
Right after this exchange, medics were waiting with vaseline – the only such station I saw on the course – and I needed it. I was drenched and wearing a new shirt and slightly tighter than usual Fusion C3 Running Shorts. I’ve had three c-sections and a belly that was large > pregnant > larger > even more pregnant > flubby > flat as a board > pregnant with twins > torn open ten days after surgery > flubby fit > swollen (in the past 10 years). It rubs and hurts, so I was grateful.
After that, I heard “MRSGREGWILLIS!!!” yelled out – and it was my favorite pacer (Carla) and Adrian and Abbie. I’d never met Adrian and Abbie in real life, but we all are running fam on Instagram. It was great to see them and run with them for a little bit while they helped Carla tackle (CRUSH!) her first full. Unfortunately, I knew what my knee needed and I had to hang back and go back to my 5/3 run walk pace, letting them go on without me.
Mile 6-7: West End Bridge – you were so nice to me this year. I even took a moment to snap a selfie because why not? Not too much to say about this part of the course but I got ‘er done.
Mile 7-8: West End has always been a favorite of mine and this year is no different. As I coasted down the hill, I noticed incredible back muscles on another runner and told her that she was looking strong as I passed – hopefully it gave her encouragement!
Three years ago, I found out that one of my college friends, “Grab”, was in the crowd there. I’d said “HEY” in the past and kept running, but this year I stopped to grab a drink from her and another college friend (also a Jen) and a selfie. We chatter for a minute or two then on I went – this race was about having FUN!
Mile 8-9: This is the mile with the JROTC lining the hill the goes under the incline. I’ve always made it a point to high-five as many of them as I could going up this hill and this year I decided to live stream it – I think on Instagram stories. After that, everything was oddly quiet and I started to worry about my sugar levels so I popped in my first Cherry Blossom Honey Stinger chew.
Mile 9-10: I had some PTSD on this mile. It’s where in 2017 I had an asthma attack (so I took my inhaler) and in 2018 watched someone fall. This year, for the first time, Greg didn’t make it over the bridge in time to see me (so maybe I was faster than I thought?). We texted a bit in this mile because I was saving energy for the next one.
Mile 10-11: This is the fastest and flatest mile, through the South Side. The gummy worms from UPMC were gone, but there was still a decent amount of Honey Stinger Energy Gel (thank you to the race partners for planning for us back-of-the-pack’ers!) and I drank it up while still running most of this mile. The thing is that the Mile 11 marker on the Birmingham Bridge was way too far away and my knee needed me to walk that bridge. You win some, you lose some.
Mile 11-12: This bridge is tough. Is there really anything else to say? It’s tough then followed by an uphill battle. I walked a bit of this because the knee was painful.
Mile 12-13: Thanks for the bubbles, spectators! This mile seems like the longest until you get to that 20K sign. I ran most of this one but struggled with wet bricks just before mile 13 and had to walk for safety. You can hear the roar of the crowd and this mile is just incredible.
Mile 13.1: The best part of the race – the finish! The crowd was still cheering, my VIP family was screaming their hearts out from the tent. It is just an incredible feeling to know that I’ve done this FIVE times now!
As I went through the Finish Line chute, I heard an ex-Giant Eagle co-worker behind me and we snapped photos, grabbed our goodies, and parted ways when I headed to find my family at the VIP lunch. We didn’t even realize it was pouring rain on us until we had our heat sheets (much needed) wrapped around us.
Although I didn’t need a medic on course, I decided before going to VIP to get ice for my knee. Thank you, medics!
That’s that! I am a FIVE TIME Half Marathoner with goals to 1) get my knee fixed and 2) not stop running. You’re going to have to stick around here to see what I’m up to next. Thank you God for this experience!
2019 Pittsburgh Half Marathon Results: 13.1 Miles, 14:40/mile
(Medals shown above – 5k, Relay, Half, and Steel Challenge)