If you’d like to read more about my previous experiences, check them out here!
Marathon Monday: 2018 Pittsburgh Half Marathon Recap
Pre-Race – Greg and I had enjoyed the pre-marathon carb-load dinner my work puts on and actually made it home and to bed at a decent hour. I slept extremely peacefully and woke at 4:30, right on time to get ready to leave by 5. We had laid out our “flat runners” the night before and basically just had to get dressed, heat up my breakfast, and go.
We got a slightly late start because we were trying to figure out what long layers to add as the morning brought a light mist. Even with a delayed leaving time, the commute from Kittanning to Pittsburgh wasn’t bad. But we hit the North Shore right at 6:00 when roads started to close and our smooth sailing plan to get into the garage on General Robinson was faulted.
We sat in traffic and I sipped on my pre workout drink from BPI Sports (pro tip, the Blue Lemon Ice is amazing, use MRSWILLIS to save 20%), trying not to look at the time. We were parked by 6:20 and I had a mental breakdown once we got out of the car because our gear check bag was packed to the gills and looked like it could burst. Of course, we didn’t bring a backup so I was freaking out.
(insert superhero husband who sacrificed taking a hoodie and fixed the problem)
About 6:40, we’d gotten on the T and to Gateway Station. It was eerily calm. There was no line for gear check. No line for porta potties (I went twice in 10 minutes). We found a random stranger to snap some pictures of us after we paused for the National Anthem and start of the hand-cycle race.
Just before the Elites were off and running, Greg and I said goodbye. Off he went to his relay handoff on the North Shore (right where we parked) and I got into Corral D. I could see the pacers for the 2:30 and 2:45, but couldn’t get right where they were. I didn’t let that stop my feelings that I seriously could do this thing I’d heard about, setting a personal best (aka PR). I didn’t train with a running group, it was going to be okay.
At 7:30, our corral had made its way to the starting line and the time I’d been waiting for since my time crying on the hill in 2017 had finally come.
First 4.4 Miles: Elapsed Time 0:53:13 or 12:06 per mile
That first mile is so full of fun and excitement. Between my eyes darting to my left to see if I’d catch a fellow YFit Fam member cheering on the crowd to the “tunnel” by the bus station, I just felt so full of life and energy. Mile one is super familiar ground to me, it’s where a lot of my training is. As I neared the end of it, I couldn’t believe how fast time had flown by. According to the clock, I was right about an 11:45 for the first mile. No way! Hadn’t I just been sick?!?!
I knew I needed to slow things down, so I started to pray and listen to my breathing. Everything felt so good, but all I could think of was “okay, when will the wheels fall off this year?”. As I rounded the corners to take Penn Avenue back into the city, I started to focus on my water plan. I’d brought a Propel with me for electrolytes (I’m keto, so no Gatorade for me), but I wasn’t ready for that. Water? Yes. But right past the water station was my office and the possibility of seeing a co-worker. Since I hadn’t seen anyone I knew yet, I held out hope but ended mile two with the water stop and a buzz of my watch telling me I’d slowed it down just enough, to right about 12 minutes.
As the path took me through Penn Avenue, so familiar, I started to recognize some of the runners I follow on Instagram but had never introduced myself too. Being too shy and too focused, I kept on. The Birmingham Bridge was ahead and there was no time to talk – I needed to breathe. This mile was right above 12 minutes again, but I always feel mile 2 to 3 is one of the longest.
One of the shortest miles then flew by, looping through the start of the North Shore. Thanks to a water station and a quick downhill, the climb up toward Urban Impact‘s cheer zone. They were blasting K-Love and I couldn’t help but give thanks for my church family that I knew was praying for me. Just after mile 4, I look up and see “my verse”, Philippians 4:13.
Miles 4.4 to 10: Elapsed Time 2:01:01 or 12:07 per mile
I honestly don’t know where exactly this tracker was, but I think it was on the back side of North Commons. What got me pumped was I had just received a text that Greg’s relay team had crossed the 4.4 mark. What surprised me was there I was, about 8 minutes behind, getting MY text. I started mile 4.4 at a 12’06” pace and felt pretty amazing.
The thing was, I’d stood up in front of most of my co-workers in January (before I fell) and said my goal was a 12’12”. Even if the wheels fell off, a 12’30” was attainable, but being that close to a 12’12” I couldn’t help but feel excited.
My Nike+ watch was telling me things I just couldn’t believe, through mile six and passing by the first relay handoff, I was maintaining that 12-ish minute pace. Incredible. The time flew by.
Next thing I knew, I was head down and running up the West End Bridge. I looked down and my watch stopped. Well crud. Good thing I was wearing my FitBit Versa, which I still
hadn’t haven’t taken the time to calibrate. At the least, it has a stopwatch, so I got to Mile Marker 7 and hit GO.
West End is a great part of the course from a crowd perspective, but it really isn’t all that great on the body. Uphill. Uphil. Uphill. Then down a quick hill (to which I had someone come barreling down behind me, scaring me for my life). Then an all too brief flat (on which a college friend was handing out drinks and in my case a fist bump, high five, and hug) that led to more uphill, uphill, uphill.
This is where my asthma started to kick in last year. This year, I prayed and I listened to my breathing. Nothing seemed off and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears of joy. God really did have this under control.
As I crested the top of the first hill up West Carson Street just before Mile Marker 8, I looked down and could just see thousands of people. I’d never seen that before, the back of the pack usually is much more spread out. But this year, I wasn’t the back of the pack. What I was seeing wasn’t any chaos, it was just runner after runner taking a water break.
This is where I almost lost it, though. We come down a hill to water and there were so many runners in my part of the course that seemed new to running. One stopped right in front of me with no warning. I might have yelled a bit more than I should have, but I had a PR that was about to get smashed! Others were weaving a lot which was dangerous on all the cups. I just dug in and took the course and the day for what it was. And my stopwatch? It read 12:02.
Leading up to the Incline is one of my favorite parts of the course. It’s uphill, there’s no hiding that. But it is lined with JROTC students. I put my left hand out and high fived every single student along that part of the course. This got me through and next thing I knew there was Highmark Stadium in my sight and I got the text that Greg had finished his leg. It looked like I wasn’t too far behind them!
I weaved off a little in hopes the Florastor mister was working, but no luck. Have to give a little shout to them here because being on an antibiotic the week leading up to the race, I needed a good probiotic to help out. They kept me running!
Here’s a shot of me and Greg post-race at a photo opp they set up.
Mile Marker 9 was just off in the distance, which meant so was Greg. I took off my (now broken) Nike+ watch and got ready to hand it to him with my (unopened) Propel.
Miles 10 to 20K (12.4 miles): Elapsed time 2:30:35 or 12:07 per mile
As I scanned the relay exchange, I couldn’t see my husband. When I did see him, he wasn’t looking my way so I started to yell. Turns out, he was shocked by my speed as I was and wasn’t ready for me. There was no time for a kiss and a GET THIS this year, just time to toss my watch and water to him and keep going. I had a PR to CRUSH, remember?
The fastest mile of the course was just ahead, at the top of a hill. Wait…my text alert just told me I was doing a 12’07”, so why was I seeing the 2:45 pace group (which runs about a 12’35”)? I was so confused and a got a little frustrated in this mile. As I looked at my feet and questioned what had changed between the first 10 miles and that moment, I spied what I think my boss was trying to explain to me – paint that maps out the shortest part of the course. IDK if it was that or gas company marks, but I took it and focused and got up that hill to the fast and flat mile 10.
East Carson was a little quieter than I recall, but I think I was just motivated. Even with my frustration, my watch was still saying I was close to a 12-minute mile. Head down again, and next thing I knew, there was the split!
There’s a “little” hill up Birmingham Bridge that has been my nemesis. It was always my slowest mile, in fact, I walked it last year to the tune of almost 15’00” per mile (ouch). This year, I saw that 11, saw another just over 12-minute split on my watch, and up that bridge I went. Turning onto the hill of 5th Avenue, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d done it. I was going to PR unless I came to a complete stop and rested for ten minutes. Whoa.
The crowd starts to tell you there is just a mile left, but I don’t believe them. Not until I crest the hill and start to feel the downhill slope.
Miles 12.4 miles to 13.1: Elapsed time 2:38:04 or 12:04 per mile
You guys. Writing this post is the first I took the time to figure out how on earth I pulled my entire pace down by 3 seconds in 0.7 miles. The answer? I dug in and pulled off an average pace of 10’55” per mile that last stretch!!!
How did I do that? Well, the hill for one. Then there’s a lot of weaving but as I got to the next to last turn, there was my boss’s wife and another co-worker’s wife. They cheered me on, said I looked strong and that I was doing amazing. When they were out of sight, the tears came. I was so freaking happy, I cried.
That last right turn and my eyes started to dart for Greg. I’d surprised him again, but he caught my run to the chute on video, yelling THAT’S MY WIFE and I knew just how proud he was of me.
The run doesn’t stop at 13 miles, so when you see that marker you have to keep pushing…and push I did. No stopping until I was fully under those big yellow arches. I just wanted my medal and to see if I could stomach a banana (not really). Enter selfie mode.
I didn’t even know my official time, but I knew this was a PR and a BIG one. I texted my dad so he could tell mom and the kids I was done – and they texted soon back that they were so happy for me. I look down and see that my total average pace was a 12’04” and that I’d finished .04 seconds over my big OMG GONNA THROW UP IF I COULD PULL THIS OFF goal I didn’t speak to ANYONE – a 2:37 *point anything*. .04 away.
You guys. I did it. I crushed it and there is no doubt in my mind this was a God thing. Redemption for years battling food. Redemption from mental anguish over my past relationships. Redemption from being the “fat friend”. Redemption from the toll four babies has taken on my body. Redemption from going from crying on a hillside in 2017 to slipping at CrossFit and twisting three vertebrae to falling on my face and knees. Redemption felt amazing.
This was seventeen minutes forty-one seconds faster than 2017 and fourteen minutes thirty-one seconds faster than 2013. How about that for a PR bell ring?!?!
Thanks to everyone for your prayers and cheers. Thanks to my parents and brother for helping with the kids. And most of all, thanks to my amazingly supportive husband. This day will live on in our family history, for sure. xoxo
And with that, my journey to the 2018 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon – UPMC Health Plan Half Marathon is finished. To see how I’ve been doing since, follow me on Instagram!
January totals: 20.63 miles, 12’40” pace