Pittsburgh Running

COVID-19 Cancels My PR Dreams

Three of my four Pittsburgh Marathon Medals. I would have added a fifth, but COVID-19 had other plans for me.
Three of my four Pittsburgh Marathon medals.

I signed up for the 2020 Pittsburgh Marathon (half) on October 21 of last year. I felt definite FOMO caused by not signing up for any fall races in 2019. The feeling I felt as I watched my friends finish their half and full marathons let me know it was time to start racing again.

By racing, I mostly mean with myself, of course. I set a PR in the half marathon distance in 2014 (2:06:21), and haven’t touched it since. I lost a lot of speed to depression and life over the six-year gap between then and now. In 2019, I started working again on my speed. It’s been a slow and steady process, and I felt like maybe I could PR in May at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, my favorite race.

It didn’t hit me that COVID-19 might start canceling marathons until my spring work travel schedule was altered at the beginning of March. At that point, Tokyo had only limited their marathon to elites and Paris had canceled a half with less than a day’s notice. However, the rate at which conferences, some much smaller in number than the Pittsburgh Marathon, began cancelling at this point made me fear the worst.

Or what I thought was the worst.

Then we started to hear about the news out of Italy, about hundreds of deaths in 24 hours and ICUs overwhelmed with patients. And our schools canceled the formal. And then, a big one, Governor DeWine canceled school for three weeks—at least.

I watched my sons grapple with their losses. I comforted them, allowing them to feel their feelings while assuring them that we would all be okay. I let them know it was totally normal to experience sadness, grief, and loss when things that we had been looking forward to and training for were taken away from us for whatever reason, especially reasons out of our own control.

I don’t think I expected to have to eat my own words.

Once Boston postponed, creating the first ever fall Boston Marathon, I knew it was only a matter of time. I think Pittsburgh was initially banking on time themselves, figuring this would all be over and good before the May 3rd date. As new models warned of an eight week time frame, the date looked less and less plausible.

And here we are.

Pittsburgh made the right choice. The safety of runners is at stake right now. Even if May 3rd becomes a magic date in which we see no new cases of COVID-19, runners who have been training for this race will get sick between now and then, losing their training plans to this virus. There’s no way to run a marathon during or in the immediate aftermath of a global pandemic.

I applaud the Pittsburgh Marathon for offering runners the choice to run virtually or to receive a refund. Many races simply rescheduled and offered the new date, no refund. In the end, I chose the refund, not because I don’t want to support my hometown and my favorite race, but because the farthest virtual race I can see myself doing would be a 5K. I’m doing one next month. (You should, too!)

I sign up for half marathons (and maybe a third full someday) for the overall experience. 40,000 runners push me to run faster. Right now, I don’t believe I can hit anywhere close to the pace I need for 13.1 miles without the challenge and competition that other runners bring. That adrenaline rush, the music, the absolute joy of running the streets of Pittsburgh: those things can’t be recreated on a quiet May morning on the local trail, not even with friends running at least six feet away.

With the refund, I’ll likely pick a fall half marathon. A friend let me know that the Buffalo Marathon runs at the end of May on Memorial Day weekend. I’m going to keep an eye on it, I think.

I’ll take this week easy, retiring this training plan, of which I had not yet missed a single run nor a single day, running my solo mile on rest days to continue my running streak. I’m on Day 295 now. I’ll reevaluate on Sunday, a day that now doesn’t even hold church right now. I will create some new goals to get me through this pandemic and onto the next race.

Will I run 13.1 miles on May 3? Maybe, and definitely alone if I do. But I will run Pittsburgh again. It will forever remain my hometown marathon, an incredible challenge, and my favorite race.


Apparently I’m Training for the Columbus Half Marathon Again

Last week I went on vacation with some running clothes packed in my suitcase. I felt excited to run on the island again. I also felt relieved I didn’t have to follow a strict training schedule or Run Streak.

I didn’t run the first few days because, well, because vacation. I slept in, ate too much food, and drank all the gin. I decided on Monday night that the next morning felt like a fine time to run. As it was cloudy and sprinkly the next morning, meaning less heat, I left on my run.

Running on the island makes me happy. It’s flat, yes, with little rolling “hills” on the active trail. Other people run and bike by and I passed more than my fair share of dogs. I kept my pace slow in hopes of avoiding overheating. I finished in great spirits and let my thoughts meander toward a fall race.

I haven’t raced in over a year. After my last full marathon in October 2015, and then fell upon numerous injuries coming into 2016. I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay in May 2016, and then fell upon some more injuries. When I started back to yoga earlier this year, feeling finally healed, I found myself hoping I would be able to race again.

I’ve run some over the past year and a half, but I haven’t run much. If you want reasons excuses, I have them all. In 2016, I focused a large portion of my energy in building the business. For over half the year, I worked two very demanding jobs while freelancing where I could. Add also lots of travel back and forth to visit my daughter, previously mentioned injuries, and the reemergence of my depression, and well, the fact that I ran at all felt somewhat miraculous.

Though, that last point is interesting, isn’t it?

I fully acknowledge that running doesn’t heal my anxiety, doesn’t magic away my depression. I still require medication and therapy. But… apparently not running (or being very active at all) does not help either my anxiety or depression. It’s tricky, that balance. It’s never that I don’t want to run, but sometimes I forget how good it is for me. Sometimes I can’t make myself get out there and do it.

I’ve been working back into running during the spring months. So when I decided sometime during the day on Tuesday that I would, in fact, run the Columbus Marathon Half this coming October, I knew I’d need a forgiving plan.

I lost a lot of speed over my time off-ish. I recognize it for what it is. When I started running again after two years of a back injury, my pace was also slow—just a bit slower than I’m running right now. Part of me feels embarrassed to share my runs, even on Runkeeper. (I am too embarrassed to share them on Twitter right now.) Many of those I ran with in 2013 are now posting paces I remember running, paces I was actively working toward as well. My husband didn’t lose any speed, and Lindsay gained a ton of speed. And here I am, back nearly where I started.

(Insert a bunch of self-doubt on not-unrelated topics like blogging and writing the damn book and those who didn’t take a break but kept working their asses off.)

Blah, blah, run your own race, Jenna.
(Blah, blah, write your own book, Jenna.)

I’m working on it. At least the running part. It helps that the theme for the Columbus Marathon this year is “This Is My Race.” Oh, the lessons we’re forced to repeat until we truly get them.

I went with a Runkeeper training plan, sponsored by Asics. I was honest about recently run distances, slow pacing, and how often I want to run. I’ve never done well with a four-day-per-week training plan. Never. I burn out quickly. So when I selected three days per week and the app didn’t tell me to try again, I felt like maybe I could do it.

I know I can do it. I can physically run 13.1 miles. And 26.2 miles. It’s just a mind game to get there. To not look at my paces and see how slow I am right now and dwell on it. To compare this training cycle to previous training cycles. To not let my head get the best of me on race day if, in the very likely chance, I’m running a slower than ever half marathon. (Though, will anything be as slow as the Pittsburgh Marathon Half in 2015? I think not. Thankfully it won’t likely be 86 degrees with burning hot sun in Columbus in October. Fingers crossed.)

All of this is to say: I finished my first week of training for the Columbus Half Marathon on Sunday. My 4.5 “long” run is the longest I’ve run since May 2016. I run some 4.5s this week followed with a six miler this weekend. I also have a crazy work week which bleeds into Saturday. But I’m doing this.

This is what I do now. Again. Always back to this.

Half Marathon Training