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.


Race Recap: The Time the Facebook Algorithm Made Me Run the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay

I opened Facebook on Wednesday, likely to do something for work. That’s the problem with working in social media: the Facebook brings the shiny on the regular. A friend of mine from college posted an update asking for a runner to join their Pittsburgh Marathon Relay Team as another runner dropped out. Actually, she didn’t drop out. She ghosted them. She just stopped replying to anything they sent. Not cool.

I pulled myself from the Toledo Marathon, which took place last weekend, because of a knee injury. My knee injury was healed and I like running as much as the next runner, so I told her if they didn’t find someone by Friday, I’d run. Then I remembered I’d previously scheduled a LuLaRoe pop-up boutique for Sunday. I immediately told them about my previous engagement and pouted for the rest of the night.

On Friday night, my Sunday party host canceled her party and I immediately sent my friend Amanda a message to see if they’d found a runner yet. Nope! I called my mom to confirm she could watch the kids while I ran. She could. And so, it was final: I became a sub on their Pittsburgh Marathon Relay Team.

I ran the Pittsburgh Full Marathon in 2014 and the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2015. I’d wanted to run the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, but I’d never had the gumption to form a team. I don’t really want to run with my husband and his firefighter friends because they pace way faster than me. So being tossed into a team like this, especially one running for Cystic Fibrosis, felt like a little bit of “meant to be.”

Mom woke me up at 3:30 on Sunday morning. I drank some coffee, got dressed, side braided the front of my hair, and drove downtown. No traffic. Liberty Avenue closed at 2:30 AM, so I took Ft. Duquesne Ave up to the Civic Center, turned right on Penn, and parked in the garage on Penn. Smart choice. Since I had no traffic, I sat in my car for awhile and played games on my phone, liked Instagram photos that happened after I went to bed at 9:30, and generally relaxed. The sun started to come up and showed off a gray day.

After I left my car, I found that I couldn’t cross Liberty to get to Market Square where I was to meet the team at 6:20. I asked a police officer and Pittsburgh Marathon staff member which direction I should go to get around the blockade. They told me it wasn’t blocked to cross if I went another two blocks down. So I did. And they were right. I used a super clean porta-potty, waited around, and eventually caught up with my team.

Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, Pre-Race Team Pics

They gave me hugs and thanked me for jumping in at the last minute. We took some photos. And then it was off to corrals and relay check points.

This is the only snafu of the day. Amanda and I were supposed to cross the Smithfield bridge to get to the Station Square check point. But they had all streets blocked to get to the bridge blocked due to the finishers corral. Eventually, we ran into a Marathon Staff Member named Patrice and a police officer who listened to our plight and let us through a blockade. We quickly crossed the Smithfield bridge and waited at our exchange.

In the rain.

It rained for a good hour. And then stopped. Then the wind made me a little cold. Then I dried off. And then our runners arrived and we were off.

Amanda and I lucked out and got to run the third leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay which starts in Station Square, drops down through the South Side, turns left across the Birmingham Bridge (which I have a side story about; go read it), and then begins to climb the hill into Oakland.

When I ran the Pittsburgh Full Marathon in 2014, I let that hill beat me. In fact, I let that hill beat me months before I even attempted to run up it. I made the hill SO BIG in my mind that it couldn’t possibly be run all in one go. I felt really disappointed in myself when I couldn’t run up it that year. So this year? I was going to conquer that monster.

And we did. All the way up. I felt like I could do anything at that point. Which was good because we still had just under four miles left to run—and most of it was still moving up hill. Yes, there were some glorious, but not lengthy, downhills. And no, the uphills weren’t as steep and long. But during one particular hill, as we crested the top, I said to Amanda, “That was a tricky little hill.” It was a, to be cliche, constant uphill battle.

And we won it. Together.

Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, Me and Amanda

We ran up every single one of those hills, down every side, and when we saw the Relay Exchange Point, we kicked it into high gear and finished strong. Amanda claims that she couldn’t have done it without me, and I feel like maybe I couldn’t have done it without her, too. Teamwork is a beautiful thing. I do love my running time as extra-special alone time to recharge my introvert, but there’s something special and forward-moving when you race with a friend. It just keeps you going because you don’t want to let the other person down. I’m glad we did it together.

After grabbing some Gatorade and a banana, we hopped on the shuttle and headed back downtown to meet the team at the William Penn, which is my most favorite hotel in the world. We stunk up the corner by Starbucks and shared our experiences while waiting for the rest of our teammates to finish. Still wearing my bib, my barista wrote my name down on my cup, which is what most people yelled at me while I was running.

Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, Not Abby
Not Abby

I then met the groups’ significant others whom the group refers to as Core Support. They lugged a cooler of water, Gatorade and, uh, yes, beer around the entire city, including into the lobby of the William Penn. I decided at this point that I really liked these people. They made each other laugh and they made me laugh; laughter is good.

Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, Core Support

We then headed down to Point State Park for photos and so I could grab this year’s Dona Jo Fitwear Runner of Steel running skirt seeing as how I didn’t get to go to the Expo because I was a last minute sub.

Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, Post-Race Pics

When I walked back to the garage, I had to walk the stairs up to my car, get my parking ticket, and walk back down the stairs to pay. And then walk back up again. My legs were still functioning at that point, so it wasn’t really an issue. To leave, I turned left on Penn, right on Stanwix, left on Ft. Duquesne, and merged onto the Fort Pitt Bridge without any traffic or problem. It was a smart parking choice indeed.

Back at The Farm, I had a gin and tonic in the hot tub, a hot shower, and a steak. I felt great… and then I drove two hours home. In that time, my legs cramped up. Today I’m dealing with a little more soreness than I normally would with a 10K race, likely due to the hills.

I’m totally glad the Facebook algorithm showed me a post from a friend needing a runner on that day… instead of three days later, like Facebook usually does. Because the algorithm knows I love the Pittsburgh Marathon, I got to run another race. Thanks, Facebook.


I do encourage you to donate to the fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis. As the member who ghosted my friend not only left them short a runner, she also didn’t do any fundraising and their team is short the money right now. Any help is appreciated.