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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.

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Running

2018 Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Recap

Better late than never, right?

This is a hard race recap to write. Not because I had a horrible race at the Pittsburgh half marathon as I had quite the opposite. No, it’s hard to write because I usually follow along with my Runkeeper route and pace information to remember certain details.

But the app crashed just after mile 5 and threw me off pace wise, mentally and “racing” wise. Logic says I should have written my post right away, while the run was fresh in my head, but I’ve been enjoying my salty feeling. In fact, the mid-race crash was the straw that broke this camel’s back, causing me to ditch Runkeeper for good. I’ve been falling in love with Strava since race day.

But let’s talk about the Pittsburgh Marathon, shall we?

Pre-Race

I didn’t miss a training run. I also didn’t speed up as much during this training cycle as I would have liked. My original plan was to set a new PR on the half marathon course in Pittsburgh as my previous half in my home city went poorly. As we came down into the final weeks of training, I knew that beating my pace would be pretty hard, but I also had a little bit of hope.

My 12 mile run went well—for 10 miles. Then the sun came out, I ran out of water, and I struggled for the final two miles. But it happened, so there’s that. I tapered very well, which is the first time I’ve ever written that sentence. I came into the final week with strong legs. I went to a heated (not hot) yoga class for some stretching that week. I walked a lot, keeping my running miles low according to the plan. I felt really strong as race day approached.

The Expo

I need to write an entire post on Running As a Mom at another point in time, but this will be a short snippet. I put the boys on the bus on Friday morning, got ready, and left for the Expo alone. We live two hours, door to door, from Pittsburgh—without traffic. It was darn near three hours total when I got parked and walked to the Convention Center from my car which was parked in Barbados.

I went into the Expo with an open mind, despite having some reservations about how things had been handled thus far. I picked up my bib. Thankfully I noticed that there was a box of pins (to pin your bib on to your shirt) sitting on the counter. No one said to me, “Hey! We didn’t get pins put in your bag, so be sure to grab four.” I grabbed four. Thankfully. I then picked up my shirt and cup and followed the flow out into the middle of the Expo floor… trying to balance a bib, a cup box, a shirt and my purse… with no bag in sight. Once again, they placed the bags clear at the opposite end of the Expo floor. This is not handy. I cannot shop while trying to balance all the things. So I hoofed it clear across the room, got my bag, and threw my things in it.

2018 Pittsburgh Half Marathon

I then shopped! I love a good Expo. I got to try on the shoe that Mizuno used to replace the Wave Sayonara. I did not purchase the new shoe, the Wave Shadow, while at the Expo, but I do think I will be purchasing it in June to replace my now nearly worn out last pair of Sayonaras. I bought a tank top with the risky intent of wearing it on race day and a casual 13.1 shirt from the official store. I stopped at a few more booths and talked with some great people, including one woman who became my favorite when she didn’t believe that I had just turned 37.

I then walked back to Barbados, had lunch with a friend, and yep, drove all the way home. Our younger son had a baseball game that night. And the next morning, when everyone else running the race was heading into the city, was Opening Day of baseball for Little League. Our oldest son’s game wasn’t until 3:30, didn’t start until nearly 4, and didn’t end until nearly 6. Thankfully we had canceled our hotel earlier in the week when we realized our schedule wasn’t going to allow us to go home from baseball, pack up everything and the dogs, drive to my parents’ house in Beaver County, drop the kids and dogs off, and then get to the city… and actually sleep. So we arrived on The Farm around 7:30, ate some appetizers my dad made, had a drink, and went to bed.

Race Day

The alarm went off at 3:00 in the morning. If you’ve followed my racing history, you know that I missed entrance into the city for a race once due to them closing off a ramp five minutes early. I wasn’t doing it this time. We left the house at 3:35. Let’s say that the best time in the world to drive into downtown Pittsburgh, even on Race Day, is 4:00 AM. No one was on the road. It was glorious. We parked on the North Shore and my husband slept in the car for awhile as I listened to music and tweeted.

We walked across the bridge around 6 AM, hit a porta potty and stood outside of D Corral until it was time to part. I cried walking into the Corral. I hadn’t raced in two years at that point, the last time being in Pittsburgh in 2016 for the Marathon Relay. An injury and a year of some self-loathing separated the two starting lines. So I sniffled my way to spot and stood quietly while the festivities kicked off.

A woman turned to me and said, “I’m nervous. Are you nervous?”
“Kind of,” I replied.

She sized me up before she admitted, “I mean, I’m even crying. What’s that about?”
“I literally just tweeted as I walked into the corral, crying. Now I’m crying again. But I mean, I cry at coffee commercials.”
“Me too!”

So Megan and I became start line buddies.

2018 Pittsburgh Half Marathon

It was Megan’s first half marathon. She asked some questions about the start, the green bibs (those were the full marathon bibs) and more. It was nice to have someone to talk to while we counted down the minutes.

Miles 1-5

As I previously mentioned, my running app crashed shortly after Mile 5, so I have no actual pace information to share with you. I will say that I started out too fast, as in over a minute faster than my fastest training paces. Whoops? Here’s the thing though: I maintained 15-20 seconds better than my pace during my 2015 Pittsburgh Half Marathon throughout those five miles. Without pain. Without extreme effort. Without even thinking about it. I took the hills with ease. I passed people, even on the hills. I felt so strong. I found myself internally praising the taper for the first time ever. My legs were so fresh!

One thing I noted was the lack of spectators after the start and the lack of bands in general. This continued throughout the 13.1 save for the West End lower street, a couple of sections in the South Side, and the finish. It was disappointing.

But I ran strong and happy, until I heard a noise from my watch. I looked down and my app wasn’t open. I fiddled with it and found the app had crashed. I restarted it and nearly burst into tears as I realized all of my stats were gone. Then I realized my run wouldn’t be a 13.1 run in my app. Then I realized I had no idea what my overall pace was going to be without those first five miles.

I was so mad.

Miles 6-7

As all of this information was dawning on me, I accidentally sped up a little bit. I actually saw Uncle Crappy at his water station for my first Pittsburgh event EVER, hugged him, grabbed water, and was on my way. AND THEN I CHOKED ON THE WATER. I can’t make this stuff up. But I still finished that mile 10 seconds over my 2016 average.

This ends up being not good.

The end of that mile takes you up and over the West End bridge. It’s a middle rate doozy. But I kept running. Up and over and down into the West End… which then heads up a hill. Okay. I got this. Small stride, on the toe, just keep going. Because I knew at the top of the hill came a downhill, a left turn, and I figured some spectators cheering. There were people cheering!

And then another hill. I started to slow. But I kept running.

Miles 8-9

These are the miles that always reach out and smack me. There were some spectators cheering in Station Square, but there was also congestion due to the Relay exchange. Then comes the hill out of Station Square up and over into the South Side. Right as the incline started was a woman holding a sign with Mr. Rogers. It was my favorite sign… and I ran that incline the whole way without walking, which was a huge improvement from 2015 as that’s when I imploded.

Instead, I imploded just after. Oops.

I walked a number of times in Mile 9. I got down on myself. The negative talk was pretty bad. I took advantage of the water stops and drank both Gatorade and water…. and then as the “flattest mile in the race” (10) started, I found my second wind.

Miles 10-12

I ran through the South Side quite well. I was glad I was running the half when the full marathoners split off, that’s for sure. But even the spectators who were there were… quiet. A lady running in front of me had to ring her OWN cowbell to get people on the streets to start making noise again. I know we were back of the packers, but come on, keep cheering.

Then came the Birmingham Bridge, which is always a jagoff. I walked two .05 portions… and then just kept running. I came up and over and down… only to come to the last incline of the race. I ran realllllly slow on that incline. I also, sadly, saw a Relay runner who made a wrong turn. She eventually realized her error (she was probably two car lengths in front of me when I saw her) and she found Race Staff to help her. But I kept running.

Mile 13

There’s something about the last mile of a race. I remembered seeing Amanda during my full… and then shortly after, seeing my husband who lied and told me the finish line was only a half mile ahead. I cried. I did. It had been so long since I had accomplished a finish… and I was going to do it. I was going to finish the race, and strong.

As we made the last turn and the finish line came into sight, I turned it on. I didn’t hear my husband yelling for me. I just ran. I ran because I could. I ran because I needed to. I ran because it’s part of who I am; I lost that part for a little bit, and I don’t want to ever again.

I crossed the finish line and accomplished my 5th half marathon in one piece.

2018 Pittsburgh Half Marathon

Post Race

I got my medal. I got a banana and a Smiley Cookie. I found my husband. I enjoyed a beer at the Sierra Nevada tent with Mindy and the Murder Dog. Then we walked back to the car. My husband drove us to The Farm. I showered and not-napped. My mom and brother made me a steak dinner. I spent time with my family, including my super cute nephews.

And then we drove back to Ohio.

Recovery

My worst recovery from a long run this training cycle was after my nine mile run. I don’t know why, but it wrecked me. The recovery from this half was nothing compared to that. I was sore, especially in my hips, but nothing that actually hurt. I ran three miles on Wednesday, Friday, and early on Sunday morning before we left to head back to Pittsburgh for the Pirates game for my husband’s birthday. I ran again this morning, and I feel like I’m ready to start running long again this weekend. I’m already researching future races.

Pittsburgh will always be my home race, even though I now live in Ohio. I hope to run it again next year (though I fear we might have a scheduling conflict). Maybe my speed will have made a reappearance by then, but if not, I’ll just run with my heart—and hopefully, an app that works properly.

Fundraising to #ENDALZ

As you know, I ran my half marathon in honor of Mamaw, my husband’s grandmother who is living with Alzheimer’s. To date, I’ve raised $745 for the Pittsburgh ALZ All Stars. You can donate until May 31 if you feel so inclined. If I can run next year, I will likely run with the same charity due to how much it is affecting our lives. Thank you to all of you who have donated… something special coming your way sometime soon!