Friday, May 15, 2015

Race Recap & Review: Pittsburgh Marathon

The day had finally come- the day I'd reclaim my status as "marathoner." Since incurring my stress fracture nine months ago (and having some other injuries along the way), I had been waiting to redeem myself. I so desperately wanted to complete my second marathon to prove to myself that I still was a strong person; that even though I'd had setbacks, I was still capable of running 26.2 miles and finish smiling.

I didn't feel all that strong Sunday morning. The first two days of this year's Pittsburgh adventure had gone so well and I'd had so much fun- I was worried that it would all come crashing down on Sunday morning.

I was going into this marathon under-trained and without my faithful running partner, Matthew. I knew that I could turn off at mile 11 and finish the half if I wasn't able to go the full distance. But I really, desperately wanted to finish the full marathon.

Back to race morning- Nathan, Gloria, Steff, and I piled into the car super early on Sunday morning. The race started at 7:00 am and we were parked and ready by 6:00 am. We were all meeting at Kelsey and Charles's hotel room- they'd won a staycation and were staying in the hotel closest to the start. After hanging with everyone for a bit, we headed to the corrals.

I spy the start line!

Chelsea, Brandi, Coach Jeff, Mandy, Steff, Lauren B., Me, and Natalie.

There were four, very large corrals. I was in D- the last one. Coach Jeff, Chelsea, Natalie, Lauren B. and I were walking back together and then decided to split ways- some of us were using the bathroom and some of us went to find other people before getting into the corrals. I don't know why, but I started bawling as we were saying goodbye. I was so scared. I hugged Lauren B. and she just looked at me and said, "you can do this." Matthew called me right before 7:00 and gave me another pep talk. He was out running his miles and he said, "I'm right there with you, every step." I was a hot, crying mess.

I made my way toward the corral. I couldn't get into it- there were so many people! I saw the 6:00 pace group in the crowd and decided to wait until people started moving to try and get to her. Eventually, I was able to squeeze my way through and get right next to the pace group. Our pace leader was Sarah and this was her 28th full marathon. There were about 12 of us that were with her as the race started. As we walked towards the start, she said that we'd be doing 4 minutes of running and then 1 minute of walking. We'd also walk up every hill and run down every hill- regardless of the interval we were on. She also stressed to us that she would be trying very hard to bank some time for the second half of the course- when it get's super hilly. She was a great calming presence to me and the rest of our group.

Check out that second half elevation.

Looking into the corral I couldn't get into.

Do I look terrified? Because I totally am.

Before I had time to digest that I was starting my second full marathon, we had started. I'll admit that the first few miles were tough for me. I usually run 1:1 so adjusting to 4:1 took about 45 minutes to get into a comfortable rhythm. As we ran/walked, we all chatted about who we were, why we were running, what we did for a living, etc. Sarah did an excellent job of distracting us from what was coming.

I love the first 10-11 miles of this course- you cross five bridges and see so many spectators and such pretty views of the city. Miles 1-6 for me brought a lot of left ankle and foot pain. I was thinking that if the pain continued, I'd have to drop back to the half. Luckily, around the 10k mark, the pain magically stopped. So weird. But I wasn't going to ask any questions, I just kept pressing on. I was so incredibly focused on this race- I didn't want to lose the pacer! I didn't even use my headphones once! As we all chatted, we learned that we had one marathon virgin with us- Adam- and that his longest training run was nine miles. Wow!

At some point, I saw Steff, Joe, Jimmy (Natalie's husband), and Robert (Chelsea's boyfriend) cheering from one of the bridges. Steff was running the relay so she had some time to kill. It was such a boost to see familiar faces! I also got to see Kelsey, Brandi, and my friend Becca as they were running the half marathon. Their words of encouragement really helped SO much during the first half of the course.

Mid-run selfies with Brandi! Thanks for taking this!

The first 11 miles of this course is run along-side the half-marathoners. Then after you cross the Birmingham Bridge at mile 11, the marathoners take a right (up cardiac hill!) and the half-marathoners take a left to head to the finish. As we entered this bridge, I felt great. The whole "walking up hills" strategy seemed to be working. I had very little pain at this point and still a lot of energy.

So many yellow bridges.

Bridges for days.

Love all the signs!

Adam getting a boost from some spectators with free power upgrades!

Seriously, how beautiful is this city?

The best way to see a city is by foot.

No turning back now!

After we turned off from the half marathoners, the course became desolate. Not only were we the last pace group, but there were just a whole heck of a lot less people running the full than the half. We slowly but purposefully walked up the hill into Oakland (it's a killer hill, people!) and made it to the top with some energy to share.

Somewhere near the middle of the hill.

University of Pittsburgh!

Oranges from spectators totally rock my socks.

Lonely little course.

We ran the next few miles (with a quick potty break) with the pacer and kept each other entertained by talking about other races we've done and other races we'd like to do. It was kind of sad how lonely the course was. You could see where there had been spectators but they'd left by then. It seemed like just the die-hard fans were still out there to cheer us on. The fuel stations ran out of food which was really crappy if you hadn't brought food with you. Also, we kept seeing these blue towels all over the road- apparently they had been handing them out starting at mile 14 because it was getting so hot out but we didn't get any until another station at mile 20. I really have a problem with a course not having enough supplies for the back of the pack. It's not like we were way behind pace- we were with the official pace group for the event.

Anyway, our group had started to drop off. We had a core group of four of us plus Sarah. Around mile 16, we picked up Jaime- it was her first marathon and she was struggling a bit before she joined our merry little band. Soon enough, we were at mile 17- my absolute favorite mile. Single digits left! So far, so good. I was feeling great, keeping cool (I had brought a towel with me that I kept getting wet at the water stations), and wanted to keep going. Also, I kept finding dogs to pet and believe it or not, that kept me super motivated to keep running! In total, I pet eight dogs. It was glorious.

Hey mile 17!

Our awesome pace group! Adam is still smiling and that's a good thing!

We reached mile 20 and Sarah had us all share with the group why we decided to run our first marathon. It was a welcomed distraction. She also shared with us that these last six miles were going to use up all the energy we had left and she suggested we start focusing on the parts of our body that DIDN'T hurt, like our pinky fingers. It sounds silly but it totally works. I can't say enough how wonderful she was. Sarah was knowledgeable, upbeat, and so positive. She kept me going when my belief started to waver. Miles 20- 25 brought us through some thinned out crowds of spectators- Homewood was by far the best neighborhood we ran through. Although the popsicles at mile 22 in Friendship were AMAZING!

Popsicles for the win!

It felt like it took forever to get from mile 24 to mile 25. But I finally saw the mile 25 sign as we made a turn toward the Strip District aka "the death march." This stretch of the course was unbearably hot and offered absolutely no shade- and because it's so close to the end, it felt like it took so long to get to the finish. Around this mile marker I saw an awesome spectator with a sign that said "DNF is no longer an option!" It was true- I was so, so, so close to the finish!

I saw Coach Jeff around mile 25.75 and he came to coach me to the finish. I said goodbye to all my new friends from the pace group as I ran after Jeff. We didn't take anymore walk breaks and he was keeping me at a pace that felt like an all-out sprint. He kept telling me that our ohana was right up ahead and a few steps later, I saw them. Or rather, heard them! Lauren B. had a cowbell that you could hear all up and down the street! Tears sprang to my eyes when I saw all my friends standing there yelling and cheering for me. I am one lucky girl to have awesome people wait in the hot sun for over six hours after having already run their races! :-) Seeing them was the boost I needed to get to the finish line with Coach.

Big thanks to Lauren B. for this action shot!

And then suddenly the finish line appeared and we were across it! And I felt pretty damn good! I finished marathon number two in 5:55:09 crushing my previous marathon time of 6:32:30 by 37 minutes. Incredible!

Pittsburgh Marathon finishers!

Tastes like accomplishment.

I hung around at the finish area to see the pace group folks and to make sure that Jaime finished- she did. And she looked pretty awesome for having just completed a marathon! Coach and I went to find what food was left and it wasn't much. I got a bag of chips, a bottle of water, and a small bagel. After 26.2 miles, this was not even close to what I was hoping for from a race of this size/popularity. Last year when I finished the half, I had an entire bag of food (including giant Eat'n Park cookies!) to take home. This year, they were already dismantling the empty tables where the food used to be.

It was really kind of deflating to run an entire marathon and then finish to see folks already packing up. Not to mention, the finish line was sparse in terms of people. Last year, there were spectators three and four people deep watching the finish. Not this year. It was disappointing to say the least.

But, I had completed marathon number two- time to celebrate! Coach and I walked over to the finisher area to pick up our checked bags and our extra challenge medal- and to ring the PR bell! Then we all chatted about the course, how we did, and what was hurting. I had some pain in one of my toes- turns out I had a HUGE blister under one of my toenails- it is probably going to fall off at some point in the next few weeks- gross! But I've lost toenails before from running- I consider it a battle scar :-)

Before we said our goodbyes, we took one last picture. It wasn't until I was taking a shower later that day that it hit me- I'd finished another marathon. And I felt ok! And my feet were ok! And my arthritic toe was ok! I cried like a baby in the shower just thinking about all the set backs and craziness that had been going on in my life the last few months- but I still ran that damn marathon. And I cried thinking about how many wonderful people Matthew and I have in our life- people that support us and lift us up when we need it and just plain love us. I am so beyond thankful for my running ohana and this weekend my love for them just grew stronger.


I owe all of you a giant THANK YOU also! Your support was invaluable to me throughout training and throughout the weekend. Thank you for the texts, tweets, likes, comments, and double taps on IG. Thank you for believing in me.

And of course, this post wouldn't be complete without a shout out to my one and only love, Matthew. Thank you for calling me, texting me, and cheering me on. I would have never had the courage to get to the start line without your love and support. Thank you.

Pittsburgh was an incredible experience. The pace group was so fantastic that I think I'll be running with more of them in the future. The neighborhoods and the spectators were energetic and positive and really made the race so much more enjoyable. But this race wasn't without its issues. Running out of food on-course and providing such little food after the race to the back of the pack runners is not ok. Especially for a race that costs as much as Pittsburgh does.

I don't know if we'll be back next year. My instinct says yes. This weekend is great on so many levels- it's hard to say no to so much fun! But if we don't come back, I feel satisfied with what I was able to do on that tough course. Until next time, Pittsburgh :-)

Have you ever experienced a race that ran out of food on the course or after the race?


  1. Oh my gosh, congratulations on your huge PR and finishing your 2nd marathon!! Incredible!!

    That is so sad to hear that they ran out of food and other amenities for you along the way. Good for you for pushing through on what looks like a very challenging marathon course!

  2. We got only a banana and drinks after the 10k at Disneyland last weekend. The boxes you normally receive at t runDisney event had bad dated applesauce (what we heard, not confirmed) so we just had the banana. After a 10k, that is okay but not after a longer race. Congrats on the huge PR and nice finish. You have really improved alot Sarah.

    1. Thank you! For as much as runDisney costs, you'd think they'd have some quality food afterward! :-/

  3. You rocked the marathon course!!! I am so glad you felt so strong (you definitely looked it when I saw you)!!

    I am bummed that Pittsburgh would fail like that for the 6hr runners of the marathon. It is such a high caliber race IMO and that is a huge disappointment. I hope you plan to share feedback about this - and I hope they are receptive and fix things in the future.

  4. How awesome! You not only did it, you totally rocked it! You are such an inspiration. That's not cool that they ran out of food, though. I think sometimes that people take extra to take home with them (which would be OK at the very end, but not while there are still runners who have not finished). I wanted to also let you know that I'm signed up for Dopey and the Castaway Cay Challenge following that weekend! Seeing all of your race recaps is partially to blame for my insanity. You will have to give us a report on your cruise.

    1. YAY!!!! WAY TO GO!!!! Dopey will be so fun! And then to finish it with a cruise?! You will have a blast, Lisa! Please let me know if you have any questions about the training, the courses, the cruise, whatever. Good luck to you!

  5. I am so glad you had such a wonderful experience! You do marathons the right way lol! It was such a fun weekend! Can't wait to do it again!!

    1. Thank YOU for hosting us! I loved spending time with our ohana!

  6. Congrats on your PR! That's awesome!!! Great job!

    As far as the dwindling spectators, the experience was similar in the back of the pack during the NYC Marathon. I had heard stories of the sidewalks of Manhattan PACKED for the entire stretch of 1st avenue and when I got there, well within course pace limits, there were some people, but so many empty barricades lining the streets that were previously full of spectators. Volunteers were packing up the water stations as we passed through and they ran out of gels at some of the spots, luckily I had my own. Luckily NYCM has pre-packed bags of food, so I still got the same recovery bag as everyone else, but it was sad walking through a finish area full of people determined to pack up and call it a day.

    1. UGH. That sounds like such a sad finish line! I understand that spectators don't want to stay- but packing up tables and water stations?! Totally uncalled for.

  7. Thanks for your recap! Pittsburgh 2017 is going to be my first marathon ever so every little detail is much appreciated :)

    1. Jamie, you're going to love it! Pittsburgh is an amazing city to run through!