The alarm went off at 4 and I bolted upright and immediately began getting ready. Don, Paul, and I messaged back and forth as I made coffee, toast, and an egg which were quickly eaten. I was cruising on auto pilot, awake enough to perform simple tasks, but mentally still sound asleep. As I pulled in to pick Don up I saw him carrying his gear check bag. It was then that I turned around panicked and, not seeing mine on the seat, realized I had left it at home. We drove back to my house…maybe a little too fast….and I grabbed the bag. We were off!
It was a cool and rainy morning as Don and I walked from the Northside into to the city towards the Westin where we would meet our Steel City Roadrunner (SCRR) friends. Turning onto Penn Ave we met with Rich. This was the first of many times Rich and I would cross paths over the next 6-7 hours.
The Westin was buzzing. Steel City’s crowd is getting larger by the year. It wasn’t long before we were saying hello to friends and engaged in the happy nervous chatter that runners do on race day. There were hugs and there was much talk of bathrooms and hopes for the day. Around 6:30 we went outside for the SCRR group picture and took a Runderful group photo right after. Big thanks to Alyssa. Without her, I doubt the photos the past couple years would have happened in a timely matter or perhaps at all! She is a born organizer blessed with a voice and a very loud voice at that!
We walked to the corrals, each of us splitting off at our assigned place. The little “A” on my bib said turn now, but I had other plans for the day. With the Glacier Ridge 50 miler coming up the Saturday following the marathon my goal had been to pace a friend, Mia, through the race and hopefully with a PR. She unknowingly helped me from running like an idiot so close to an ultra. My best intentioned plans go out the door when the gun goes off, but helping a friend trumps a PR any day.
It was cold out! Downtown’s skyscrapers formed a wind tunnel and, while the air was comfortable when the wind was not blowing, it quickly became frigid at each hard gust. The elites had started and they were releasing corrals. Finally it was time to run! As always the first few miles were tight, but we fell into our planned 10:00 pace and found we didn’t spend much time dodging around people. As we passed the Bus terminal downtown my gel flask fell out! Just a few tenths of a mile into the race and my precious Hammer Gel was gone. I was using an Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek 3.0 pack. I had about 110 calories worth of Heed in each of my front riding water bottles along with Hammer Endurolytes and Endurance Aminos for the race. I’d be okay. I joked with Mia that we might have to stop at a McDonald’s mid-race for fuel.
We stopped for a quick bathroom break around mile 6 and were soon crossing into the West End. The race felt like it was going by so quickly and I wished it was longer. But, of course, this was around mile 7 and everything is roses at mile 7. Now at Station Square Rich and Sarah caught up to us and we ran together for a bit. Coming up the slight hill into the Southside Kelly, a Coach at SCRR and friend, jumped in with us as she was looking for some of her runners.
This is one of the things I love best about running this city and being a Steel City Roadrunner. Having made so many friends in the group meant that all day long we would be seeing friends, both on the course running, and on the sidelines cheering. The Hometown Advantage is strong!
The Southside is always a party on marathon day and this year was no exception. Here the course would split for the Half and Fool…uh…I mean Full runners. We moved to the right side of the road and continued on to Mile 11 swinging around onto the Birmingham Bridge. Here it was. The big climb. The one everyone dreads. Really it is not so bad. And it is way better when someone is handing out Twizzlers on the bridge. Once again we saw Kelly. This time she was on the other side of the bridge on the Half Marathon course. She was walking backwards looking for runners. I turned around and started running backwards telling her she was onto something with this backwards thing. We took a short descent off the bridge and hooked a right onto Forbes for the long grind. It isn’t a particularly steep hill, though it does get steeper near the top. It is, however, a fairly long grade. We slowed our roll and put in the work. Dick’s Sporting Goods had a team of hill runners there helping motivate runners coming up the hill. I saw John F. fly down and yelled hello and near the top saw Keith. Keith wheeled around and we chatted for a few moments before he headed back down.
After mile 12 our pace started slowing from the 10:00 we had held. We crossed the 13.1 timing mat around 2:20. Mia’s ankle was starting to hurt. We took our time and walked when we needed and little by little ticked off the miles closing the gap on the goal. Coming off of Walnut in Shadyside and back up to Fifth there is a small hill. We opted to walk it. A few college guys drinking in their lawn giving runner’s crap with a bullhorn started harassing us. “Look at this couple walking up the road! A marathon is for running and they are walking!” I joked with Mia that I should kick him in the nuts and then we could run away. We continued on and as a line of port o’ potty’s appeared I stopped. Mia kept moving forward and I had a fine sit down moment in a clean bathroom. I turned up the pace dropping into the 8’s until catching up with Mia just past the intersection of Fifth and Penn. Then it was down into Wilkinsburg, Point Breeze, and Homewood.
The sky was clear, the weather warm, but not hot and what is usually a scorching section of the course through Homewood up Frankstown Road was fairly comfortable. Mia and I continued running with walking intervals. Heather came up on us with a googly eye on her bib. We talked for a bit and then continued on. Brittany passed us off so I ran ahead to get a pic of her and stopped to pet some Greyhounds along the way. I was having a blast and soon we were forging into Highland Park. Here a number of people knew Mia and were shouting encouragement or coming out for pictures. A hill loomed in front of us. I knew we wouldn’t be going up it and was happy.
This was the point where the course turns back towards downtown. Now every step would draw us closer to the finish. Soon we were in Friendship. The Friendship neighborhood lives up to it’s name providing an oasis for runners. The community made their own aid station. Chips, pickles, ice pops, gummy candies….it was an ultra aid station here at mile 22 of the Pittsburgh Marathon! Turning up Baum and I told Mia this was it! The last hill climb into Bloomfield. Then it would be downhill and flat the rest of the way. Oh! But that’s not all! There would be beer! We were both looking forward to seeing the Hashers. Coming down from mile 23 I could see that beautiful sign in the distance. The one that said beer. A giant pink bunny gave me a little cup of this fine nectar. No, I wasn’t hallucinating…hmmm actually I’ll have to ask Mia if there was a bunny there to be certain. We thanked the kind souls providing it, and continued on.
The long flat of Liberty, a desolate stretch of course burning under the sun was much more amicable on this day. It wasn’t hot and after 1.5 miles we were at mile 25 where our SCRR brethren had setup a cheer/aid station with more beer. I’m a craft beer guy, but let me just say that at that point in the day lime Budweiser was deeeeeelicious. From here on we would be in the shade of downtown. I looked at the time and said all we need to do is a 15 minute mile and you’ve got a PR. Mia said she was going to try and run the whole thing in. And she did indeed! Pushing through her pain to the mile 26 mark where we turn down the Boulevard of the Allies for the final 0.2 miles to the finish. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort she put in continuing through severe pain for over 13 miles. Runners are some true bada$$es!
Afterwards came food and friends at the SCRR tent and post-race libations at the Wigle Barrelhouse and Brew Gentlemen. A perfect end to one great day!
Thank you to P3R and Dick’s Sporting Goods for another great race. And thanks for all the support to our runners (and us bloggers) leading up to this weekend! I can’t wait for next year’s race, the 10th Anniversary of the return of the Pittsburgh Marathon!!