Pittsburgh Marathon Part 1

If we’re being honest, putting my fingers to the keyboard to type up a recap of last weekend is an extremely daunting task. I hope you’re somewhere comfortable, or have something that you’re really trying to avoid doing, because this is going to be long.

I spent all of last week slowly packing. By Thursday night, my Vera Bradley duffel bag and my backpack were stuffed with every running-related item that I owned, “Just in case.” Ice packs, ace bandages, icy hot, compression socks, foam roller, 4 different outfit possibilities, 3 pairs of sneakers – and did I mention all of the food I brought? My own Ziploc bags of quinoa, oatmeal and carrots (none of which I ended up eating, for the record). There was pita bread and Gatorades and 6 pairs of socks (because obviously you can’t buy Gatorade in Pittsburgh…) It was a small miracle that I contained everything to two bags.

Friday at 3 I left the office (got a good luck hug from Tiffanie!), walking slowly under the weight of all my extremely necessary luggage, and made my way uptown to Peter’s apartment, where his parents had just arrived to drop off his car for us.  We settled in for a long drive (Long Drive – Jason Mraz, quality song that you should download) through the incredibly large state of Pennsylvania.

(Thanks for the hug!)

Our first stop was somewhere in Jersey because Mr. Caffeine needed a hit. As we left Dunkin Donuts, Peter told me to, “Do something funny in front of my car!” Naturally, I climbed onto the hood of the silver car in front of me, only to realize as a man walked by that I was in fact sitting on the hood of a stranger’s car. Good one, Lauren.

(This was actually Peter's car...)

Once we got out of New York/New Jersey it was smooth sailing. We made another pit stop in the Poconos at, you guessed it, Dunkin Donuts, where I changed into my comfy clothes and squeezed my legs into compression socks.

(The drive was beautiful! I took approximately 173 sunset pictures, just ask Peter!)

Next stop was dinner near State College aka Penn State aka Peter’s Alma Mater. I loved listening to his trip down memory lane and seriously wished I had toured Penn State as a high school junior/senior. I had zero interest in going to a big school, but damn, that place is kind of amazing. We sat and ate at Panera and I was reminded that Panera is an underrated fast-casual restaurant that’s actually really really delicious, healthy and wholesome. I had half of a turkey/cranberry flatbread and the chicken hummus power bowl – I loved that the salad was legitimately baby spinach, cucumbers, tomato, chicken, hummus, and a lemon. Not drenched in some fake dressing that probably would have wreaked havoc on my stomach come race day.

Around midnight, we made it to Sewickley, the suburb outside of Pittsburgh where my friend and roommate Erin grew up. Her and Melissa had taken a bus there earlier in the day. Erin showed us where we would be staying in her giant, beautiful, amazing, maze of a Victorian house and we went straight to sleep with plans to wake up around 9 to head out to the expo and Saturday market nice and early. Right before bed Peter gave me a note to read that got me really excited for Sunday, calmed some of my nerves, and reminded me again of just how glad I was that he was there for this, even though he couldn’t run the half marathon like he planned. The note ended with my favorite running quote lately,

“Who of us hasn’t considered how our peers will react to our performance in a given race, whether good or bad? And in those moments, whom are we ultimately running for? The sport is difficult enough as it is; doing it for anyone but ourselves makes it unsustainable.”

I woke up, showered, and went downstairs with my Ziploc back of oatmeal to find Melissa, Erin and Erin’s mom standing around a griddle making banana and strawberry pancakes. Erin’s family makes their pancakes with oil instead of butter too (the best way to make pancakes, trust me). I chose pancakes over oatmeal and Melissa and I did some serious damage – soo many pancakes were consumed in the pretty sun room while the new Australian Shepherd puppy Sophie provided entertainment (Erin’s parents picked her up on Friday and she was the sweetest thing ever!)

(Flowers, puppies, pancakes - perfect start to the day!)

It took us a little longer to get going than we anticipated but eventually, we piled in the car and made our way to Pittsburgh. Along the way Erin showed us the ginormous homes of people like Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux (no big deal, just a hockey rink complete with Zambonis in the backyard!) We also stopped at Sheetz which is like a 7-11 on crack. Apparently Sheetz vs. WaWa is the big debate in Pennsylvania. I didn’t end up trying anything from either, so I can’t make any judgments.

(F'Real f'real?)

We entered the city and it was so much prettier than I had expected – 3 rivers, tons of bridges, and a beautifully sunny day – Pittsburgh was picture-perfect. We parked near the Strip District and walked along all of the booths/shops. I was overwhelmed by all the delicious food, but I was still so stuffed with pancakes that I managed not to buy anything (except a toothbrush, because I somehow succeeded in forgetting something while simultaneously packing everything).

With my eyes, I ate baklava, pastries, lobster rolls, olives, fudge and more. Then, we walked over to the convention center for the EXPO! After seeing the Boston Marathon expo just two weekends earlier, the Pittsburgh Marathon had a lot to live up to – overall, I thought it was pretty good! We first walked in and got our bibs which was easy enough. Unfortunately, I had ordered a small shirt instead of an extra small since the ones from Wineglass were so teeny tiny and when I went to swap it at the shirt exchange table, there were no extra smalls to be found. Oh well! Another thing Melissa and I were bummed with was the fact that the girls and guys shirts were different colors – the guys had green and the girls had pink. Sexist! Although green is my favorite color, I still like the pink shirt.

After walking around and having some samples (why do protein bars taste so bad?) I fell in love with a Nike Pittsburgh Marathon t-shirt but convinced myself I have a million exercise clothes and don’t need any more. 

Peter was still really sick, but being a trooper as we dragged him around. We sat down while Melissa and Erin got the car and we made our way home.

I made a turkey sandwich, did some organizing of all my things, painted my nails, and had a serious discussion with Melissa about which of my four outfit options I was going to wear. After a lot of back and forth, some modeling for the group and some jogging in place, I decided to go with the same outfit I had worn for my first marathon. Original, Lauren. But at least I knew that I would be comfortable and it was one less thing I had to worry about bothering me during 4 hours of running.

We sat outside on the beautiful porch for a little while before heading inside to watch the Kentucky Derby! It’s crazy to think a) how long the race has been going on b) how much money is at stake c) how short the jockeys are. I still have so many good memories from going to Saratoga when I was younger and I’ve really been meaning to make a trip to Belmont one of these days! Mainly for the outdoor drinking if we’re being real.

Anyway. Erin and her parents went out for a family dinner and Peter, Melissa and I headed to the grocery store for dinner supplies. Since Peter’s throat was hurting so much, his dinner was a lot of ice cream and soup. Melissa and I made a pretty delicious meal of rotisserie chicken and sautéed veggies. Easy peasy. I ate my chicken on a whole wheat pita with guacamole and had some veggies on the side. We each had a spoonful of Phish Food ice cream because – because.

Next up was reading the card Rebecca had given Melissa and I and attempting some foam rolling.  All the foam rolling did was make me panic about tight/sore spots which Peter reminded me weren’t going to go away at this point so it was no use worrying about them. What was going to happen in the morning was going to happen. But while I was foam rolling, Sophie totally thought I was another puppy and all she wanted to do was play/attack me. TOO CUTE I TELL YA!

I went up to bed and Peter and I read through “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances” quickly. I’m so glad Peter thought to pack it because it was just what I needed – to laugh at the craziness that is training for and running marathons, to remember the amazing sense of accomplishment and peace I feel while running, and to remember not to take it all so seriously. Shockingly, I fell asleep pretty easily. I woke up a couple of times throughout the night to use the bathroom, so I suppose my pre-race day hydration had been successful.

(Ready or not, here I come!)
At 5 a.m., my alarm was going off. The first thing I did was read the card from Kayla and Jess. Then, I was pinning a bib to my shirt, putting on my throwaway sweatshirt, grabbing my bag, and walking down the stairs for breakfast. Ok, there were a few other steps in there, like brushing my teeth, putting my watch on, etc. But you get the point. 

I was so worried about my stomach after the Wineglass Marathon and Brooklyn Half Marathon. I just prayed #2 wouldn’t be an issue this time around. Like I said, I never really figured out my nutrition situation, so I was winging it. I had some Kashi cereal and crossed my fingers.

Then it was time to put on my Tattly temporary tattoo! It said, "OKAY LETS DO THIS" and I loved it. 

The four of us hopped in Erin’s car and we were off. The traffic was fine and we drove to the second or third parking garage off the highway and had no trouble finding a spot. Just like at Wineglass, I had a last minute struggle about using my Goodwill Chobani half-zip as a throwaway and decided against it. Unlike at Wineglass, it wasn’t freezing cold out. I was fine in my shorts, arm sleeves, and heatsheet from an old race. I left my phone behind with Peter, but had decided to run with my Spibelt – 3 gels, a tampon, ID and debit card. I was ready.

We walked towards the corrals and I gave our adoring fans (Erin and Peter) hugs and kisses goodbye. (I hugged Erin, kissed Peter, in case there was a question about that…)

(Mt 99 cent knee socks/arm warmers are AWESOME don't deny it)

Melissa and I ran into Taylor in line for the portapotty and chatted while I anxiously awaited the moment of truth – would I be able to go to the bathroom before the race, and would that be enough? (If you’re not comfortable reading about my bodily functions as they relate to running, then you’re probably not going to love around mile 17 of this race recap, just a heads up). Answer: I was able to go. I breathed a sigh of relief and we walked to corral B.

The corral was a little bit of a mess. We couldn’t find any pacers. I had told myself I wanted to find the 3:40 pacer to go out conservatively and if I felt amazing somehow, I would chase down the 3:35 group later in the race. Qualifying for Boston was a goal I wouldn’t even let myself consider because I knew I would most likely end up disappointed if I went in with that as my goal. Of course, the only pacer I saw in the entire corral was the 3:35 pacer. And of course, I couldn’t resist lining up near him to see how it went.

Without much fanfare, the race started. And it was packed. It was hard to run very fast at all, and dodging people to keep the pacer in sight was stressful. Eventually, I started to notice everyone around me making comments about our group – wondering why we were so far back. I pushed it out of my mind and tried to ignore it, but if became more and more obvious that we were fighting to navigate through a crowd of people that were much slower than us. At some point in the first 1-2 miles I saw Melissa which was exciting. But then it was back to worrying as I literally heard someone say, “That pacer’s broken!”

The first 3 miles flew by. Literally, I don’t know how they went by in such a blur. It was on the first bridge at mile 3 that I finally took some of the words Peter had said to me and decided to go with them: “Run your own race.”  The whole pace group situation was stressing me out and I didn’t want to be mentally frazzled, especially since my legs were feeling good. So I took off on my own. Another girl who had started near me did the same, and we chatted for a brief moment about how concerned we were the 3:35 pacer and how off he already was. I wish I had gotten her bib number so I could see how she finished, because I know she kicked my butt and I should have stayed with her!

Anyway, with the pacer behind me, I picked up speed. Too much speed. While my first 3 miles with the pacer were 8:37, 8:27, 8:18 (totally not a reason for me to have been freaking out, by the way…) my pace dropped to 7:26 when I went off on my own. Sure it felt fine at the time, but to think that I was going to be able to sustain that was stupid.

At around mile 4, on the 2nd bridge, I started looking for Peter and Erin since they planned to be there. Eventually, I spotted them standing on the side of the bridge. I yelled, but neither of them saw or heard me. So I jumped into the air, waved my hands, screamed Peter, and got their attention. I was so excited. Maybe leaping into the air and flailing my arms like a crazy octopus wasn’t the best energy-conservation strategy but the pay-off – getting a second to make eye contact and smile at both of them, was totally worth it. 

To be continued!