The Pittsburgh Marathon
Sunday, May 3, 2009
All the training miles are logged. All of the hours spent running, building up to this day and then the gun goes off. The race has started. Let me digress for a moment.
Flashback to September 2007. I was an extremely overweight guy who was barely able to run around my daughter's softball bases. Sept 20th, I made a commitment to myself to start to get into better shape. I started walking and eating right. Walking led into jogging on the treadmill which led to jogging outside. Once I was able to jog 1.5 miles, I thought "why not train for a 5K?" Well after racing that I set my sights on a 10K. The 10K led to my training for the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 3rd, 2009. Since September 2007 I have lost over 110lbs and 12 inches from my waist.
I used the Hal Higdon Novice 2 plan for my training for the marathon. In addition, I also purchased Hal Higdon's book, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. I read this cover to cover, often referring back to different chapters in different stages of my training. I logged each run and kept track of the miles. I retired my first pair of actual running shoes with 417 miles on them.
The gun goes off. The race has started. I start off running with five others all from the same town that I live in. One has run five or six marathons before. For another, this is her second marathon. Another is running the half marathon. We all start off together. The first mile is all smiles and idle chit-chat and we pace out at 10:10. The next two miles seem to breeze by and we are on a 10min/mile pace. We continue on for a few more miles at about 9:45 - 10min pace. We wind through the streets of some interesting neighborhoods and finally enter the Southside of Pittsburgh. All along the route there are people cheering. Some are family members of runners, while others are just out there supporting everyone. It was nice to have strangers rooting me on as I ran.
I talk to my wife on my cell and find out that she and my children are only about two miles ahead. I think how nice it will be to see some familiar faces. I run up to where they are, desperately scanning the crowd lined up along the street. I finally find them. I get high fives and "Way to go"s as I go past. I could feel tears welling up as I passed them. I think to myself, "I have to remember to thank them for coming down". Shortly after passing them I know what lies ahead. As we come across this bridge and down the off-ramp, so begins "The Hill". This is not necessarily the steepest hill ever, but it is long. It is almost a two-mile hill climbing 200-250 feet over those two miles. I pressed into the bottom, shortening my stride and slowing my pace. I can feel my calves burning as I finally reach the top. The top... I have crested "the hill". Now I am at about Mile 14 and feeling pretty good. I have been taking my gels every 4-5 miles...or have I. I feel in my fanny pack and I have 1 more than I should have. Did I pack an extra or did I miss taking one? I don't know. I can't remember when I took the ones I did. But I press on.
Around Mile 16 as I come out of a fluid station, I feel a sharp thud in the back of my left calf. I hear another runner say sorry and ask if I was alright. I muttered" Yes" and he went on. As he was coming out of the water station, I think he took a long stride to avoid a discarded sweatshirt and as his foot came out, my calf was there. At first it didn't hurt too badly, but as the miles went on, it began to hurt more and more. Around Mile 20, I had two problems. The first was the nagging pain in my calf and the second was "The Wall". I ran dead smack into it. It was then that I realized for sure that I had not done enough refueling. The last 6 miles were so painful. I would run for a little while (and by run, I mean jog) then have to stop either for my calf or because I was again out of gas. I struggled through 5.5 miles like that, bound and determined to finish. As I ran through the Strip District, I began to realize how close I was. I saw the street signs counting down 18th street, 17th street, etc. It was like the approach lights at an airport. They were guiding me in. I looked up and saw the Mile 26 sign. A spectator yelled out "Only a quarter mile to go, you got this, way to go". With that stranger's words, I picked up my pace, pushing forward with all that I had left. I made the final turn and followed the road around the Convention Center. As the road curved I could finally see the finish line. Shortly after I saw the finish line, I heard what might possibly have been the sweetest sound. I heard my kids yelling out for me, cheering me on. With that I was able to give one last kick and finish my first marathon. I went through the finish area, slowed to a walk and had the volunteers wrap a Mylar blanket around me. I gladly accepted the water that was being handed to me. I walked on, and GLADLY took the rolls they offered. After the rolls there were bananas and cookies and Gatorade. I took it all and ate like a shark during a feeding frenzy. I walked further and got my finisher's medal.
After walking around for a little while, I met up with my family. Looking back, I know I made some mistakes. I should have eaten more on the run. Being 210lbs, I burn through calories like there is no tomorrow. I ended up only using four of six gels. I should have used all of them and in hindsight maybe even more stuff. I probably need to find some other foods to eat during my training runs and races. I think I will try to up my calories intake to 300-400 per hour while running, or higher if need be. I want to find a way to avoid the wall next time.
Speaking of next time, yes, I made the decision to run another marathon. This is only the day after and I have already decided to run another in either September or November (or who knows, maybe both). I will train a little differently and work to see what my stomach can tolerate on the run. I also will start taking in calories earlier in the race.
This last paragraph is dedicated to the volunteers and the spectators. So many times along the way I wanted to quit. I was out of gas and just plain beat. It was those times when a stranger on a sidewalk or a volunteer in a fluid station would say something and I would get a little burst of energy. I made sure to thank each person who handed me something at a fluid station. I tried to high five as many kids as I could along the way. Their delight with my high-five was probably as great as mine. I saw people standing in the rain, just to cheer us on. It was amazing. To all of you who volunteered or just came out to cheer us on. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
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