Pittsburgh Marathon: The Race That Didn’t Come Together.

I'm in the phone book!
I’m in the phone book!

… and that will happen. I’m not disappointed.  While nothing came together, it was totally awesome to line up on the starting line as one of the elite runners for the first time.  That alone was an incredible experience, one that for most of my life I never thought would happen. Besides, isn’t it the training that is supposed to be the fun part?

A friend wrote to me before I left and said, “Sometimes the course tour backfires and scares the sh_t out of you.” Yep. In person it looks a lot hillier than it does in a profile. It is an incredible, yet difficult course. But it wasn’t course intimidation that did me in.

The short story is that I read 6:21 at the first mile thinking I was running 6:35, and the whole race fell apart from there. I was a little warm for racing and I was covered in sweat by mile three. I tripped on bridge expansion joints twice. I was really struggling at mile ten and I passed through the half in 1:29:40, stopped at the next bottle table to get more water in me after struggling with the last two water bottles, and ran another two miles to the relay station to drop out at 15.5. Sometimes it is just not worth getting injured. In fact, it is never worth getting injured.

I dropped out, but there was still cause for celebration: my sister’s husband ran the half under in 1:49:20, ten minutes faster than his last race! He’s done well.

This is the short version of the race report. I have some topics to spawn off of it in the near future. But right now, I’ll tell you that the course, though difficult, is kinda cool. The race is exceptionally well organized.

So, here is the list what that didn’t come together on race day.
  • I ticked off 6:21 on the first mile, which was downhill. Everyone on the starting line was out of control on the first mile. I heard the OTQ pacer took it at 6:00/mi
  • I missed a bunch of mile markers. I don’t know what to say. They are really hard to see despite the big signs.
  • I don’t think pre-race fueling came together at all. In fact, I felt like I had to throw up for a while in the morning.
  • Insomnia! Past two years now and still going. Someone please tell me it goes away as mysteriously as it appears.
  • I had no business racing after going through periods of feeling overtrained or injured during the training block.
  • The bottles I used kinda sucked. I found and grabbed the three bottles I passed, but struggled to get water from the bottles into my mouth. My sister actually found one of my water bottles in the street and brought it home. It will make a good souvenir of what didn’t go well.
  • Training fell apart three weeks ago. I detrain really quickly. My last run longer than like 15 miles was 6 weeks ago in Amsterdam.
  • Training terrain wasn’t appropriate for this course. It is not like I had much option here, but might as well admit it.
  • It was kinda warm. It was actually really warm after the first hour. I had a layer of sweat on me by mile 3 and decided I needed to start hydrating at the first water bottle table. I easily grabbed the water bottles, I just struggled using them.
And that was what didn’t come together on race day. Here is some of what I screwed up this season
  • I rushed back to training on a sprained MCL
  • My training was sporadic and poorly planned. I was more concerned with the volume number than workouts going properly. I probably should have backed down the VDOT charts and did workouts easier until I was nailing them again.
  • Training with other people is bad. All that happens is that you end up with at least two people who aren’t doing what they should be doing.
  • I didn’t actively pursue training with the elite team here. It seems like everyone scattered over the winter and then that new job thing kinda got in the way.
  • I screwed something up and gained several pounds back that I lost last year.
  • I’m not pointing any fingers yet, but I am suspicious of training in Hokas after spending a whole season in flat shoes with almost no issues.
Are any of these familiar mistakes to you? I am too smart to make some of these mistakes, and yet I did. Sometimes this sport gets the better of us.

I learned a few things that will make for good race day strategy at the next race.

  • I showed up really really organized. I kinda had to because I did race prep in three different cities. I showed up with a flip-top plastic crate with all my gear right down to foam roller and flat iron, did my thing, and then shipped it UPS back to my office so there was no schlepping.
  • I tapped my spare gels to my arms with 3M Transpore tape. I raced in bunhuggers and so I lost pockets. This worked really well. 3M Transpore is awesome.
  • Even though I missed a bunch, I got much better pacing feedback by manually lapping miles at the markers.
  • A lot less warmup than last time. In general, that felt fine.
Elite coordinator Ryan Hogan
Elite coordinator Ryan Hogan
almost race time
almost race time

And then, after the family had gotten together to run, we went on an excursion on the way back to go find the cemetery near Pittsburgh where my great grandparents and great great grandparents were buried.

Great grandparents
Great grandparents
Great great grandparents
Great great grandparents

Despite the race not going as planned, I had a great weekend in Pittsburgh. Now for a little down time before choosing my next PR attempt!

I'm a subelite marathon runner, but I didn't come from a collegiate running background. Instead I'm trying to break into competitive running in my thirties. I write about chasing the dream of running with the elite girls and tell stories of adventures along the way. Watch me chase the next big thing.

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  1. Sounds like it was an invaluable (if painful) experience because you learned a lot. I think you should also cut yourself some slack for having gone through a move in the middle of a training cycle. Moves are a major life stressor and may even have stressed your body such that it did not feel relaxed enough to train at intense paces before adapting to your new life. I expect that your lessons learned will set up the stage for a big PR next training cycle.

  2. Best of Luck to you next time. I hope you recover fast. Please consider seeking help from a sleep medicine specialist. 2 years of poor sleep can have very negative consequences on overall health.
    A lot of people mistakenly think insomnia is only treated with pills. There are other forms of treatment such as CBT- cognitive behavioral therapy (I realize cost of therapy may be prohibitive for some). CBT may help especially of you suffer from insomnia long term. A good sleep specialist will analyze your sleep habits and assess for physical and psychiatric causes. You need to find out what is perpetuating your insomnia.
    Hugs from the Nati (Cincinnati)

    1. Thanks pal.

      I was going to a sleep clinic last year but dropped out when it really didn’t make any difference. They put me on gabapentin (with my ambien), and I stopped taking it because I didn’t like it. Then the doc put me on doxepin (still with ambien) and I eventually stopped taking that too. I tried Lunesta when it came off patent last May, but that doesn’t do anything for me at the maximum dose. 10mg ambien wears off in less than two and a half hours. It is killing me. I’ve tried taking myself off of drugs for a week and all that happens is that I have a truly awful miserable week.

  3. Sorry it didn’t go the way you hoped, but it looks like you found a lot of room for improvement. That’s great, actually! I’m glad you were smart about this race and dropped out early. You could always push on, but then you could be out for a loooong time instead of getting right back into quality training.