Spoiler alert: I finished the Pittsburgh Half Marathon last Sunday. That was about the only part of the race that went according to plan.
The night before the race, however, was all I’d hoped for. Twenty mother runners gathered at Bravo in the North Hills for pasta and pizza and beer. There was a metric ton of laughing. There were some nerves because a couple of mother runners were tackling new-for-them distances and just a smidge anxious — and there were experienced hands to help them focus their nerves. This Tribe is a force for good, you know?
Four of us discovered that we all went to the same very small liberal arts college, which is something that has never ever happened to me before. This only cements my theory that Allegheny College grads secretly run the world. No worries, though. We are a force for good, too.
Even race morning unfolded as I’d hoped. The night before I’d laid out all of my gear, including an Immodium, and bottled up a cold coffee and a bagel for my quick drive to the race. At 4:30 a.m., I woke up, tumbled into my clothes, grabbed all of my bags — why does running long distances require so.many.bags?— and found $2 on the sidewalk as I walked to my car. I took it as a sign of good fortune to come. Or, at least, enough cash for a bus ticket back from the 8-mile mark, which is where my personal wheels tend to fly right off.
The nice thing about doing the same race twice is that you have a routine. I parked in the same lot on the North Shore and took the T to Corral D, the corral of reasonable expectations. Since I know the drill, I settled in for at least an hour’s wait pressed up against several thousand other runners. I chit-chatted. I thought about how incredibly well organized this race is. I took selfies. I thought about punching the overly excited race MC in a the throat because that much energy at 6 a.m. needs to be punished. I found the 2:30 pace group and planned to keep them in view and, maybe, just maybe, pass them at the end.
This is known as foreshadowing.
The gun went off. I started my Garmin. Because I didn’t want to go out too fast and find that people talking to me helps slow my roll, I started the most recent AMR podcast, the one with Jonna and SBS talking about marathon training. Maybe a marathon next, I thought. That’s a thing I could do.
The first four miles went well. I kept the pace group in sight and even passed them a few times. I was right in my goal pace of 11:30. It was challenging but not awful, maybe a 3 out of 5, with 5 being “please let me die so that I can stop doing this.” What was most bothersome was that I was starving and wishing I’d eaten the second half of my bagel. And then mile 5 started. And I hit the real hills. And the sun came out.
One of the many downsides of training for a spring half in when you live in the frozen Northeastern tundra is that your body has no idea what to with a warm spring day. Mine dealt with it by freaking the freak out.
I spent the next few miles pushing to keep my pace but losing time. I also spent some quality time wondering what my last Gu would look like when it came back up because it was threatening to. I cursed myself for not running with my own water, which I know I should do but don’t do when I know there will be water stops. I kept running, mind, but dropped from 11:30 miles to 12:40, then to 13:20s. By mile nine, I knew that 2:30 half was *not* going to happen. I was positive I could still reach my B goal, which was to beat last year’s 2:48.
There’s that foreshadowing again.
Once I let my A goal go, I decided to just soak in the run. I stopped to take pictures. I read all of the signs, including one that made me laugh because it featured a quote from NCIS, my guilty pleasure TV show. (For my fellow Gibbs’ Rules Lovers, it was #11.) I decided that the spectators in the South Side are the best, mostly because they are all pleasantly drunk. There was a guy handing out full cans of beer, which seemed like overkill, and a woman handing out wine in little communion cups, which seemed like genius. I found a nickel, too, but didn’t stop to pick it up because by the time my overheated brain processed that what I’d seen was a nickel, it was too far to backtrack.
A runner I’d met in Philly said hi as she passed me. We spent the next ten minutes passing each other and talking in short bursts. “This is hard. I didn’t know it would be this hilly,” she said. I told her there were only two more big hills, then it would be smooth sailing.
Sorry that I lied to you, Philly runner. I meant well. I’m still not sure what race I was thinking of because there were a lot more than two big hills on the way to the finish and there wasn’t any smooth sailing.
Somewhere in Mile 11, Julie, a friend from both high school and college, caught up with me. She was struggling, too, and we made a silent agreement to slog on together. Buddying up with Julie is also how I got through my high school statistics class — but that is a different (but almost as sweaty) story.
Because stubborness can be a virtue, we ran the last 3/4 mile to the finish, which ought to count for bonus points. What should also count for bonus points is finishing in the first place. Of the four half marathons I’ve run, this one was by far the hardest. Crossing that last timing mat felt like victory, even though I was a full two minutes slower than I was last year.
The recovery from this race might prove how rough it was: I’m still gimpy and sore four days later. Improving, yes, but not back to my usual zippy and sardonic self. And, yet, Julie and I have both committed to running it again next year.
I won’t take stats again, though. No matter how firmly you ask.
So what’s next? Well …. part of the reason I’m not completely distraught about my time on this race is that I’ve already paid for my next one: July 11’s Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine, where I’ll be running with the BAMR in charge of the 2:30 pace group. Come join us, if you’d like.
Is signing up for your next race part of your process for overcoming disappointment? If not, what is?
Great job!! I fear the same fate next weekend – we still have some snow on the ground here in Nova Scotia, yet we just started having some “double digit” warm days. Also plan on just registering for another one right away!!
Great job on a tough race! I don’t think I have read one recap that went as the runner had planned. I am lucky enough to have had a photographer take a picture of me walking on the South Side; the caption of the picture should read “Downtrodden”.
The sun will get you every time. Congrats on the finish and signing up for more. I hope the Portland race includes a family vacation.
Oh, Adrienne! The Pittsburgh heat!!! UGH! You finished. It is a tough half. Congratulations!!
OMG your reports are da bomb! Love the pic of flat Adrienne, I so need to do that before my next race.
As for your other question, I’ve done enough races to know that not all are good or go as planned. Yes signing up for another can help, but I also revel in the process of doing. And you did finish, so yay you for that too.
I always like to have another race on the horizon, no matter how I do. And I can’t think of the last race I did that I was disappointed about. Maybe I didn’t finish as fast as I wanted, but it’s all good- I got to run :)
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
I’m so sorry that your race didn’t go as planned; however, it makes me feel in good company – does that help? I ran my first half last weekend in Eau Claire, WI. I was optimistic and giddy. I was prepared. I was prepared to be passed again and again because I was GOING to have negative splits. I was GOING to pace myself. And I tried. My goal was to beat 2:15 (because at 1 month from turning 50, that seemed like a good goal). I felt great, and I even dated to think I could finish close to 2:00. Foreshadowing? ha ha ha ha It turned hot. I live in MN and would’ve preferred 15 to mid-70’s. My legs turned to stone. There was more walking than I would’ve liked during the last mile and a half. And a big, sucky hill that I had to walk up. I nearly didn’t cross the finish line because my calves were seizing up all the way down to my toes. How I crossed it, I’ll never know. I finished at 2:20, which, as I think of it now, I should be very happy with, but at the time, I was upset for not saving enough fuel in my tank. I’d like to think I’ve learned something, Adrienne, and maybe you did, too? Oh,and I also thought of trying a full marathon. That’s too funny that you did, too. I lost that thought around mile 8. Keep on keepin’ on, and I will, too!
Oh so sorry this one didn’t go as well as you had hoped. I know just what you mean when you talk about not being ready for warm spring weather when you train in the cold! But on the plus side, I am really excited that you will be coming to Maine! Portland is a great city. Be ready for some hot weather tho… July in Maine can be warmer than you might think. Good luck. Hope I can see you there.
Congratulations, even if it didn’t go as you had wanted. I’m not a hill girl, and the race (upstate) that was held here was misery for many due to the heat. I look forward to Fridays. My day off, and as soon as the bus pulls away, I grab my coffee and come here for an entertaining read. Keep up the good work!
LOVE reading your posts! I have been following the same training/racing schedule as you both last year and this year. I ran my half marathon the same day as you and thought about your often during my torturous 13.1 miles. There was even a woman that ran right in front of me that I imagined looked just like you). Somehow that brought me some comfort, but then I was hoping that you were feeling better than I was! Keep up the good work and cheers to both of us having a better run next time!
So great to meet you for dinner Adrienne! Thanks again for organizing. And always happy to meet another Allegheny grad! The race was brutal for me too. Between the heat and still trying to overcome bronchitis, the only goal I met Sunday was finishing. The best part of all was meeting such a great group of women the night before the race, along with seeing some of them in Corral D on race morning. Good luck on the next one!
Adrienne, congratulations for your finish! I had a disastrous half last month where the wheels came off early (mile 4) and often (every mile after that!) but I had already signed up for another half this month. It was a similar situation where I trained in the cold and it was much warmer on race day. I find that the perfect race is a rarity and so I sulk for a bit and then move on. I also take away some good lessons from those crappy races. I was very sore after my failed attempt so I took comfort in that, as I knew I did my best on that day given the course (super hilly), weather (hot!), and my training cycle (not ideal).
I am so excited you and I are going to run Old Port together!!!! The course starts flat, has some flat in the middle, and also at the end. Great views, awesome medal, and beer! Can’t wait!!!!
Thank you for sharing. A goal. B goal. Survive this damn thing goal. They are all worthy.
And thank you for the head’s up on Old Port. I’m thinkin’ and schemin’…. Maybe I’ll see you there!
Phoebe, the price goes up $10 from $60 to $70 after today.
Thanks for the tip!
I’m also in Minnesota, and running April/May races can be so hard because they often fall on the first warm day of the year and we’re just nowhere near acclimated. Battling heat after months of cold is no joke.
I’ve dealt with disappointment by either sulking for awhile or looking ahead to the next thing. I think it’s good either way to evaluate the race and figure out what went wrong and what was within my control (fueling/hydration, clothing, training, etc) and what was out of my control (heat, monsoon rain, poor race management, etc).
I grew up in Pittsburgh…and have been to that North Hills Bravo many times!! You hung in there and are still looking forward to your next race….congrats on that. It’s a journey, and you learn something new from each race (carry your own water, etc). Love that medal with the Pittsburgh skyline! I may have to go back to Pittsburgh and run there once just for that.
I have been looking forward to this read all week, Adrienne! Appears you had fun, saw some amusing sites, hung with a great friend, and still managed to love running. Have fun training and running with the 2:30 group this summer. You got this.
Sorry you didn’t get your A goal time, not many runners did that day! That race was a lesson in adjusting goals…the heat after a brutal winter of training was rough! But like you said, it’s a well organized, really nice race. Thank you for hosting the meet up night at Bravo, I really enjoyed talking with the mother runners, and thanks for al the tri-berry GU packs! I used 3 for the half!
Congratulations on your finish! I’m a Pittsburgh girl so I know the hills. As I ran on a local trail on Sunday, my mantra in the sun was “those poor people running the 1/2 and marathon, those poor people.”
Good job! You finished! I also ran the Pgh Half this year. I met my primary goal (PR) but not my secondary goal (2:10). Something went wonky with my hip around Mile 5 and I had to run through new pain – something I’ve never done before. I haven’t fully recovered, either, but am hoping that I didn’t do serious damage as I, too, am eyeing my next half (Presque Isle, Erie – July 19).
The highlight of the race for me? Charlie Batch congratulated me at the finish when I ran into him. And I mean literally, actually, physically plowed right into him (like hitting a brick wall) – but I did NOT drop my Smiley Cookie OR my Panera Bagel! (And maybe only Steelers fans know who he is? Google)
My race last Saturday was pretty much the same experience. A goal was 2:30 or just under, B goal was beating last year’s time, C goal was to just get across and not die. Same thing – felt good the first few miles, then the wheels fell off around mile 8. It took the angriest music I had on my iPod to keep me moving forward through the latter rolling hills of my race. And I also had a tough recovery thanks to the sun and heat – I spent several hours curled up in bed that day with a giant bottle of water and ibuprofen. Congrats on finishing, that’s awesome in and of itself :)
Oh my goodness I could have written this post!!! I ran the Indy Mini half last week and had a very similar experience. I am a newbie runner and my only real goal was to finish, although I had some time goals in the way back of my mind. I knew early on those we’re not happening! My body started “freaking the freak” out (love that!) it didn’t much help that my two BRFs kept talking about how great they felt! While it wasn’t July hot, it was very hot compared to what we’ve all been training in all winter (especially for those of us who were still out there running later in the morning!) I love this community because we can all share in both successes and shared tough weekends! Congrats to all of us for finishing and on to the next race!
Yes…signing up for another race shows hope for something better! And hey, finishing is winning, right?
Congratulations on finishing!! I can totally relate! Nice to read race results that are similar to my experience last week, Earth, Rock and Run ½ in Mass. Stopped my clock at mile 8 and just focused on finishing. Hills were no joke and I was not prepared! Googled flattest ½ in New England. I’ll be running Hampton Beach ½ in October
I was there too, and boy that sun was a killer. I spent a good portion of the race feeling sorry for the full marathon folks who were going to be running for so much longer than me! This spring has been so weird because we haven’t had any “spring” weather . . . it snowed a week before the race and then felt like an oven on marathon day! I ended up with the time I’d hoped for, but I was dehydrated and queasy for the rest of the day as a result. Ugh.
My first full this year was an equal but opposite experience. Wheels came off, time out the window but because of torrential rain! Finishing = winning.
I’m a Detroit fan that remembers Charlie Batch.
As a fellow Detroit fan, I know you know disappointment. :)
Adrienne, you rock. I enjoy your columns so much, and this was another great one.
Midwestern runner here feeling your pain SO MUCH. I’m really glad you were able to salvage the experience … in similar situation, I’ve failed majorly. Better luck next time!
You guys are great! I don’t know if I would have been quite so even keeled if didn’t already have the next race lined up. But, yeah, it looks like we’ve all been there. Running is full of lessons, isn’t it?
Of course, you know I was tracking your every move. I worried about all the folks I knew who were doing that race when I saw the conditions. Major kudos to you for finishing in that heat. Also, for not hating it so much that you signed up for another one. Silly you! ;-) Congratulations, Adrienne. :)
I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon last year (2014). After a wonderful training cycle, I had a really disappointing race performance. I saw my husband and kids at mile 21 and told them I was never, ever doing this again. I finally finished. On the long drive back to KY, I signed up for a marathon for that fall. :)