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?