Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pittsburgh Marathon Race Recap from a First Time Marathoner-- Charlene's Story

So I'm bringing you a story today form my friend Charlene.  Charlene is new(ish) to the running scene and is proving to be a darn good runner.  She ran a sub 2:00 marathon at her second half marathon showing and now completed her first marathon.  This is her story.  

Whew…where to start???  I guess I should start at the beginning – the day I decided to register for the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon – October 1, 2013.  The day started off innocently enough but, by the end of the day, I had made a decision that would significantly change my perception of myself.  You see, my running friends are all experienced marathon runners.  I’m the newbie of the group.  After starting to run about 3 years ago and running several 5ks and a couple 10ks, I had run the 2013 Pittsburgh Half Marathon and was training to run the Buffalo Creek Half later in October.  But, running 26.2 was not even on my radar.  In fact, when, in the 2013 Half Marathon, we split off from the marathon runners, I specifically remember saying to Tracey, “I don’t ever want to go that way”.  So, when a few of my friends were tossing around the idea of running the full in 2014, I was not on board.  But, somehow - call it peer pressure; call it temporary insanity - by the end of the day I had registered for the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon

Training officially started in January.  And, yes, this was the worst winter in history to train for a marathon. I decided to do a modified version of Hal Higdon’s Novice training plan.  I mostly followed his plan for weekday runs but, followed along with what Tracey and Susan were planning to do on the weekend long runs (which was actually more than what my training planned called for – 2 twenty milers instead of 1 and some longer runs).  The training runs were definitely hard but, the hardest part truly was the time required to fit it all in.  But, somehow, we got it done.  There were lots of early mornings and cold, snowy runs.

When marathon morning arrived, I was scared to death (remember, the training plan only took me up to 20 miles - that means there were 6.2 more miles to run than I had ever run before!) but, I felt like I had done the work to be as ready as I could be.  Of course, the crazy traffic jam that made us later than we had planned getting into our corrals did not help my nerves AT ALL.  As we rushed to the corrals, we found Kristy (who I had planned to try to stick with for the race) and posed for some pictures before finding a place to stand until it was our time to start.

It took us more than 20 minutes to get across the starting mat but, finally, we were off!  When Kristy and I had chatted about our goals for the race, she had said she was hoping to stick to a 10:15-10:30 minute/mile pace. I felt pretty confident that I could keep up that pace (but, what the heck did I really know??).  But, as we started off, I could tell that we were going much faster than that.  Every time I glanced at it my Garmin, we were well under a 10:00 minute mile (sometimes in the 9:30 range).  I felt good and I could tell Kristy was feeling strong but, I had a bad feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to maintain that pace.  So, I mentioned to Kristy that we were under 10 but, she definitely seemed to be feeling stronger than I felt.  So, with much sadness, I consciously let her get away from me at about Mile 5.5. 

So, I was on my own but, the crowd support was great and my family was planning to be at about Mile 14 and again at Mile 22.  So, I figured I could entertain myself for 90 minutes or so.  I settled into a slower, more comfortable pace and was happily running along.  As I was crossing the Birmingham Bridge, I heard someone call my name and saw Diana running up to me.  We had run some of our long runs together and I was SO excited to see her because I thought I might be able to maintain the pace she was shooting for.  We ran together for a bit, then we headed up “THE” hill heading into Oakland and I started to fall behind.  Knowing that Diana had a PR in mind, I told her not to hold back for me and, although I could tell she wanted to stick with me, she knew I meant it and I didn’t want her to sacrifice reaching her goal for me.

On my own again, I was feeling good and looking forward to seeing friendly faces at Mile 14.  Unfortunately, when I got to Mile 14, my family was not there. I later learned that the GPS app that we were using to track me was not working properly and they got there after I had already gone by because it told them I wasn’t even close yet.  So, I faced another 8 miles on my own and I had been told that these miles were going to be tough – some serious hills.  I was starting to struggle both mentally and physically.  But, as I ran past the 3rd relay exchange at about Mile 15.5, I heard my name again and was SO excited to see some of my “Book Club friends” who were running the relay standing at the top of a hill cheering for me!  I don’t think they will ever know how much that meant to me.  Re-energized, I plowed on. 

Somewhere around Mile 17 or so, I spotted Kristy up ahead of me.  If I had been thinking clearly, I would have noticed that she was struggling.  But since my brain was more than a little foggy, when she stopped and bent over (I assumed to stretch), I sped up and couldn’t pass up the chance to smack her butt.  I instantly regretted that when she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and a look of sheer pain on her face.  She told me that her hamstring was really hurting and she thought she’d pulled it. I grabbed her hand and encouraged her to keep moving and talk to me.  She started to run again but, she was clearly in pain.  I asked her if she thought she was going to have to stop and she said she didn’t know.  But, she was insistent that I shouldn’t wait for her.  I tried to keep her going but, she wouldn’t let me stay with her and with tears in my eyes, I ran away.  It was so hard to see my friend, who had trained so hard and so well and had started off running such a great race in so much pain

(spoiler alert…there’s an amazing ending to this story – not only did Kristy finish the race but, she did it at an amazing pace with, although I’m not a doctor, what I’m pretty sure was a pulled hamstring. You can see her holding her leg in this picture from after the race.  I am so proud to know such a tough fighter of a woman.)

From there through Mile 22 is a bit of a blur. But, I know it was hard and my splits back that up - I was slowing quite a bit and starting to see more 11:00s than 10:00s on my Garmin.  But, I kept going with the hope that my family would be at Mile 22.  And, there they were! 

I spotted Evan first and the smile on his face was so big I couldn’t help but smile back.  Anna and Larry were right there with him. I stopped for some hugs and kisses and gulped some water they had brought for me.  Larry told me that they had seen Tracey and that she was on pace to finish in under 4 hours.  I was so excited for her (but not surprised, I knew she had it in her)! Although there was a huge part of me that wanted to just walk back to the car with them and ride home, I said goodbye and kept going.  When I look at my splits, I can tell exactly where I saw them by the slight uptick in my pace.  But, it was very short-lived. There just wasn’t much left in the tank. I was cursing myself for falling into the trap of going out too fast and crashing in the 2nd half. Negative splits were definitely not in the cards for this race. 

If I’m being 100% honest, I would have to say that Miles 23-25 were pure hell.  There were very few spectators along the course, the wind that had been forecasted was starting to blow and I was just ready to be done.  I was determined not to walk (except for at water stops which I had started doing at about Mile 15) but, I just wasn’t sure my legs could keep going. I allowed myself a brief walk break and ate another GU (my 4th of the race) and then made myself get moving again.

And that’s when I started to see the crowds and knew I was truly in the homestretch!  As I turned the corner onto the Boulevard of the Allies towards the finish line, I heard a familiar voice and saw Tracey with a group of her Crossfit friend cheering for me.  The look of pride on her face (she’s like my running Mama – even though she’s younger than me like most of my running friends) brought me to tears once again and motivated me to try to finish as strong as I could. 

If you look at my pace for that last mile, you wouldn’t know that I was running as fast I could but, trust me when I say that I was.  Just barely below an 11:00 minute mile was all I had left in me.

When I crossed the finish line, the clock read 5:04:27 which was a little disappointing to me.  I truly didn’t have a firm time goal in my head but, I really wanted to finish in under 5 hours. However, when the fog in my brain cleared, I remembered how long I had waited to start. My official time was 4:41:03 which was a 10:43 pace. Although I would have liked to stay around a 10:30 pace, I can truly say that I gave everything I had to give in this race.  I could have run a smarter race - clearly, I went out too fast and I must have weaved from one side of the road to the other the whole time considering my Garmin said I ran 26.48 instead of 26.2 – but, that’s what 1st races at any distance are for – figuring out how to run your best race. Yes, you’re right if you’re interpreting that to mean that this isn’t going to be my last marathon.  It won’t be any time soon and it probably won’t be in Pittsburgh again (although I loved running in my hometown, those hills almost killed me) but, I think I might have another marathon in me.

I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think about so many moments during this race – Diana finding me, my friends calling out my name at the Relay exchange, coming upon Kristy in such pain, seeing my family, Tracey cheering for me in that last stretch and crossing the finish line.  I’m still having a hard time believing that I RAN A MARATHON! 

I am so blessed to have such amazing friends and family.  I couldn’t have made it to the finish line without their support over the past 4 months and I have been overwhelmed by the love that I have felt in the days since the race. 

If there is any moral to this (very long-winded) story, it is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.  A little over 3 years ago, I started the Couch to 5k plan after Anna (who was 8 or so at the time and had run a couple 5ks) said that she didn’t think I could run a 5k.  I got mad when she said that, not at her but at ME because I knew she was right.  I set out to prove to myself that I could finish a 5k and I did it.  Then, a little over 6 months ago, I decided that I was going to run a marathon. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty but, I DID IT!  

What’s next??
(No, Susan and Tracey, it’s not a triathlon – I don’t get in water with a swimsuit on unless there’s a raft to float on and a fruity drink in my hand and I don’t have the coordination to ride a bike on the road without crashing).


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