Gather ’round, friends, and let me tell you the story of the Pittsburgh half-marathon. It’s a little long, so grab some popcorn and a comfy chair!
As a reminder, I planned my half-marathon races so that I would have three weeks and a day between them. The first one was a practice for the real deal (because why not, right?) Coming out of the Martian, I was feeling great – strong, empowered, like I could conquer the world. I took a week off of running (with the exception of a 2 mile jog to loosen up my cold-cramped muscles) to allow myself time to heal up.
Not going to lie, my first real run that second week was rough. I felt I was moving like molasses. But I finished that one and the rest of the runs on my training plan, keeping a faster and stronger pace than I had before. That is, until disaster struck a mere six days from the Pittsburgh race. I was running in Gallup park on the first 80 degree day of the year, with a full water belt and feeling fantastic. About a mile into a race-pace 5k, I was hit with this sudden, super sharp pain on the outer back of my right knee. I stopped immediately and stretched it out, thinking it was a cramp. Tried to run again and my leg buckled. At this point I was frustrated and pissed off and in a fair bit of pain. After doing some testing, I found out that I could walk with minimal pain as long as I didn’t fully extend my leg. As I slowly made my way back to my car, I gave my leg a stern talking to: “we have a race Sunday, so you’d better get your act together”, etc etc. Yes, I was actually saying this out loud on a very crowded trail, and I definitely got some strange looks.
KT tape saving the day!
Despite this major setback, I decided to still give Sunday a try. My plan was to take the rest of the week off (about 3 more runs), rest my knee a ton, and hope for the best. I knew I could always drop out at one of the water/aid/radio stations if needed. Saturday at the expo, I still had some pain with certain movements but it was tolerable. They had free KT taping, which for those who don’t know is a magical tape that can help your muscle aches and pains not ache and pain you as much anymore. I described to the woman where my pain was and she put this beautiful piece of art together. I don’t entirely know how, but it seemed to work. Honestly, at this point, I was willing to give anything a shot.
Sunday dawned about an hour after my dad dropped me and my friend Pete off at the Smithfield Street Bridge to walk to the start line. I was incredibly nervous, and made the decision that as long as I could walk without pain I would finish the race. This was by far the biggest race I have ever run in at about 40,000 participants. To give you an idea of JUST HOW BIG this race was, I took the below picture. I am towards the back of the final wave. If you look very close, in the center just under the second stoplight there is an itty bitty start line.
There is a start line there, I promise!
I was very excited to see my friend Justin, whom I’ve known since grade school, and his dad in my corral and was able to start the race with them. It took around 30 minutes for us to get to the start line after the gun – 40,000 is a LOT of people. There was so much energy around the start line, and I have never felt anything like it. Before I knew it, the pack I was in was cheering at the sight of the first mile marker. I joined in, excited to hear from my app that I had run my fastest mile since high school – 13:39 (whoopsie!). Around the two mile mark, my knee started to bother me but nowhere near as bad as before. Luckily, that went away before I hit the first bridge, and I was able to relax a bit.
It’s necessary at this point to take a moment to describe the course for you. It starts downtown, and you run into the Strip District (right past Bella Notte, my favorite pizza place) where you cross the 16th street bridge to the North Shore. On the North Shore you run past the stadiums before crossing the West End Bridge. After a brief tour through the West End, you run straight up Carson Street through the South Side, past Station Square (and the Gateway Clipper Fleet where we had our wedding reception) to the Birmingham bridge, where you cross into Uptown and finally end running down the Boulevard of the Allies.
Words cannot describe how absolutely COOL it is to run through your hometown. Everywhere I went brought back memories of good times, good food, and good friends. I ran past places I recognized and places I didn’t. Places where I’d been stuck in traffic for hours, gone on field trips, explored that summer I took a class at CCAC North. Part of what made this race fantastic was the crowds; the city definitely turned out for this event. I think the farthest I went without passing a spectator was 300 feet. I signed someone’s board, I gave people high fives, I gave a Mr. Roger’s poster a high five (twice!), I hit power-up posters for good luck, I laughed at cheer signs (my favorites were “Chafing the Dream”, “You’re going to be Thor tomorrow”, and “You’re running better than the government”).
7.1 miles in and going strong (pic by Gene Leis)
The first few miles flew by! Before I knew it, I had hit the first marathon relay checkpoint at approximately 5 miles in. Just as I was passing the hand-off point, I heard a “Woo Allie go!!” and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Cassie ready with a high-five and her roommate Candace who had just finished the first leg of the race!!! I knew she was going to be somewhere on the course, but was not expecting to see them so soon, and it definitely gave me a little boost of happy energy. Shortly after that, waiting for me at the 7.1 mile mark, were my dad and sister, who were part of the Ham radio communication team (thanks, guys!). I was going strong, feeling good, and making absolutely fantastic time. I actually got cheers from my sister twice since she ran down the alley to catch me after a turn ❤ I am so thankful to have such supportive people in my life!
After the 8-mile mark, I started to seriously slow down when the bigger hills started to show up. By this point I knew in my heart that I was going to finish, it was just a matter of sticking it out to the end. I underestimated some of the hills and lost my rhythm a bit when I hit them a bit too fast. There was way more walking than I would have liked, but throughout it all, I kept the motto “Keep Moving Forward” (Walt Disney) and variations of it running through my head. My goal was to keep forward momentum no matter how slow. Going up the 150 foot elevation increase at mile 11.5 sucked, and it was my slowest mile of the run. But I made it to the top, where I passed on a vodka shot someone was offering (LOL).
From there it was all downhill, and I ran as much as I could and walked when I couldn’t, always making sure to keep moving. Just before the finish line, I saw my sister and dad again with cameras ready. Then, 3 hours and 48 minutes after I started the race, I crossed the finish line for the Pittsburgh half marathon.
I did it!!! (pic by Gene Leis)
Not going to lie, I started bawling after I crossed the mat. I couldn’t believe (and still can’t quite believe) that I had done it, and only 6 minutes slower than my previous half marathon. Considering this course was significantly harder, that is a great time! I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of myself than I was in that moment. I had run not one but two half marathons in less than a month, and crushed both of them!! Pardon the language, but holy shit, that is a HUGE set of accomplishments!!
Myself and Pete, victorious! (pic by Gene Leis)
Thanks to the modern technology of cell phones, my dad, sister and I were able to meet up with Pete (who ran the full marathon) and his cheer squad to celebrate – with ice cream! That was probably one of the best peanut butter concoctions I’ve ever had!
I decided that night that I wanted to run the Pittsburgh half marathon again in 2020, both because I want to beat my time and because it was just such an awesome race! I’ve done it once, and I know I can do it again 🙂
As always, I could not have done this without your support and encouragement! It has been a wild ride to this point, and I cannot wait to go on more adventures with you in the future! On to the next item of my fitness wish list!