“This seemed like a good idea about 16 miles ago.”
That was the thought I had at about mile 21 in the 2013 Pittsburgh Marathon. Along with being the first marathon I’d ever run, this was also the farthest distance I had ever run at one time. Up until Sunday, 20 miles was the farthest I had ever run at one time, and even that was done 2 weeks prior.
When I crossed the mile marker for mile number 20, I thought “alright Brian, it’s all uncharted territory from now on.” Every step I took over 20 miles was a venture into the unknown. At about mile 21 my phone died, so I had no idea what pace I was doing, or how much time had passed, not that I would have paid attention to it anyway. I had one singular goal at that point, and that was to finish, no matter what.
Let’s back up a little here and look at the start of the marathon. About 20 minutes after the race started, my corral (Corral E, AKA the caboose) got moving. Another 5 or so minutes after that and I had officially crossed the starting line. It was so crowded at the beginning that the best pace I could muster was a light run/walk. Once we moved away from the starting line, everyone spread out a little bit more, and I could start passing people. I tried my best to not run too fast at the beginning, but since I was aiming for a 10:30/mile pace, I wanted to save some time for walking on the many hills that I knew were coming.
In The Beginning…
The beginning of the race was nice and flat. It really was a good start to the race, getting everyone comfortable with running before tossing too much at us. We crossed two bridges within the first 5 miles, first going over the Rachel Carson bridge, making a turn and going back across the Andy Warhol bridge. The next bridge came at about 6.5 miles; the West End Bridge. This was the first somewhat sloped bridge that was a little tough. This took us through the west end and over to Station Square and Carson St. This is where the second relay exchange takes place, and where my marathon experience in 2012 began with my running of the 3rd leg of the relay. I felt a little more comfortable at this point since I was familiar with this leg of the race. I cruised through the South Side and the best cheering of the entire race.
Past South Side, the race took me into Oakland, down N. Craig Street, and up to Shadyside. This part of the race is one of the hilliest, with some massive hills. Moving on past where I finished my leg of the relay last year at Mellon Park, I continued on to Homewood. This is a more…urban…part of the race. Even with this, the people who live in Homewood were overjoyed to see us running through their neighborhood. African drum bands, extra water stations, and a lot of cheering got us through this part pretty easily. It was about here that my feet really started to hurt. Stepping on a small pebble almost put me on the ground. I powered through and it got slightly better.
Next up was East Liberty. This took us through Friendship and into Bloomfield. I crossed mile 20 at Bryant St., which connected N. Highland Ave. and N. Negley Ave. Around mile 22 is the last handoff for the relay. IT was about here that I came up on the Church Brew Works and the old Iron City Brewery. This is also where I got my first and only beer of the course. Obviously not a whole beer, but a few ounces to say I had one during the marathon.
Getting Near The End
The last part of the race was definitely the longest for me. During the race before this I walked only during water stations or parts of very big hills. I was taking a lot more walking breaks at this point. I was losing steam pretty quickly.
Passing mile marker 25 I started to feel a little better, but nervous as well. I was starting to feel a little woozy. The last 24 miles really took a toll on me. I knew if I didn’t keep my focus here, I might not make it. Backing up a little bit, ever since about mile 20, I had to focus my brain on the idea of running. I couldn’t leave it up to my legs anymore to do the work. I had to constantly think about what I was doing to keep moving.
I can honestly say that it was 50% physical and 50% mental power that got me through this race.
Through the strip district we went, finally passing the last water station and making the last turn towards the finish line. People were cheering me on, saying my bib number and my “Beer Me” tag on my bib. Once I crossed mile 26, I don’t remember too much. I remember seeing the finish line crest over the last hill of the race and I said out loud “that looks beautiful,” not so much talking about HOW it looked, but that I saw the end.
I crossed the finish line 4 hours, 23 minutes and 36 seconds from when I crossed the starting line. That gave me an average of 10:04 per mile. A solid 26 seconds per mile UNDER my goal. I was 2,547 out of 4,833. Damn near in the exact middle of the pack. For my age group, I finished 1,750 out of 2,911.
After the finish, I collected my massive medal, and moved on to find anyone I knew. As soon as I crossed the line to get out of the finisher area, I saw my friends and went to relax with them for a few. I hurt all over. Everywhere. Sitting, standing, laying..they all hurt. After about an hour or so, I made my way across the bridge to my car and made my way home.
I am writing this 2 days after the marathon. I honestly feel like I have an epic hangover that won’t go away. I can’t walk down stairs like a normalm person, and I still hurt pretty damn much everywhere.
Would I do it again? Yes. I feel the pain I have now is due to a few things. First, I was in a car wreck that put my training on hold for nearly 3 weeks. This killed off a lot of conditioning I needed. Second, I knew I could finish the race with a decent time, so I made sure I kept my pace, no matter what. I could have gone slower and hurt less, but where’s the fun in that? Third, I went in with no hydration or nutrition plan. This was a HUGE mistake. I will definitely have a plan for both nutrition and hydration for my next marathon.
You can half ass your way through everything up to a half-marathon. That ends with the full, however. If you don’t train, plan, and prepare, the marathon will bite you in the ass. It got me, but luckily I finished before it got me.