Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pittsburgh Marathon Race Report

In the last few years, I have transitioned away from triathlons and really started to focus on my running. In "Alexa world" this means: I register for a marathon, I forget about the marathon, I remember about 9 weeks beforehand that I have a marathon that I'm supposed to be training for, and I go "oh crap" and ask Jennie Hansen to get me through it. She does, and I rejoice.

This marathon was no different in terms of preparedness, however, for once, it was not my goal race of the year (which all of the other marathons were - so far I have only ever done 1 marathon per year!). After coming up 4 minutes too slow for a BQ at the Rochester Marathon last year (I actually trained for that one!), I decided to give it a go again. My thinking was to run a spring "tune up" marathon as a practice run at the distance and to get myself training earlier in the year, and then run my goal marathon in the fall. This worked out to be the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 3rd and the Steamtown Marathon which is on October 11th.

For only having about 10 weeks of quality training with Jennie behind the wheel, I put in a really solid effort. I was nailing my mid-week tempo runs, I nailed my (lone) 20 miler, only skipped 1 run, had a light taper after racing the two prior weekends, and headed into race weekend questioning my sanity. Sounds about right - no?

John driving us to Pittsburgh while
making fun of all things PA (hey - I'm from PA!)
John and I left town Friday after work and got to our hotel in Cranberry Twp (about 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh) pretty late. We basically just went straight to bed (after being upgraded to a King-sized suite because of John's Hilton card), got up late, got breakfast and hit the expo where we picked up our packets, played with some greyhounds, bought some clothes (tank top and some new sneakers for me), ate lunch, drove part of the course, did a shake out run, ate dinner, did some studying (I had to prepare for a quiz on Tuesday), watched some How I Met Your Mother on my iPad, and passed out early (isn't the day before a marathon supposed to be relaxing??).

at the expo - one of the many bridges in the background

My alarm was set for some ungodly hour (4 am maybe?) because the marathon organizers suggested we be to the marathon site at 5 am (race started at 7) due to road closures and city parking infrastructure. This is where an expensive city hotel would have been useful, but I'm cheap, so we sucked it up and got there at around 5:15 - luckily parked with no trouble and walked the 0.5 miles or so to the start, wearing our very fashionable throwaway clothes that we bought the day before at a Goodwill in Cranberry. (I actually really liked my shirt and was sad to toss it when the race started).

race morning!
We hit the porta-potties multiple times due to there being millions of them with no lines, and then headed over to Corral B, where we split up because John was to run a warm-up before the half-marathon, and I was not going to run any farther than the 26.2 that I had already allotted myself for the day. I got my good luck wishes and goodbye kiss from John and then I stood in one final bathroom line for a long time before squeezing myself into the middle of the corral.

I tend to zone out quite a bit during a marathon and just let the miles tick off, but I went into this race with a pretty specific pacing plan. I was using this race as a trial run for a negative split marathon I plan to do in October. I've never run a negative split anything as far as I'm aware (other than that 20 miler that I did this year) so I wanted to see if I could even actually execute it (at a moderate pace but not all out 'racing' the marathon).

My goal, which I hammered out with Jennie about a week before the race, was to run the first 10 miles at 8:45 pace, the next 8 miles at 8:30 pace, and the final 8.2 miles at 8:15 pace. This plan came about after a whole bunch of exchanged emails, but I liked it and it seemed reasonable so I went with it. Jennie's theory (or one of her old coaches' theory) is that a marathon is "a 20 mile run with a hard 10k at the end." I'm not sure I'm quite up for that so this was a good compromise.

If all went as planned, I would finish in 3:43 with an 8:31 pace.

In order to try to pace this by myself, I set my Garmin screen to show 4 fields: Distance, Average Pace (this field was just as an FYI), Current Lap Pace, and Overall Time. I've had a lot of success pacing by lap pace rather than current pace because it resets every mile. That's how I've done all of my tempo runs this year and I have been nailing the paces either spot on or within 1-2 seconds. Nutrition plan was to eat 2 Honey Stinger chews every 2 miles, drink Gatorade/water at aid stations as needed, and I had one of those Wegmans organic fruit twist things on me if I needed a big boost.

My race outfit was chosen quite far in advance as I am very particular about what I run in.. I need to be cool, comfortable, yet look cute. :)

  • Saucony Ignite Singlet in pink/purple - this is my favorite top to race in because it's bright, it sticks out, and it's super lightweight and comfy - I have 2 but need more.
  • Saucony Bullet Tight Shorts - these have great pockets on each hip for nutrition storage (this is why I chose them) and I like them b/c they prevent chafing and they don't ride up too badly - the downside is that there is a badly placed seam that goes right up the crotch meaning I can't wear these without undies which is undesirable but I manage.
  • Saucony Triumph Iso - I *love* these shoes and they are keeping my knee problems in check. the downside is the price tag ($150).
  • Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves - I have 3 pairs of these and I wore my hot pink tie dye ones. I have used these for years for recovery/standing all day at work but with being on my feet so much between work/training, I started wearing these for some runs as well (mostly my tempo and long runs). Although they were fine during this marathon, if it was any hotter out, I think I'd have to ditch them.
  • Balega socks - always Balega socks. period.

I was actually happy that I started in the middle of the corral because it helped me to control my pace early on. It's hard running an 8:45 pace off the start line but I succeeded in keeping my pace in check. Once I found a decent rhythm, the first 10 miles flew. I should note that Pittsburgh is a hilly course that goes all over the city, crosses several bridges, and runs through several college campuses. Most of the hills aren't bad but you're always going either up or down so it's hard to "settle" into a pace. I was constantly checking my Garmin and adjusting my pace accordingly but it was a good way to stay on top of things and keep myself engaged in the race. Worth nothing: I had some HR spikes in the first 10 miles.. these likely occurred either a) going around groups of people, b) trying to make up time after a hill, or c) making time up after a pee break.

I saw my high school friend/XC teammate Sarah at mile 10 or so (the EZ Pass Mile AKA "the flattest mile on the course") which was a nice pick-me-up and from there, flipped the switch to 8:30s. I had absolutely no trouble clicking them off and was actually a bit fast for most of them. Those 8 miles flew by (somewhere in there the marathon and the half split off from each other), and at mile 18, I cranked it up again to 8:15. By this time, it had started to heat up. I was drinking at every aid station, and they were handing off these water soaked cloths that I was using to clean my hands (sticky from Gatorade) and then wipe off my face and wet my hair. I was so glad that I wore sunscreen (considering I got fried 2 weeks earlier at the Seneca7).

I interacted a lot with the crowd - at one point someone was giving out gummy worms so I grabbed one and ate it. I slapped hands with kids and about 30 JROTC teenagers, and I petted one of the greyhounds at the greyhound aid station late in the race! This always makes a long race more enjoyable to me.

Somewhere around mile 20, I noticed that my armpits were chafing, which has been happening to me this year when I run long. I liberally applied Body Glide before the race but I guess I either sweat it off or didn't use enough. There were people at aid stations handing out gobs of Vaseline on popsicle sticks, and I was uncomfortable, so I took one and smeared it all over the skin that was chafing. Big problem: the Vaseline had some sort of menthol or liniment in it (you could smell it) and that shit BURNED for several miles. Yikes.. I think I would have preferred the chafing!!

After this, details begin to get a bit hazy. There was a sizable hill (meaning.. long) at/around mile 23 (which I was forewarned about!). My pace dropped off a little bit here and I was ready to be done. The large downhill that followed was good but my quads were screaming and it was hard to push the pace down the hill. Then we went around a corner and ran ~2 miles along this straight boring road. Knowing the finish was close and being on a boring stretch of road with no spectators and sweating my butt off was not a good combination, but I kept moving and finally made it to the finish. I wasn't able to keep up the 8:15 pace over the last few miles but I didn't slow down much, and all of my miles started with an 8! I finished and was given the heaviest finisher's medal in the world. I walked (hobbled) through the chute and found John at the family reunification area under H (although he *swears* we met at G) and we peaced out of Pittsburgh (after stopping back at the hotel for a nice shower) because it was time to head back home.

a random guy took this at the race, looked up my bib,
found me on facebook, and messaged me this photo!
(I love creepy internet strangers!!)
(&& free race photos!!)

great finisher's medal!

My official finish time was 3:45:26 which works out to a pace of 8:35.

My Garmin read long at 26.57 miles which worked out to a 8:29 pace. Must get better at running the tangents. The Garmin puts me spot on my pace, whereas the official time does not. May not matter now, but come October, those extra minutes are super important.

More fun Garmin information:

My splits for the first 10 miles (goal: 8:45 pace): 8:44, 8:44, 8:44, 8:36, 8:48, 8:45, 8:39, 8:42, 8:37, 8:40

These were pretty spot on.

Next 8 miles (goal: 8:30 pace): 8:27, 8:17, 8:20, 8:31, 8:30, 8:38, 8:22, 8:22

I had some trouble here, need to work on dialing it in a little more.

Last 8.2 miles (goal: 8:15 pace): 8:14, 8:18, 8:07, 8:10, 8:33, 8:08, 8:21, 8:31

These were good - the 8:33 was the uphill mile, the 8:08 was the following downhill, and then I really only died that last mile!

here is my awesome HR chart (grey) overlaying my pace (blue) over the length of the marathon

I was 711 out of 4214 marathoners, 140 out of 1699 female marathons, and 24 out of 305 in my age group.

I am very happy with my race. I felt great for almost the entire race (definitely up until mile 23), I held onto a decent pace, I didn't walk at all, I managed my nutrition and hydration, and I finished strong. I felt the best I have ever felt after a marathon. (John told me I looked great afterwards - though we all know he's obligated to say so). I was able to eat a few hours later - normally I can barely eat for the rest of the day. All of these things point to a stellar race execution and it makes me excited for the summer and for Steamtown!

I also really liked the city of Pittsburgh (this is a bit shocking since I am clearly a PA "east-sider") and thought they put on a great race. I was entertained for the whole race (except maybe the last 3 miles) and there was plenty of crowd support, lots of bands, aid stations were plentiful, the expo was fantastic, etc. I have only good things to say about the race and I'd definitely do it again! I can also say now that I've done the 2 big marathons of PA! Once a PA girl, always a PA girl. :)

Now I am doing a bit of recovery (biking/easy running) and am gearing myself up for a strong summer of training.

Also, because I was there with John and he is a great person to have at a race (he brought my stuff back from the car for me, drove, etc.) I have to mention that he PRed the half marathon.. at a "hard effort" and not even truly racing!