Race Report: Pittsburgh Half-Marathon 2011

Are you ready boys and girls? Cause here it is – my Pittsburgh Half-Marathon race report. Pour yourself a cup of tea, make a bowl of oatmeal, or hell, get a brewski. This is going to be a long one. No official race photos because they suck (and I didn’t get my finisher’s photo cause I was too out of it to find the damn booth) so just the shots my lovely Mumsie took for me. I believe NB took some, too, but he’s in California this week, so you’ll just have to deal with these, which were taken with my SLR, so I mean, I think you can live. ๐Ÿ˜‰


The last few weeks before the race were… less than ideal. Between me missing a speed workout one week because of a cranky IT band and then not hitting my splits for my last tempo run, AND missing ANOTHER speed work session (that I was actually looking forward to, for once) because the track was closed did not make for tons of confidence going in. Plus, I was doing this alone. Nerdy Boyfriend’s ankle was not cooperating. He had apparently managed to get his ankle bone a little out of place, likely from a misstep at some point, and until the physical therapist slid it back into place, he’d been straining the muscles around it that were overcompensating for it. He tried running a couple times the week of the race but didn’t feel 100 percent, and made the best decision for his health and future races: not to run. A DNS (did not start) is a hard pill to swallow, but as runners we have to look at the long run (no pun intended) and all the other races we want to be able to run and be totally fit and healthy for.

I carbed it up all week leading it up to the race and ate super clean: quinoa with tons of vegetables; brown rice pasta with tons of vegetables; mashed potatoes; and a pasta dinner Friday night with my friend EP. I also ate a crapton of oatmeal, including as dessert with peanut butter and hot cocoa mix (a la Frayed Laces).

Race weekend:

Saturday morning I got up at a decent hour to do laundry and power clean the apartment, which I hadn’t had a chance to do. We all know we super-clean when a parent is coming to visit – come on. My mom arrived late morning and we had a gabfest and got some sushi for lunch before heading to the Expo, her first. It was pretty epic. I got three free water bottles and two free shirts (the shirt for the race itself, and a pink singlet from Susan G. Komen, which I didn’t wear for the race since it was new. Considering how I chafed, I kind of wish I had… but we’ll get to that), and I love free stuff. I also bought some Gu and a hilarious shirt that says “If you see me collapse pause my Garmin.”

We got home, bibs and goodies in hand (I picked up for NB just in case, since he was in Atlanta with his fam and as far as I knew, was still deciding. Though I had a feeling) and started organizing ourselves for race morning. My mom had printed out the maps of the course and driving routes on huge paper, in full color, and we marked a couple places she could probably catch me on the course. I planned on parking on North Shore, since I’d rather walk to the start line than from the finish line, and the start was downtown on the other side of the river.

After some more organizing – including pinning my bib number to my shirt, setting up my iPod and Garmin to charge, and getting my fuel belt ready with Gu and filling the bottles – we headed to the airport to pick up NB. I threw together some quinoa and veggies for dinner, which I had never made for my mom, and which she loved. We did a little more planning, and a whole lot of chatting, before I took NB home and my mom and I crashed around 10 p.m., my alarm set for 4:45.

Of course I slept like crap. I slept solidly for a few hours and then started hearing the rain more acutely. It was supposed to rain all Saturday, but the some came out: I had been hoping it would rain itself out. Instead, Saturday night during dinner, it had started pouring, and race morning forecast looked grim. I started having dreams about the race: one in particular was very odd, that I was running it over a two day period, and stopped my Garmin and rested and was hanging out with people, or maybe in school or working or something, and then started to panic about my time and hit the road again. I woke at 4:30 and checked the time in panic, then sighed. Around 4:40, I was still pretty much awake, and my cat had started crawling all over my mom and me, apparently sensing I was awake and tense. I got up to pee, and got out of the bathroom just in time for my alarm to go off. It was go time.

Race morning:

I got into my clothes and started making breakfast while my mom got up: I had my usual race morning breakfast of oatmeal with dried blueberries, cooked in milk, and sipped on my Camelbak, though was pretty sure I was really hydrated from the last few days of sucking down liquids. Around 5:15 I texted NB to say we were leaving soon, and I prayed that the streets around me weren’t closed yet (my apartment was snuggled into part of the full marathon course, which would affect me later. Luckily, nothing was closed yet, though I think we just beat parts of it as we saw people setting up barricades as we were heading out). At 5:30 we were all three on the way, sleepy-eyed and a little stressed (or at least I was). We found our way to parking really easily, and ended up picking the perfect lot, we would discover, for where we eventually all met up post-race. We got out of the car and I did a check of things: fuel belt, shot blocks (for pre-race), bib attached to shirt, iPod, Garmin, rain jacket and ponchos (it wasn’t raining at the moment) before following the line of people heading to the start. I made the very wise decision of stopping at the North Shore portapotties, which had little to no line, instead of the ones near the start that had MASSIVE lines.

It took us a while – and the help of a volunteer – to find my corral, since I was a dummy and studied EVERY OTHER MAP thoroughly, other than the corral map. Oops. We hung out a bit longer until it was about 15 minutes to the start. My mom took some pictures of my and NB.

Getting a hug from my training buddy/support crew/nerdy boyfriend
This is our "we wish we could run this together" face

After that, it was time to head to my corral. It was a mess of people, and I stepped on people and got stepped on, but eventually squeezed in there. I stupidly moved to the opposite side where my crew couldn’t see me. Why? I don’t know – blame race day nerves. Around the time I was heading over, the rain started to drip.

Leaving my support crew... and trying to get into my corral

I stood around for… awhile. I was in corral D, and figured it would take a good 10 to 15 minutes after the gun to get to the start line. I scoped out the crowds: the signs, the shoes, what people had on her shirt (a woman near me had “Go Mommy! Love Andrew” written in kid’s handwriting on the back, which I loved, and told her so) and traded smiles with those around me. Already the doubt was sitting at the edges of my brain: my previous time (my first half) was 2:09.58. I had been hoping to break two hours, but was wondering if that much of a PR was too lofty of a goal. But I still wanted to better my time, even if just by a few seconds.

After some more standing around and freaking out, the gun at last went off, and a few minutes later the corral started to move forward. A few people tried futilely to break into a trot; I just tried to relax and keep an eye out for my crew/cheering section (I didn’t actually spot them until near the end of the race). About ten minutes later, I crossed the timing mat, hit START on my Garmin, and it was go-time!

Looking at my Garmin splits, I actually did pretty well the first four miles. I was slower than my goal pace to get under two hours (9:09) but I figured starting conservatively wasn’t bad, and it was really crowded. I was feeling good. We had a long stretch up Liberty for a couple miles that was very flat, if not slightly downhill at points. The course then swept back around to head towards a bridge and cross onto the North Shore. A mile or so from the bridge I saw one of the best costumes I saw all day (if not the best): a guy dressed as a constable was leading a guy dressed as a prisoner – wearing a bandit mask, black and white striped suit, and even shackles. Too funny.

As we turned toward the first bridge, I looked for my mom and NB but couldn’t see them, and apparently they didn’t see me either. But I kept trucking along. A little earlier I had adjusted my fuel belt to cinch it tighter around my waist since it was sliding around front, and a few miles later, I regretted it: and that’s where it started going downhill. Looking at my stats, I was strong miles 1 through 4, pretty good in 5 and 6, and around mile 7, the wheels fell off. I had to walk out a cramp long my stomach – loosening the fuel belt back to where it was fixed it – and found myself taking walk breaks every mile or so. I was really frustrated: I only take walk breaks when I’m bonking, physically or mentally. I tried to push t aside and carry on. The crowds were fantastic: tones of signs and people and cowbells, and the bands and one gospel choir were really fantastic. All the runners clapped for all the entertainment along the course. And of course the volunteers were amazing, diligently filling cups of water and Gatorade while standing in the rain.

Speaking of cowbells, at one point, someone was ringing theirs and I yelled out “NEEDS MORE COWBELL” and everyone laughed. Cliche, but it made me smile anyway. Around mile 5 or so, I was approaching someone with a shirt that amused me: the back of it said “WINNING… DUH” and as I got closer and was eventually shoulder to shoulder… I realized, I knew the person! I had met the girl (or woman, rather. I mean, really) at the Dean Karnazes 5K. She was doing the marathon relay. We chatted a bit about the race and the course and the rain, before I sped off to try to pick up my pace, calling over my shoulder for her to “kick some ass!”

I took gels about every 30 minutes, but I think what I lacked overall was salt. I had hydrated like mad, but sweating a ton (and dumping water from water stations down my back to cool off. It wasn’t that warm but the humidity was wicked because of the rain). I actually started taking Gatorade at the later aid stations to see if I could get some more electrolytes in my system.

After alleviating the mile 7ish cramp and getting frustrated with my walk breaks, I ran across a new problem: the wetness was causing my feet and socks to get wet (and I had applied bodyglide to my feet, btw) and they were bunching up and causing me pain. I had to stop a couple times to try to smooth out my socks or it would’ve been agony after a while. At this point, I was getting pissed off. I just wanted to have a good time but instead of having fun, I was focused on my OTHER “good time”: my pace, and it had pretty much fallen off beyond repair. At this point I just really wanted to equal my previous time of 2:10. Within a half mile we were passing a ton of army guys – men and women – and I got twenty high fives in rapid succession. That lifted my spirits a bit, and I carried on, trying to let it go.

At mile ten, the course split: marathoners to the right, half-marathoners to the left, and so I looped back to the left and tried to tell myself to dig in, that I only had a measly 5K to go.ย  It wasn’t until the last mile that I was able to truly pick it up, but even then I was suffering. I crested the last of the four bridges and saw the big yellow sign proclaiming “1/2 mile to go!” and tried to kick it. I was in pain. I wanted to quit. I wanted to slow down. I wanted to walk. But I was so close. With the finish line in sight, I heard my cheering section yell for me and I tried to smile (don’t know if I succeeded) as my mom snapped some pictures of my departing figure.

Finish line in my sights - and suffering, so much

I kicked the last 50 yards and crossed the finish with my arms (sort of) in the air, waiting a bit for photos (which sucked, btw, I’m not posting them. It was a mob scene) before hitting stop on my Garmin, which read 2:12.02.


I was spent. I started looking for my mom and NB, even though I knew they wouldn’t be there yet. I got two big cups of water and a cup of gatorade, which I sucked down quickly. I was dying for liquids and salts. I cleared out my last bit of water in my fuel belt, too. I wandered towards the foot, grabbing a banana, pretzels and a smiley cookie (somehow I missed the bagels… and the finisher’s photo. Oh well). I took a few bites of the banana but had to stop. I knew I needed the calories, and the potassium, but my stomach did NOT want it. I kept walking. I tried to stretch on the side but a volunteer asked me to move on. I saw a family meeting section and waited for a bit before trying to figure out where the Charity Village was (where we had intended to me). After a few minutes of wandering in the insanity, I spotted my purple Vera Bradley umbrella I had given to my mom for the rain, and to spot her easily. Thank goodness! I prayed she stayed in place as I squeezed through people with “excuse me excuse me excuse me” and said “hi!” and hugged her. Then she handed me her phone and told me to call NB.

Found my support crew momma! Now calling NB"

We headed over to where they had split off, which was fortunately right across from the lot we parked in! I gave him a huge hug when I saw him, and we chatted a bit while they paparazzi’d me and sent my picture to everyone via their cellphones.

Telling my training buddy a couple stories
Showing off my bling

I decided against hanging around, knowing I needed to get off my feet and rest, and somehow get some food into my stomach. I had almost had some of the pretzels, craving salt, but after one I felt it totally dry up my mouth and gave up on them. I stretched against my car to try to loosen up and NB took over driving since I was too out of it to be behind the wheel. We headed back to his place since the route to my apartment was totally blocked off. After a shower I lay down on the couch and my mom massaged my feet and calves (she winced at my feet and I saw why later: my calluses were peeling and gross) and helped me get my compression socks on. After NB showered up and I was feeling a bit better, we decided to get some food. I had finished the banana, and wanted a bagel from Bagel Factory (though my appetite wasn’t totally back yet: NB offered me a macaroon, which I LOVE, and my stomach lurched at the sight). We sat around and chatted and I ate my bagel very slowly and drank some chocolate milk. After our meal we were able to get back to my street and my mom set me up for a nap while she showered and packed. She left in the mid-afternoon, stopping to see a friend who lives in the city. I kept nursing a water bottle and sat on my butt watching movies until I felt okay enough to move. After a trip to REI and taking NB to church, I was finally STARVING: I knew it would hit eventually, and it did – with a vengeance. We stuffed our faces with greasy Chinese food and watching Stargate Universe (we’re still behind), and crashed hard for the night at 9 p.m.

So how do I feel? Well, other than pilates on Tuesday, I have done nothing athletic. I pigged out a bit for a couple days but cleaned my diet back up, scarfing veggies and loving it. I’m going for a short run tomorrow, probably two or three miles, sans music, probably sans Garmin, so I can go by feel and just listen to my body. I’ll just run at a pace that feels good, and see how it goes. I’m packing up my shoes and running clothes for the weekend (am going to Ohio for a bachelorette party and bridal shower) and I’ll take it one day at a time. I want to slowly get my mileage back up so I can resume training in another three or so weeks. In the meantime, it’ll be lots of cross training and strength training.


PR (ATL half): 2:09.58

Garmin time: 2:12.02

Chip time: 2:11.56

Overall, I’m happy in some ways and disappointed in others. A lot of things have to come together, stars have to align, to have a PR, and as my dad said on the phone to me today, being two minutes slower than last time is “nothing,” which is true. I should be proud of what I accomplished, and all the more driven to push harder next time.

For those of you who raced, rest up – you earned it. For everyone else: happy training, and run happy!

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I'm a 35-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

2 thoughts on “Race Report: Pittsburgh Half-Marathon 2011

  1. As the statisticians of the world would say, your new time is well within the margin of error, so therefore it was subject to the whims of things that had nothing to do with your overall training. As such, you did a damn fine job and have lots to be proud of ๐Ÿ™‚

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