Sometimes the best races we run are not necessarily our fastest. This was absolutely true of my experience Sunday at the Pittsburgh Marathon running 2:37:23.
All things considered, I can confidently say that this effort and outcome were the 100% best I could have accomplished and there are few things in life as truly satisfying as that.
Like any marathon, this one had it's fair share of ups and downs, quite literally in fact. The Pittsburgh course is without a doubt the toughest I have encountered and presented us with relentless rolling hills and a few significant climbs and descents. This made the course extremely engaging and interesting but also immensely challenging, both mentally and physically.
Oddly, it was the first 10K that felt the most uncomfortable and created the most doubt in my mind as to how the day would go. In a race as long as 42.2K, you shouldn't expect to feel good all or even most of the time. Inevitably things can and do go wrong. However, feeling off so early into the race was not at all expected and was honestly enough for me to even consider dropping out (a thought I'm sure most marathoners experience at least once every race).
Luckily however around 15K, I began feeling better, settled in at a comfortable effort and focused my attention on just getting to the half. This meant first having to tackle the course's most grueling climb which began abruptly at 18K and continued for another two, rising some 70m in that span. The halfway point came soon after and my time of 1:19:10 was almost exactly what I had set out to do, albeit was supposed to feel a lot better.
The next 10K, from the halfway mark to about 20M/32K, are always among the most mentally challenging in the entire race given how much of the race is still left and how far there is to go. The miles seemed to get longer which was seemingly made worse by a lack of fellow competitors, sparse crowds/support in most sections, the continuing and never ending undulating hills and a rising sun radiating down as I ran almost entirely alone.
|PROOF that I ran the race in Pittsburgh. Thanks MarathonFoto! #HeelStriker|
With the arrival of 20 miles and only 10K left to go, I was still holding my mostly steady pace of 6:00 minute per mile and although it was definitely beginning to feel harder, I convinced myself that I was not really slowing down. A few more lonely and mostly downhill miles passed by and only after passing the 23 mile mark (37K) did I finally recognize and fully accept that I was going to achieve my goal.
The last 3 miles seemed to crawl by and the finish seemed still so far away. With just over a mile to go I entered the shaded and sparsely supported downtown core and was soon able to see a steady stream of half marathoners in the distance indicating the end was near. I wasn't able to show it, but I was never more happy all day than to see the familiar face of fellow Black Lung and today's top cheerleader Anne Bryne shouting my name and cheering me on with but a few hundred meters to go.
A few long seconds later, I made the last turn, saw the finish and gave everything I had left to get there. I crossed the line only vaguely noting the time of 2:37 something and was immediately overcome with an overwhelming and emotional sense of relief, joy and satisfaction.
The result is not my personal best but it is the absolute best I could do on the day. It was my first marathon in over a year and followed my most significant injury/setback to date which required a slow and at times uncertain comeback. This result is the successful product of doing many things right: the training, the taper, the carb-loading and also getting and being mentally engaged at the moment. It also required setting realistic expectations, goals and having a solid race plan. I did all of this and was rewarded with the race and the result that I deserved. For that, I am entirely satisfied.
I cannot however take all the credit. I am truly very fortunate to have a partner that is so supportive and encouraging (in her own unique way) but mostly just tolerates my misplaced and stubborn commitment to running and training. A massive shout-out must also go to my club and teammates, the Black Lungs, who I was fortunate to chase around for a majority of the training cycle and who provide the endless support and motivation to keep me striving to be better.
Next up is a well deserved period of rest and recovery. Following that, I hope to focus on improving my speed over shorter (5 and 10K) distances before again emphasizing endurance for the fall marathon cycle where I do intend to PB.
A few fun facts and figures:
- Strava and Garmin Connect data for you real running and racing nerds (like me)!
- For only the second time ever, I ran a slight (~1 minute) negative split: Half - 1:19:10; Finish - 2:37:23. I've had my doubts it can be done, but with realistic goals, it does work!
- Like every marathon I've run, I attempted a completely new and untested fueling strategy. This time it was 2 packages of caffeinated Clif Shot Blocks (12 total): Two before then one every ~3K ending around 30K. Luckily it worked! No bonking and no hitting walls.
- 2:37:23 is both my fourth slowest but also fourth fastest effort over 42.2K (i.e my median marathon). It is also the sixth time I've run under 2:40 (technically under 2:38).
- I, along with many of my Black Lungs teammates, will be returning to Pennsylvania for the Philadelphia Marathon on November 22nd.