09 May 2012

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Report

Yeah... I did say I wasn't going to run it. However, my leg showed signs of improvement a few days after the initial incident, and my run one week later felt alright. I hate to pass up on a race I trained for, so I decided to go ahead and do it. I felt that although my fitness had been compromised a little I could still pull off a good race.

We drove into Pittsburgh on Friday, arriving late in the evening. On Saturday we headed to the expo where I finally found out which corral I would be in - B. My first time in an assigned corral!

This was also my first large expo (I went to the NYCM expo, but as a spectator). Because of the poor design of the race people, you had to walk to the other end of the expo to pick up your race bag. I'm sure they set it up this way in hopes that you would buy more stuff you don't need/already have/can buy at home. The only item I needed to buy was a packet of Honey Stingers Chews, after which I waited outside because it was too busy and crowded.

During the rest of the day, we walked around Pittsburgh, went back to the hotel, and ate dinner later that night (I had a 12-inch pizza). I guzzled water throughout the day and evening, knowing Sunday would be on the hot side.

My leg felt a little achy, but I didn't have any trouble walking on it. I went to bed feeling alright about the race the next day.

Four a.m. is a really early wake up call. Since all my races are a) in town and b) short, I've never needed to do this before. I woke up surprisingly easily, though, ate breakfast, drank water, gathered my race gear, and got dressed.

We arrived downtown around 5:30 a.m., parked, and made our way over a bridge (if I never cross another bridge on foot in my life I will be a very happy person) and set up shop near the corrals. The race starts at 7:30, so we had a while to wait. I went to the restroom once during this time and should have gone again because I kind of needed to go when I was in the corral. I hoped the feeling would pass. I also entertained my group with my brother's rendition of a mouse tap dancing on a piece of cheese.

Race: Pittsburgh Half Marathon with 25,000 runners. This was my first time running a large race with assigned corrals - I started in corral B.

Goal: sub-1:50 at 8:18 pace

Weather: A little warmer than I'd have liked, a touch humid, and sunny.

Pre-Race: I definitely have pre-race fueling and hydrating down, maybe a little too well with the hydrating part.

Race: I had a setback two weeks prior to Sunday, resulting in 7 days of no running. While this wasn't the sole factor in not obtaining my goal, it didn't make it any easier. I have some sort of soleus strain/pain/something on my left leg, and my right foot had been giving me trouble for the past few weeks.

Mile 1: 8:25.24 - I wasn't sure what pace to run at, knowing my fitness wasn't exactly were I wanted it to be. I had been debating between 8:30 for the first few miles, or trying to keep my 8:18 goal pace. When I hit the first mile I figured 8:20s was fine.

Mile 2: 8:09.07 - So... If you're an experienced runner, this second mile might give you a hint as to how this will end. I felt really great, actually, and the course wasn't as hilly as I thought. I knew there were bridges (many, many bridges) to come, which meant that I would keep my splits around 8:10-20 for the rest of the race. I slowed on the uphills and didn't fly down the downhills, though I didn't slow myself down either. I started hitting the water stops at this point.

Mile 3: 8:14.38 - I can't quite remember -- in fact, I can't quite remember anything specific about the course, but I think I crossed a bridge this mile. The Pittsburgh race course map was so bad that not only did it not show mile splits, it didn't show scale or tell you were the elevation gains were. This would be detrimental to me.

Mile 4: 8:02.30 - By this point, I'm feeling good. I'm managing the bridges and keeping an even pace. I did realize I was running faster than goal pace, but like the idiot I am I thought I was just doing well and could hold it. I can't remember if I grabbed a Gatorade at this point or not because it was on a bridge. It made sense that there wouldn't be a water stop on a bridge, I thought.

Mile 5: 8:09.89 - This mile was on a bridge. I remember it because I didn't see a water stop. I could be confused.

Anyway, at this point, Alex caught up to me. His plan was to run the first 6 miles with me, but it took him a while to catch up. At first, I thought he was a random weirdo pushing me over with his arm. As I turned to say something rude, I realized who it was and was happy to see him.

Mile 6: 8:09.70 - My 10k split clocked in at 51:35, which, according to the website's tracking, was an 8:18 average pace, though the course might have been long. I grabbed a Gatorade. It was starting to heat up and the sun was pretty bright, but I was holding up and managing the uphills. At this point, I still felt strong and my leg and foot, which were suspect during the first three miles, felt fine.

There were bands along the course that I would have thrown my empty water cups at if possible, not because they sucked (I wasn't listening to their tunes) but because my left ear was stuffy and the sound was amplified in my right hear. It was terrible.

People also make the dumbest signs that they think they are clever. "Run faster than Kim Kardashian's marriage lasted!" I was blown away by the wit. I almost stopped to applaud.

Then there was the sign, "Hurry up and finish - my arms are tired from holding this sign!" Nobody was holding the sign.

I checked out the shorts of some of the women in front of me.

Mostly, though, I ignored everything.

Mile 7: 8:18.29 - I took a GU just before the start of mile 7, but unfortunately had to wait until mile 8 to chase it down with water. I commented about this to Alex. I didn't realize that there wouldn't be a water stop at this mile - it would have been nice if Pittsburgh Marathons let you know where the water stops would be. But the GU went down easily so I figured I was still hydrated - what I didn't think about was that I no longer had to go to the restroom like I did at mile 1.

Mile 8: 8:02.95 - An eight-minute mile? I was doing great! I was a little fatigued, but I figured that's what was to be expected. I finally got that water I had been longing for since the last mile. I still thought that I was doing well, though in retrospect I was beginning to feel annoyed (and sounded like it - sorry, Alex, if I could go back in time I would pour the cup of water you tried to hand me over my head) which is a sign that I was beginning to struggle.

Mile 9: 8:23.61 - Um, this was starting to feel bad. I didn't realize this mile was slightly uphill or else I would have adjusted my pace. I thought I was being a wuss, was being affected by the heat, and just tried to hold on to my pace. That was my big mistake.

Mile 10: 8:40.98 - And the slowdown begins. I was feeling terrible. My legs were beginning to feel unresponsive and I was guzzling as much water as I could, which wasn't much because I haven't learned to drink and run yet. I didn't want to slow down to drink more because I thought it would be a bad idea. In retrospect, it would have been a great idea.

Mile 11: 8:30.48 - Finally, a downhill. My pace was still slower, but it wouldn't affect my overall by much.

Mile 12: 11:54.55 - This was the end of the race for me. I was struggling on a bridge, was running a 9:30 pace, and hating everything. My legs just wouldn't move. What Alex thinks happened is just that my muscles quit working. Because I don't run many miles, when I hit that point of no return fatigue-wise my legs are unable to keep going. It's happened before in training and it happened again here. I saw that the uphill I was struggling to climb kept going up and I mentally gave in. If I could go back in time, I would try as hard as I could to keep going since I was still ahead of the 1:50 pace group at this point. I felt so bad when I saw them pass and was unable to get myself to start running.

Mile 13: 13:46.79 - What happens when you stop running is that your legs feel terrible. My leg felt like it would fall off, my foot felt like shit, and my toes kept hitting the edge of my shoes and felt as if the toenails had been ripped off (they hadn't and my feet came out looking good). I got myself to start running at mile 12.5. That last half mile plus .32 was torture. This mile was entirely downhill, another reason I wish I could have kept running instead of stopping.

Mile .32: 2:49 @ 8:51 pace - I have nothing to say about this except that I finished just under 2 hours. I wasn't really happy about that because I didn't make my goal. Not only did I not make my goal, but I missed my goal by a lot. I kept walking through the finish line chute and guzzled a few cups of water. I finally lied down under a tree. I remember being glad Alex ran with me because it would have sucked to be alone.

Total: 13.32 in 1:59.36

Thoughts -
  • My problems mostly boil down to inexperience at the distance. I didn't recognize the signals early enough to make the necessary adjustments to salvage the race.

  • 25-30 miles per week is not enough to obtain the goals I set for myself. Basically, my muscles gave out and I didn't have enough of a base to keep going at a slower pace. I'll be working on that this summer.

  • I really failed at drinking enough fluids on the course. Since I mostly run shorter distances and don't need to drink on the run, I've had no real practice at it. I tried the pinch-the-top method, but liquid kept going up my nose or fell out of the cup. I might try bringing a short straw next time.

  • Overall, I'm not as disappointed as I expected. I'm not proud of my time by any means (race times are very personal and relative to my personal running ability, this was not a good day for me), but I did gain a lot of insight into what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.

  • The Pittsburgh website didn't mention where the water stops would be, just that water stops would be throughout the course, or something like that. Being specific helps.

  • The Pittsburgh race course didn't show mile splits, a scale, or give you any inclination as to where the inclines were throughout the course. That would have helped me plan better.

  • In the end, I started off not making adjustments for not being 100% and for not knowing the course. It's better to start off a little slower and finish strong than to suffer and fade. Also, since I don't have much of a base I needed to adjust for that, as well.

Having talked it over with Alex a few times, it boils down to inexperience at this distance which leads to not reading the warning signs. As for my pace, while it's possible to start off fast and hold the pace in a 10k, you can't run a half marathon like that. Because I lack miles on my legs, they aren't used to running when fatigued. I did have some strong progression runs, but the difference between those and this half is that the progressions were run when it was 45-50 degrees on a flat course. I also started off much slower. It all boils down to not making the necessary adjustments to my pace early in the race.

As for training goals this summer, I'm going to work on running more slow miles. I will probably switch to timed runs instead of miles. I might try and look for a fall half.

Now, I do have the Sunburst coming up. I really hope that I can redeem myself, though it's going to be tough. The course is easier, but it's always a hot and humid race. My leg still hurts and I'm not going to try running until Monday. If it feels alright Monday, I'll go ahead and run the half. My goal isn't so much a PR as it is smart pacing.


  1. You did so well! I know you wanted to run faster in the end... most of the race you were very fast! I can't believe you run that fast. I think it takes me 10 minutes to run one mile! Haha.

    I'm looking forward to more race recaps. I think you'll get that sub 1:50. Just don't take pictures and tweet.

  2. If you'd walked another 30 seconds, your time would have started with a 2 ...

  3. Same as Alex said!

    It all boils down to this: You did the best you possibly could with what you had. You learned a lot from this experience, and you had the right spirit coming out of it! I'm proud of you, and I was so happy to be there with you this weekend! <3

  4. Ouch. Sorry about the rough finish, Catty. I see now why you were so disappointed in the result; those last two miles must have been harsh.

    If it's any consolation, I think a couple of my late Chicago miles were this slow or very close. It happens to all of us, and ultimately I was glad I stuck it out and finished Chicago despite all of the suckage. Good job toughing it out and finishing.

    And hey, there's a tiny chance I'll be coming up and racing something at Sunburst. I'm waiting top see what the weather will be like...

  5. Sorry to hear about the rough finish. I def think by adding a deeper base you'll get through it. Also sorry to hear about your earlier leg problems. I know how it feels to train so hard for a race and then not be able to do it! You broke two hours and that is still a big deal. :)

  6. Thank you, Emily! I had been thinking that if I did have my phone with me at Pittsburgh, I would have thrown it on the ground at one point.

    And then we would have been on camera, Alex.

    Thank you, Tiffers <3. That's mostly why I'm not too upset - I am able to identify what went wrong which will help me in future races.

    Sounds like everyone has a race like this, Paul, so I can pretend this was my time, haha. I used to be able to say that I never walked during a race, but I have finished all of them that I started so there's that.

    Thanks, Hollie! I'm looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish with a better base.

  7. Sorry about your tough finish and that you couldn't take advantage of that final downhill mile. After that stupid hill in Mile 12 (which I walked up with no shame because I just didn't care at that point), I was loving the nice downhill. Great time though...even with everything that worked against you!

  8. http://www.pittsburghmarathon.com/Course.asp

  9. Thanks, Anon. I wish I had found that earlier.

  10. Way to hang in there and finish! I believe we can learn a lot from those races that don't go the way we want, and you have clearly jotted down a number of lessons that will help you in your next race! All the best to you, and good luck with your training!

  11. I think every once has a few endurance races like this before their body kind of gets used to them...this basically sums up my Boston Marathon experience, except my legs stopped working at mile 13...yeah. Not fun. but it's okay! there's always another race to be run!! I know you'll achieve your goal!

  12. You're wrong when you say that 25-30 miles per week won't get you to your goal (which I'm guessing is a ~1:50 half). That was my weekly average and I ran the full marathon in 3:37. My second half split was 1:51.

    My advice to you is to focus on the distance of your individual runs more than your weekly totals. When you feel fully comfortable running a double-digit mile run, I think you can really take off in the half. You should also focus on hills. I don't think it's any coincidence that the hill at Mile 12 cut you down. Also, don't beat yourself up - the weather was less than ideal, and by the time you hit the last 3 miles it was taking a toll on everyone out there.

    Stay hungry and keep running!

  13. Thanks for sharing this to us and looking forward always for more updates. Great run you had, Congratulations for a great job well done.


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