The train up:
Kim had been using the FIRST training method for her last few races and we both did the Half Marathon plan for the Colfax Half last year. It is designed to work off of "three quality runs" vs simply logging a ton of miles. It works for us as we are both working full time and trying to fit in runs around raising a toddler who is constantly into everything and always on the go. We worked out a pretty good rhythm while we were in Colorado with me running in the mornings right before work and Kim running after work for the sprint and tempo runs and then we would do our long runs on the weekend as a family run with me pushing the stroller. This worked really well for a long time until life got in the way. This train up hit us right in the middle of some major transitions, during the train up all of the following happened (though not necessarily in order). Kim got out of the Air Force and transitioned to being a civilian again, I changed jobs twice in the Army, our son was teething, we moved halfway across the country, Kim had oral surgery, I was diagnosed with a baker's cyst in my knee, and we both started brand new jobs in a new city. Needless to say, there were weeks that we didn't get all of our runs in. Despite all of that though, we did our best and were both feeling really good about our fitness going into this race. We had completed both our 18 and our 20 milers (me pushing a stroller on both) and the rest of our runs in Pittsburgh had gone really well. That extra oxygen was really starting to feel good in the lungs. We started our taper a few weeks before the race and we were both really excited. That was until the very last training run, a mere three days before the big race when I went out on an easy 5 miler and about half way into the run had a sudden shooting pain through my left calf. I stopped immediately to stretch hoping that it was just a tightness and nothing more. After about 5 minutes of stretching and massaging I soon realized that I had actually just hurt myself. I'm still not sure how I did it, or what really I did. I think that somehow I managed to pull or strain a muscle in just the right way to tear something. I was hosed, I spent the next few days foam rolling and icing and stretching and hoping that it would feel better. By race day I had convinced myself that it wasn't that bad and that I could run on it.
The race expo was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and was pretty well organized. We made our way through packet pickup pretty easily though the bibs and shirts were given out right at the beginning and the bags at the very end. That was a minor inconvenience when I comes to collecting swag at the various booths but we were equipped with our stroller anyway so not a big deal for us. On the plus side they did have this really cool bridge replica in the middle of the expo, so that was cool.
It had your typical booths so you can taste test various types of race nutrition, and places to buy shoes etc. One thing that I found lacking was a section for race specific clothing, I really only saw some cheesy hats and none of the jackets or shirts that you would expect, they may have been there and I just missed them but if they were there they weren't easily found. I was also really really underwhelmed by the shirts. They were a long sleeve tech shirt but the logo looked a lot more like something you would expect out of a 5k than a marathon. In fact the volunteer shirts were pretty cool, if they had switched it up that would have been fine, I would have been perfectly happy with those shirts, the participant ones were just boring looking.
This was probably the easiest race morning I have ever had. The new house that we moved into is walking distance to a T-stop (Pittsburgh light rail trolley system) and the race corrals and bag drop are right off of a T-stop on the other end. The trolleys got pretty crowded and it was standing room only on the way there but all things considered it was awesome to not have to fly, drive, park, and/or walk significant distances to get to the race. It was probably only 30 minutes door to corral for us. You can't beat that for convenience! The bag drop was also really well organized as were the directions to get to the corrals, and surprisingly there were plenty of port-a-pottys in and around the start so there were minimal lines. Once in the Corrals (we were in B) there was plenty of space to stretch so there wasn't that normal "packed in" feeling that you sometimes get but it did get pretty crowded. For this race they lump all of the half marathoners, full marathoners, and marathon relays into the same starting times so until around mile 12 when the half splits off it kept the course crowded. Not so crowded that you can't pass at all to run your pace but enough that it would make it a bit of a challenge to do so for the first few miles or so. They also stagger the starts of the corrals which helped a bit with the congestion, that seemed like a good move to me. At the gun Kim and I took off running and right off the bat I knew that I was going to have trouble with my calf. I was getting a decent amount of pain through it with each step. Our race plan was to run together until mile 12 where the hills start and then I would split off if I was feeling good. We stuck to that plan and kept about 10 min miles or so for the first 12 although I am not sure I could have run any faster if I wanted to. At right about 12 miles it felt as though my leg was starting to warm up and I decided to pick up the pace just a bit through some of the hills, I kept that pace for a while until the pain came back with a vengance. By mile 18 I was in serious pain and not only walked for a little but actually stopped all together to stretch for a little. I then decided I would run to each aid station and walk through the aid station and stretch a little. By mile 20 this plan started to unravel and my walking sections lasted longer and longer until around mile 21 when Kim passed me. I ran with her for a little bit and then told her good luck and let he go ahead as I stopped to stretch again. It just wasnt going to be my day. Around mile 23-24 on the big downhill I was having serious trouble but knowing that the end was so near I was able to keep moving forward. Finally, and it felt like forever, I saw the 25 mile marker and I pushed myself to run the last 1.2 miles in without stopping. I crossed the finish line at 4:40:14 significantly slower than I was hoping for but I was still proud that I finished after all that pain. I was really proud of Kim as she came in with a marathon PR of 4:32:17 . She continues to amaze me.
This was a great race for a smaller city Marathon. This will never be a race on the Magnitude of Boston or Chicago but they got a lot of things right. The course was tough with the hills in the second half but it wasn't impossible and it was really well marked with good course and crowd support. It is the sort of race that I am really glad I did, but not one I would be jumping up and down to do again. For sure it is a race to check out if you are looking for a spring Marathon though