The last four months of my life have been very good on the running front. I've had the opportunity to run with 4 wonderful friends as they trained for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon and I prepared for the full on the same day.
We met on the snow, in the sun, and I think I remember a few runs in the rain! It was cold, it was cool, it was windy, it was Pennsylvania winter training.
Now what makes this training so special to me is not the destination race, not my second marathon, but WHO I trained with. Christine, Shannon, Tina, and Saima were all part of the beginner 5K program I helped coach last summer. Saima had run before, but the rest were just starting out. They went from being nervous about their first 10 minute continuous run to 13.1 miles in less than a year. It was such an honor to take that journey with them, to see the joy on their faces when they ran their first 10 miler (well, Shannon and Christine! Tina actually ran a half in January and Saima was in San Fransisco when she ran hers...) and the excitement on race day was incredible.
The night before the marathon, we all met at Robin's house (she ran her first half with me in October 2009) for a pasta dinner. It was pot luck and FANTASTIC. The company was great and the atmosphere was electrifying. We ate, talked, laughed, joked, and burned some of the nerves and excitement to help us all "try" to sleep just a little that night.
The next morning came early for me. I got up at 3:50 am to get ready and make the 45 minute or so drive into Pittsburgh. They were closing the streets down at 6, so I wanted to be there by 5:30 to make sure I wasn't miles away. We all met at the drop bag check in and made our way to the start.
Pittsburgh had the Nugo Bar Pace Team for the full, but no pacers for the half. Christine, Shannon, Tina, and I were going to run with the 5 hour group to the 10 mile mark, then I was going to continue on and they were going to run their best 5K in together. Saima is a bit faster, so she ran with our friend Marie who was go leading the 4:45 pace group. As we made our way through the crowd, I realized we were not going to get much closer to our pacer than we were--about 50 yards or so. When the gun went off, we headed for the line and crossed 9 minutes after the start (about 30 seconds behind the pacer.)
We kept up with him for the first 4 miles, then at a water stop, he disappeared. But in hindsight, I'm kind of glad. Our first 4 mile splits were 11:19, 11:13, 11:15, and 11:23. We were supposed to be running an 11:27 pace. (I learned later from my wife who was at the finish that the 5 hour group finished around 4:55 GUN TIME--remember, it took 8 and a half minutes to cross the start!)
At the fluid stations I point out to my running partners to make sure they drank. It was hot, humid, raining, and breezy--all dehydration factors!
At 7 miles, Shannon ran into the first relay exchange and passed her bracelet off to Jessa (another amazing runner from last summer) and continued on to finish her half. We ran together until around mile 11 then I was with Jessa for another 1/2 mile.
Saima finished in 2:18:22, Shannon in 2:31:08, Christine and Tina in 2:40:55.
It was around the time that the girls made the turn for the half that I realized I was in trouble. My legs were feeling heavy and my lower back was starting to cramp. I was carrying my Camelbak, but for some reason, I wasn't drinking much from it! I had NOTHING at the first 3 or 4 fluid stations. I was dehydrated! I had been preaching hydration for a week!
At mile 12-1/2 or so, my buddy Mike caught up to me. I was walking at this time after bonking. He was pacing a friend for the half and was on his way to finish the full. He could have finished 2 hours ahead of me, but being the selfless ultra-runner that he is, he stayed with me.
At mile 13 my calves and shins cramped. At mile 14 I thought for sure I was going to throw up. At mile 20 we were warned that my pace had slowed to the point that I was close to being moved off the course and onto the sidewalk.
I tried to catch up on my fluids. But too much water or Gatorade made my stomach sick. I took my S!Caps and nursed my Camelbak (filled with Succeed's Ultra.) Mike talked to me, told me stories about his friends and running. Told me about some of his races. He made me laugh a few times, threatened to take my watch off of me, and told me to set the pace when I said "that's it, we're running the last 5K in."
At 5:47:23 into the race, I held Mikes hand high as we crossed the line together. As strong and as tough as I think I am, I needed Mike on Sunday. I don't think I would have quit. in fact, I never even thought about it, but I might have if I was on my own.
I hugged my wife hard. Michelle (our friend Mike was pacing) rushed to get me extra water and popped me with electrolyte pills. We made our way to the drop bag area and I gathered my composure. I must have thanked Mike 20 times.
We headed to our cars. I told my wife that I was so disappointed in myself. I wanted 5 hours BAD. I finished 35 minutes slower than my first marathon and was sulking in my failure. Dawn said that I should be proud for going the distance, not quitting in the face of unusual conditions, and not surrendering. I felt a little better.
It took a few days for it all to sink in. Today's Tuesday and my stomach is still a bit queasy. I've consumed a little more than 100 ounces of fluids today and am starting to feel a little better physically. But what really hit me today is the fact that I actually made it. I didn't give up. I didn't lay down and die. I kept moving forward, I wanted to vomit, but I kept going.
I may be slow. I may have bonked. But Dammit, I didn't quit! On June 5th, outside of Washington DC, I'll be embarking on another 26.2 mile journey. But this time, I'll be a little smarter!
Stay safe, keep those soles to the ground, and keep moving forward!