A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 9th Edition
217.6 miles raced in 2009
Race: Pittsburgh Marathon
Place: Pittsburgh, PA
Miles from home: 1840 miles
Weather: 50-60s; humid, some rain, some windy conditions
I think it was the French Renaissance philosopher LL Cool J who said: "Don't call it a comeback".
After one of my worst marathons ever at the Kentucky Derby Marathon last weekend (recap here), I was really feeling the effects of three marathons in 3 weekends and all the traveling I had been doing. The Pittsburgh Marathon presented me with the opportunity to raise a lot of money for the Pittsburgh Promise (details on that here) but there was also a lot of pressure. As I tell audiences that come and hear me speak over and over again, there is no such thing as an easy marathon. Have run dozens of them does not guarantee success in the next one. I knew forecasted weather for this weekend looked a LOT better than last weekend's so at least I had that going for me.
The days before the race had me making a trip to Titusville to make sure everything was going great for the upcoming Drake Well Marathon. I couldn't be more happy with the progress there and it was quite neat to actually watch my high school participate in a dual track meet. I am turning this recap into a page of links but please take the time to read the piece I wrote about my old high school track coach here. I am happy to say they won again handily and Coach's loss record still hasn't hit double digits!
In Pittsburgh the days before the race I got to meet some of the very kids I would one day be benefiting by running on Sunday. Speaking to a 6th grade communications class on the north Side of Pittsburgh, I was presented with some of the most thought-provoking and intelligent questions I have ever received after one of my speeches. Gone were the limiting questions. By that I mean adults often would inquire about my life in a way that showed that they were looking for excuses for why they could not achieve this type of goal. "You had corporate sponsors, right?" "You didn't work that entire year, I assume?" "There is no way you have a family or kids or a mortgage or car payments or......." The kids instead wanted to know how they could do it. They wanted to know if there were ways for them to achieve other things in life that were similarly challenging. Instead of trying to bring what I have done to a level of unattainablilty they tried to raise themselves up to challenge their own limits. I cannot tell you how much of a breath of fresh air this experience was.
After that I got to once again treat myself as Bill Rodgers had come to the Pittsburgh marathon to speak as well and we once again went for a little run around the Steel City. Bill and I talked about numerous things, some running, some not and the 5-6 miles flew by. His insight and years of experience help me every time we speak. I am grateful for his friendship and also pretty darn giddy every time he asks me if I want to go for a run.
This was the sort of race I love to run. with a 7:30 AM start and my hotel just 2 blocks from the race start line, I got up at 6:50 AM. This left me just enough time to shower, use the restroom, put on some clothes and mosey to the start. Ideal. Nearly 10,000 people stood between me and the starting line but I felt no rush to get to the start.
Nevertheless, it would have been nice if they had moved JUST a little bit for the guy wearing the double digit number so I could get to the start where I was to meet with the PA announcer and a few others. By the time I got up to the front, there were about 90 seconds left. The pre-race anxiety I usually feel simply wasn't there. I loved it.
The gun fired and the Pittsburgh Marathon was underway for everyone but me. Soon thereafter I was announced to the crowd after the runners were underway but would have preferred being announced to the runners so they knew who the idiot running past them and weaving in and out was and wouldn't get angry at me. Alas.
After the absolutely last person had crossed the start line I waited around a few more seconds. I knew there would be a straggler or two and I was right. First a joggler went by (the guy who juggles while he runs) and then a few others who apparently wanted to be the last to start but upon seeing how I was standing in the middle of the road and showing no apprehension whatsoever about not moving, got it in their heads that this was not a battle they were going to win and finally ambled off. I then gave it about another minute or so to allow the people to actually get out ahead of me. I did not want to immediately run up the back of people and in spite of the urging of the crowd and the announcer held still for a few more seconds. Finally, almost 9 minutes exactly after the race started, I was off.
First 10k (6:28, 6:53, 6:12, 6:12, 6:43, 6:37)
True to form, I took the first mile a little faster than desired. My goal was to break 3 hours which, given how exhausted I was from the previous week, seemed to be a lofty one. So even weaving in and out of the runners the first mile's time being 24 seconds fast (a 6:52 minute mile is a sub 3- hour marathon) was shocking. Around mile 2 I saw my high school friend Teri and her mom who were waving hand-held signs. I smiled really big as it has been years since we had crossed paths.
I reeled it back in for the next mile but then surged like crazy for the next two, shocking myself with consecutive 6:12s. I know exactly why I sped up here. You see, this part of the course was where the most children wearing the Pittsburgh Promise logo were stationed. Their cheering and screaming pushed me on to passing as many people as I could right then and there!
I was already very thankful for the 50 degree weather and completely cloudy skies as 78% humidity really hung in the air and then onto my specially designed Charity Chaser shirt. I ran past some people around mile 6 who said "Wow, he is already soaked!"
Doing my best to weave but also be unobtrusive was difficult as this type of running is like herding cats. I was already a little thirsty but avoided every aid station and instead used those opportunities where everyone else was crushing each other on the sides to run unimpeded down the exact center of the road. I knew soon enough I would be more free to grab drinks, breathe freely and not take an elbow to the ribs as I skirted by.
To the halfway point: (6:37, 6:43, 6:47, 6:49, 6:37, 6:49, 7:06) 1:28:30 half split
Each mile or two had me passing a pace group and I shouted out encouragement to all of them. I caught the 3:30 pace group a little after mile 7 where the first relayers were making their exchanges. I was running surprisingly well in spite of my fatigue and the relative humidity and know I owe most of that to the "chase". The question was how well I would run when I passed most of the runners and had little more to go after. I hoped that relay runners would spur me on as the race got long. But right here I was doing great and feeling wonderful.
After a few miles through the "Sou-sie" which is Pittsburghese for "SouthSide" I passed the 3:20 group which looked strong even though their numbers were few. We crossed the Birmingham Bridge and prepared for the most difficult climb of the day up to the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I will say this for the race organizers: Pittsburgh has a LOT of hills, and they did their absolute best to avoid most of them. Absolute kudos goes out to them for that!
Heading up the Forbes Street hill I saw a familiar friend. Dave is his name and he was one of the original runners in the 2006 Drake Well Marathon. Dave has been battling some health issues lately but was absolutely crushing the course. I jokingly said: "Out of the way, old man" and he smiled big. In am email later he told me that I again looked drenched. I said I was doing my best to stay watered but was feeling great. I then left him behind and wished him well. He went on to finish in a stellar 3:15. He is on the comeback train! Below is a picture of the first time we met at the Hatfield and Mccoy Marathon where he soundly spanked me (Dave is on the right.)
Cresting the hill in Oakland I looked to my right and saw the street I lived on for a year in between college and law school. Hard to believe that was a decade ago. The halfway marked loomed and even with a slowish mile up the big hill, I passed in a time I was super pleased with.
To mile 20: (6:42, 6:45, 6:50, 7:11, 6:40, 6:48, 6:57)
Around mile 15 or so it started to rain. Well at least a high humidity could have a cooling effect! Right there we passed a bank with its display showing the temperature and it was still only 57 degrees. Pretty darn perfect. A slight biting wind took hold here for a few miles but it was brisk enough to cool off some of the sweat I had accumulated. Unfortunately the rain was thoroughly soaking me and I could tell there was going to be some chafing later on.
I needed to use the bathroom and had felt this need for miles but could never find a place to quickly get in and get out. I had a job to do and it was not lingering in a portapotty line! Around mile 17 I saw I had just passed two bathrooms and did the unthinkable by running backwards 30 yards to hit one of them. Fortunately they were open and soon I was back on the course feeling much better. (And was quite pleased with a bathroom break mile of 7:11)
Some rolling hills kept runners honest through this section and at mile 18 I saw the 3:10 group appear ahead. This was a little bittersweet as I knew the numbers ahead were going to get slimmer and slimmer. I slowly crept up to them and tried to keep an even keel pace until another mile or so when I would once again turn the speed on. Well, "turn the speed on" is a very relative term for me dear readers!
At mile 19 I caught the pack and said, " I hope everyone is feeling great!! Who is going to Boston?!" My enthusiastic cry was met with blank stares and sour looks as if I had just invaded a private party. All right then. I picked up the pace and then all of a sudden heard a voice say "Anyone who went to Dickinson Law school is a jerk." I turned around an lo an behold was a law school classmate (well, two years ahead of me) and all around great guy, John Cherry. was one of my favorite people at Dickinson and to be 100% honest, I had seen him from behind and thought: "Wow, that sorta looks like John Cherry." But I knew John was living in North Carolina and didn't even know he was a marathoner. Well, here he was and running great in his 9th marathon ever!
John and I chatted for a bit and he actually confirmed without me asking that, for whatever reason, the 3:10 group was a little surly. I have to admit I have never heard of such a thing before but was glad I wasn't the only one thinking this.
When we hit mile 20, I saw I had run a few seconds off of my pace and told John I had to either let him go or he had to keep up with me. He said he was going to let me go and for the next mile or so I could hear him behind me cheering on runners and talking to spectators. Great guy. Ended up running a 3:09:22 and said he had never felt better after a marathon.
To the finish: 6:47, 6:59, 6:21, 6:22, 6:52, 7:31, (.2 in 1:52)
I was glad to see my next mile was back below pace and also it brought a smile to my face when a fellow runner friend named Lloyd stepped out to take my picture.
I then almost hit a 7 minute mile again as I began running with a woman from Ohio named Mary. We chatted for a bit and I found out that she has a marathon PR of 3:14. I told her that she was well under that and would crush it if she just held on. She immediately began to match my step and it was worth the slight bit of slowing to now have a running partner. Up ahead a woman appeared. I told Mary there was no way she wasn't going to catch and pass her.
Right then we got to run down the big hill we had run up at mile 13 and we began to smash it. A 6:21 and a 6:22 might have been a little too fast for my tastes but we both seemed to be feeling it. We quickly left the woman (and about 10 men) behind us and prepared for the home stretch. The flat mile of the Strip in Pittsburgh felt like an uphill after such a fast downhill and I knew I was in trouble. We hit mile 25 right at my goal pace but I was weakening. I told Mary to go along ahead as I had bigger fish to fry and a finishing kick at the end of this marathon was not that fish!
I made the final few turns of the race and could feel I was quite ready to be done. A slowish last mile and then an equally slowish .2 had me cruising into cheers from the crowd as the announcer let them know I was the man raising money for the Promise.
Crossing in 2:59:19 I was pleased to have another marathon in the books and another sub-3 to boot.
While the numbers are not final here are some stats. The Pittsburgh Promise is tallying up all the donations to see how much money I earned per person but right now it looks like around $3.50.
*There were 3463 marathon finishers. I passed all but 72 of them.
*There were 4106 half-marathon finishers. I passed all but 40 of them.
*There were 2008 relay finishers. I passed all but 48 of them.
That means I passed 9368 of 9529 people including the relay guy I held off who tried to pass me in the last 5 feet. (Take that, punk.) That comes out to about $33,000 raised for 3 hours work Sunday morning, based only on the donations I know about. I am going to say I am indeed pleased. Maybe not as pleased as Malcolm East and his fiancee, though. Malcolm, a former winner of the Pittsburgh Marathon, dropped to one knee after the race and proposed to his fiancee. Her comment after saying "yes"?
"This is much better than a bagel!"
Follow your dreams, everyone. See you in Fargo in 6 days.