The 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon was to be a comeback race after a poor showing at the Marine Corps Marathon last fall. There I was sidetracked mentally, and didn’t give it all I had. I’ve run Pittsburgh previously, so I was familiar with the course.
The Monday before race day I awakened with a sore throat. I thought it might be just a sign of pre-race jitters, but it was actually the beginning of a head cold. I saw my doctor the next day to get some antibiotics, just in case it turned into a sinus infection. He checked my lungs and said they were clear.
On Saturday, the day before the race, I still had head congestion. Combined with it was a nasty cough. I debated whether or not to withdraw from the race, but wanted to wait until the coming morning to make the final call. I slept well on Saturday night, awakened and used a nettie pot for the sinuses. It was as good as it was going to get, so I decided to give the race a try. I could always stop short of the finish if I got into trouble.
The weather was clear, with a little higher temperature than I’d hoped. The first several miles went smoothly as the sun and temperatures rose rapidly to the mid-60s. The course was fairly crowded. I decided not to track the race mile by mile with my Garmin as I’d done in previous marathons. It’s always been distracting and frustrating, because the Garmin and course mileage markers never agree. Soon I reached mile 10, and was happy to be in double digits. At mile 12 the half marathon runners split from the full marathoners. The full marathon course climbed the steepest hill to the University of Pittsburgh, but it didn’t seem nearly as steep as it did the first time two years earlier.
By mile 15 I was doing pretty well with the head cold. I made a quick porta potty stop and blew my nose well while there. My pace was steady while going up the hill. Then I allowed gravity to do its thing and picked up the pace on the downhill stretches. I had no idea what my pace was, but felt good about the time on the clock when I reached the halfway point. I was running much more by feel than by numbers. The only thing I was checking on the Garmin was heart rate.
By mile 19 I was starting to struggle, so I stopped to walk until my heart rate dropped back to Zone 2. It didn’t take long. Then I’d run again until I just felt could go no more. I’d stop, let my heart rate go back to Zone 2 quickly, and repeat the process. I was seeking a boost of energy so I could run a quicker pace, so I downed a couple cups of Gatorade at the next fluid station. I’d only trained with water and Salt Stick capsules, and the Gatorade didn’t sit well on my stomach. When used the last Genucan gel around mile 21, I had trouble keeping it down. A few minutes later I had GI issues, and there was no porta potty in sight. I couldn’t run in that condition, so I managed to find a Starbucks with a public restroom. I probably lost nearly 10 minutes on time due to that episode.
After the Starbucks stop I started running again with fewer walk breaks. Between miles 23 and 24 I noticed I was getting a little dizzy. I realized I hadn’t been drinking enough water, so at the next fluid station I downed two to three cups rather than just one. I felt better.
At the mile 25 marker I was back in downtown Pittsburgh. The crowd support was intense, which made the last mile easier. I remembered that even at the mile 26 marker, the finish is still not in sight, but is just around the corner. I picked up my pace just a little to cross the line. I learned later my official time was 4:27. I was thinking it might be slower due to the Starbucks stop, so I was happy.
Unlike the MCM last fall, for this race my mind was fully engaged throughout the run. Given a head cold, the bright sun, higher than expected temperatures, and the very hilly course, I felt very positive about the finish time. It was 15 minutes faster than two years ago.
I’m grateful for an excellent running coach in Kristie Cranford of KREndurance. I can’t emphasize strongly enough that the wisest investment a runner can make is in a good coach. I’m grateful for my wife Jeannie, who put up with all my training, supported me unconditionally, and accompanied me to Pittsburgh for the race. I’m grateful for good health, so much so that I was able to run my fourth, post-50 years of age marathon. Most of all, I’m grateful for my Lord Jesus Christ, who makes running and all other aspects of life incredibly fulfilling.