Monday, May 3, 2010

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Report

UPDATED to add pictures

Finally! Another adventure has been lived, a new milestone reached, in the quest for the half-ironman. Yesterday Dan and I ran our first half-marathons. And we both thought it was an amazing experience!The short story: Dan finished in slightly over two hours and I finished in just under two hours (chip time was 1:59:24) and reached my best case scenario goal. I also was 108th out of 738 women in the 30-34 age group which I thought was incredible since I really am not a runner.

The longer story: On Friday, Dan, Ondrej and I skipped work/school/obligations a bit early and drove to Altoona, PA to take the Amtrak. We got to Pittsburgh nice and early, and walked briefly downtown before heading to Dan's place. After getting there we treated ourselves to ice cream, watched some telly and went straight to bed.

On Saturday (the day before), Dan, Ondrej and I spent the day visiting Pittsburgh. This entailed a whole lot of walking, eating, sightseeing, fun-making and picture taking (one of my favorite hobbies) and therefore was fantastic.

Meet and Greet at the Expo

Dan and I first went to the expo to pick up our packets and then went on to visit the Monongahela incline with Ondrej (another post with many more pictures will follow). I was a bit worried since my knee was hurting but I was definitely not willing to sacrifice sightseeing. In the evening we went to some funky church-turned-restaurant-brewery for some serious dinner. I ended up eating way too much and had heartburn most of the night.
Modeling my new bag (I love bags)


Sunday! I think I woke up every hour between Saturday night and Monday 5.30 AM. I usually am a very sound sleeper but I was THAT excited (the heartburn may also have had something to do with it). Finally 5.30 came and I jumped out of bed, got dressed and made breakfast. We were supposed to leave at 6.00, but when there are so many people involved (and so many bathroom visits) things get delayed a bit. Finally, Dan and I made our way out at 6.30 and went to the bus stop. After a few minutes we saw some women that were clearly on their way to the marathon walking and bypassing the bus stop. That is when we realized that we really did not know whether 1) the bus was going and 2) if yes, how often. WHOOPS!!! So we decided to walk.

It was already 6.45 or so, and the race start was 3 miles and 45 minutes away so we hauled our rear-ends. We got close enough to the race start at 7.15 that I felt comfortable pausing and using the porta-potty. There was quite a line but it was moving quickly. However, while I was waiting, they started playing the US national anthem. I am not a US citizen but I still took my hat off thinking that was the appropriate thing to do. I was surprised that most people did not, and all continued going in and out the porta-potties. I guess I am being a bit over-sensitive in the whole "respecting other cultures thing" but I was glad that the anthem was over before it was my turn.... That was also my first time using a race porta-potty and I am glad to report no disasters. I was expecting the worse, but there was paper, hand-sanitizer and a flush...

At 7.25 Dan and I made it to corral D. That was the corral that included the 2:00 half-marathon pacer. It was pretty packed but I was completely relaxed. I think I was as prepared as I could be, I had a goal, and I was willing to let go of that goal depending on how things went. Finally the countdown to the start finished and we were off!!! It was amazing! There was such a joyful spirit, people were happy and excited. Here is a youtube video of the start... I started my Garmin but it was autopaused for a while. I think it took me about 2 or 3 minutes to get moving and another 1 or 2 to cross the start. I lapped the Garmin at the start line so I would have a better idea of how long I still had to go.

My first two miles I really took it easy. I focused on keeping my pace, passing people that were much slower than me and not tripping. I did the first lap in 9:30 and the second in 9:21. My awesome hubby was waiting for me around mile 2 or 3. We had agreed on a very specific spot for him to say hi and to take a picture. I saw him first and gesticulated like crazy. He was so worried about spotting me and got so distracted by my antics that he forgot to take the picture. Very funny! I ran up to him and gave him the pre-race Luna bar that I did not eat and the pack of tissues I did not need for my visit to the porta-potty. Then I resumed running, stopped, and went back to give him a much appreciated kiss. I figured if I missed my sub-2 hour goal by 30 seconds because I went back to kiss him that would be time well spent...

Laps 3 to 5 I picked up the pace a bit. Two minutes after seeing Ondrej, it started raining, really really really hard. That was actually rather nice since it was pretty warm and very humid. At that stage I had already decided to run conservatively the first six miles and pick up the pace the second six miles (I tricked myself into thinking the 1/2 marathon consisted of two times 6 miles... ). I did miles 3,4 and 5 in 9:00, 9:05 and 9:01 respectively. I saw Dan around that time. He had started faster than me and I had quickly lost him. Around mile 5, I suddenly heard "Hey" and there he was, running right next to me. I was still feeling really good, so I decided to pick up the pace a bit earlier than planned.

Mile 5...
Miles 6,7 and 8 I did in 08:44, 08:44, and 08:40. I was really enjoying the course, despite the rain. The spectators were very enthusiastic, the bands were awesome, the bridges were impressive and the people running around me were very inspiring. I was consistently passing people, one of the benefits of starting so far back. The course was very flat, the only uphills being the bridges. I tried to keep a good pace going up and accelerate going down. I also started trying to find the 2:00 pacer. I had lost sight of him around mile 2 and was hoping to see him again before the end.

Mile 9 included a steeper hill which by all standards was peanuts (65 feet according to Garmin) but I pushed it a bit too much I think because my thighs completely jammed up. I still managed a decent 08:57. I knew I was close to the 2 hour mark, so I did not want to slow down.

During miles 10 and 11, I kept on worrying about missing the turn for the 1/2 marathon (and being stuck doing the full one...). Fortunately that did not happen but I was suffering. My legs were really tight, probably a side effect of being wet for two hours but I really wanted that sub 2:00 hours. I was about to slow down when I saw the 2:00 pacer ahead. I did miles 10 and 11 in 08:51 and 09:01. I briefly stopped to re-attach the time/rfid tag on my foot. The rain had messed with the glue so it had come undone.

Mile 12 really hurt. It was endless! I kept inching closer to the 2:00 pacer but could not pass him. I kept remembering that he had started ahead of me, forgetting and trying to catch up, and then remembering. My legs were toast by then, but I still was hoping for the sub 2 hours. I managed a decent 08:58 pace for that one. The last little bit hurt. I was getting passed but I did not really care, as long as Mr. 2 hours stayed close. I have zero memories of crossing the finish line. I only remember getting food, water, gatorade, my medal and my picture taken.

Not once during the race did I think "why I am doing this?". It was more like "when can I do it again" and "when can I do a full marathon?". Fortunately I am already signed up for the Amsterdam marathon on October 17th. Sadly, on the way back the bus still was not running, so we had to walk the same 3 miles back, and this time uphill...

I think I got very lucky with the pre-race logistics. Bathroom issues were taken care off, I hydrated well, I ate even better... I might not get as lucky next time.
I paced myself well. I got lucky with my goal, especially since I think I was a bit under trained running wise.
I had a great time!!! Thank you Ondrej and thank you Dan!


  1. Congrats! You won the giveaway over at my blog! Send me your info at runmommatwitchrun (at) gmail (dot) com and we'll get your Walkman out to ya.

    Great job on your sub 2 hour half marathon!! :)

  2. Nice job running, Alinda, and great pictures. It was a very lovely trip.

  3. Congratulations on a great race, awesome report.