This past weekend I was lucky enough to journey over to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to compete in the EQT Pittsburgh 10 Miler! For me, race prep began the weekend before when I started to transition myself from PST to EST. That meant moving all of my meals up 20-30 minutes each day and waking up earlier and earlier, too. By Friday it was up at 4:45am after going to bed at 8:45pm the night before. Although slightly frustrating to my roommate (sorry, Jacquelyn), I did notice that it was easier to wake up on Saturday and Sunday mornings while I was on in Pittsburgh. Transitioning my meal times also helped tremendously too, no more digestive issues! So that was worth celebrating.
Three weeks before this race I had had two killer weeks of training. I felt great, I was training great, and it was all coming together. I bet you know what’s coming next in this story. Two miles into my 19 miler I felt a pull in my medial tendon behind my knee. It stuck around for the rest of the run, finally loosening up when I started my paced miles. But after the cool down, walking was hard. Two days off, and some swimming got me slowly back on grass but by that time my body was screaming at me, tightening up everywhere. My glutes and hips would not open up and by the next weekend I still had no relief. The pain was gone in my knee area but my nagging hamstring, hip, pelvis area was still not having it. I went to a chiropractor hoping for some help and he diagnosed me with Lower Cross Syndrome. The short version of this syndrome is that after my stress fracture, by glutes stopped firing correctly and my quads, hamstrings, and lower back were compensating the load. With that comes disaster. My hips are both shifted to the right and tipped forward so much that my hamstrings are constantly pulled to their maximum. So any time I stretch them (static, dynamic, or even during faster running workouts), I pull them more. This was great to find out, and I got a bit of instant relief but it’s more or less a strengthening and stretching process that is going to just take time. I was back moving fast last week and did 2x2 miles on the grass averaging 5:25 per mile for the first one and 5:28 for the second one. Thursday was a quick 200m speed tune up and on Friday the adventure began! I was hoping the week off wouldn’t affect my race too much but at that point I was just happy to be pain-free (ish) and heading to this awesome racing experience. The elite recruiter, Ryan Hogan, did a phenomenal job bringing in a competitive international field of athletes. I was going to toe the line with Sara Hall (that’s the only time I was anywhere near her, haha) and a number of other talented runners.
Friday I flew to Denver and then to Pittsburgh, arriving at 10:30pm EST. Some really helpful people from the Steel City Road Runners club picked two HTC Elite runners and me up and shuttled us to the host hotel. Saturday morning I got to do a quick 6 mile jaunt with Jon, Jon, and Gina and then joined Dennis for breakfast at the hotel. At packet pickup, I got to meet the announcer Tim Bomba, who turned out to be a Culver City resident (just south of UCLA) and an avid triathlete and ocean swimmer. We had many acquaintances in common and had loads to talk about. We got to grab lunch with Patrice and Dee, two directors of the race and two wonderful women excited about making runners and road racers into celebrities just like Lebron James. It was so exciting to meet them and discuss what we think it would take to make running a fan friendly sport! We finished off the night with a technical meeting about the course and then to a VIP dinner and Buca di Beppo with all of the athletes, coaches, and race officials. Before bed I got to take the Duquesne Incline up to the top of a hill overlooking the Pittsburgh downtown with one of the athletes I met at dinner, Sam Mueller. It was a spectacular view and the best way to end the day before the big race on Sunday morning.
At 5am Gina and I woke up and shuffled down to the Elite Athletes Hospitality Suite to grab coffee. We stretched, ate, and watched the Pittsburgh News until 6:40am (turns out there was a shooting and bridge closure on one of the bridges we were planning to race on, but everything was cleared before 5:30am). We did 3 miles warming up and back to the hotel for racing clothes and drills. The starting line was only 400m from the front door of the hotel, so we jogged over around 7:40 in time to get some strides in and hear the national anthem. It was about 38 degrees and calm at the start, which ended up feeling great. At 8am the gun went up and we were off.
The field was loaded, and I was not surprised to see the lead pack of girls surge up with first incline leaving me behind. By the first mile (my split was 5:36) many of the first 6 or 7 women were out of sight around the many turns this course had. Miles 1 through 4 were basically all uphill and felt like much more of a challenge than I had expected. I was side by side with Gina through mile 4 and then as the hills continued I started to feel the stretching in my hamstrings transition from discomfort to pain. I eased back a bit. I was feeling tired and pained, but still tried to push across the two bridges around the fifth mile. The course then flattened out and was a straight shot from mile 8 to mile ten into the downtown area. Around mile 7 my pain was increasing and my mental strength was plummeting. I was now moving 6:15 pace which was extremely frustrating because I just know I have the ability to move that pace in tempo runs for 12+ miles. I just tried to maintain as I entered downtown and crossed the line at 61:32.
So my thoughts on my race and my time? I’m not happy, really. I know I need to stop trying to push through this pain and really get myself back to 100 percent. The racecourse was beautiful and so well put together; I just wish I could have performed better. I am also frustrated that my first mile felt more tiring than I had expected and that I felt like I couldn’t maintain a pace that I am able to do mile repeats at. Why can I do 8 x mile repeats around 5:35/mile average but can’t maintain a sub-6 mile pace for more than five? I know that there is something I am either doing wrong in terms of race strategy or I’m not giving my body enough credit. I have had a couple of drastic changes to my life style, training, and diet that my body is coping with. I know it will take time for me to be able to put all of this work into motion, so I have to keep reminding myself to be patient. The big goal right now is my next big marathon and then the Olympic trials marathon. That’s where 100% health is going to be most critical.
Another big realization I had this past week was during my viewing of the NYC Marathon. I gawked at the talented front pack day dreaming of being a part of that someday, when it hit me: those amazing women are mostly in their 30’s. I am 21 with a year of distance running under my belt. I need to look at the big picture and know I need to take steps to get to that level, and that it’s not going to happen overnight. And so in terms of this past weekend’s race, everyone had sub-optimal races. And generally everyone is able to have come back races. I have had a sub-optimal race but I know that this isn’t the end, it literally is only the beginning.
Thank you so much to Team USA Minnesota, RRCA, Saucony, and of course the Pittsburgh 10 Miler for helping me get to and through this race. I hope to be back soon and racing even faster!