Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend!
Hopping onto the light rail on Thursday April 30th, I was thinking about what I would be experiencing on my ride back home Sunday night returning from the airport. Was I going to be happy, upset, mad, disappointed? Was it going to be because I ran the A-standard for the Olympic Trials, a PR, a solid race, or a terribly embarrassing time? Then, I made myself stop. My emotional state following this race should not be decided by how my 26.2 mile race goes. I am in control of how I respond, meaning I can walk away from this athletic feat happy no matter what. I will put all of my cards on the table, give it my heart and my best effort, and then see what happens... THEN I will choose to find the positive parts of the race, find what needs to be worked on, realize I am still a massive rookie in this profession, and be HAPPY. Plus, I was going to get to spend the weekend with some incredible athletes, awesome event staff, and some teammates, too. I was ready to make the most of it.
I arrived in Pittsburgh at 1PM to light rain but warm temperatures. The forecast was looking up for the weekend and the rain was refreshing for a quick 7x200m pickup workout by the river with Ben and Heather Kampf. It was good to get my legs moving off the plane and they felt really fresh, surprisingly. Ever since my last workout the week before, I had been feeling very sick through out the day. Eating usually helped, but I spent a lot of the day feeling ill, like I was coming down with a bug. On the plane I was feeling really bad, so I was thankful to be off the plane and actually feeling healthy. For the next two days (Friday and Saturday) I would just run easy, finishing each with some strides to keep my legs springy in preparation for the race on Sunday.
David Monico and I at the Blogger Event
14 year old Emily at the Santa Barbara Track Camp in 2007
The Blogger event at Wigly, a whiskey distilleryOn Thursday evening, the P3R team had a blogger event to welcome all of the marathon's official bloggers to the weekend. We went to Wigly, a whiskey distillery in town, which was also caters with some tasty burritos. Many of the bloggers were there, as well as the media team from Bring Back the Mile, all of the P3R team, and the headlining elite athletes. I enjoyed hanging out with Clara Santucci, the returning women's champion, Tyler McCandless, the top seeded american male, previous winner and event record holder Jeffery Eggleston, Ben, Heather, and David Monico. Funny story actually, David Monico of Bring Back the Mile was the Santa Barbara Track Camp Director when I was a wee little hurdler in high school. I came to the camp after my Freshman year of high school and loved the school and the camp so much that I came back two more times. I clearly made an impression on David, because he remembered me as the girl who broke the hurdle at camp (during 100m hurdle drills) and was able to pull this picture up on his phone relatively quickly. It is so cool to be able to check in with him 8 years later and see how much has changed for both of us. The event was great, and we finished off the evening with a trip to Whole Foods for some breakfast food before calling it an early night.
The morning started with an easy run with Ben and Heather over the river by Heinz stadium (Heinz ketchup is from there!) and around some beautiful tree covered paths. Then I had some breakfast and got ready to head to the Pittsburgh NPR news station in Central Pittsburgh. Nikki, a really friendly and helpful member of the PR and Media staff at P3R picked me up and we navigated the congested city that was already beginning road closures and preparations for the race weekend, and finally made it to Carson Street (known for its 100+ bars and as the "flattest mile" in the marathon, mile 9). I was lucky enough to be interviewed on an Essential Pittsburgh segment about the marathon weekend. There I got to chat about my story of becoming a marathoner and other fun facts about my life and goals in and out of my running shoes. I was so thankful for the opportunity, it was a blast. If you want to have a listen, check out this link: http://wesa.fm/post/essential-pittsburgh-kids-steel-makes-race-day-2015-accessible-all-ages
I grabbed some lunch with Josh Dedering, who had just landed in the city, in Market Square really close to the hotel. It was a bustling center filled with restaurants that gets very busy during the work week. Then, the finally completed cast of Team USA Minnesota with Jeffery, Tyler, and Clara too, got to attend the VIP cocktail event at the Westin Hotel across from the convention center that was holding the expo. It was a beautiful event and we all got to dress up really nicely and enjoy all of the contributors and people associated with putting on the weekend's festivities.
Josh and I got our shakeout in around 830am, 4 miles and strides for me. The park across the street from the hotel was bustling early on with the proud finishers of the 5k race and soon after with the kids from the kids marathon, too! It was a beautiful, sunny morning for everyone and just perfect for some time outside.
I spend it inside though, avoiding too much sunlight which can sap away my energy. I instead watched TV in my hotel room and rolled out my hips and IT bands as maintenance for the race to come. Because the elite dinner later in the evening was planned for 5 pm, Josh and I walked into Market Square again at around 12 pm to find something to eat for lunch. We made sure to get enough carbs while also staying with safe foods. 24 hours out is NOT the time to be exploring new food groups or meal items. I grabbed a Subway sandwich and we ate outside surrounded by little running kids everywhere!
At 4pm we had a technical meeting for the race. This is something that is held at every road race, put on by the race director and other race staff. It covered what the start line and finish line will be like, the general time schedule of where we have to be when, and covers any other rules or regulations that will be enforced on race day. We also got a briefing on the USADA drug testing protocol, which is also a very common thing at events. It was at this meeting at I dropped off my elite fluid station bottles. I had 7 total, some with just water and UCAN Hydrate electrolytes and some with lemonade UCAN SuperStarch for fuel. I taped 4 gels to the bottles for quick energy on the course, too. Jillian and Ryan (friends from home in some of my previous posts) helped me decorate my bottles (so that they would stand out to me on the tables during the race) before I left Minneapolis. They had plenty of Saucony, Bonk Breaker, and Over The Hedge swag. There was even a perfectly drawn Minnesota state to help me power through the race.
We had a large and delicious elite dinner afterwards that was catered by the hotel and then I spend the evening chatting with my really nice roommate (from the Bay!) Devon Yanko and reading my book before we went to bed around 920pm. I had my bib on my jersey and had everything laid out and ready to rock for a 4am wake up alarm. It was almost game time!
Sunday (RACE DAY!!) :
My alarm went off and I was up to have some food. 2.5 to 3 hours out from a race is the closest I like eat before the start. I had a GENUCAN Snack bar and some coffee followed by a Bonk Breaker energy bar before 430am. Around 515am I had a packet of Chocolate GENUCAN Recovery Superstarch, too. I usually fuel with just a scoop from the tub (~2/3 of a packed), but because I was 2 hours out from that race I figured I needed more to last me thought the first portion of the race. Then it was uniform on, bags packed with post race essentials, and a quick walk over the the elite athlete staging area in the Weston Hotel. At 625am we had to give our bags to the volunteers with everything that wasn't essential for the start line (for me, I put on my racing flats and kept on my warm up 1/2 zip and sweat pants) and Ben Kampf and I both headed out on a 2 mile warm up. It was in the mid 50s and really warm, so the goal of the warm up run is just to get the legs moving. We kept the pace light in order to not expend more energy than necessary to prep our bodies for the road ahead.
I was nervous and unable to use the bathroom at this point. Most runners will tell you that the morning bathroom session before a race can be a crucial factor in how a race unfolds. Usually coffee and some liquids get things moving, but not today. But, I have had plenty of races and workouts where that wasn't an issue, so I put it out of my mind. I did a systems check: body wasn't hurting anywhere, legs felt poppy, not tired, energy level was good. I headed to the start line to watch the hand cycles head off and hopped in for some last minute strides before they herded us all behind the starting mats. at 7:00am, the gun went off and the races began.
We started with the 1/2 marathon runners too, the course splitting off just after mile ~10.5. It was important at this point to go out EASY. It's easy to get carried away and take off with the speed of the half marathon racers, but with 26 (hilly) miles ahead, we needed to save our energy. Dennis and I had discussed going out conservatively so that I wouldn't crash and burn in the second half (the hillier) part of the race. There was a pacer designated for a 2:43 race time, so Ben and I decided to stick with him for the first 5 or so miles and then to re-evaluate how we were feeling. The pacer's watch didn't load at the start line (surrounded by 40,000 other gps watches looking for signal) so he took it out quite a bit faster than many of the girls had expected he would. Miles 1 and two were almost completely flat and between the start and the 11th mile marks, we crossed 5 bridges, most of which had a bit of a hill to them. I was feeling strong and like I was cruising through 8 miles. The signs were funny and the water stations and cheering sections were bursting with energy. I was taking fluids from my elite bottles because I was already feeling thirsty. I drank more than I had in training, which I think was the start to the issues I faced later on the race.
Ben and I had put a lead on the 2:43 pace group, but around 9 miles in we all regrouped and worked together. It was myself and another elite female named Emily, which made for double the cheering. People really get excited when they can cheer for us by name, and with two Emilys in close proximity, they just didn't know what to do with themselves. We caught up with another female marathoner just off Carson St near mile 9. as we approached the third water station in mile 10, someone managed to bump my bottle off the end of the table. I started to panic and hand about two seconds worth of "I'm going to cry" fear. This bottle had my first gel on it, which I desperately needed before the big, treacherous hill just over the other side of the bridge. I couldn't stop to get it and even with the efforts of the volunteer to grab it and try and catch up, I knew it wasn't going to happen. So this is what racing is like, there are always curve balls and the experience I'm looking for in races is how to deal with it all. Luckily I had Ben there, quickly asking what kind of gel I had on my bottle and handing me one he was carrying with him. I am so lucky to have such an selfless training partner who will not only run with me for the whole marathon, cheer me through the race, but also give up his fuel for me. I owe him one. I took half his gel and put my head down to get over the bridge.
We then split from the half marathon and took a sharp right up THE HILL. It was a mile long stretch climb, totaling about 300 feet of climbing at once. I had already taken water and three fluid stations, one containing GENUCAN, and 1/2 of a gel and my stomach was not very happy. I kept my cadence up on the hill, but my lower intestines started to signal to me (to put it politely) right around the top of the hill that it was time to find a restroom. Here came another wrench in my race causing me to make another decision I had never been face with before: Do I stop to relieve myself or do it just do my best to hold it in and ignore it until the finish. With more than half the race to go, I think I may have chosen incorrectly. I stuck with it, thinking "It's not toooooo bad." When that hill was over, I imagined everyone's description of rolling meant little hills that were easy to recover.. not exactly. The next 10 miles were up and down grades of varying length. Some up for over a mile, and some switching between up and down, but I guarantee the amount of totally flat was slim to none. Again, this was a race filled with its own unique challenges. I knew being in my head about how tough the uphills were would not in any way benefit me for the race to come. I went through the half marathon at 1:21 exactly, on target for a 2:42. I didn't let this bother me, because I knew that with the course I had already seen, that it wasn't going to be a PR kind of day. I just wanted to race for place now, and teach myself step by step that my mental attitude can be trained to be what gets be through the race.
I felt mentally focused and strong through 16 miles and then really focused on staying there through 20. at 21 Ben was telling me how strong my down hills were and that I just had to hang tough through 23, the last 1 mile climb before the big down hill into downtown. My hips were aching, from the climbing mostly, and at this point I knew something was going on in my shorts that was not pretty. The crowds through Homewood and Friendship were so great. I was told that these neighborhoods have been rough in the past, but you wouldn't know it if you were running through there with me. Everyone was working together to make great cheering sections and water stations. You could really feel the heart that these Pittsburgh residents had. I used this to get me through to slowing, tough parts and to keep me positive about what was lying ahead. In the end, my Garmin data says I climbed 1549 feet in 26.6 miles, more than some of my 26.6 mile bike rides I completed in Los Angeles!
At 23 the downhill came and I started to really feel awesome. I took my last gel at 23.2 (HUMA gels rock, I have forever been converted). I was gaining on the other Emily when the hill began to flatten out and it was around 24 that Ben and I both thought I could do it. Then, back to my lower intestinal problems. Things started to get reallllllly bad. Like, uncontrollable. If I picked up my pace, I was afraid for my integrity, and if I kept my pace the same, I was afraid to be running to the finish at my newly slowed pace. My hips were aching and my calves were screaming but I did the best I could to try and catch her. Unfortunately, she got her last wind, too. I had to finish with the strength and control that I had remaining. We can back in on Liberty and slowly the streets became more and more filled with smiling, cheering faces. I knew mine was not as happy as theirs, but I knew that this race had been what I was working for for the past 6 weeks and the Pittsburgh fans were here to help me through it. I hit 26 miles and took my sharp turn to see the finish line on Avenue of the Allies. I finished, just how I had started, with Ben by my side and a smile on my face, to a 2:47.29.
1. I felt strong before the hills and I stayed positive and focused through most of it. With only 13 marathon specific workouts (including easy long runs), 11 of which I actually completed, and questionable health at the beginning of the cycle, I was happy I could come away with a 2:47. Like I mentioned before, too, this was my first long stint of training injury free and consistency is really important in any distance training cycle, especially a marathon one.
2. I also just joined Team USA Minnesota and started under Dennis Barker's training. My last training cycle for a marathon was as a triathlete, maxing at 58 miles per week, running no faster than marathon pace for most workouts and spending lots of time on my bike. This method of training is so new to me and so many teammates and people alike have been telling me that it will take time to adjust. Moving to Minneapolis is the best thing I've done yet for my training, because having my coach with my at my workouts as really gotten me into the right training zones to get into shape and to get faster.
3. The course was tough, everyone will tell you that, even my badass roommate who does trail ultras. The day was not a PR day for anyone, meaning everyone ran more slowly.
4. The weather was beautiful, but PR weather is cooler. Without any wind to keep us cool, many people were much warmer than they would ideally be, and
5. Having relieved myself in my shorts (unknowing just how much I had) at mile 12 and not being able to run faster at the finish was a huge factor in my time begin slower than I had hoped. I was told by many that it was a right of passage into the road running world. I'm in the poop club now, guys. It could be due to taking in too many liquids in the first part of the race or from fueling with GENUCAN during the race (which I had not practiced all that much). I also mentioned feeling under the weather for over a week on and off, which could have played into the unfortunately crappy (haha) situation, too.
So, hey, no race will ever go as planned or expected. I was able to walk away with 8th overall and 5th American in a field including some incredible athletes. I got to enjoy the hard work that the P3R organization put in and I got to explore the streets of beautiful Pittsburgh. And at 22 years old, I know that this is not a sign of slowing down, more of a sign that my fiery passion to be the best I can be is only growing bigger. With 3 or 4 more weeks of training and some different fueling practices, maybe I would have run differently. But, can't take it back now and instead I must use this learning experience to springboard me into my next series of races in preparation for the 2016 Olympic trials marathon. This is only the beginning.
I wanted to give a huge thank you to:
--> Ben Kampf for running the entire race with me. It was nice to have Ben at my side for the race because he helped me focus. Thanks for being the great training partner that you are, especially on those long, tough hauls. I need your positive attitude and great conversation to get me through the tough times
--> Ryan Hogan the elite athlete coordinator for being such a cool guy while also being the most thoughtful, organized, and hilarious coordinator I've worked with.
--> Patrice Matamoros, the CEO of P3R and amazingly positive and sparking event organizer that she is. Thank you Patrice for all of your belief in the American Development Program, Team USA Minnesota, and in me. Thank you P3R and all of the volunteers for this incredible race weekend.
--> Dennis and Pat for believing in me and coaching me. Team USA Minnesota has quickly become my family and I know I can thrive with a bit more patience and many more successful workouts.
--> My parents, Heather, Jillian, Josh, Ryan, and all of my friends for being my therapist and helping me through the mental road blocks I experienced in this cycle and through race weekend.
--> All of my sponsors! Without them I wouldn't be able to train the way I do. Saucony gives me the best shoes and gear I could ever ask for, Bonk Breaker with the delicious bars to fuel my training and life, GENUCAN for the amazing Superstarch products and UCAN hydrate. the RRCA for supporting me through the Road Scholars Grant. And Team USA Minnesota for the training team, coaching, and services to maximize my training and performance. Shout out to Sam Lezon, master chiropractor and physical therapist who, hands down, is the reason I was able to stay healthy and running strong injury-free the past two months.
I was surrounded by so much love this past weekend, in Pittsburgh by the incredible 40,000 racers and the fans and from Minneapolis and California by all of the people close to my heart. You all are the reason I was smiling during the race.
And thank you so much, RUNNERS OF STEEL, for following my blog through the Pittsburgh Marathon build up. I hope you all ran with your hearts and enjoyed every second of this amazing, life-changing weekend.
A board at the marathon expo where runners write their reasons they were racing