Brace yourselves. It’s going to be a long one…
I did it. After blindly signing up for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in the fall and subsequently running like a crazy person, I actually went through with it. It was truly an amazing experience, and quite possibly the most physically difficult thing I’ve ever put my body through. My mind is still swimming over the enormity of it all. I don’t even know if I can put into words how I feel, but I know that right now, as I sit here with icy hot slathered all over my legs, I feel oddly sad and empty that the whole experience is over. For now.
The day technically began the day before, also known as “drink the most water possible and eat a billion carbs.” I liked this day. We had a small feast that included a monstrous brownie sundae. I ate so much and had not one ounce of guilt – best feeling ever! I had a hard time sleeping that night – too anxious (or too full…). I was so worried I’d forget something or not eat the right thing or have to poop ten times during the race or be so slow that the sweeps wagon would scoop me up.
Regardless, the alarm went off at 4:15 a.m., a truly ungodly hour. I was out the door by 4:30 to meet my carpoolers and running buddies. I had eaten a quick breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and banana, though it didn’t feel right eating that while it was pitch black outside. We got into the city with no issues and were immediately surrounded by marathon ambiance – tons and tons of runners, volunteers, spectators all ready to go, despite the time. We met a lot of really great people in line for the bathrooms and in the corrals – it’s the first time I’ve ever really felt I was a part of a running community. Everyone was crammed (truly, we were being herded), all 30,000 people, ready to begin the insanity together. Everyone, even the experienced runners, looked nervous – checking earbuds, stretching, and looking around for familiar faces (of which, there were many).
We finally got to the starting line 35 minutes after the official start time, which was kind of annoying. But, the start was fabulous. I distinctly remember hearing Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” on my playlist right as I crossed the start – a perfect choice to get me going. I always struggle during the first three miles of any run, but I didn’t struggle yesterday. I was running with a group of teachers from my husband’s school, including my youngest son’s godfather. Being with them, along with the rest of the masses, really passed the time. Along every stretch, there were bands and Pittsburghers cheering us on. There was so much to see – I wasn’t even focused on running at all. We went through some great neighborhoods and BRIDGES! Seriously – running over those bridges was one of the coolest experiences ever. Looking up at the yellow webs of steel while I was running is something I’ll never forget.
Around mile eight, my left knee started to hurt. I told the group to keep going, that I wanted to slow my pace so I could finish in a run. I never felt alone, and it was nice to not feel like I was pulling anyone back. I just did my own thing, drank lots of Gatorade (seriously, if I never have the lemon-lime flavor again, it will be too soon), and pushed as hard as I could to get to mile 11.9, where my in-laws were volunteering at the water station. Knowing they were there helped so much, particularly at mile ten, when I started having stabbing pains that went from the back of my knee all the way up to my back. I was in trouble, but I was determined to be running when I saw them. I kept going over the last bridge and turned onto mile 11, where I was met by one of Pittsburgh’s infamous mile-long hills. Seriously? You had to plan the course with THAT hill at mile 11? Eff you, Pittsburgh.
I will admit that I walked up the hill. Hobbled is more like it. But it was for the best. I got to the crest, started painfully running again, and made it to the last water stop. My mother-in-law was beaming like only a mother can and handed me my last cup of Gatorade. It was just enough to keep me sane for the last stretch, which happened to be all down hill! I swear, running down that hill was amazing. I didn’t jog – I bolted! I could see the finish line in the distance, and I just wanted to get there as quickly as possible.
Little did I realize, it wasn’t quite as close as it seemed. I was just about ready to slow down when I looked on the sidewalk, only to see my son’s godfather running towards me. Good guy that he is, he stopped just before his group would have crossed the finish (a mere three minutes before me!) so I wouldn’t have to finish by myself. Seriously, I tear up just thinking about it. That was just such a great show of friendship and sportsmanship, and I will never, ever forget how relieved I felt to see him. Thanks, man.
So, it was done. I got a sweet medal and turned to see my husband holding up a hot pink sign my mom made with my sons – hot pink to match my obnoxious compression socks. As I got closer to him, I realized that my gay entourage was also there to see me finish. They all fussed over me, and my husband even peeled my socks from my sore feet. That’s love, I tell ya’. Once I stopped running, I realized how sore I was. Then I was freezing. Then I couldn’t stop crying. In fact, I still have moments where I just cry. I cry that it’s over. That I actually did it. That my legs really freaking hurt right now.
It feels like the end of something – all of that training and stress. But I hope that it’s just the beginning. I’m going to take at least a week or two before I run again, but won’t run a long distance like that for quite a while. But I think yesterday’s experience firmly planted the running bug into my body. Now that I know what 13.1 feels like, I can’t help but fantasize about running it again and kicking the hill on mile 11′s ass next time. I’m going to hold onto that feeling, and promptly forget about the murderous thoughts that ran through my mind during miles 8-11.5. That’s how I ended up having two kids, so it’s safe to say I’ll run it again.
Thank you, Pittsburgh Marathon. Thank you.