I woke up Tuesday before the marathon. My ankles were not in good shape. There was a sharp pain in the joint at the front of my ankle. There was also a slight tenderness in both of my Achilles. After running some short miles on Tuesday and Wednesday the pain was not subsiding. I was not sure why. It could be from residual pain from Hyner since the pain was near where a tweaked my ankles during the race. Or it could be the lower drop on my new road shoes. Second guessing myself, my tweaked ankle did feel better a couple days after Hyner and I already had over a hundred miles on my new shoes with any no ill effects so I am not sure why I body was bent out of shape.
A couple of months ago when I was putting together my spring training program I already planned to take things easy. I wanted to do this marathon as a training run for “The Big Race” – the Laurel Highlands Ultra in June. My ankle pain was my primary concern since I was worried I was going to injure myself more by running in the marathon and I may not heal in time for the ultra. I read that the biggest thing about running ultra-marathon is not getting hurt during training. I was worried that this was going to happen to me.

I took a half a day on Friday and was headed west to Pittsburgh by 1pm. A year ago I took the entire Friday off and it allowed me plenty of time to get my packet and bib at the expo without fighting the crowds on Saturday. This year I just skimmed the booths and did a little bit of shopping but primary I wanted to get my packet and go. While walking to and in the expo – though my ankles felt a little better – there was no way they would completely heal by Sunday. That evening I had a great dinner at my friend’s house, Steve and Jeria McKnight, whom I would be staying with the entire weekend. As we sat down for dinner of burgers and beers, I thought over my plan.

Fellow "Run for Autism" runners at Pittsburgh's Point State Park.

Fellow “Run for Autism” runners at Pittsburgh’s Point State Park.

The plan was for me to run with my friends Brian and Mary Beiler who were running for the Organization for Autism research’s Run for Autism. They have two sons with autism. It was Mary’s third half-marathon and Brian’s first. I decided I would run with them until the split at around mile 11 in the Southside neighborhood. After that I would keep close tabs on how I was feeling and adjust accordingly. If worse comes to worse and my ankles would completely fail on me, I would “bail out” by doing the half-marathon course or at Point Breeze near where the course runs past the McKnight home at around mile 16.
On Friday night/Saturday morning, in the middle of the night, I got leg cramps. I haven’t had a charlie horse in the middle night since I started running. My leg continued to be tight all day on Saturday which just compounded on top of my ankle pain. Saturday morning I took a short walk from the McKnight’s to the heart of Squirrel Hill and treated myself to a real cup of coffee at Commonplace Coffee House, then had an awesome bacon and egg hamburger at Silky’s Pub on Murray Street and an authentic Belgium waffle at Wafflelonia. Later the McKnight’s and I checked out the new location of East End Brewery. For dinner, fellow Hollidaysburgers Ethan, Nikki and their son Atticus Imhoff arrived along with Jeria’s running mate, Mary Beth, for dinner. The Imhoff’s would also spend the night at the McKnight’s. Jeria was running in her first half-marathon while it was the second half-marathon for Mary Beth. I was really excited that I had so many friends like Jeria and Brian Beiler and other running friends from Altoona that were able to experience their first half or full marathons.

I woke up about 10 minutes before 5 AM. The first surprise I had was that I had a good night’s sleep. After getting my senses together, I realized that after five days of constant ankle pain, when I woke up the pain was completely gone! I could barely believe my good fortune! By 5:30 AM I was out the door and I was headed to the Parkway to the North Shore. My destination was the Gold Lot across the river between the ball park and the stadium. I made the commute and parked with little problem. I walked to the pedestrian walkway across the river and I noted that even though my ankles were fine, my calves and quad muscles continued to be tight even more than 24 hours after my night cramps Saturday morning. However with my ankles much improved, it raised my hopes that this may turn out to be a good day after all.
The end of the pedestrian bridge deposited me right at The Point and behind the charity village. At the OAR tent, I waited for Brian and Mary to show. After 1o minutes, they arrived and we caught up and I told them about my plan to stick with them until the split. Brian’s said he was capable of doing  a 2-hour half-marathon but Mary was probably going to be slower so Brian and I decided to push her to maintain a 9 minute 10 second mile as long as she felt up to it. After the split I would gauge how I felt and then continue on. The major part of my plan was to have fun.
After OAR took our pictures, we walked over to Corral D. I was supposed to be in Corral C but since I was running with Mary and Brian, I stuck with them. There was so many runners there, we could not all fit into the corral area and Brian, Mary and I were stuck in the overflow crowd during the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silence for Boston and then the countdown of the official clock. “Three-two-one” and then nothing. It was about five minutes or more after the gun start before our corral, in a huge mass, was permitted to walk around the corner to Liberty Street. The raising sun was now in my face. The officials halted the corral at the start until the back end was filled before letting us go. It was a good call since it prevented some of the starts and stops I experienced in the past.

The first mile was brisk. Very brisk. We were running way too fast. At mile 1 we were doing a pace of 7:15 and I told Mary and Brian that this pace was unsustainable for them and we notched it back to more manageable pace in the low nine-minute miles. We ran up Liberty Avenue to the turnaround at 29th Street and then back toward the downtown on Penn. It was too crowded for Mary, Brian, and I to run three abreast and we continually had to weave all over the course but we were always within 20 feet from each other. Mary was setting the pace. My ankles were fine like nothing had ever happened to them but my legs were still stiff and tight. I am a “cold runner” and it takes awhile for them to warm up, but with the weird cramp I had the day before, my legs still felt like the cramp never loosened itself up and was still tight and sore. I should have had a short run the day before the race or maybe a leg message but that was all hindsight. As we went through the Strip, it seemed almost deserted except for the food and flower vendors getting ready for business. Luckily, except for the Strip (and Oakland), the crowds would be out in mass throughout the course. One of my goals was to have fun and I would do that as much as possible. I really soaked in the sights, looked at the buildings, thanking the volunteers when I can, telling any National Guardsmen and police officers that I saw that I appreciated them being there. I must have slapped a hundred hands, mostly kids, as I ran along the edge near the crowds. I was having a blast! We crossed the river on the 16th Street Bridge for a short jaunt in the Northside.
Last year, I was really anal with my hydration and nutrition plan. It was almost to the point where I was calculating expelled calories and measuring gels and phrases of the moon and the affect of gravity and resistance different types of tarmac. I even had a cheat-sheet that I studied prior to the race. If I had access to a NSA supercomputer I would have rented out time to crunch out my plan. This year was different. 1) I wasn’t going to go out hard and try for a personal record; 2) it wasn’t going to be a hot day; and 3) I discovered that gels does a number (number 2 to be exact) with my GI tract. I was going to do things a bit more relaxed on this marathon and run by feel. Last year I relied on just the aid stations for Gatorade and water. This year I wore a belt with Perpetuem and relied less on Gatorade. I have been very happy with Perpetuem and felt that having too much Gatorade in my system wasn’t a good thing for my insides. I have been running enough that I usually take a drink every 10 minutes or so by habit. Due to the GI issues, I would limit myself just three GU’s for the entire run. I also had one Cliff mini-bar and had less of a half of a pack of Cliff Blox. I also took some electrolyte tablets throughout the race to compensate for the Gatorade that I wasn’t drinking. So I don’t leave you hanging until the end of this blog post, I felt fine nutritionally and I was well hydrated with no GI problems during or post-race. Success Baby!
marathonbabyWe maintained a good pace (9:15 for six miles) back into the downtown over the Rachel Carson Bridge then down one block back over to the Northside on the Andy Warhol Bridge. It was very crowded on the sidelines. I chose to run along the inside of the U-turn in the hope that a running friend who was not running that day would be positioned on the inside of the turn. Next time I need to run on the outside of the turn since I missed my photo opportunity by Hodrick Photography who took a nice picture of me last year on the same corner on the 10th Street Bypass.
Back over on the Northside, we continued at a 9:15 pace around Allegheny Square and on Western Avenue. At mile 7 we crossed over the West End Bridge and then into one of my favorite neighborhoods – the West End. The streets were packed. There was plenty of entertainment and cheering and a few more amusing signs this year than last.
After the West End, we ran on West Carson Street toward Station Square. The first uphill here was starting to wear on Mary and we slowed to a high 9 minute per mile pace. “I absolve you of your duties! Go ahead!” said Brian encouraging me to leave them behind but I insisted to stick with them. I was fine and delighted to be running with them. The three of us were running for the same charity and I pledged to stay at their side. Also it would have been bad karma if I bolted. At various times on Carson Street, I would see a river of people ahead of me while to my left was the Monongahela and the distinctive skyline of Downtown Pittsburgh. Immediately I thought of Jeria who was running in her first marathon and wondered how could anyone not love this city even more after running the marathon. Near Station Square, the crowds massed again. On my left a couple with a hand-painted Japanese flag was quietly looking on. I yelled “Ohayoo gozaimasu” or “good morning” in Japanese. The couple went wild with frantic waving and I probably made their day. After Station Square and a slight rise, the Southside opened up in front of me with Carson Street awash in a sea of runners. It was a breathtaking sight. Halfway through the Southside, the half and marathon split came and I parted ways with Mary and Brian.

Mary and Brian Beiler crossing the Birmingham Bridge after I left.

Mary and Brian Beiler crossing the Birmingham Bridge after I left.

After the split I picked up the pace slightly. My legs were still tight even after nine miles so I knew legs didn’t have enough in them to race against the clock and gain enough time to do a four hour marathon. I increased my pace only only slightly to where I thought I could sustain for another 16 miles on sore legs. Prior to the split I was doing a 10:10 a minute mile up Carson Street with the Beilers and I increased my pace to a 9:16. After crossing the Birmingham Bridge, I slowed a little (9:48) on the steady climb up the hill on Forbes Street to Oakland before increasing my pace once again. (9:05-9:08). (From the Birmingham Bridge, through Oakland and up Fifth Ave., I was about 30 seconds slower per mile than last year.) Even though the spectators were more than last year, there wasn’t as much people in Oakland as you would think. Perhaps all the Pitt and Carnegie Mellon Students were asleep? At the halfway mark I saw the digital clock: 2 hours 25 minutes. But knowing that it was the gun time, I estimated I was actually somewhere around at 2 hours and 10 minutes. I was pretty happy about that since a 4:15 marathon that was achievable. I tried to relax as much as possible as I made the slow climb up Fifth Avenue toward Shandyside. When I crossed the photographers between Morewood and Wilkins Aveunes I raised my arms out in front of me like a zombie. Grrrr….



We took a detour into the heart of Shadyside on South Aiken and then onto Walnut. The crowds were 5 deep. The enthusiasm was excellent and I thank anyone who looked at me or yelled by name (my name was on my bid). My pace would slightly quicken as I drew from their energy and encouragement.
I then made the final climb to the corner of Brentwood and Fifth Avenue were friends Ethan and Nikki Imhoff, and Steve and Ella would be waiting. A few days before the race, Ethan was considering of having beer stop for some of the Altoona runners. Standing on the curb, I took a can of Dales Pale Ale from Ethan’s hand.
“Don’t drink that!” said Ethan.
“Why not?” I replied and bringing the can closer to my lips.
“Don’t drink that!” Ethan repeated.
“I found that on the sidewalk!”
“Really?!” I realized that the can was a quarter full and felt a bit gritty from dirt. “Why did you give it to me then?” I barked.

“I didn’t! You just took it!” answered Ethan
I gave the beer back to Ethan, somewhat disappointed than he had no beer to give. I stood there chatting with them for a moment about how the race was going and admitted that my quads and calve muscles were tight.
After talking to Ethan, I make a slight right onto Penn Avenue through Point Breeze and then made the hard right on N. Braddock Street toward Homewood. My pace slowed (9:40) on Penn but after making the corner on Braddock, I decided to push myself a little harder. (9:08)

Homewood is always a favorite neighborhood of mine in the marathon. People are cooking out or sitting on there front stoops. There were some whose voices were hoarse from yelling. Unlike a general cheer, they would actually direct their comments toward you. Spectators would say something like “hey you in the white hat” or “Yo, number 1313!” or call you by the name on your bib. They would say something a bit more meaningful like “you are not going to quit, you got this!” or “You woke up this morning and ran a marahton. How awesome is that?”

I am in the background. In the foreground in orange is a relay runner who I think is drying her nails.

I am in the background. In the foreground in orange is a relay runner who I think is drying her nails.

Like the year before Homewood marks a “corner” milestone – at mile 16 it is the farthest point from Downtown. When you make the turn from Braddock and onto Frankstown Avenue, you are finally heading back toward the downtown – back “home”. My legs are not feeling any better but they are not feeling any worse. I decided to keep the status quo and maintain my current pace. Neighborhood after neighborhood — from Homewood, to East Liberty, Highland Park and then onto Bloomfield, my pace continues at around the low to mid-nines. Finally I get to the downhill between Bloomfield and the Strip at mile 23.5. Halfway down the hill on my left was a beer stop. I grabbed a beer, about 6 ounces of what tasted like a lager. I thanked the group manning the stop and continued on only to have another beer stop right in front of Church Brew Works. There I have another 2 ounces of something that tasted like wheat. I continued on the last stretch invigorated from the beer. Back home in the Alleghenies, during our bierlaufs, I noticed an immediate boost of energy and was able to tackle through the long stretch through the Strip District with ease this year. Before the beer stop, I was running the three and a half miles at around 9:25. After the beer, the next 3.6 miles clocked in at around 8:30 per mile average.  Don’t laugh! You can dispute the facts! I picked up the pace as I reached downtown and was finally running at full capacity – ignoring how my legs felt. I was surprised once again the size of the cheering crowds down Smithfield Street then around the corner onto the Blvd. of the Allies to the finish. The energy of the crowd encouraged me to finish surprising strong. I finished at 4 hours and 8 minutes.

The biggest surprise for me was how fast I was able to recover after the race. After a casual walk on Monday, I went on a 4-mile run on Tuesday and a 8-mile run on Wednesday and my legs never felt better!  The cramping and tightness was gone. In fact, they were so loose that by Wednesday and I even wondered if I even ran a marathon all all that weekend! I felt ten times better three days out of the race as compared to how I felt three days before I went in. As for my thoughts on the race, since I went into it as a training run, I am extremely pleased with the day especially since I was able to enjoy the experience from start to finish.