Our Daily (G)races

Training to be the best wife, mom, runner, and person I can be each and every day....

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Pittsburgh Marathon recap

I have to preface this post by saying that I will talk about the race, but there is so much back history that I have to include as well.  As for the marathon itself, it is my favorite race experience to date.  Read on and I will explain why.

I went to Pittsburgh to run with my blog friend Susan.  I found her blog about three years ago.  If I am being totally honest, I almost did not read it.  The title scared me and I assumed it would be about another perfect mother who was perfect in all her athletic endeavors .  But, I checked it out because her husband was wearing a Penn State shirt in one of the pictures.  I quickly learned that Susan and I had lots in common. Susan was just a normal mom like me striving to better at being a mom and an athlete.  Susan is amazingly brave in her athletic goals and dreams and I thinks she is very inspiring!

So, I read her blog for a while and we got to know each other a little because of comments she or I made.  Then we became friends on Facebook.  Finally, we started texting back and forth on occasion.  I was supposed to go to Pittsburgh to run with her last year, but that did not happen.  I think this year was perfect.  We had longer to get to know each other via social media and I was really excited to run the full instead of the half (last year's plan).

I intended all along to run with her.  I had no desire to go to Pittsburgh and run by myself.  When I told her this, she was so excited.  Susan does not run quite as fast as I do so she was shocked.  Honestly, despite knowing in my heart I wanted to run with her, my brain kept telling me I was nuts.  I was worried about running for close to five hours.  I have never run longer than 4 hours.  I was worried about the hills.  I was worried running for that long would just be beyond painful especially for my hip.  I kept all that to myself for the most part because this race for me was about developing a real friendship and helping Susan achieve a marathon PR.

I  was never nervous to meet Susan or her family.  I really felt like I knew them from having read her blog for so long.  I really believed we would hit it off and the weekend would be wonderful.  To kick off the weekend perfectly, we went to the Penguins-Rangers game on Friday night.  The Pens lost, but we still had a blast.

On Saturday we went to the Expo, hung out with her family, and went to a pre-race carb loading dinner.  It was the perfect relaxing day before a race.

All the runners could write their reason for running on this wall.  Mine is on top and Susan's is on the bottom.


Sunday we got up crazy early so we could make it to our corral with plenty of time to spare.  Well, the traffic was a nightmare so we did not have much time once we were in downtown.  Susan managed to find the perfect parking spot so getting to the corrals was not a big deal.  What was a big deal was the "C" corral being closed just as we were trying to get in it.  That was a bummer because we were 35-37 minutes behind the start gun, but we were in the front row of the "D" corral.  That was an experience neither of us will probably have again!  I felt like that was a good sign to be first!

Charlene, Susan, me, Tracey, and Kristy before heading to our corrals

I was totally excited to run in Pittsburgh.  Yes, I was nervous about the hills, but I like hills.  I loved running over the bridges.  The weather was going to be cool and if the wind stayed away, it would be almost perfect running weather.  We had a plan and all I had to do was encourage Susan all the way to the finish.  I knew that Susan could run faster than a 4:48, but she was nervous about not having enough left to finish.  I totally get that because the last 5K of a marathon feels like a death march in my opinion.  And a 4:48 would be a 10+ minute PR for her.  That is a huge goal...and by the way, Susan...attainable!!!!  I wanted to push Susan if I could, but ultimately this was her race and I really just wanted her to PR. 

Susan runs with her phone so she took lots of pictures. She is really good at running and snapping a photos at the same time.   I don't remember the race mile by mile and my splits are not perfectly accurate so I'm not including them.  I forgot to turn off my "auto pause" and that was bad since I knew there was the possibility of walking.  My time got really off when I stopped to use the restroom.  I realized around mile 7 or 8 that I was drinking too much for the pace I was running.  I sent Susan on her way and caught back up with her. I didn't want her to lose time because I was stupid!

We ran just under 11 min/miles for the first several miles.  Susan and I just chatted about the course, the people around us, and life in general.  The first half of the course was generally flat.  There were some inclines, but not big.  At the half-full split it seemed like Susan was regretting running the full just a little.  The biggest hill with the longest climb was at mile 12.5 and neither of us were excited about it.  I just tried to be as encouraging as possible without being a total pain in her butt.  As soon as we got to the top of that hill we both agreed that it wasn't that bad.  It was really gradual and only steep at the top.  Susan totally kicked butt on that hill.  Our next goal was mile 14 where she would see her family for the first time. 

matching headbands!

The second half of the course was lots of little rolling hills...some bigger than others, but nothing really bad.  I knew she was getting tired and a little discouraged about our splits hanging around low to mid 11's.  Her foot and stomach were also bothering her so I just tried to keep up my mindless chatter about who knows what.  I felt like if Susan was distracted she could just run better.  I would also occasionally pick up the pace a little and only back off if when Susan noticed.  I wanted to keep her as close to 11 min/miles as possible.

Energy was definitely leaving Susan's body around mile 20.  I think it was our slowest mile.  We knew at this point that she would still PR, but not hit 4:48.  I told her to just keep running...a PR is a PR not matter if it is 2 seconds or 2 minutes.  So we continued to plug along when Susan got the biggest surprise of the day...maybe in a long time...I don't know.  At mile 22 I said "hey there is your family".  I know she did not believe me because they were supposed to be at a lacrosse game.  George was sneaky and it was totally wonderful for Susan.  Her smile was so huge and it definitely gave her back some momentum. 

I was laughing and Susan was just thrilled
waving good-bye to Susan's sweet family

At mile 23 we had a long, long, long downhill.  It was killing my left knee which had been hurting off and on for a while.  I stretched my hip every time we came to a water station.  Susan was walking to drink her water or gatorade.  That worked well for me because it kept my hip loose enough to keep running without too much discomfort.   The crowds were picking up again and were louder.  This was good because Susan was tired.  The last three miles always seem long, but she was not feeling great and the wind was kicking in bigtime.  The sun had come out as well and it was definitely warmer.  I kept reminding her about her huge PR and what she had already accomplished in the race. 

By mile 22 we were officially downtown again.  I think Susan was ready to really slow down, but I was not having it.  I kept telling her that our last miles could not be the slowest.  I also told her that I had lied about her PR.  I told her that 2 seconds was not good enough.  I told Susan that she had run too well and worked too hard to settle.  She could do this and a big PR was hers!  She pretty much told me she hated me at the moment, but I told her I did not care.  It was my job to encourage her to the finish.

The last 1.2 miles was long and hard.  There was a misplaced (in our opinion) 1/2 mile sign that was discouraging to both of us.  It seemed like the finish should come, but wasn't at all.  I know Susan ran one of her fastest miles on her last mile!  I could not be more proud of her effort because she wanted little to do with running.  I told her all this craziness about her Penguins cutie Kris Letang waiting for her...calling her name to finish...scoring goals for her...giving lessons to her kids....giving her family box seats....just to keep her mind off of the pain/discomfort/fatigue so she could just run.  Susan kicked it in hard and ran for the finish line like a total champion, which she is!  Her official time was 4:54.09.  I let her finish ahead of me because this was her marathon.  My time was 4:54.10.

I felt emotional for Susan when she finished and so was she.  She had run a 4+ minute PR on a tough course.  She ran every step, never quit, and fought for her time.  I am so happy Susan trusted a total...kind of...stranger to run with her and encourage her from the start line to the finish line.

So happy!
I loved my experience at Houston because it was a great course, I saw my family and Kim, and I ran a big PR.  But, this was still better.  I can't quite describe what a privilege it was for me to run with Susan.  I so admire her dedication to something that does not come easy for her.  She ran a great race and I hope she feels really proud of herself.  She did all the work.  I just talked. 

Charlene (1st marathon), me, Susan (PR), and Tracey (sub 4 hr marathon)
So excited to be wearing that space blanket!
Susan and her family invited me into their home and made me feel like a part of their family.  Nicholas, Ella, and Jack are the sweetest and most polite children.  George is funny and he totally supports Susan.  Surprising her at mile 22 will forever be a running highlight for me and it wasn't even my family.  And, their silly dog Sidney is hilarious.  She and I became quick friends as well.

Jack, Nicholas, and Ella

I felt like I knew Susan before I went, but now I really do.  Susan is funny, caring, determined, and wonderful person.  I am thankful we both took a leap of faith on this crazy "blog friendship" so it could become a real friendship.  Love you Susan and thanks for giving my my greatest marathon experience to date!


  1. First things first: Sid made it on your blog!!!! hahaha So fun reading this recap with your perspective. I can't thank you enough for all you did for me. It just meant so much to me and yes I cried reading this! You're an amazing person Kortni and someone I'm proud to call my friend! Until we meet again! xoxo

  2. Congrats to both of you on the finish! I ran across those Pittsburgh bridges when I visited. Not easy to do during a race!