Dave's and my feeble, hobbling steps into our apartment this afternoon marked our triumphant homecoming as the fastest married couple in the 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon (as far as we know anyhow...). It's been a long time coming, but I actually had a marathon I am proud of: 2:54:22 for 5th. Dave ran a shining PR of 2:36:22 for 6th.
Sooo... starting with the context.
Course: You can't spit in Pittsburgh without hitting a hill. Needless to say, the entire course rolled. The middle three miles (12-15) were ENTIRELY up hill, with a fairly steep grade heading into the half. I'd say it's on par with Boston in terms of difficulty (the Beantown hills are far less frequent but a little steeper).
Training: My training has been less than solid for this race (due primarily to the welcomed distractions of increased job responsibility, a new home purchase, applying to grad school, married life...). My average mileage for 2009 thus far is 48 mpw; that's low, even for me. It's also been nearly a month since I've completed a workout due to extreme allergies and asthma.
Taking all of the above into account, my goals for this race were more subjective than objective; I just wanted to run a solid effort. Hopped up on allergy meds (despite damp 50 degree weather and low pollen counts), I stepped on the line on Saturday determined to be very conservative from the start. That proved pretty easy; I settled into a very comfortable 6:30 pace and generally enjoyed the scenery and crowd support for the first half of the race. I was frankly surprised at how good I felt.
P. Murph ran the steepest point of the hills with me (having already run it with Dave...God Bless you Pat!) and, after crossing the halfway point in just under 1:27, I was feeling remarkably confident. I passed three women before the 15 mile mark. Now in 6th place and still feeling pretty good, I looked up for the next woman and the first money spot. (After all, we need all the help we can get to finance the aforementioned home purchase and grad school tuition).
Around 18, I started to feel the rolling terrain in my hips and feet. By 19 miles, I realized that the spotty preparation was taking it's toll and I went into survival mode. One foot in front of the other; the faster I went, the sooner I could stop. Luckily, the course was hard on everyone and I plodded past another woman heading up a long hill at mile 20. Okay... I was in the money; time to hold on.
I can honestly say I don't remember much of the last 10k, except for Pat's late race report that Dave was in 5th (and hunting down 4th). That alone kept me running (wait... was I still running?) through the fog. Forty-five minutes felt like an eternity.
My mother-in-law had (at my request) written my name down the side of both arms before the race. The downtown crowds' personalized shouts were the ONLY thing that pulled me towards the finish line in the last 2 miles. As they pitied the agonized look on my face, my uncontrolled and choppy stride, and my spaghetti arms, I could feel the masses willing me forward. Ten meters before the finish line, I blacked out and staggered sideways (this is according to my in-laws). Regaining my senses, I somehow surged forward and collapsed over the finish line.
There are pictures of me walking beyond the finish line, but I only remember waking up in a stretcher. That's always a bit alarming, but I was surprised at how fast I recovered. Grateful that my asthma demons were at bay and that I actually finished, I was sitting up and gulping Powerade by the time that Dave found me. He told me the agonizing story of how he was passed in the final mile by the eventual 5th place finisher. It took 3 EatNPark smiley face cookies, a banana, and two bottles of Powerade, but I eventually recovered enough to soothe my panicked in-laws.
I am still in "never again" mode when it comes to the marathon, but who knows.... The next few years might make for some tough training as I tackle a full time job and part time grad school. For now, mission accomplished: a race of which I can be proud and the extra boost from being married to one very fast man!