Race Report: The Pittsburgh Marathon

Let me get right to it.  This is the best race I have ever run in my life.  Ever.  To be perfectly honest I had zero expectations about this race going in especially after the way my race fell apart in California a mere 7 days earlier.  I was of course pleasantly delighted when everything — literally everything — fell into place and made a near perfect race.

You can read the run up to the race from my girls Stef and Sarah here.  We’re going to start with the main event.

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who is the luckiest girl with a coach and a BFF that will carry the literal sign of your triumphs 26.2 miles?

After much hugging, clapping and general chicanery that occurs when you roll with me pre race I squeezed MB really tight and told him I’d see him for lunch.  Luckily Mrs. Best Man {HO HO THROWBACK THURSDAY WHAT?!} aka Britt was on hand to entertain MB and cheer or Dr. Best Man {uh, Tom} on his first half marathon.

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ok this picture is Christmas card worthy

Spoiler alert:  He ran that beast in 2:02 ON HIS FIRST RACE AND IF I WAS ANY MORE PROUD OF HIM I’D FREAKING EXPLODE.

Coach Jeff and I headed to the Corral D to find Marcela who was pacing the 6 hour team.  There we met up with other Jeff, whom I ran EVERY SINGLE Pittsburgh marathon with to date and some new friends.

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See, we are ready!

We bopped around a lot staying warm and trying to ward off the gentle rain that started.  At 7:36 {ish} we cross the mat and were on our way!

Miles 1-10

The 6 hour pace team {and my guess — anything over 4:30, maybe?} executes a run/walk plan.  We were doing 3:1 with a target goal pace of 12:43.  Marcela is the QUEEN of pacers — aiming to get within a minute of the goal time– giving you enough time to compensate for some of the hillier, more time-challenging portions of the course.

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Miles 1-10 are the easiest, in my opinion.  Up over the bridges, all of them.  Tons of downtown crowd support, bands, children, balloons, running through the Strip and the Southside.  It’s really unbeatable.  Every time we got near a photog, Coach would make sure our numbers, sign and group were visible so we would have the single best set of race photos in the history of man.  I’m pretty pleased with this effort — so much so that for the first time I bought every. single. picture.  Obvs.

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Also of note, right before the split, just where she said she would be, was my sorority sister, my pledge mama, Marlene.  She was holding this sign screaming her head off.  I spotted her almost a mile away and could not wait for the hug.

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Marlene — not only did you donate to TnT, make a badass sign, and stand out there until my 6 hour marathon self rolled by — you are a beautiful and loving friend and a true inspiration.  Thank you and I love you.  That hug meant everything.

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sorry guy I’m almost hitting in the face, there.

Miles 11-20

At mile 11, the half marathoners and marathoners split and this is where we said goodbye to some of our friends that we had made early in the race.  This is also where I started to not feel so great.  My hip was tight and sore and my back, right between my shoulder blades was tight.  I tried to downplay it as much as possible to Jeff, but he knew something was up.  He’d give me knuckles on either side of my spine to relieve the tension, correct my posture {that was tensing because I was worried and frankly started to freak out a little bit}.  At the base of the “big hill” I told him we needed to get Tylenol at the next available medical tent.

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Now, I say “big hill” with as much reverence and respect as I can muster after having climbed hurricane point less than one week before.  Running Big Sur gave me a new appreciation for hills of all grades and I was thankful that that experience made running Pittsburgh’s most challenging sections seem like a walk in the park.  Literally.

At the top of the hill, I was faced, directly in front of my with my beloved Cathedral of Learning.  At the mile 12 aid station I asked for Tylenol.  None here!  they replied.  Um WHAT?!  None on the course they corrected.  Oh sweet Mary mother of Jesus in a manger.  I need pain relief now!  Luckily someone who I love and trust very much who asked me never to speak of this exchange handed me some Ibuprofen not 10 minutes later.  And it saved my marathon.

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As we ran toward the half marathon point I regaled our pace team about how MB and I met and fell in love and got married in Oakland and as such — and because it’s the site of my first marathon — it really is the place where my dreams come true.  And then of course I started to get teary.  Jeff and Marcela swooped in to avoid histrionics by singing Living on a Prayer because in fact, we had reached the half marathon point.  Right on schedule.

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love you. mean it.

After the half, Marcela asked if I wanted to dedicate a mile to anyone pinned onto my tutu — people who had donated to Team in Training to make my marathon possible and more importantly help find a cure for blood cancer.  Of course, I opted to dedicate mile 18 to Jeff’s dad.  Without his dad who survived C—– {that which shall not be named by Jeff’s family} there would be no Jeff.  And Jeff is one of the best friends I’ve ever had.  There might have been a tear or two shed.

Rolling through Shadyside, Point Breeze, Friendship, those are my favorite.  The fan support is still amazing through those stretches and so many volunteers still manned the tables. We danced in Homestead and picked up personalized bottles of water.  We got high fives and the best thing — oranges. At mile 19 — the time when Jeff decided that we were having so much fun that he’d make this race his first ultra by circling me and weaving around to gain an extra mile on his watch — there was a group handing out the coldest, sweetest oranges I have ever in my LIFE tasted.  They were amazing.  Thank you!

The ibuprofen had kicked in full force and I felt amazing.  Jeff, Marcela, me and the pace team were having a blast!  The people on the course, little kids especially, LOVED my tutu.  Other runners would jog up and ask me what the hearts were which I was MORE than happy to explain.

Miles 21-26.2

As we neared mile 21 my legs started to cramp again and the run/walk became painful.  I knew if I just chugged along without walking I would be OK to finish under the 6 hour mark.  We blew smooches to my dearest Marcela and off we went.  At mile 22 we ran into Michael Sally who had run a marathon on Saturday to get to the Pittsburgh marathon on Sunday making my back to back challenge look a little bit ridiculous.  We saw another guy who was running for his mother who battled breast cancer.  And a nice local girl that had run the WDW Marathon.  It was amazingly inspiring chatting up all these other runners as we made our way to the finish.

At mile 23, right before the big downhill back into downtown, I saw some girl on a bike taking my picture.  It was CAPTAIN CHELSEA!  I started freaking out and screaming and crying.  I was happy to see her.  Then of course, my private paparazzi {as we had taken to calling them} had us pose for a photo.  Win.

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Chelsea rode us down the hill and filled us in on her relay experience {her team finished in under 4 hours for the love of GOD} and how our friends were waiting for us at mile 26.  We told her all about how much fun we were having and she kept telling us how great we looked.

She also took some video.  It was amazing.


By this time the sun was all the way out and it was a gorgeous spring day in the greatest city in the world.  A Team in Training coach on his phone sidled up to us and asked if I was Lauren Bailey.  Sure am I responded!  Good!  You’re almost done and you’re the last one {from Team in Training} out here.  I smiled and told him that was a habit of mine these days.    We rounded the corner and I grabbed my bag of pretzels to get me through the final stretch.  Right after mile 25 we hit the rest of our team waiting for us.  And this is where I really started to lose it.

Here were a group of people that I’ve only known for 1 rotation around the sun, some of them less screaming their brains out for me and for Jeff.  They don’t know my middle name {Nicole} that I used to blog incessantly about nothing or why it is I call my parents by their first name.  But they, and this is my favorite thing, they know me to my core in ways that other people don’t.  They know how much this race, especially, meant to me.  They know what it’s like to run 100, 200, 500 miles to prep for 1 morning that, in the end, we have no control over.  The know what crossing the line and getting the medal means — that all the early morning, long runs, skipped happy hours and literally days spent on the treadmill were worth it.  They know me.  And they love me and they have opened up and made me part of their lives justlikethat.  These are some of my newest forever people at mile 26 screaming like we were about to win the damn race.

As I was about to round the corner, there was a Team in Training table with a coach drinking a water.  I thought he was offering me the water.  He wasn’t.  But I grabbed it anyway.  He told me I was looking good and I was almost there.

Then I saw them!  More of my forever people!  Jenn and Missy!  My pledge sisters!  My loves.  They had dominated the half marathon earlier and had cleaned up to come and cheer.  It made my heart soar.  I love you both so much — thank you so much for being there right at that moment.

As Jeff and I rounded the corner for the final stretch I felt like I was going to fly off the pavement with bliss.  I had just run a combined total of 52 miles and the last .2 were literally whizzing past me.  We waved hello to the crowd and saw MB, Tom and Britt on the sidelines yelling and waving and taking pictures.  It was awesome.  Jeff and I put on our biggest smiles and well — you can see what we did:

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Jeff and I finished the Pittsburgh marathon — Jeff’s 30th marathon, my 3rd in 5:52.  Just 10 minutes over my PR and 40 minutes faster than my Big Sur race the previous week.  We laughed, we hugged, we cried.  We waited for Marcela and our pace group to come across the line.  They did and we hugged and shook hands and wished each other well.

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Jeff and I met up with the team and my family outside the chute {where I might have been yelling profanities of joy — just saying}.  We compared race stories, medals

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and took this picture that is hanging at my desk right now.  I want to remember this moment forever.  We were happy and triumphant.  There is so much love in that picture.

 

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I sadly said goodbye and hobbled back to our hotel to shower {more on that later} and have lunch with Britt, Tom and Nora and Dave {Mexican, obviously}.

Objectively Pittsburgh is a perfect race.  Easy to navigate all the before parts, a beautiful course, amazing support, great swag, friendly people, perfect volunteers, pretty dependable weather.  Subjectively though this is the best marathon in the fucking world {sorry Mom!}.  I will, for as long as I’m able run Pittsburgh.  They really got it right when they coined the phrase “Run Home to Pittsburgh.”  Pittsburgh as a place is everything to me.  It is my past and it’s where my joy is and I know I just know that it’s where my future is.  Every year until then it will roll out the starting line and I’ll be there, with my TnT gear and my best friends, doing what I love in a city that forever has my heart.  I hope you all get to Run Home with us sometime.

More this week about the hotel situation {uhhhhh} and the now what.

Did you run Pittsburgh this year?  How’d it go?

24 thoughts on “Race Report: The Pittsburgh Marathon

  1. Nicki says:

    I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. Pittsburgh is probably my favorite race. I knew every step you talked about and I love Marcela. I actually told Michael Sally to find her as she would get him through.

  2. Gina says:

    Lauren! This made me get all teary!! I am SO proud of you and so honored to have such an inspirational, COOL friend. Love you! Congratulations!!

  3. Lauren H. (@lilhotz56) says:

    The Pittsburgh Marathon 5K this year was my first race, and between the amazing community of runners I fall in love with more and more every day, posts like this really inspire me to keep running! Thanks for sharing this awesome experience!

    • lnrbailey says:

      Keep on going! You should link up with my running friends Stef, Jeff and Chelsea who are local. They run together a lot and they are literally the wind beneath my wings 🙂 Hope we can connect next time we’re in PGH!

  4. Running Bear says:

    Thank you for the amazing recap. You look like you’re having such a good time in all the pics!

    That day was my first full, I was blown away by the experience. As an out of towner, I appreciate the city as a nice place to visit, but on race day, the entire community put on their best to make the race memorable. Not to single out only one neighborhood, they were all great, but running through Station Square along Carson St, the crowd energy was so intense I felt like such a rock star, with all the fans cheering their heads off.

    When I was choosing the location of my race, I had some doubts about such a big event, but I couldn’t be happier with Pittsburgh. More energy than I could dream for, without ever feeling swallowed up in some giant machine cranking runners through.

  5. chocolaterunnergirl says:

    I of COURSE love your reacap! I am still blown away that you did Big Sur AND Pitt just a week apart! You are AMAZING and an INSPIRATION! One day, when I do a full, I hope I will rock it like you do!
    Such a fabulous report for a fabulous girl!!
    ❤ ❤ ❤

  6. Mer @ ScootaDoot says:

    I adore this recap so much. I vote that you run Philly with me in the fall (you know, my first full marathon – not at all freaking out). (Okay, that’s a lie. I’m completely freaking out.)

    • lnrbailey says:

      MER! Your first full?!! What are the dates?! Minimum I’ll be good for an awesome sign and a few miles of illegal course hopping for ongoing cheering, etc. 🙂

  7. Jennifer says:

    I found your blog through Steff’s blog and love this post! Congrats on your back to back marathons! I’m curious though about the pace group run/walk strategy. I am a slow runner and always assumed I’d finish a marathon in about 5:30, but that’s straight running. I find run/walking hard (because once I start walking it’s difficult to start running again). Do you train run/walk or do you train straight running? If you train straight running, is it difficult to adjust to the run/walk pace group strategy for the race? Thanks!

    • lnrbailey says:

      Jennifer — welcome! Any friend of Steff’s is someone I’m immediately obsessed with 🙂

      I train straight running. The run walk IS hard but so is a marathon 🙂 I would recommend training at a running pace to complete the 5:30 marathon and then talking to the pace coach at the race to see what will work for you. A lot of people joined us near the half when they were tired from all the running. The run walk is amazing on race day for me because it helps me conserve energy (when I would usually bolt because of the adrenaline) and have active recovery. It really is the only way I’d run a marathon right now! Feel free to email me if you have any more questions: lnrbailey (at) gmail (dot) com

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