The Pittsburgh Marathon was meant to be MY race.
But little went as planned on May 6.
I trained long and hard last spring for my third marathon. I dodged snow plows, braved whipping winds on frigid, single-digit days and completed two 20-milers, one at a 9:40 minute/mile pace, my best yet. I actually paid attention to my diet and adjusted accordingly. I was ready to race.
But on race day, instead of celebrating a 26.2-mile journey, I was weeping in the shower.
I know it sounds bonkers, crying over exercise. But that’s how it panned out.
I headed to Pittsburgh the day before the race with two good friends, including my trusty running partner Gary. Early May in Pittsburgh was unseasonably hot, we realized as we walked to the expo from our downtown hotel. We took this as a sign to hydrate even more.
The highs reached into the 80s both days we were in the Steel City. It was sunny and humid, without a cloud in the sky.
I woke up race morning feeling fresh and ready to run. I ate, dressed and headed to the lobby with my running partners Gary and Audra.
We bid our loved ones farewell and walked to the starting line.
It was go time. I was antsy before we started running, but attributed to nerves.
There were other signs, however, that it was not my day.
Yep, it was hot and humid before we even started. Weather Service stats place the temp around 75 before we even hit the pavement. I struggle with speed in warmer weather. We should have adjusted our planned race pace to reflect the day’s forecast. But we were excited and knew we were well-prepared.
Clue number 2: I felt like crap at mile 5.
I figured my energy would kick in several miles down the road. Some days I’m just not feeling it until I’ve logged a few miles. I just hoped the boost wasn’t too far off. Unfortunately, it never came.
Clue number 3: I stopped talking.
I’m typically a Chatty Cathy when running with my pals. I stopped contributing to the conversation shortly after mile 6.
“I knew something was off when you went quiet,” Gary said later. “It’s not like you to be quiet for so long.” No offense, he added.
Gary and Audra kept asking if I was ok, I grunted affirmative answers. Audra checked if I wanted to walk and I declined. But I should’ve listened to her suggestion. There’s absolutely no shame in walking and it really may have made a difference.
Clue number 4: I couldn’t get enough water.
I grabbed multiple glasses of water at several hydration stations, dumping most in my mouth but some on my head. Gary handed me a drenched bandana to cool me down somewhere around mile 8.
Clue number 5: Things started turning purple.
That’s when I really started to take notice that something was wrong.
I’ve been overcome by the heat on training runs before and know that when start to see colors it’s time to listen to my body. That’s when I called it. This marathon wasn’t happening for me.
“Guys,” I grunted shortly before mile 10 and the turnoff for the half-marathon course. “I need to cut it at the half. I might make it 5 more miles but another 16 just isn’t happening.”
It killed me to say it. But I knew it was the right call. I knew if I dropped, they’d stop too. The last thing I wanted was to take my running partners down with me.
“You do what you have to do,” Audra assured me. “It’s ok.”
Moments later, we reached the split, I turned left with the half-marathoners and walked across a bridge that spanned the Monongahela River. Marathoners were running across the westbound lanes, and I veered toward the concrete barrier, prepared to climb over the wall, find my friends and to return to my rightful place in the race.
I stopped and shook my head. I couldn’t even run across the bridge, let alone another 16 miles.
I burst into tears.
I walked a half-mile or so before I started running again. I wanted to throttle anyone kind enough to cheer me on, assuring me I was running well and almost done. I wish.
Those last few miles were rough, I walked then ran and walked again. I finally saw the finish line and headed there as fast as possible. I grabbed a bottle of water and drained it.
A volunteer handed me a medal. I tried to dodge it, but it was plunked around my neck despite my protests. It was the least of my problems.
I made my way over to the family reunion area, where I fortunately located Gary’s wonderful family, who were surprised to see me, but took care of me nonetheless.
Two hours later, I was thrilled to see Gary and Audra finish the race, but teared up since I wasn’t with them.
Some runners tell me I need several factors to align on marathon day. I had trained properly – check. But the weather was not favorable. It was a good 25 degrees warmer than what I’d hoped for.
I should have heeded the warnings. There were so many things I could’ve done differently that may have allowed me to at least complete the race
But I didn’t. Life’s full of lessons, isn’t it?
Since May, I’ve completed two more marathons and am planning to run another in the fall. Can’t keep this runner down.
Have you ever had a race not go as planned?