Monday, May 7, 2012

Half Marathon in Pittsburgh (amongst other things)

I'm sitting in the living room of one of my closest friends, the possibly super-human Dr. Eric Johnson, with two beautiful dogs, Guinness and Roulette, while he is at the gym training for yet another Iron Man triathlon and his wife, (also possibly super-human) Dr. Natali Edmonds, is at work. It's a lazy Monday afternoon and I'm on vacation. I think I've earned the lazy day, having just run a half-marathon in Pittburgh 24 hours earlier.

I decided to run the half in January, after a reunion with Eric and our other good friend, the astounding head coach of Mizzou's track and field, Joseph Lynn this past NYE.  It was a fun time, but I had a family tragedy strike right in the middle of their visit and felt like I wasn't able to enjoy my time quite properly. Eric suggested coming out in early May to run the Pittsburgh Marathon (which offers a 5k, 10k, half-, and full marathon) and I thought that running the half-marathon would an awesome idea. For one thing, it'd be great motivation for me to stay in shape throughout the winter. For another, it'd be a great spring-board for training for my full marathon in Chicago this fall.

A lot had happened since I last blogged.  I had my story "A Parliament of Me" (previously released as a podcast on Well Told Tales a few years back) re-published in the e-zine Darker. My uncle and godfather John Laforge passed away. I read several amazing books and wrote a few passable short stories. I applied to and got rejected from both Clarion Writer's Workshops. (next year, my friends, next year) All my siblings partied together for the first time ever on St. Patrick's Day weekend in Chicago.  I went to the national Publishing Business Conference Expo in New York City. Its been an interesting time. Probably each one of those things could merit its own blog entry and there's more I won't mention.

I avoided my annual winter weight gain (which is usually like 15-20 lbs) and keep in relatively decent shape through the spring. That said, while I was SUPPOSED to be logging in a fair amount of miles prepping for this race, I was instead otherwise occupied.  Oh, I still worked out, but until about a week ago, my farthest run had been 5 miles.  Not exactly where you want to be before a half-marathon, not if you don't want to die.

Last Saturday, just to make sure I wouldn't die, I jogged 11 miles at 10:15 minutes per mile and came in feeling pretty good.  Though I knew I wouldn't PR (set a personal record for you running novices out there), I also knew I could finish the half if I took it easy. Of course, what I didn't take into account was that instead of running on a cool 55 degree day in uber-flat Chicago along the Lakeshore path, I'd be running in the hilly-as-hell city of Pittsburgh on a 75 degree day.

Eric wasn't going to be running this one, but Natalie was with their friend Dustin.  They planned on running about 7:30-7:45 per mile and since I planned on running about a 10:15 pace, I knew I would only be seeing them at the beginning and end of the race.  We even had different starting corrals.  Eric planned on driving us there with his dog Guinness and driving us home after for lunch and beer.

After a delicious pasta dinner Saturday evening, we all woke up at 6am Sunday and made our way to downtown Pittsburgh. After wading through masses of people, I managed to secure an nice spot in corral D. There was a pleasant breeze and a little morning sun as our wave slowly moved to the start line.

Then it happened. I just happened to look down and notice amidst the crumple packets of runner's goo and water cups a dollar bill.  I picked it up and unfolded it to reveal $20!  I looked around to see if anyone was looking for their dropped money but no one appeared to be. The couple standing next to me advised, "You need to keep that shit."  Another guy smiled and said, "You might as well jump out, you've already won." That's when I knew it was going to be a good day.

As I crossed the start line I pressed the play button on the iPod nano strapped to my arm. I've had the nano for four years. Its been with me through 10 races, including two marathons, and more than a few thunderstorms and still works like a dream. Today was no different.  The first song on my runner's playlist was created by my friends, the brothers Lukas and Josh Pederson, called "The Beat Box Kids," after which smoothly transitioned to the "Chariots of Fire" soundtrack.

Most of the run felt pretty good. The uphills weren't too steep and for every uphill there was a downhill that followed so I was able to catch my breath. I had to keep telling myself to relax and take it easy, not to get tensed up or to run too fast.  There were a lot of Pittsburgh folks along the course and some pretty funky bands playing every other mile.

Finally we split off from the full marathoners at mile 11 and us halfer's made our way downtown for our finish.  At this point in the morning it was starting to get pretty warm but I was confident in getting it done before the heat got too bad.

Then we hit mile 12.  Which was almost completely an uphill. Now, I was pretty much squarely in the middle of the pack of runners. 10:00 per mile isn't fast but isn't super slow either.  All along this hill I saw tons of people walking and I thought to myself, "I'm going to pass ALL THESE BITCHES!" and decided to run the whole uphill stretch.

Probably not the best decision. When I hit the top of the hill and I was gasping and seeing spots. Though I only had a mile left, it felt like it might as well have been 1000 miles.  I walked through the Gatorade/water station and tried jogging again. What I didn't realize was that nearly the entire last mile of the race was a long downhill.

Some runners hate running downhill. I am not one of them. To me, it feels like a roller coaster. I can just relax and let gravity handle my pace for me.  Which I did, cruising in with a nice light feeling for the last mile and finishing in about two hours and fifteen minutes.

After that, I wandered around to find Natalie, Eric, and Dustin at the Pittsburgh Animal Rescue League tent (Natalie and Dustin ran and raised money for them).  We swapped stories about the crazy signs we saw, the annoying powerwalkers who lied about their times to get into the fast corrals. Dustin crushed his race and Natalie ran awesome as well! Here's a picture of them:

Of course, we had a take a picture of me with own prize winnings, which we called the "money shot":

The reason my forehead look's a bit like the Joker's is that I just had swabbed on a ton of suntan lotion. Here's another pic with my boy Guinness.  I was apparently confused about something:

After that, it was time for a shower, a well-earned shower beer, then an awesome lunch. Later that evening, we went to this great restaurant called Burgatory, where Eric and I posed with the most delicious alcoholic milkshake I've ever had:

All in all, it was a great adventure and I'm pumped to start my marathon training next month!

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