Long runs are back! With the Pittsburgh Marathon quickly approaching, I had to get some miles in. Going into the run, I wasn’t sure how long to run. The course was laid out to be flexible. I could easily drop after 7 miles. At 10, I could take a short-cut back to the start and finish with 11. I think the longest official distance was 16 miles. So many opportunities to rationalize that I was done, so many opportunities to listen to aching knees or tight IT-bands and stop. I’m very happy to say that not only did I ignore all those “opportunities”, but I had the temerity to add more miles, topping out at 19.5 miles! How did that happen?
Luckily, I had Pro Bike to lean on. I actually arrived early enough at Coffee Tree Roasters to get a map and get the Garmin synced with a satellite. I went with Kristen, Sasha, and Cathy as part of the 10-10:30 pace group. I deftly ignored Dennis’ suggestion that I was in the wrong pace group, when the pace groups coalesced briefly at an early light.
Then the run was pleasant, not too fast. Once I woke enough to engage socially, small talk kept my thoughts away from distance. Do you have a race coming up? Are you running Pittsburgh? How’s your training going? What distance are you doing? Runner ice-breakers.
Weaving through streets as part of a large groups always makes me think of flowing water. In particular, I imagine the runners as bubbles flowing along a river. A fire hydrant, pedestrians, narrow sidewalks, all cause disturbances in the flow, but without slowing down, the group envelope morphs around the obstacle.
After the first seven miles, the large group had become spread out. Sasha, Cathy, Kristen and I were in the forefront and the others, just a bit slower, were starting to get left behind. The next part of the run extended into areas less trodden. We went up Penn, took North Braddock to Frankstown Road and made the left to head back toward Highland Park. That’s a long stretch. The neighborhoods are relatively poor, the streets are relatively dirty. In the actual Pittsburgh Marathon, it is in the 16-18 mile area, I believe. On race day, that’s a tough part of the race. You’ve already come far, but still have far to go.
It was here that good company made the run. It is hard to describe and I’m sure there has been research done on the topic. But my experience is that you’ve silently joined a tentative pact, wherein there is caring (“Watch out for the pothole!”), sharing (“My left groin is REALLY tight, how’s yours?”) along with the positive feelings from exercise endorphins and joint sense of accomplishments. (We did 15 MILES!!) It’s not many places where this happens.
As the route took us up Highland Avenue, Sasha and I crossed over to the silent water station while Kristen and Cathy continued on and made their way back to CTR. This was getting into the high mileage. Sasha planned to go up Highland to Bryant and then run home. She ran a bit farther, perhaps all the way to Liberty Avenue. Then, with a turn and wave, she was gone and I was on my own.
Or WAS I? Jon, Josh, Alisa and about ten other Steel City runners had passed us a few blocks before. But, as I trundled up Liberty Avenue, there they were! Lolly-gagging around a water stop! Race cars do have pit stops, after all. Since they were standing still, I was able to pass them all! Yay! Two minutes later, though, they caught up with invitations to join them. That would have taken me to the Northside, a bit out of the way, so I declined. Maybe next time.
Then it was time to do a little exploring and go off the written map. The official route had me going to Main Street, then Penn then Friendship and on back to CTR. I started on Main, but continued on Cabinet Way, one of the small alleyways angling off of Main. It is a prototypical alley. Big enough for one and a half cars, garages in varying states of decay opening onto it. Over a half mile later, I ended up on Denny Street, another small street. I drifted to Butler Street and eventually got back on course, finishing at CTR. I was happy to see that Kelly was still hanging out, making sure the runners all made it back. Too often, going long and slow means that all “official” run leaders are long gone. A nice chat and hot chocolate later, I crept back to the car, exhausted but exhilarated.
Parts of East Liberty, Shadyside, Point Breeze, Homewood, Brushton, East Liberty, Larimar, Highland Park, Friendship, Bloomfield, Lower Lawrenceville, Lawrenceville, Oakland, parts North and West