This was a cool run, both in temps and character. A cold front had pushed out the scorching August heat. The day was sunny, too! The Highland Park Running Club had met at Perk and Brew earlier in the morning and their runners were finishing up. Many were relaxing outside or lined up inside getting coffee and ice cream. I chatted a bit and then set off. My plan today was to do a few streets in Friendship and then take off to Morningside.
Running in Friendship was great! The flat, tree-lined streets were lined with large brick houses. There were many runners and walkers out. Children rode bikes and parents pushed strollers. I liked the street names, too; Harriet, Evaline, Winebiddle, South Pacific and South Atlantic, to mention a few. Even the alleys had cool names. Who can resist Asterisk Alley?
My overall goal was to run at least 13.1 miles, a half-marathon distance. I wasn’t exactly sure how many miles I’d get in Morningside, so getting two or three in Friendship would be a good start. Peeling off of Harriet, I went up Roup Street, then zig-zagged over to North Aiken Ave. North Aiken is one of the few of theses streets to go straight through Garfield. It also rises precipitously once you’ve crossed Penn Ave. Another zig and another zag found me on Chislett Street, which would take me into the heart of Morningside.
Morningside is a long narrow neighborhood nestled between Highland Park, the Pittsburgh Zoo and Stanton Heights. It is comprised of four parallel streets, Chislett, Jancey, Morningside and Duffield, and an equal number of alleys. At their northern end, are bluffs overlooking the Allegheny River. There are a number of cross streets, too. Also, at the end of Chislett and to the right is a section of short roads and alleys. While Friendship is tree-lined, Morningside is mostly open. Small lots with small houses line the streets. It is packed with people; few vacant houses, no open lots. As I ran on Chislett, I passed a coffee house and a few other small businesses. This was rather plain running. Then, at the end of Chislett was a nice view of the Allegheny River. Making a right onto Witherspoon St, I came to a flight of public stairs. Of course, I had to go down them, whereupon I realized I was very near the road entrance to the Pittsburgh Zoo! That was a little surprise!
I re-traced my steps back to Witherspoon and did the necessary ins and outs to run the warren of streets there. The edge street, Antietam, directly overlooks the zoo entrance. At the end of Antietam, a baseball game was in progress at Natoli Field. Also a working water fountain! (Yay!)
From there I went back and forth on Jancy Street, Morningside Avenue, and intervening alleys; stopping for a moment at a Rite Aid to get some OJ. I spied the Adelphia stairs (there’s a street sign on them), but resisted the urge to run up them. I was getting tired and wasn’t going to cover every street at once. I made my way back to Perk & Brew, via North Negley and Mellon Street, getting in a solid fifteen miles.
Nikola Tesla was a brilliant and eccentric electrical engineer and scientist. He didn’t hit the big time payday like Elon Musk and instead had a series of setbacks. But his ideas still resonate in today’s world and a steep street in Hazelwood has been endowed with his name. Tesla St makes it to the 13th street in the hallowed Dirty Dozen (baker’s dozen, I suppose).
So, on a hot Sunday in early August, I trotted out there. The route hugged the boundary of Calvary Cemetery. The streets out here are more like country roads than inner city streets, “Harlem St” notwithstanding. The houses are rather suburban; mainly split level 3 bedrooms. Yards are large and the residents take advantage of the “country life” by spreading out.
My first encounter with Tesla St was, thankfully, downhill. It didn’t seem too bad, actually. I followed it to the end, then wound up through parts of the Hazelwood Greenway to the top of the hill, where large transmission towers and cell towers loomed over the greenery. Coming back, I went to the end of Kingslake St, hoping to find stairs to lower streets. No dice, Edington St stairs were overgrown and officially closed. Again, I’m surprised at the thoroughness of the City of Pittsburgh’s sign department. Even at the closed stairs, there was a bright blue street sign.
So, this Tesla St isn’t as electrifying as its namesake, but a steep, secluded, green street.
Hurdles. Yes, hurdles is what I ran today. The headline may say “Pittsburgh Marathon 2019”, but it really was hurdles. Oh, maybe not the high-hurdles that Chari Hawkins flies over, but hurdles nonetheless. Luckily, even with a race as long as the 26.2 of a marathon, there are only a few hurdles you have to overcome.
Training. Hurdle 1 is an “optional” hurdle for some and an insurmountable hurdle for others. If you do this Hurdle correctly, life is easier on race day. On the spectrum of training from none to extreme, I find more of the low-trained runners finishing than those following soul-crushing rigorous training. They are slower, but usually as happy at the end. The main problems facing the ultra-trained are burnout and injury.
That being said, moderately hard training works best for me. Twelve weeks of gradual increases in mileage and intensity. This means going out for a ten mile run after doing a fifteen miler the day before. This means going to track, doing the prescribed track warm-ups and workouts. This means getting to group runs, where the camaraderie and peer-pressure encourage me to continue.
This training cycle got off to a great start. I had a good base from doing the Detroit Marathon in the Fall. I was becoming more regular at the Steel City Saturday runs. In late January, over three months from race day, I did a 17 miler. I was on the verge of getting a half dozen 20+ milers in. I was easily going out with the 8:30 and 9:00 minute pace groups. Then, I had a fall in February. A fall on a dry, flat sidewalk. It sucked. My knee hurt. My hands hurt. My wrist hurt. Looking back at that time, it was pretty depressing. Ten days later, I managed a little over three miles at a blazing 12:13 min/mile pace. So roughly, my old pace could run three miles in the time it took my new pace to run two.
But then, I started to ease back into it. I focused more on running with friends rather than trying to bolt out of the gate all the time. Kristen was monumental in getting me to the runs, she always knew when and where the runs were. Everything started to heal. I could also go a little faster. By the end of the training cycle, I had completed three 20ish miles. Track was working out and occasionally I would keep up with faster folks. This year, I cleared the training hurdle by a mile.
Hurdle 2 Taper madness and race hoopla
Taper Madness – that period when you need to ease up on the mileage but keep up intensity is quite a mental game. You’re not getting the endorphins and release from the long runs anymore and might have a LOT of extra energy. The message threads buzzed this week. What will be race day weather? How hard should I do track? Are you doing five miles or three miles? I think I weathered the Madness pretty well, in part by taking the “oh, this is nothing special” tact and intentionally tampering my excitement. Being busy with blogs, work and a non-runner S.O. helped as well. Apparently a significant percentage of the general population didn’t even know a race was happening! Unbelievable!
Race hoopla, all the Marathon events and personal events leading up to the actual race day, are a big part of the race. The Marathon Race Expo, bib pickup, carb loading, race day travel logistics are also part of this hurdle. It can be fun, but it can also be a distraction. My Pro Bike group had an early carb-loading dinner, on Thursday at DiAnoia‘s in the Strip District. My epic thread group had a dinner on Saturday at Szechuan Spice, in Shadyside. Both were delicious and, more importantly, gave me a chance to hang out and catch-up with friends. Last minute stories came in. Maria might be coming back to the area! Luke and Rich decided to run the marathon in the last few days of training and were likely going drinking the night before!! (Jaw drop) Mason was going to be a hill runner! Finally, the dinner bills were paid, plans laid and we all headed home. I got everything ready and set out the before going to sleep Saturday, thankfully.
Hurdle 3 Get the hell there
Ugh, 5:15. I was supposed to pick up Mira at 5:15. My alarm was set for 4:45. I woke up to the alarm and slept another 15 minutes! However, with the previous night’s preparations, I wasn’t too late, getting her by 5:25. Then there was the trip downtown to my super-special parking garage and the dazed ride on the T. We almost rode the T all the way to Gateway Center – oops. Two sleepy-heads on a train isn’t a good thing. Then a walk in the eerie early morning light to the Westin, where Steel City had a breakfast.
Now, it was exciting! Like bees going into a hive, runners buzzed all around the Westin. Upstairs, the gilded conference room overflowed with runners and shoes, bibs, hoodies, light jackets of all colors, black garbage bag coveralls, pacer signs. People eating last minute meals of bananas and bagels. I grabbed a little OJ and coffee. Found Bob and Nancy and Chris. Chris and I we set off to catch up with the Pro Bike group, at the Starbucks a few blocks away. At this point in the Pittsburgh Marathon, there is a slight panic for many runners as they need to enter the corrals (A, B, C, D) before they close. Getting into a corral is a bottleneck, since race security checks each person’s bib, all 20,000 of them, to insure they are allowed to be in the corral. It’s a bit of a hectic pre-race sprint. The group eventually coalesced and headed into the corral for an anxious wait and opportunities for selfies.
Hurdle 4 start and early miles
We had a good start, getting moving about 7:26:33 AM, not sure about the milliseconds. The first few miles were pretty crowded. Even at our unassuming pace, we kept passing walkers and many others. About two miles in, I started to run faster, actually trying to keep abreast of Sasha, who was motoring along. We would periodically intersect, chat a bit and move apart again. This was also the part of the race to do a self-check, keeping an eye out for short port-a-john lines, fixing shoes becoming untied, belts coming loose and other annoyances. The race was a blur for most of these miles. Lots of people, trying to set a good pace, nothing too difficult. Finally, on Carson Street, after a needed pit stop, I was ready to run harder.
Hurdle 5 Middle miles
I broadly think of miles 7-19 or so, as middle miles. I was warmed up and ready to go. As it happens, the race course is pretty flat here with hundreds of people lining the walks, cheering. Wearing an old orange, Miami Marathon shirt, I got plenty of “go Orange!” The split with the half-marathoners at the Birmingham Bridge is always a bit disheartening since 75% of the runners go back toward the finish, yet my race course wasn’t even halfway done. I pushed on crossing the Birmingham Bridge at a good clip, passing Tom who was pacing the 4:30 group. Also saw Lisa, Jenny and Amy on the bridge. Going up the hill into Oakland, I felt strong. Mason gave me a big hug and ran with me the last 1/4 mile of the hill into Oakland.
I cruised here, mostly sub 9 minutes per mile. Saw Monica and Mike at the turn off of Penn Avenue around mile 16. The misty rain was starting to get more serious now. Past 18 miles, just getting a slightly tight hamstring and wondering how long I could keep it up. Most aid stations I had the Nuun drink and I consumed a few gels along the way.
Hurdle 6 High miles with no end in sight
Miles 19-25. So close yet so far. These are my most hated miles of a marathon. If you’ve messed up your nutrition or training or shoes or attitude, it will show here. Your nutritional balances are getting out of whack. Emotions run high. Everything hurts. You want to smack the next person who says “You’re almost done!”
I had planned to message my girlfriend at mile 20 so she could make it to the race course when I passed a few miles on, say mile 22. I figured I would just message her now, at mile 19, since I was slowing down. With the rain, I couldn’t unlock the phone and keep running, so I walked for a bit and sent her a message. It was very hard to get moving again. For the next few miles, I alternated running and walking. The rain started coming down harder. I kept looking for her, but realized that the agreed upon place was closer to mile 23! Between me slowing down and the miles being further apart, it seemed like forever. But eventually, Laura popped out from the bus shelter, gave me a hug and kiss and cheered me on. The little shelter community of onlookers also shouted out a few cheers too!
Just past mile 23, there was a little downhill. I grabbed a tiny beer from the Hash Harriers tent and tried to pick up some speed. At the end of it, a few runners were jogging backwards, looking for a friend. That looked fun, so I trotted backwards too. And who should I see but Gates, Mason’s sister! I ran with her for a hundred yards or so, then moved on.
Hurdle 7 The last push
If you have a kick, now is the time. You try to lay it all on the line. Sometimes, you’re just limping and cursing because it hurts so bad, but you’re determined to finish. Sometimes, there are friends and family on the course, scared of how you look and worried, but cheering you on nonetheless. But this year, I had some energy left. I was able to speed up again. Mile 24, so, so close. Mile 25, the Steel City Cheer Zone! Perhaps 25 people, but sounded like 100. Saw Sanchez, Betsy, the guy with all the tattoos, Suzanne, all cheering, clapping and playing RATM. One mile to go, pumped up. It always feels like forever. Past the Grayhound Station, down Liberty Avenue, left onto Stanwix, run, run, don’t stop. Some people are crossing the street. Argh! Final turn onto Boulevard of the Allies, a little uphill to the finish. Letting out a primal grunt and raising my arms, I finished.
Hurdle 8 the immediate aftermath
Thank the volunteer who puts the medal over your head. Walk a few steps, grab some food, drink something. That last salt tablet I had taken left me a little nauseous, so I almost threw up. Sit down, get off those feet. Pretty spacey here. Got a magical garment, the space blanket. These keep your body warmth in, which I needed since my fingers were turning blue. I sat down on some overturned tables. I thought I would wait for my friends. Eventually, Tom, the pacer, finished and sat next to me. We chatted a bit. Not having any idea where everyone else was I got up and left the finish area. I stumbled across a muddy, grassy area to the Steel City Tent. This year, it was nice, lots of good food. I put warmer clothes on, and every now and then, I would venture out to see who was done. Rich and Luke finished. Nancy was around. Mainly I sat, ate and talked to the other runners as they came in. Eventually Hayley came in, then Bob and Mira.
Now the reverse trip to the car. Got to the Gateway T, but had to wait awhile before the next train. We were falling asleep standing up, leaning on each other. No worries, just a few more steps to the car. A few miles to drive. Finally got home, took a hot shower and crashed for awhile.
Hurdle 9 The rush
Hell Yeah! We did it! Nothing is IMPOSSIBLE! I have all the Infinity Stones!!
“Excuse me? Did you say ‘trolls’? Uh, what bridge and exactly what were they doing?”
“Under the Birmingham Bridge, you know, Southside Riverfront Park! Maybe not trolls, but, well, they were all sweaty and salty, breathing heavy and wearing ridiculous outfits. I daresay they were drinking as well.”
“Oh, THAT. Let me check my calendar…Yep, two weeks before the Pittsburgh Marathon. This happens every year, sir. Tapering runners, not trolls. “
But before the taper, there was one more run. The last long run of the Pittsburgh Marathon training cycle! Eight quick miles through through the Southside with PBR. We literally started underneath the Birmingham Bridge, which is so wide at that point, it’s like being in an open air warehouse. All the sign-in forms were blowing away. True to form, I got there on the later side and played catch up. The route took us up the Southside River Trail which winds along the Monongahela River. The trees were covered in that bright early-spring greenery. As we wound through the trail, I passed several groups, trying to give a friendly “Good Morning” to everyone. Not sure how much that was appreciated. At any rate, I caught up with my normal Wednesday night crew and kept pushing on. Eventually, caught up with Sasha and stayed with her for the rest of the run, as we dodged the construction sandbags and maneuvered along Carson Street, back to the start, up to Hot Metal Street and back once more.
At the end of the run, it was time to celebrate! Within a couple of minutes, everyone else finished. Huddling between the cars, we broke out chips, salty potatoes, luscious cupcakes, sausage rolls and muffins. Someone broke out the champagne and the classiest among us pulled out crystal champagne glasses! When those were finished, Dragon YumYums popped out. We periodically shuffled our chairs into a new, sunnier spots. Under the bridge, eating and drinking, several people approached us to find out what the fun was. Taper time had officially begun!
It was a Thursday night, with a spot of rain and solidly in the taper zone. No five miler tonight, I was concentrating on getting some rest and recovery.
Nonetheless, I ended up going out with the 10ish group and running with Tom. Tom is a superb runner who has racked up hundreds, maybe thousands, of RACE miles. A couple of years ago, I did the Boulder Beast, a tough 25+/- mile race through technical terrain, up boulder fields and through streams. Tom did it as well. That race was on a Saturday. The next day was Pittsburgh’s Great Race 10k and 5k. My son was racing the 5k, so I did the 4 hour ride back to Pittsburgh and felt very proud to be getting up so early after the Boulder Beast to take him to the start line. The start line where I saw Tom, with his pacing sign, all ready to run. Damn, so much for martyrdom! I was inspired to run the 10k, myself, that day.
At any rate, Tom and I trotted along chatting about running, races and upcoming events. On Liberty Avenue with its big uphill, we had to hold it in check to stay close to the “advertised” group pace . Then the group started to break up. Running partners shifted and I ended up running with my friend, Brittany, for the next couple of miles. She is a lot younger than I am, but has conquered a 50 miler already and has some interesting runs coming up.
One of the draws for this Thursday run a free drink at the end. Apparently my internal, route taking skills unconsciously aligned with that promise, as seen below, in a slightly twisted version of the route.
Three weeks and a day until the Pittsburgh Marathon. Over three months since the Steel City Kickoff run and now I was finishing this training cycle with a nice group of friends. This year, I got in a 17 miler, a 19 miler and a 21 miler. This day was destined for 20 miles. There were some down times, too, like falling in February, which set me back for a few weeks.
But today’s run was a big deal. Hundreds of runners had signed up to run with Pro Bike. More were running with Steel City, just down the block. I parked on the Northshore and trotted over to our start location. I had to circle the block a couple of times to actually find the entrance, but managed to just squeak into the group picture. Off I went with the 10:30 group.
Much of a big-city marathon is navigating your way and pace through the thousands of starters. Today was similar, restricted to sidewalks. We wove through the downtown sidewalks, potholes, and people waiting for buses. We flowed among the Steel City runners, who had gotten a late start. Their faster runners sometimes flowed around us. We made our way across the 16th Street Bridge and across Allegheny Center, Central Northside and across the West End Bridge. Since the roads were not closed off, we used the various sidewalk ramps on the approach to the West End Bridge. Those ramps bounce. With dozens of people crossing at the same time, the ramps seem to buckle and wave like a bucking bronco. No one got thrown off this time, thank God.
The actual marathon goes into the West End, but the preview run stuck to Carson Street. Just over three miles later, we paused at our water stop near the Birmingham Bridge, where swirling masses of runners vied for water and a snack. But, onward and upward. After crossing the bridge, half-marathoners went left and we went right. That’s always a sobering time on the course, when all those folks you were running with just…leave! Appropriately enough, a car zipped by with a “Kitty is Mad Because You Suck” sticker on it! Down to a half-dozen, we marched up the hill. The way through Oakland and Shadyside was uneventful, just miles zipping along as we chatted.
Penn Avenue, Baum Boulevard, Liberty Avenue and finally another water stop. I was grateful to Kim for stationing herself at the stops and staying until everyone came through. This one was suspiciously close to Smokin Brews, with its $2 Jello-shots! Getting started again after stopping was tough. Perhaps I should have had a shot.
Now, just the two mile stretch to the end. But wait, we had to do two laps around the building!! Finally all done. A doughnut to celebrate. Some chatting and back to reality. This one was tough for me. But it was a good preview run. Taper time!