Three of us flew into Pittsburgh last Friday and visited with family and friends for two days before running the marathon on Sunday. There were something like 6500 entrants in all races (ninety-nine in the qualifier marathon, ~2000 in the 5K, ~400 marathon relay teams, and slightly less than 4000 marathoners).
It was quite an eye-opener to watch the qualifiers warm up and then see them off in their joint quest to get someone, ANYONE, under 2:14. Scores of articles were written in the few days before this warm, humid morning, lamenting their inability to produce sub 2:12 times. This race was a real pressure cooker, and something I will never forget. You could see it in their eyes, years of training for this, a hot, humid day in Pittsburgh. I told Keith Brantly good luck within 5 minutes of the start, and, as he turned to thank me, I could see the stress in his facial expression. I tried to get Rod Dehaven’s autograph before the gun, but he, smart man, was no where to be found. Joe LeMay was running around all over the place in nervous apprehension. I saw him running up Fifth Ave. thirty minutes before the gun.
There were thousands of folks lining Grant Street for the Start. I managed to jump up on a granite planter in front of a Macy’s, or some other Department store, and I had a good view. Unfortunately, I carried no camera. However, the press truck parked in front of the starting line 50 feet from me had no lack of this or other electronic equipment. I spied Amby Burfoot in the truck with a Palm Computer. Way Cool! Then I hear the roar of the pace bikes and I know the ‘gun’ is near. I think it was a siren start, but I honestly do not remember. Down Grant Street they gait. The roar was deafening as it echoed off the walls of the surrounding sky scrapers.
Back to the reality of my marathon, I had to try to find several persons in this madness in the next 15 minutes! My sister was running the 5K, and I really wanted to see her start her race. The Gods were with me. I caught up with her 5 minutes before the 5K start. Next the wheel chair racers were off. Those folks were truckin! And finally, the remaining marathoners started lining up. I walked around for 10 minutes before finding Matt Minno and ?Coach Bill’ Hillison. We all lined up.
Having never run in a large marathon before, I noticed the Pace Group posters in the crowd. Matt and Bill were planning to run at 3:40 pace to begin, both set on finishing times under 3:20. I, being the child-like 40 year old that I am, continuing to nurse the pipedream of a 3 hour marathon, disregarded all of the medical warnings for the anticipated heat, and accordingly migrated up to the 3:20 crowd. The siren blows and off we go down Grant Street. Well, off I go about 30 seconds latter as the hundreds in front of me make the starting line scream with the beeps of champion chips running by.
Off I go, trying to keep one eye on the three hour pace team. Major sardine city! I lose sight of anyone with a bib saying 3 hour on their backs instantly, and do not see one again for about 3/4 of a mile. I go through the first mile in 7:40. I curse aloud, knowing I can ill afford many more miles at that pace. So, I pick it up down Liberty Avenue. At two miles the clock reads 14:07, I curse aloud again, knowing I”ve just run under my lactate threshold for one mile! The third mile comes with the clock reading 20:40 or so, I breath a sign of relief, at least I didn’t speed up! Down Penn Avenue I float, passing the third or fourth rock band playing an Iggy Pop tune which I can?t recall at the moment. Talk about ADRENALINE.
Over the Allegheny River we go on the Sixteenth Street Bridge which is actually downhill (honest!). Then up a slight grade and behind Three River’s Stadium. The first 10K is just behind the Stadium and I go through it in around 42 minutes. Next we go over the West End Bridge and cross the Ohio River, but just before doing so the runners are freaked out by volunteers screaming their names, apparently read from the computers communicating with the chips strapped to our shoes. I start talking with the guy next to me, he’s a 27 yr. old from Boston trying to run under 3:10 to qualify for 2001 Boston. We run the next 2.5 miles together and with the lead pack of other 3:10ers on Carson Street.
We enter South Side. So far we’ve gone up only one long hill, that below Mt. Washington. It was a slight grade but probably 1/2 of a mile long. We’d passed the first relay station about a mile past the hill. I wasn’t impressed, everyone was yelling for the relay teams and we skirted by seemingly unnoticed. Right about then, I saw the lead pack of 3 hour pacers. I broke away from the 3:10ers and went through 10 miles in slightly over 67 minutes. By this time we were in South Side, and somehow I missed seeing and hearing a Steel Band playing there. But I do remember a Blues Band in that area.
By the 24th Street Bridge, I was running with the 3 hr. Pace Team. However, for reasons I’ll never fully understand, I end up in front of them all after running up Forbes Ave into Oakland, which was supposed to be a 250 foot elevation climb in 3/4 of a mile. I think it might have had something to do with a Pretender’s tune being belted out by some sweet looking women. Didn’t seem like much of a hill to me at the time. So I go through the University of Pittsburgh and 13.1 miles in 1:28 something. A volunteer yelled out my position just after my chip made the recorder beep. Fifty-seventh place. I’m shocked, and awed at the same time, as I run past the Cathedral of Learning, a really neat piece of architecture. .
About a mile after this, going up Fifth Avenue, it becomes apparent that the shade and lower temperatures we had in the morning will not be found up here on the ‘Hill’. I start wrestling with the thought of letting go of that 3 hr. Marathon. Up and down hills we go on Penn Ave. into N. Braddock (which is somewhat of a warehouse district, probably the most isolated portion of the course). I start my gradual decay. The 20 or so runners with the 3 hr. Pace Team pass me somewhere on Penn Ave. I start bargaining with myself, ‘so what, I can still run a PR, without too much effort.’ I think of some of my last words to Matt and Bill, ‘you all may see me blown up by the side of the road around 20 miles.’ I laugh aloud, and plug along at slightly over 8 minute pace for a couple of miles.
Somewhere on East Liberty Ave. going up one of the many hills, which are not defined in the elevation chart of the course, I started passing walking, and motionless, marathoners who had hit the wall. I didn’t bother to count. Instead I start yelling encouragement, ‘there’s no such thing as the damn WALL.’ I notice that I am passing 3 hr. Pace Team Leaders and members of the same pack which I lead up Forbes Ave. My adrenaline soars, and I pick it up. Finally, we’re out of Homewood and enter some neighborhoods around the 19th mile. There’s water everywhere, thank GOD. Every 1/2 mile or so. In addition to the regular water stops family’s are giving out water and ice. Fire hydrants are wide open, making the street like running through a river. Speaking of ice, I threw plenty of it down the back of my singlet during this race. Somewhere before the 20th mile we hear the roar of rock bands again. I go through 20 miles in 2:18 and change, and in a fleeting moment of insanity think ‘hell all I’ve got to do is run a 41 minute 10K.’ I try to get my legs going faster, and I start to get calf cramps. Bad plan I decide.
Right before a massive downhill starting on mile 22, I run past the final relay station. A woman relay runner, who’s name I can’t remember because of oxygen deprivation, catches me and gives me encouraging words as she passes. I let her go. The next thing I hear is BEER. Right at the very top of the longest downhill section of the course, there’s these two sweet women offering 2 oz. Cups of beer. I think a microsecond, said ‘PLEASE’ and am handed the first cup of beer anyone’s taken according to the women. Of course it’s in the mid-eighties and most are saner than I. I down the warm beer and run down Liberty Ave. FAST. I catch the woman relayer and we run the next two miles together. We sense the end, and see Downtown, 2 miles away. My legs start to cramp again, and the woman goes on. Several marathoners pass me in the last two miles. But I somehow find the strength to sprint the last quarter of a mile to pass a man in my age group who had passed me on mile 25.
I see the clock, it reads 3:06:48, I think to myself ‘I better kick it in if I’m going to break 3:07,’ not realizing that I had around 20 some seconds to spare because of the delayed start. I slow down and walk a couple hundred yards get some fluids and think ‘Gee, I feel a lot better than I did when I finished the Tallahassee Marathon.’ I return my chip and receive my finisher’s metal.
During the marathon I asked several persons if anyone beat the 2:14 Time standard. No one could tell me one way or the other. I think they didn’t want to be the bearers of bad news. I then asked several volunteers, and they couldn’t tell me. It was noon, and around 86 degrees. I’d run at least 14 miles in 80+ temperatures. Maybe the words weren’t coming out of my mouth? I start looking around, apparently T.J. Lentz saw me looking for shade and he strolls over and tells me of a pile of crushed ice is in the deserted Elite Tent. I ask how he did, and he says he’s run 2:42 or something, and says he just had a bad day. I ask the dreaded question, he tells me ‘no’. I comment that the weather was brutal and then began to think of Matt and Bill. I look at my watch, 3:17. I run over to the finish area, and within a minute in comes Bill. I ask Bill how he feels, he says he needs to get out of the sun. He tells me Matt was in front of him. Once Matt is located we let those wonderful volunteers take good care of us.
FYI, 21 Olympic qualifiers DNFed, along with hundreds of others…..
Would I run Pittsburgh again? Why sure, it was a hoot.