The Virtual Pittsburgh Marathon – race recap
“Disclaimer: I received entry into the Pittsburgh Marathon Steel Challenge to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!”
In the weird times that are upon us, many races have gone virtual. Sure I am familiar with virtual racing. I have done a few over time, but they really aren’t my cup of tea. However, when you are registered for a race and that is the option, you follow through and train for race day!
Josh and were ready to travel to Pittsburgh. We had some runner friends, Hawkeye friends and ref friends to meet up with. There were perogies to eat, but a global pandemic hit.
The PGH marathon sent out an email with options and what was next for the race. There were 2 options a refund or run the race virtually. I was shocked a refund was a possibility. I can go on and on about refund, deferment, virtual, options – but I wont. A refund is the most rare as a race organization has already committed most of the race registrations towards race day costs.
There was no question I would still plan to run this event virtually. I mean I was training to run it, why give up now? I was having a good training cycle, complete with speed work and my sad attempt at tempo runs. When the race went virtual, not only did the workouts get more difficult – I backed away from them. There is a line between being able to run and pushing yourself too far and risking injury. The last thing I need is to be at a hospital for something stupid. So I continued logging the miles.
Then a random injury hit, I think it was something to do with my sciatic. It was painful to lay on my leg and it was painful to squat or move from seated position to standing. So once I started focusing on rolling out the hinge in the nerve in my ass, things seemed to improve. In that time I backed down to just running my one mile a day, but because I have run over 30 marathons, I was not discouraged. (Yes, I am bragging!) I threw in a 20 miler two weeks before race day, and felt prepared.
In the mean time, the PGH marathon had been very communicative with emails and social media posts. They had some contests to earn more swag and announced that everyone who was registered would also be getting Knockaround Sunglasses with their medals and shirts.
Race weekend rolled around. I was sad I wasn’t on the road to run through the streets of PGH, but I was happy I had an option and the ability to run. Sometimes runners, me included, can forget that because we decided to run – we get to run.
Josh and I decided to keep with the schedule. The 5k was on Saturday, May 2nd and the Marathon was to be on May 3rd. Each event that has had to go virtual has a set of rules, we just wanted to make sure it still felt like a race, by sticking with the original race dates and as close to race start time.
I was running the Steel Challenge, I had to get in a 5k on Saturday. I prepared the night before with a flat runner and going to sleep at a decent hour. I wanted to be pounding the pavement by 8 am.
I was at the starting line, literally a crack in the sidewalk. I know about 23 different places I could run a 5k. The best part was it was a .10th of a mile walk from my house. Josh and the dogs were there at the start, and I took off.
I had an out and back route, with some hills. I really was working hard to push my pace. It helped that I was so familiar with the route, I knew the hills, I knew where I might have to stop to cross a road, but I also knew when to cruise and push. Sure there was no one to pass, no spectators – BUT it was just me trying to push me to do my best.
I came back towards the finish area and kept an eye on my watch to get the distance correct. I was pleasantly surprised to see my time and my pace. I had finished in 28.32 with a distance of 3.14. Just over a 9 minute pace, which for me is excellent!! I couldn’t have been happier. After the post race spread of generic Lucky Charms cereal and G2, it was time to rest up for the marathon.
Josh and I had been working hard on a plan to make sure we could safely complete the distance. We thank the many people that reached out to help us with aid, however we felt it best to make sure we could do this with little to no human contact. We planned a route in the country on gravel roads. It turned out the distance from my parents house to my work is exactly 6.55 miles in one direction. We would start at the house, run to work, back to the house and then do it again. This meant each location would serve as an aid station, complete with bathroom. We also train with hydration packs, so having those was a no brainer. We also didn’t publish the route, but were happy to share for anyone that asked, our safety was the number one concern. (This is just part of what you get from an organized race, so consider this the next time you scoff at race fees.)
We stuffed our faces with our usual pasta pre race dinner, and went to bed early. We were ready to conquer the distance.
We arrived at the starting location about 7:15 am. We had the dogs with us too! After setting up an aid station, we declared 7:30 am time to start. Josh drew a line with his foot in the dirt and he said, ready, set, go! We pushed start on our watches and headed out the driveway. However, Josh didn’t get far – I noticed he didn’t have his water bottles in his pack – so he circled back to get them.
It was a cool morning, and the clouds were covering the sun, maybe 50 degrees, PERFECT!!!
The first hill was within the first quarter mile, and Josh caught back up with me and then pushed ahead. It was just us and the gravel roads. I started with listening to music, it gives me the bop I needed to push. I had an audiobook available too, but I can get slowed up by listening to one of those.
For a while I had Josh in my sights, a farmer left their house and a dog came chasing down the drive after them, it was the same time Josh had passed and I was worried Josh didn’t see the dog – then as I approached another dog came bopping down the drive. EEK! They were howling like a hound and seemed to be friendly and not charging aggressively. I had my mace, but the dogs stayed their distance behind me – so my next worry changed to, are these dogs going to follow us and run away from their home? Whew, as we had climbed to the top of the next hill, the dogs had retreated.
The miles slowly ticked off, it helped mentally that I knew where I was, and I could always see where I was going. Sometimes in a place I have never run, anxiety sets in because I have no idea where I am going, I can’t see around a corner, I just follow the others or eventually the race signs.
In no time, we were in town, and who did I see – tailgating and family friend Carol. She was out on her front porch, She had even put some Hawkeye lawn ornaments out for us to see. At this time, Josh was passing by in the other direction. It was a nice pep in my step.
I stopped at the shop or aid station, and needed to use the bathroom – never pausing my watch. I grabbed a clementine and a drink of water – I was carrying G2, but I just needed some water. Then I looped through town and saw Carol again, this time she had a pom pom!
I got to the edge of town, on the back side of the mobile home village and I could hear a dog barking. I was thinking, oh the dog probably sees me moving and is barking from a tie down or fenced in yard, I couldn’t see it as it was behind a line of trees. Then out of no where a black, barking dog was coming at me – Holy Sh!t!!! I stopped, and the dog stopped, I saw it was a lab mix, and then it went back into the trees. WOWSERS!! (later in the evening I saw a post on FB that said their dog got loose in the trailer park, and had since been found. ) Who knew dogs would have been our biggest threat. I did see a flattened frog and many cows on the run. I also think I saw a bowling ball in the ditch.
The run back to the house was ok, I was feeling good. I also wasn’t hungry, but knew I should be consuming something other than G2 and the one clementine wasn’t going to cut it. Of course, we had our usual toast breakfast, but I needed to keep fueling. I was thinking I would eat a Honey Stinger waffle and grab water at the aid station, that thought powered me back. I also saw another runner out on the roads, I would have put money on the fact there would be 0 people running the course, but I would have lost!
About 3/4 of a mile from the house, I saw Josh headed back into town. He was moving along and looking good.
I rolled back into the aid station and was greeted by my dad. He was greeting me back to the first annual Plato Marathon!! He told me there was aid, but when I stopped for a drink, a waffle, and a collapsible flask of water for my pouch, he told me to keep moving. It was a fun touch.
Ok, back on my way into town, and the first tractor was passing me on the road. Then I saw the neighbor working on their tractor and Kenny Chesney was signing about his sexy tractor – I can’t make this up, it made me laugh. I keep my music on shuffle.
Nothing too eventful happened for a while, it was around mile 16 that the hills were taking a toll. Then a car was approaching, it stopped in a driveway and in the distance I could see people rolling out the doors. I was not sure what was going on, so I kept pushing forward. I approached and a woman with some kids were holding up signs cheering me on, the signs had MY NAME ON THEM!! It was awesome!!! At the time I had no clue who they were, I wasn’t going to get too close, so for a while I ran and was thinking, who was that??
I have run a ton of races, many distances, many style of events. I have never been super fast, but I have always been proud of what I can do. In those events I find myself running alone a lot, so the idea of a virtual marathon didn’t scare me that much. I have had to mentally prepare myself to run alone before. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone out on the rural roads cheering me on, so it meant a lot – just as it means a lot when a random stranger on a race course is pushing you in the back of the pack.
I came closer to town and saw Josh on his way back, on the home stretch. I had to ask if he knew who those people were. He did, it was his yoga instructor. It was so sweet, she took the time with the kids and they made signs, just for us!! Thank you again!!!
At this point, I was feeling decent, I knew I would complete the event. However, it was the point things were getting annoying – I started walking the uphills, my pack was feeling heavy and I needed to eat, but didn’t want to. So I decided to give some fruit snacks a go.
I was back in town and Carol was back out cheering, I told her I would be back in a few. I stopped at the shop and ditched my pack. I took out a granola bar, refilled the collapsible flask, stuff the things in the side pockets of my shorts and was back on the course to finish the last stretch.
I stopped at Carol’s to empty the rocks out of my shoes. It was great to chit chat for a bit, she was impressed by the storage in my shorts. Thank you Carol for taking time out of your day!
I walked up the hill and checked a text message from my friend Kelly, complete with a noisemaker!! I was also posting updates to my Instagram account.
I passed the point on the edge of town and didn’t see the black dog, and just kept motoring. Around the time my watch hit mile 23, the cloud cover was gone and the sun was burning bright in the sky. I was thirsty and trying to ration my water. I just needed to keep going. I tried eating some granola bar.
Around mile 25, Josh called and wanted to know where I was. I told him my location and we chatted for a while. I was ready to be out of the sun. We were lucky to have the cloud cover for so long, but that sun was starting to bake me.
I was running down the hill and could see my parents house, as I got near my dad and the dogs were standing in the yard, Josh was resting on a planter. I turned into the driveway where there was a spray painted sign with arrows marking the finish. Kona (the dog) ran me across the finish – which was actually a newly appeared line that said start.
WAHOO!!! The virtual PGH Marathon was complete!!! My finish time was near 5:24, but since I never stopped my watch the overall time was near 5:31. This is about average for me, yes my PR is about 4:43, but given the circumstances, I was happy!! I really didn’t want to push myself too hard, I wanted to also feel good when I was done. The race website has a place to submit results, so I made sure to claim my spot in the virtual results.
It was cool to celebrate with my parents, the dogs and Josh. We had packed some Big Grove Beers to drink at the finish line party. We sat and visited, enjoying the day. I ate 2 more clementines and half a Coffee Crisp candy bar (thanks Ron!)
After chasing Ace (the dog) to come back after spotting some birds, we packed up our things, stopped at work to clean up the aid station, and headed back to our house. Another perk, no 11 hour car ride home.
Our big plan was to splurge on Five Guys burgers and fries and drink more beer. We are party animals!!
Virtual racing is what you make of it. While I have opinions on virtual events, I am glad there was an option to continue training for something, thank you for the opportunity to push myself. I support the races that are transparent and communicating with their participants. I look forward to one day running on the streets of Pittsburgh and enjoying a pierogie!