My goal was simply to maintain an 8:50 pace throughout the race, which is something I've done -- or faster -- over and over and over on training runs between 10 and 15 miles.
When I run races of significant distance (to me, that's 10 miles or further) I always feel great right around the 4 mile mark. And that's the most dangerous time for me. I feel so good that I tend to pick up the pace and pay for it in the last couple of miles. Today I didn't get that "I can run like this forever" feeling at 4 miles. Or 5 miles. Or 6 miles. And by 8 miles I was through. It didn't help that I could never get my breathing right either, which was probably even worse than never getting into my running groove. The extra adult beverage (or two) I imbibed the night before the race probably kinda hurt too, especially since I hardly ever drink adult beverages.
Anyway, I walked. There should be no shame in that, but for me in a half marathon there is. And with the walking and then trying to run again came the cramping. The last five miles of the half marathon were joyous, let me tell you. I haven't checked for my official time, but it was somewhere between 2:10 and 2:15. I'm in no rush to discover the ugly truth.
To be fair to myself, I though the course sucked. It was more or less flat with a few annoying hills. But it had to be the least interesting route through a big city as possible. There was actually a part where we ran on part of a highway that had 20 ft. tall sound barriers on both sides of the road. Really inspiring.
Then there was the neighborhood that had gigantic signs all over it: "LIVE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD." "SEND YOUR KIDS TO PUBLIC SCHOOL." "RECEIVE A $40,000 PROMISE SCHOLARSHIP." I wonder how many people ran by that and thought, "you know what, I bet this neighborhood and its public schools don't suck at all. I'll have to look in to moving here."
Also, the event organization sucked. No one knew anything, and even though they were all volunteers, if you had a question no one could even point you to someone who might know. And in some instances they could be pretty rude about it. Well excuse me for asking a question of the person in the "Volunteer" shirt with the big "Got a question? Ask me!" button on it (I might be exaggerating about the button).
They were giving away these sweet gym bags with your bib number at the expo. Unless you got there when I did and discovered they ran out of them two people before you. So you got a plastic shopping bag, and to make up for it an extra random shirt in a too-small size, which you were told to "give it to a neighbor if it doesn't fit." Stay classy, Pittsburgh.
On a side note, that's a beef of mine. You know how many people pre-register for a race. How can it be so hard to make sure you have enough swag for all of them? This seems to happen a lot. And if it's because of the no-shows that are factored in, stop factoring them in. They're probably made up for by the late registers anyway.
The race was supposed to have like 20 bands lining the route and performing. I get it that it's nice of the bands to volunteer their time and effort to entertain people who will only hear part of one verse of one song, but I don't consider a guy standing there playing a bagpipe a band. Or a guy somewhere else playing bongos. The school marching band at the one place was nice though.
Then there was the meet-up area after the race in the gigantic convention center exhibition hall that only had one set of double doors open to enter AND exit. You basically had to fight your way in and out.
And the cookies they handed out were dry and gross.
And the finisher's medal was a disgrace:
That could be the medal for any generic half marathon anywhere in the world. It doesn't even say "Pittsburgh" on it. What makes it so bad is that both the marathon and marathon relay medals were really nice! I can't imagine whoever decided on the medal designs saw all three of them lined up and thought the half marathon finisher's medal was a perfect complement to the other two. Doofus.
But it gets better. The ribbon the medal is affixed to doesn't even bother to say half marathon:
Yep. We got a lousy generic medal on a marathon ribbon. Special. Just like the people in Pittsburgh.
Speaking of, my two favorite
- The idiot wearing the Ben Roethlisberger football uniform. He wasn't wearing pads or a helmet. He probably got special permission from the short bus driver to leave them off today.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins are pretty deep into the NHL playoffs. The Pittsburgh Pirates were playing a home series this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds. There is absolutely nothing going on in football right now (except for mini-camps that are irrelevant to fans). So what chant does some guy start up? That's right: "Let's go Steelers!" The only stupider people were the jugheads who responded.
- Bonus spectator sighting: Some guy was standing on the side of the road watching the runners while wearing a Baltimore Orioles cap. I saw it, shouted out "Orioles, all right!" and gave him a thumbs up. He looked at me like I just raped his dog and was now looking for his cat.
I may be bitter, but it wasn't all bad. And I need to rekanize the good too:
- I got to meet up with my friends Andrea and Mark (of Cherry Blossom picture fame). We ate dinner and hung out and it was great. Then Andrea bought the bacon cheese ranch fries at our post-race lunch and became my best friend ever.
- Lisa, the waitress at the restaurant. I was having a mild freak-out over the fact that I didn't have my necessary pre-race piece of bread and banana. When we asked Lisa if there was a place to get them nearby she said no, but she'd get me bread and a banana from the kitchen. She brought the bread but said they used up all the bananas. About 10 minutes later she brought me one that she'd found. I raved about her to the restaurant, the hotel and now the internet. I also tipped her generously. I heart Lisa.
- The start line. I hate to admit this, but I always get a little emotional at the start of a race. It's a really collegial atmosphere and it does something for me to know that we're all there for the realization of the goals we've all worked hard for.
- The spectators. In some stretches there was really great crowd support with lots of enthusiastic people. Not along the highway with the sound barriers though. Special props to the old guy around mile 12 who gave me his banana when he saw me stretching a cramp out of my calf. He said he didn't know if it'd kick in in time before the end, but I was able to run across the finish line, and I like to think it's because of his donated potassium.
- The race t-shirt. The finisher's medal sucks, but the race t-shirt is ok (it's in the wash so I don't have a picture). I think I'm more interested in adding it to my eventual quilt than I am in wearing it though.
- The weather. It was cool and cloudy and perfect running weather. I'm only sorry I wasn't really able to take advantage of it. It did rain for about my last mile and a half or so, but by then it didn't really matter much.
Also, even though I had a pretty lousy run I do not blame the FIRST program, which I've been raving about all year and which served me really well until this weekend. If you use it from start to finish it's great, but I don't think it was meant for use by repeating the last six weeks of the program between half marathons. Last year I used the Hal Higdon intermediate half program for the six weeks between half marathons, and set my half marathon PR at the second one. But I'll still probably use FIRST to train for the marathon this fall. Might as well. I still have the book.