This spring was a little busier than most: aside from the obvious of marrying my best friend and going on honeymoon, our two usual late spring races–the Burgh 10K and the Pittsburgh Half–were shoved into consecutive weekends due to Easter.
Typically these races are two weeks apart: the Burgh 10K in late April, followed by taper week, followed by the Pittsburgh half. Not this year. So we had a bit of a conundrum: with our 10K PRs moving south of the 7-minute/mile mark, should really be pushing that hard one week out from the Pittsburgh half marathon? At least one of our much more seasoned colleagues (friend and Boston Marathon 2014 runner) definitely didn’t think so:
We struck a compromise: we’d run the beautiful 6.2 miles of rail trail limestone goodness at our goal half-marathon pace (7:37, or 1:40:00) with an easy 1-mile warm-up before and 1 mile cool-down after. It was a strange plan, but I was also excited about it: we could push but not very hard, still aiming for a decent time (around 47 minutes) while also enjoying the course and everyone on it, sans the stress of trying to PR.
I no longer hesitate in bestowing this honor upon the Burgh 10K: it is my favorite 10K. The Great Race is a close second, but in my opinion this race has everything. The course is an out-and-back on a small section of the Great Allegheny Passage, so it’s trail running with well-maintained crushed limestone paths. The first 3.1 miles are mostly a gentle, constant uphill; around 2.5 everyone goes through a tunnel before the turnaround. That turnaround is the hardest part: it’s on a slight downhill, so you lose all your momentum before chugging about a half mile back uphill to the tunnel. But then the rest of the race is downhill to the finish. I’ve PR’d every year I’ve run it (2011 at 48:10, 2012 at 44:19, and 2013 at 43:01), and in 2012 got an AG award to boot. This event is typically very small, with no more than a couple hundred runners, but the runners who do come out are fast. The age groups are always extremely competitive; my AG in 2012 was 3rd, and despite getting a faster time in 2013 I came in 5th that year.
There’s also plenty of free food and beer at the end as well. It’s well-organized, perfectly measured, and has all the amenities of a great event. Which is why I was somewhat disappointed not to be able to really race it this year, but we definitely still wanted to show up; after all, we paid the registration fee!
I’ll cut straight to the chase: we performed admirably in the first half, coming in at exactly 23:30, or a 7:35 pace. The Lady and I were running with a buddy of hers, Danielle, who is also a big marathoner. The three of us were decidedly a strange sight: running abreast of one another, talking about this and that–sometimes completely unrelated to running (I think I made a joke about “I should probably get some laundry done when I get home”)–while still pounding out a pretty damn solid pace. It was a bit surreal, but really, really fun.
Then the second half came. And, uh, whoops: we averaged a 7:17 pace. We worked together to hold ourselves back from really pushing until the last 0.2; it was tough, but the teamwork helped (especially when some other runners passed us, though we passed them right back in the final push). We each blasted through the finish line near a 5:20 pace: I finished in 46:15, followed by Danielle at 46:17, followed by The Lady at 46:18. Yep, all within 3 seconds of each other.
We waited by the finish line for another of The Lady’s friends, Kim, to come across. Afterwards, we all enjoyed the cool-down mile together, and Danielle’s dad even took this awesome photo of us that I doctored up a bit.
And then, surprise of all surprises: I won 2nd in my AG! We postulated that this was because a lot of the “fasties” were resting up for the Pittsburgh marathon, given the strange scheduling with this race being only 7 days out from the marathon. Danielle and The Lady are also in the same AG, and they got 4th and 5th, respectively, with the winner only having a 2-minute edge on them. Had we been racing, they’d both have easily made a run at the 1 and 2 spots (1st in my AG was 41:55; my PR is about 50 seconds slower than that, so I may have been able to take a stab at it. Potentially).
Yeah. Strange race. But oh so, so fun.
So what now? PITTSBURGH HALF MARATHON, THAT’S WHAT.
I am incredibly excited for this race. I’m in Corral A, and The Lady is–drumroll please–a seeded runner! Her Just a Short Run time of 1:42:17 gave her the qualifying time of a 7:49 min/mi pace she needed to apply for a seeded position, and she was accepted a few weeks ago! Our corrals are right next to each other, so hopefully we’ll get to run together. We’re both shooting for the same goal: a sub-1:40 half marathon (or a 7:37 min/mi pace for 13.1 miles).
(to pre-empt anyone: for me to apply for a seeded position, I need to run a half marathon at a 6:49 min/mi pace…ahahahahahaha not anytime soon)
The half marathon this year also has a bit of a personal edge for me. For one, the Pittsburgh half has been a notoriously error-prone race for me over the last few years. I’ve registered for the race 4 years in a row now, but (excluding this year, obviously) I’ve only run it once: in 2012, and it didn’t go particularly well. In 2011, I registered but had nagging foot and ankle problems in the weeks leading up to the race. In 2013, I was again registered and kicking absolute ass in the weeks leading up to the race, but two weeks out suddenly had my left IT band throw in the towel, so I sat out again. And 2012 the race itself beat me up: I went out too fast and imploded on Birmingham Bridge.
Oh yes, Birmingham Bridge.
It’s around 10.5 miles in to the half marathon, so you’re definitely feeling tired. Plus it’s a solid half mile across the entire bridge, at a slight grade. Two years ago, going out too fast + the gradation + the sun beating down on us = complete implosion. So yes: even if I walk the other 12.6 miles of the race, I firmly intend to bolt across this bridge. I’ve had two years to stew over the beatdown it gave me, and it’s high time I exacted my revenge.
As for me: I’m feeling decent. On a scale of 1 (f*#% this s%&@!) to 10 (1:30 half marathon!), I’m feeling about a 7.25. April was not the best month in terms of training; it certainly wasn’t bad, as I still logged 141 miles. But for a solid two weeks, training was pretty hard to come by, and re-entry after a week of wedding preparation followed by a week of honeymooning is challenging, to say the least. I was bouncing out of my skin when we ran Just a Short Run, and that wasn’t quite good enough for a 1:40 half, so by straight logic alone I’m not optimistic about my chances of doing it here.
BUT. As I’m sure we’re all aware, setting a PR doesn’t exactly abide by logic. I honestly don’t know what will happen. I don’t feel as strong as I did at the end of March, but I feel good. I feel confident and poised, and possibly more mentally sharp than I was a month ago. The fact that I’ll get to race with The Lady will provide a boost, for sure; it’s rare we get to race together. And while this race has a personal edge, I’ve also learned from my crash and burn two years ago. Given how good I felt at a 7:30 pace during the Burgh 10K, I have no doubt I can cruise at that pace for about 10 miles before I need to check in. The ultimate goal, as always, is to shut my mind off and trust my training.
Wish us all luck! And if you’re in Pittsburgh (and not running the race), swing by the area on Sunday and cheer us on 🙂