Pittsburgh Marathon- Sometimes Things Don’t Go as Planned 

This past Sunday, May 7th, I ran my debut marathon in Pittsburgh. The short version, it did not go well and I spent the last 12 miles solo battling the wind while puking up any fluids or gels that I tried to get in before crossing the line in a disappointing time of 2:26:46, or roughly 7-8 minutes slower than my goal. After taking the last few days to reflect on it, there are some positives to take away and I definitely know how to prepare better for my next marathon. In terms of what I would do differently, the entire nutritional aspect. Even the day before, when I was dropping off my bottles, I still didn’t have a solid plan in mind. For the next build, I want to have it dialled in and practice it extensively in my training to prevent the events of the last 12 miles. Mileage wise, I couldn’t have asked for a better build. Hitting 130-155 miles per week became comfortable and I really enjoyed it. I think my mileage will hopefully be the same next time around. 

Now for the long version; I drove down to Pittsburgh early Friday morning arriving at 3:30 p.m. After checking in, I headed to Schenley Park to go for a run and promptly got lost. Even when asking for directions from people, they seemed to not know which way the park was so my 4k shakeout turned into 6.4k before I got back. After I had dinner and got back to the hotel, my roommate, Travis Morrison arrived. He is two years older than me from Salt Lake City with a few 50k trail races and a 2:23 PB to his name. We talked about running together and dipping into the 2:18-2:20 area on our shakeout on Saturday morning. 

Looking at the field, it had some solid 2:09 African runners as well as a plethora of strong Americans including Craig Leon, Nick Arciniaga and Tyler Jermann. It was pretty cool hanging out with these guys at dinner the night before the race! After a great dinner, it was time to prepare our race gear and go to bed.

I was up at 4:30 a.m. for the 7:05 start. I slammed back some oatmeal and a cup of coffee before meeting all the other athletes in the elite field in the lobby. We headed a few blocks to the start line and relaxed in the elite room before the race. After an impressive four bathroom stops, the marathoners headed out to the start line at 6:40. I jogged around for eight minutes before switching shoes, hitting the porta-potty one more time and doing some dynamic stretching. The national anthem was sung and then the gun went off, signalling the start of our 42.2k journey.

Being that the race took place in the USA, I decided to switch my watch up to rely on mile splits instead of kilometres. I found Travis and the other group of American guys before we split the first mile in a quick 4:59. It seemed as though the tunnel and tall buildings of downtown were really throwing off my garmin signal so I decided to pay attention to my time at each mile as opposed to the distance that my garmin said. It seemed that the other guys thought the pace was too spicy so we all backed of and began splitting 5:10-5:15 per mile. Still faster than my subscribed pace but not too much faster. We all took turns leading and pushing the group along as the wind was a major factor on the day. It was strong and provided us a headwind for the majority of the race. 


Rolling with the pack, leading miles 7 and 8

We passed through the 5k mark just over 16 minutes and kept the pace rolling along. I made the decision to not putting a bottle at the first stop 3.5 miles in because I thought it was too early on for the fluids. About half the group grabbed a bottle and the other half skipped it as well. I took to the front of the group from miles 7-8 after we passed through 10k in the 32:20 range. It was a pretty surreal experience leading a group of some of the strongest marathoners in North America as we clicked off a few sub 5:10 miles. I noticed early on that the course was very challenging as the rolling hills in the first 10 miles were not what I expected. I was trying to prepare myself for the biggest climb from 12-13 miles and again from 14-16 miles. I took my first gel at 7 miles in and took my time with it before grabbing my first bottle at 7.8 miles. I made sure to get down quite a bit incase I couldn’t later on in the race. We passed through 10 miles somewhere around 52:20-52:30 and I was still rolling with the pack, but I could tell something was not feeling right. I tried not to freak out and stay relaxed but then I thought about still having 16 miles to go with something feeling off. In my thoughts, I got dropped by the group just before 11 miles as I still split a 5:08. Ok, regroup and get back with them, I told myself. The wind started to pick up and I was off the back running solo. My roommate Travis also got dropped off the back so I worked my way to catch up to him. We talked a bit to see how each other was doing. I told him if at any point he wanted to go, drop me because I could tell it was going to be a rough day. We ran together until 12.5 miles where he dropped me and began the push back up the group. 

The 2 miles of hills at miles 12 and 13 were relentless. My pace slowed drastically up the hills, which was expected, into the 5:40-5:50 per mile range as I split through the half way mark all alone in 1:09:XX. Time to work the downhills and make up for the last uphill miles. I got my pace back down below 5:20 per mile but after grabbing my bottle at 14 miles, I puked it back up all over myself. It was a sign that my body did not want to take any more nutrition which was very troubling. After the downhill mile from 13-14, where I worked out a 5:14, it was back to three miles of uphill. My pace began drifting up above 5:40 per mile on this portion of the course which was, once again, to be expected. I got passed by another marathoner just before 16 miles but I decided to keep him in my sights if he faltered. My next gel and bottle at 16.3 miles were promptly puked back up again which was infuriating. Don’t panic, don’t panic, I told myself. Just keep taking them even if you keep puking it up, maybe some of it will stick. 

My 17th mile was right back in the 5:18 range but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it for much longer. I could see the guy who passed me just before 16 miles still not too far up the road as well as Nick Arciniaga who fell a little off the pack within my sights. I passed through 30k in 1:40:56 and knew the time might be out the window but I could close down on the guys in front of me and place in the top-10. But as the 19th mile hit, I began having a sharp pain in my left lung that would hurt when taking a deep breath. It felt like my lung was punctured and it was killing me! I grimaced and realized that there are still 10k left in the race as I passed through 20 miles. My pace dipped into the 5:50 per mile range as I puked up the Gatorade I grabbed at the 20 mile mark. I managed to work the pace back down into the 5:30 range with the two guys ahead of me a little further up the road, but still within range. 


Getting across the line, no matter how slow.

I can still run 2:21-2:22 if I run like 5:40 miles the last 5. Unfortunately, that was not happening as my 22nd mile was 5:50 again. The hills were brutal today but the 23rd mile was a big downhill so I figured I could get a lot of time back, even though I was hurting and not able to take in any carbs or fluids. I ran a 5:14 mile pretty easily while puking up my last gel in the middle of that mile and my last bottle just before 24 miles. I passed through 40k in 2:15:54 but my race was now over. I could not take in any fluids because my stomach could not hold anything down and my vision became blurry as I began stumbling around now running well above 6:00 per mile, actually closer to 7:00. I passed 25 miles and realized my time was going to be gone. I was still on 2:22-2:23 pace until 40k but I could feel as though I was going to pass out so it became an act of survival the last 2.2k. No matter how slow I was running at the end, I was not passing out before the finish line. I was passed by a marathon relay runner just after 25 miles who shouted on some encouragement but I was so dizzy I could not respond. Just keep going, one foot in front of the other. Finally after slowing to above 8:00 per mile, I hit 26 miles and made the turn for the last 0.2 miles. Luckily there was no one behind me for almost 2 minutes so I could stumble as slowly as I needed across the finish line. I crossed the line nearly passing out in a slow 2:26:46 for 12th overall and roughly 7-8 minutes slower than anticipated. I layed on the ground in the medical tent afterwards and actually fell asleep for around 10 minutes. After needing some help getting to my feet, I found my roommate, Travis, who ran an incredible race running 2:19:45 with only a slight positive split. 

I slammed back some gatorades on the two block walk back to the hotel, still puking them up before jumping in the shower and packing up my stuff. I met my parents in the lobby who informed me that it was nearly a 5 mile walk to the car, how lovely! That walk was equally as hard as the race itself! I took Monday completely off after the race but went for a very slow 10k jog yesterday and to my surprise, my legs are not as sore as anticipated and I am feeling almost back to 100% now on Wednesday. After the race, I said I never want to do another marathon, but now, I am already looking for the next one!

In conclusion, I didn’t have the race I wanted but that happens from time to time. I battled hard for 40k but my body was shutting down in the last 8k. I had so many thoughts of dropping out after 30k but I still finished. There are a lot of positives to take away and I know what I need to do now so that I am better prepared for the next time. I would like to say a huge thanks to John for guiding me through my first marathon build! I can’t wait for the next one! To Ryan and the whole group at P3R and the PGH marathon volunteers for giving me an opportunity to run in a world class, phenomenal event for my first marathon. There was spectators and volunteers lined up the entire course, with no bare sections. The support and organization were absolutely incredible! If you are looking for a marathon to do, I would highly recommend Pittsburgh! To my parents for driving down with me and supporting me, thank you so much for helping me chase my dream. Things didn’t work out this time, but there is always another opportunity!

As for what’s next, I am looking to just get into really good 10k shape for June and take a crack at running 30:00-30:30 on the roads at the Toronto Waterfront 10k next month. I do have some other race plans, but nothing major. Just smaller or more local stuff before I dial in my nutrition and go for another marathon in the fall. My first marathon was definitely a learning experience and I will use the knowledge to better myself for next time!

Keep training hard,

Seth

3 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Marathon- Sometimes Things Don’t Go as Planned 

  1. Love tracking your progress man, you came a very long way and should be proud of yourself, I remember you slowly getting better in high school, now you’re a legit runner as an adult. Congrats mate.

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  2. Congrats on your first marathon Seth! Awesome race! Enjoyed your write up and I look forward to reading about your next one!

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  3. OMG Seth, you are way to hard on yourself. Excellent run when everything seemed to go wrong. I find drinking coffee before a race is brutal on your body…it just dehydrates you. There is enough caffeine in the gels most likely. Recover. All the best! Helen

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