This past weekend, I took my first trip out to Pittsburgh, PA to compete in the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon, put on by the incredible team at P3R Events as part of the DICK’S Sporting Good Pittsburgh Marathon. It was my first half marathon since January of 2015 after a long string of injuries last year, and I couldn’t be happier to finally get to toe the start line of a major road race healthy and with good, consistent training under my belt. I finished sixth overall and was the Top American finisher with a time of 1:07:07. Overall, I feel that I’m making great progress towards where I want to be and building a lot of confidence as I begin to race competitively again.
I went into the race prepared for the challenging, hilly layout of the course after doing a few key strength workouts in St. Paul over some rolling terrain. After living in Minnesota for a few months now and going to school in Syracuse, I was also prepared for the forecasted weather conditions of rain and potential thunderstorms. Luckily, the thunderstorms held out and rain only came down lightly from miles 3 to 10. The first three miles were flat, and after letting the top group of Ethiopian and Kenyan athletes go a half mile into the race, I was fortunate to work a little with Pal Yak of Hudson Elite, clicking off 4:55 miles. After three miles, things got a bit challenging with the hills and bridges and my pace slipped to just over 5 minute miles. I caught back up to Paul around nine miles and split 10 miles in about 50:40, much quicker than the 10-mile race I ran locally a few weeks ago where I finished in 51:17. From that point on it was a GRIND! From just before 11 miles to just past 12 miles, the course climbed significantly until I reached Duquesne’s campus. I finished the last downhill one-mile stretch relieved that I got through the course strong and with no significant pains other than a set of very sore calves and quads.
Going into the race, I set a time goal of 1:05, but after running the course and experiencing the conditions, I am very happy with the time and outcome. I think I would be a lot happier with the time had it been closer to a 1:06, but I can’t complain with what I think was a competitive, solid effort given the course and conditions. There is no doubt in my mind that I could break a 1:05 on a flatter course in good conditions! As I continue to return to competition an once again get used to “entering the house of pain” as my high school coach would say, I know I am soon going to be ready to take a stab at my half-marathon personal best of 1:03:27.
This race was a great opportunity as well to reintroduce pre-race preparations and get a little nervous on race day. Nothing says race day on the roads like the sound of your alarm clock going off at 3:30 a.m.! On workout days, I have been waking up earlier and going through a regular warmup routine, so getting ready for this race on race morning was nothing new to me outside of what I had been practicing all along. A great piece of advice that I have heard throughout the years form multiple coaches and athletes: nothing new on race day.
Aside from the race, I had a fun opportunity to participate in P3R’s Kids of STEEL Pen Pal Program. For the last two months, I have been corresponding with kids at Waynesburg Elementary School just south of Pittsburgh and I finally had the chance to meet them the Friday before the race for lunch and run with them in the Toyota Kids Marathon 1-mile race on Saturday. As I wrote about in a previous blog post, it was a really great opportunity to give back to the sport by sharing my experiences in running with kids. The races on Saturday saw more than 6,000 kids participate and the kids in the Kids of STEEL program have been logging miles and training hard for the big day! It is something I will always remember and I hope to have similar opportunities to work with kids in the sport in the future. Special thanks to Waynesburg Elementary School’s Kids Of STEEL coordinator Kellie-Ann Maute who did an awesome job with the program.
P3R Events’ professional athlete team gave the elite athletes a top-notch experience, one of the best that I have been a part of. From the hospitality suite to race logistics, they were on their A-game and I think I speak for all of the athletes when I say that we appreciate the support and generosity of their team throughout race weekend. As an American distance runner trying to make it professionally on the road racing scene, I was also highly impressed with the support and exposure that P3R Events gives American athletes through their American Development Program. The race offered a competitive prize purse for American citizens in both the half-marathon and marathon, and the organization also offers a similar prize purse at the Liberty Mile that they organize later in the year. Through this program, the organization also supports U.S. training groups, including Team USA Minnesota, and offers American athletes the chance to compete against strong international competition at their events.
I am anxious to get back into training after taking a few days easy after the race and gear up for the rest of the Spring and early summer. This will be the first time I have continued with a training cycle after competing in a half-marathon, and so far the recovery is going a lot better than I expected. In the past, all of the half-marathons that I competed in were the peak races in my training cycles, so I am very happy with how I have come off of this effort. I eased back into things this week with some light runs to get my distance back up and had a “controlled” 200 meter repeat workout this morning. The reason I place controlled in quotation marks is because I did the workout with Heather Kampf – she kept me on my toes, literally!
For my next race, I will return home to my old stomping grounds in New Jersey to compete in the Newport 10,000 in Jersey City on Saturday, May 14. I’m really looking forward to a bit quicker of a race, competing well, and racing in front of my family and friends! After that, I’ll continue to build up towards the Grandma’s Half Marathon in mid-June, where I want to walk away with a new personal best and some confidence heading into the summer and fall. A full marathon is definitely on the horizon, but for now I am enjoying everything and am grateful for being healthy, feeling good in training, and getting back onto the road racing scene! As always, thanks to Team USA Minnesota, Brooks Running, and my family and friends for their support as I chase down a dream. TCB.