Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How I Burn Calories: The Pittsburgh Marathon

I used to be fat and out-of-shape.

A bold statement, I know.  It's true, though.  I was never really "skinny", but throughout middle school, high school, college (especially), and then when I started teaching, I gained more and more weight.  In fact, the highest weight I saw on a scale was 252 pounds.

Whoa.  I'm glad that now I can say "used to be" and "was". 

A side-by-side comparison of how I was - and how I now am.
I then joined Weight Watchers with my boyfriend at the time, and at one point, lost 92 pounds.  Last summer, I gained some of it back, but I had also discovered running around the same time.  In 2011, I ran in six different 5K events, and I volunteered at the Pittsburgh Marathon, where my cousin Katie and I decided that next time, we would sign up for the half marathon.  We also convinced our cousin, Nicole, to join us.

 Unfortunately, during her training, Katie injured her Achilles heel, and was unable to run the event.  Nicole and I pressed on - she is from Florida and was finishing up her senior year at Ringling College of Art and Design, so we could not train together.  However, we kept each other posted on our progress.  We were nervous, yet determined.

We would do this.

I signed up for a 10K event three weeks prior to the half marathon - it was rough, but I did it.  I couldn't believe that in 3 weeks, I would be running over TWICE that distance, though, so my training became my main focus.

That's why I haven't written much about food lately.  I was doing the opposite - burning calories instead of consuming more than enough.

I ran 8 miles the next week - in the rain.  I was freezing by the end.  I ran 10 miles the next week.  I slept for 4 hours the afternoon of that 10 run, exhausted after running so far in the cold weather.   I was beginning to wonder if I would make 13.1 miles.

I knew about 12 other people running the half marathon - many of them are on Facebook, and often posted their progress.  Many of them had ran 12 miles, or the full 13.1 during training...

...I got scared.

What if I didn't finish?  All I could think of was getting that finishers medal at the end - what if something happened to me - injury, illness, dehyration -  and I couldn't finish?  I wanted that medal so badly - to prove to everyone, but especially to prove to myself, that all of the hard work, sacrifices (in foods and and in time), and perseverance had paid off. 

I was also signed up for the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K, which took place the day before the half marathon.  It was one of the 5Ks that I had done the year before with my mom and Aunt Marie, and I wanted to do it again, as it was one of the best 5Ks that I had done in all of 2011.  People thought I was crazy, running 3.1 miles the day before running 13.1.  What if I hurt myself?  Wouldn't I be sore?  Should I not take the risk?

Snickers the Horse from Cold Cow Ice Cream and I after the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon 5K
When I say I'm going to do something, I do it.  So I did.

The 5K went well.  I finished in 33 minutes, 37 seconds, which was about 3 minutes over my best time.  I was ok with that, though, knowing that I had a much bigger race the next day.

Robin, my mom, me, and Marie after finishing the 5K
 The day of the half marathon arrived, and I was ready - I ate breakfast, took my vitamins, drank plenty of water, and got to use the Port-O-John before the race, so I was good to go.  Nicole was pretty tired - she had graduated from college on Friday, flew into Pittsburgh on Saturday, and now was up early on Sunday for a 7:30 AM race.  We waited in Corral E (the slow group), and moved through the corrals slowly, like a solidarity march, as each group started the race.  

Nicole and I in Corral "E" before the race began.
 The crowd was electric.  Thousands of non-runners lined the streets to cheer on 26,000 people who had made a commitment to run the streets of Pittsburgh, the City of Bridges, to become "Runners of Steel".  Whatever their reasons for cheering, there was no doubt that there was a high level of respect for the commitment that each of us had made that day - to run with pride.

Nicole and I pick up the pace as we approach the start line. I'm waving.
 I was surprised at how well we started out.  Nicole didn't want me to "abandon" her, so I kept pace with her through mile 1...then 2...then 3...

Around mile 4, Nicole admitted that a restroom stop would make her go faster.  Training in Florida, she was not used to the hills, so uphill was rough, and the pressure in her bladder didn't make it any easier.  We stopped at a Port-O-John in a park in the North Side, and waited...and waited...and other people in line said that it had been awhile, and there was a report of poop on the floor.

Yeah.  Bye-bye.

Right before the 10K mark, we came upon another set of Port-O-John's, much to her relief.  We crossed the marker at around 1 hour, 24 minutes.

The crowd continued to be encouraging and entertaining along the way.  Many signs said, "You've trained longer than Kim Kardashian's marriage", while others read, "Your feet hurt because you're kicking this marathon's butt!"  The consensus on the best one, though, had to be the young kid holding a sign that read, "Worst. Parade. Ever."  

It got warmer.  Much warmer.  We came through a fluid station and were warned to take a cup with us, because there were no more along the course.  Are you kidding me?!  I need my liquids!  I can't dehydrate!

Around mile 9, Nicole said that I could go on ahead.  Her hip was hurting, and she knew I wanted to finish in under 3 hours.  After asking her repeatedly if she was sure, and her assurance that she would still finish, I forged ahead through the South Side.

I stumbled upon my cousin Rachel at the Birmingham Bridge fluid station (which had cups, by the way) - after a sweaty hug (my sweat, not hers) and some words of encouragement (from her), I valiantly continued on to the city side for the final 2 miles.

Not long after, I saw it.  I saw the finish line.  I knew that I would get that medal.  It was right there.

The finish line. (Photo courtesy of Deana Donovan, fellow half-marathon finisher!)
 And I did.  I did it.  2 hours, 55 minutes, 17 seconds after I had crossed the start line, I crossed the finish line.  Not only that, but also within my goal time of under 3 hours - despite a pit stop (and a half) and making sure not to abandon Nicole until she was ready.

My finisher medal
 Nicole finished about 8 minutes after I did - not bad at all, despite the pain she was in.

I set a goal - I accomplished it.  That feeling is the best feeling that exists, no matter how big or how small.  When you say you will do something, and you do it, you feel a sense of accomplishment - a validation that your words mean something because they were put into action for a greater good.

Now what?  Well, I will run more 5Ks.  I am already registered for The Great Race 10K in September, and I will seek more races to run to keep me motivated to train throughout the summer and fall...and beyond.  I need to have motivation to work out to burn the calories that I consume to write this blog and enjoy all of the wonderful foods that Pittsburgh restaurants and farmers have to offer.

Next year - I'll do it all over again.  Full marathon?  Maybe not, as I've seen what that can do to a person's body, but know that if I say I will - I will.  

By the way - this was my bib shirt from Asics.  Why do I run?  "Corro para tacos." (I run for tacos.)

I used my pictures of tacos from Smoke BBQ Taqueria on the bib.


  1. Awesome job! So proud of you!

  2. A very uplifting and enjoyable post. Thanks for sharing it. Congratulations on all your successes and here's to many more!