After a quick 16 mile ride on the tri-bike on Monday morning, it was time to get a move on.  I had to finish packing, get Kayla to the kennel and make my way to the airport.

I would be flying up to Pittsburgh, PA for a few meetings on Monday and Tuesday at Carnegie Melon University and then the Thanksgiving holiday would begin after wrapping up the business day. 

I had a lot on my plate this trip, mixing business with a family holiday and even a little bit of racing on Thursday morning at the Hopewell Turkey Trot.  On Friday I would be making my way over to Philadelphia for my 25th High School Class Reunion.  Now that should be good for some material!

I packed carefully.

Suits, Ties, Running shoes, Racing Flats, dress clothes, casual clothes, and a car-seat pad for Landry that was left behind.  My iPod, GPS watch, a second pair of trainers in case it rained on me during my morning runs.

Oops, a pair of jeans to fly back in on Saturday morning – almost forgot those.  As I dropped off Kayla at the 620 Pet Resort I felt like I had just about everything covered.  Of course I was mistaken.

I made my way through security, caught up with my friend Cal who is a gate agent for Continental Airlines.  He was kind enough to pick up a stuffed airplane for Little Miss Landry who he met on Saturday, checking her and Dawn in for her very first plane ride.

I connected in Houston and scored an upgrade to first class for the trip to Pittsburgh.  Arriving on-time, I gathered my checked bag, hopped in rental car number one and made my way toward Downtown.

Traffic wasn’t so great heading into the city, but nothing too terrible, as I hit the Fort Pitt Tunnel I was just about there.

As soon as I came through the other side of the mountain it hit me like a ton of bricks.

You know how you have a certain “sense” that hits you when you return to a given location after an absence?  For example, anytime I have returned to the Jersey Shore as soon as I cross over the marsh I put down the car windows and let the smell of the salt air drift in.  It’s as good as a time-machine as I am transported “down the shore” as it is called where I grew up.

It brings back memories of Bacon on Wonderbread Sandwiches on the beach with my Mom when I was a little boy and Dad was off on the boat fishing.  Visiting Lucy the Elephant in Margate or the summer I spent working in Ocean City, NJ in my late teens.

Well as soon as I drove over the bridge into downtown Pittsburgh and glanced to my right I saw the Pittsburgh Marathon Course.  Further ahead on Fort Duquesne Boulevard was the hotel I would be staying in.  The last time I was there was May 1,, 2010 – Dom and Val were guests there that night as well, the eve before marathon number two this spring.

The 6th, 7th and 9th street bridges in Pittsburgh - the only set of three idenitcal bridges in the U.S.

I turned left and passed the Italian restaurant where we had our pre-race dinner.  Where I sat next to Dom devouring my plate of pasta marinara while he struggled down a few spoonfuls of Italian Wedding Soup.  His body failing him.

The next morning after the race would be the last time I saw Dom before he passed away in August.

Pittsburgh was different now.  It would be different forever.

When I traveled back in August for Dom’s memorial service there were so many emotions going on, so much sadness it was overwhelming.  Today when I look back on that day and a half I spent in Pittsburgh, it all seem like a blur to me now.

But this week, being back with time to reflect on things feels very, very different.  I’m able to look at things with razor sharp clarity and realize that there will be sights, sounds and smells that will always remind me of Dom.

I’ve come to realize this week that the memories I’m left with I had better be sure to enjoy.  They are the only ones I’ll ever have of my friend.

Tuesday morning’s training run called for an easy 6.2 miles. 

I figured I would do 8.

I decided that I would cross over the 6th street bridge and hit the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.  Crossing the very same bridge that set the stage for our best marathon to date and a Boston Qualifying time of 3:17:43.

Clemente Bridge - Pittsburgh, PA

I crossed that same bridge a second time in May of this past year, just as fast as 2009.  Actually :13 seconds faster, but with only 12 days of recovery from the Boston Marathon on April 19th, I was running on borrowed time.  I would run only three or four more “easy” miles that day, as the final 20 were a battle of wills.

The Marathon’s will to break me, mother nature’s will to keep throwing rain, heat, humidity and winds at the runners and my will to keep going.  To run every bit of those 26.2 miles to get that Finisher’s Medal for Dom.

The run on Tuesday morning was a great one.  Sure it was windy, raining and humid, but I’ve come to expect that when I’m running in Pittsburgh.  Why would anything change today I thought?

The trail took me along the Allegheny River.  I had the entire trail to myself in the early morning darkness.  I would see only one man on a mountain bike logging some miles before sunup.  I ran without my iPod so I could be more in tune with my pacing.  Practicing for Austin when I need to be a bit more disciplined with my pace and run consistent even splits.

Not just charging over the final miles like a maniac like I’ve been catching myself doing too often lately.

After the fourth beep on my watch I turned around on the trail and made my way back to the hotel over the final 4 miles.  As I got closer and closer to the bridges, I could see the bright lights from the tall buildings across the river.

I glanced up around mile 7 and saw in bright letters – UPMC.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.  The place where Dom spent so much time this past year in consultation with Doctors, having tests, procedures and his surgery last November.

I did a pretty good job holding my pace steady – but that last mile got away from me just a little as I pushed back over the bridge:

7:11, 7:06, 7:09, 7:09, 7:13, 7:07, 7:04, 7:01

I crossed back over Fort Duquesne Boulevard and made my way back inside the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel.

As I entered the lobby I noticed the large round lounging sofa where Val and Dom told me a story in May.  The hotel used to be a nightclub that they came to a few times when they were dating.

The name of the club was “Heaven”.

Sounds about right.

Later tonight I will be spending some time with Dom’s wife Val, his daughter Sierra and son Nico.  They will be meeting little Landry for the first time.  It’s a scene that I know Dom would have enjoyed a whole lot.

Miss you Dom, I ran a couple extra for you out there today.

  1. Jodi Higgins says:

    It’s amazing how things can be put into perspective so quickly when we return to a place we know so well. Great job out there today! I know Dom is smiling down on you and loving the fact that you met him at the finish line today metophorically speaking when you stopped and remembered the story of “Heaven” the night club. Dom will be there when Val, Sierra and Nico meet Landry today there is no doubt in my mind. He is always with you.

  2. Shenese says:

    Awesome post, Joe! Thanks for the CMU shout-out! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. onelittlejill says:

    I bet Val and family cannot wait to meet Landry! And I am sure Dom WILL be there!

    Last year, my high school reunion was on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend too- good thing we only have one every 10 years!

  4. Kym Klass says:

    What a reflective run. Dealing with the loss of someone, and revisiting familiar places, is hard. You did so with grace. Have a great Thanksgiving — Landry’s first! Enjoy.

  5. runningrecon says:

    When I read your dailymile post this morning I had a feeling there was a lot more to your run than was summed up there. For your story to come full circle to Heaven as it did was very touching. Thanks for sharing your experience and God bless.

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