Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Marathon’

It’s a funny thing as you grow older.  You live thousands and thousands of days, in my case 16,805 of them, and you are reduced to only a handful of days, moments really, that leave an indelible image on your life.

March 15 – the day I proposed to Dawn.

July 15 – our first date.

August 29 – the day I became a Dad.

September 11 – we all share this one.

November 6 – the day I became a marathoner.

But when August 15th comes around now and forever I will think about the day we lost Dom to Cancer.  It has been three years since that warm, summer day in Pittsburgh when I flew up to lay Dom to rest with family and friends, Dawn staying home in Austin as we were just two weeks away from welcoming Landry into the world and it was unsafe for her to fly.

I was only away for a little more than 24 hours, much of which I spent in an airport, on a plane keeping quietly to myself, not wanting anyone to ask me where I was going or where I was headed as I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the story just yet.  I remember seeing everyone at the funeral home the night before the service, just a short time after I arrived in Pittsburgh, talking with Dom’s family, visiting with everyone I had not seen since being there for the Pittsburgh Marathon just three months before.

August 15th was a rough, rough day.  Anytime you watch parents bury a child it is hard to make sense of things.  But knowing Dom the way I did and thinking about everyone and everything he was leaving behind was especially difficult.  I flew home in my suit, carnation still on my jacket and nobody dare ask me where I had been or where I was going.  I suppose they just knew to leave that fellow over there alone.  I was grateful for the quiet time to reflect and say goodbye to my friend.

Three years later and I still feel much the same way.  I vacillate between sadness and anger.  Still asking myself the same unanswerable question of why this had to happen to someone so young and wonderful with so much at stake.  So much to lose.

There are other days when I feel blessed and so very fortunate that I was able to be there for Dom and his family and I was along for his journey with eyes wide open.  Every day he was sick, we woke up with thoughts of helping his family in our heart.  We trained hard, ran a couple of marathons in 13 days and raised spirits, awareness and dollars for Dom’s family.

Three years later and I am still racing with his initials on my flats, trying to run the marathon that I know I have inside of me.

I am injured right now, pedaling away furiously on the tri-bike hoping to save whatever fitness I had build up training for Cottonwood so that I might somehow still be able to toe the line on Sept. 14th in Utah.  2:59 is now out of the question.  It would take nothing short of a miracle for that to happen, and as much as I love the marathon and how special an event it is.  Miracles don’t happen on race day at that distance.

If we do make it out there the only goal will be 3:19:59 which should be enough to get us into Boston this year with our qualifying time of 3:25:00.

The irony of the situation is the goal at the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009 that I wanted so terribly to make it to Hopkinton for the first time – 3:19:59.

I haven’t thought of 3:20 being a huge accomplishment in almost 4 years.  But perhaps fittingly so – in honor of our hero Dom – just maybe – that is the perfect goal to chase.

Just because it won’t be our fastest marathon doesn’t mean that it is not a race worth running.  Just getting to the starting line would be a lesson in determination, perseverance and not to sound too corny, but bravery.  Anyone can start a marathon when their training cycle was perfect and they are 100% healthy.

It is a lot tougher to do so when you know that you are “not  right”.  The last time I did that I was in Pittsburgh, licking my wounds from the Boston Marathon 13 days earlier – hoping to somehow hold it together for another 26.2 miles.  It was one of my slowest marathons and probably my most painful.  But it was also one of the greatest races I have ever run.

So Dom, just get me to the starting line in Utah my brother.  I’ll take it from there.

Rest in peace Dom.  We all love and miss you terribly.

P.S. – I really could have done without the flat tire this morning.  Just sayin’.

Yesterday was the 2011 running of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

It was the first time in three years that we were not there slugging it out with the Pittsburgh course.  Instead I ran a nice, leisurely 15 miles in near perfect conditions here at home in Austin.  7:44 pace, 1 hour 56 minutes and 1 second.  The run came on the heels of our very first “brick” workout on Saturday which was quite a workout.  More on that in a little bit.

I had a lot to think about on my Sunday long run as my friends Jason, Brendan, Mark, his wife Tammy and Maddy were racing in the Steel City.

The conditions in Pittsburgh were very similar to the last couple of years since the race returned after a hiatus from the city.  Windy, humid and rain falling once again, made for some tough sledding.  Tammy and Brendan were able to battle through the elements and achieve their first ever Boston Qualifying times.  So happy for those guys.  Maddy and Jason dug deep and finished the race with gutty performances on a tough day.

Me, I just cruised at an easy pace, enjoyed the sights and sounds of our local trail and thought about Dom quite a bit.  How many things have changed since the 2010 race, and yet there I was, still logging miles, thinking about training and racing.  More determined than ever to chase down another goal.

22,000 runners participated in the Pittsburgh race in 2011.  It was just too soon for me to return to that particular marathon to be completely honest.  The emotions of marathon day which are always tough for me to keep in check would have been over the top for me this year.  The Pittsburgh Marathon used to be, “where I qualified for Boston” when I reminisced about the event.

Now it is, “the last time I saw Dom”.

I know that I will return to run the event again.  It may very well be next spring depending on the deck of cards that life deals us.  But I know that I need to write another chapter at that race.  One with a happier ending.

This week is going to be another step forward in gauging our fitness level and determining where we need to go from here with our run training.

We will be participating in Wednesday night’s Summer Sunstroke Stampede 5K Race #2 of the season.  This week the race moves to the Town Lake Trail, a course I have never run before.  I’m hoping for a faster track than the one we have out at Brushy Creek.  If nothing else, the hill and the dam will be absent.  But we should also be a bit further along after last weeks race, and this weekend’s workouts.

On Saturday we will be participating in our 2nd consecutive Congress Avenue Mile.  We ran our first timed mile last year at this race in 5:26.

I am hoping that we will be able to shave :10 seconds off of that time this year as our stretch goal.  Before our injury back in March I had illusions of running something in the 5:10-5:12 range, but I think that is just a bit unrealistic given the time we had to take away from training.  But make no mistake, we’ll be letting it all hang out for that mile on Saturday morning.  It is a great event put on my RunTex, also serving as the High School Boys and Girls State Mile Championships.

Saturday brought something a little bit different to the training table as I conducted my first “brick workout” – these are the staple of triathlon training where you include two disciplines during the same workout, one after the other with minimal or no interruption in between, just as you would do during a race.

Usually when people refer to a “Brick” they are talking about a bike workout, followed by a run.  This transition is the most challenging physically during the triathlon, much more so than the swim to bike (or so I’m told).  The muscle groups utilized during the bike and the run while slightly different, are still closely related.

Fatigued legs from the bike, used to spinning at a high cadence are going to feel very “strange” when you transition to the run.  Learning to run in this state is going to be critical for me to post a good time in our strongest of the three disciplines.  To this point I have always started every footrace with legs that felt “great”, no matter the distance.  For me, to take off out of the T2 transition area for the 3 mile run will feel like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Learning how to deal with this in training will be a critical piece of our triathlon training as we prepare for July 31st.

On the other hand, we’ve yet to conquer the swim aspect of the triathlon, so for me, everything after the swim will seem easy.

Before I left for my 15 mile bike ride I brought my Running Watch and my running shoes and placed them in the garage.  I would go for my bike ride, return, pop off my helmet, glasses, riding gloves and bike shoes.  Put on my running shoes, strap on my running watch and head out for a 5 mile run.

The idea was to limit my transition to less than 2 minutes if I could.  The time spent tying my run shoes should be decreased on race day as I will have a pair of quick zip laces in my race flats.  But for Saturday, I had to quickly tie my shoes while standing on tired legs.  It was an education.

The 15 miles on the bike was very solid as I hit the hills out on Parmer Lane.   I covered the ride in 44:39 (20.1 MPH), climbing up 479 feet of elevation and racing back down 482.  I topped out with a cadence of 98 rpm (how many pedal revolutions I was able to make in one minute), with an average of 75.  My top speed was 31.8 on a nice long downhill stretch leading up to mile 10.

When I got back to the house I clipped out, leaned my bike in the garage against my workbench and changed into my running gear.

I rode in my triathlon race gear, which has a slightly padded seat, not like the large chamois in my bike shorts, and my tri-top.

I was surprised that the tri shorts actually had plenty of cushioning for the 15 mile ride.  I was hoping they would not bother me during the run.

I hit my watch and headed out of the driveway on foot after only 1:55 in transition.  Not bad I thought.

Over the first 2/10 of a mile I had absolutely no idea how fast I was running.  My legs felt incredibly strange, almost like I had never used them before.  A mixture of numbness and soreness that is hard to describe.  I glanced down at my watch and saw that I was running at 6:40 pace.

No possible way I thought, the watch must be recalibrating itself over the opening distance, I decided to just fall into a comfortably hard pace and hold it right there.  It would be similar to what I would do in a longer footrace, just run by feel, so it should be a good “test” for our first Brick Run.

I climbed up to the top of mile 1 and glanced down at my watch at the beep – 7:06.  Not too bad for an opening uphill mile.

I decided to ratchet up my breathing and leg turnover just a bit and rattle off four really solid miles in:

6:52, 6:42, 6:49, 6:46.

Total time 34:17 at 6:51 pace.

For my first triathlon on my birthday I will need to Swim 500M, Bike 13.8 Miles, Run 3.

On Saturday we knocked out a 15 M bike and 5 M run in pretty impressive fashion.  If we are able to get our swim down around the 12-13 minute range, we may have a pretty solid triathlon debut.  From there, who knows?

I know that when I ran my first 5K back in 2005 the thought of one day qualifying for the Boston Marathon seemed as likely as me walking on the moon.  Now, that is the absolute minimum expectation I have when I run a marathon.  So who knows.  We all have to start somewhere.

This week it’s all about speed, which is a great place to be.  Everybody loves to go fast.

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.

RFD Rocking the Steel City

Now, now – don’t get ahead of yourself.  I know a lot of you think those two marathons in 13 days were signs that I had finally lost my mind.  But when it comes to running “naked” – I’ve never been more serious.

When I say “naked” I don’t mean “au natural” – I mean running completely without technology.  One of the things that really hit home over the latter stages of the Pittsburgh Marathon is that I really love to run.  I love everything about it, especially when it gets difficult.

Last Sunday I found myself 20 miles in to my second marathon in two weeks with a charley horse forming a knot in my left calf.  I was tired.  It had rained on me for more than two and a half hours.  My shoes and socks were soaked as if I had jumped in a pool.  My legs were heavy and runners were slowing to a walk all around me.  I looked down at my GPS and realized I had almost 6 more miles left to run.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last time I glanced down at my watch the rest of the day.  Quite honestly, my timer ran all the way through the finishing cute, family reunion area and my walk back to the hotel.  It was only when I heard it beeping at me when I got out of the shower that I clicked “stop”.

When I felt like running faster I did.  When I felt like slowing down to talk with a fellow marathoner I did.  When I found myself alone at mile 25 I was alone with my thoughts again and started thinking about seeing my wife Dawn, family, friends and especially Dom at the finish line. 

2010 Pittsburgh Marathon Finisher

Those final 6 miles were by far the slowest I have ever run on a marathon course.  Quite honestly, they were some of the slowest miles I had ever run.  But looking back at them more than a week later, I wouldn’t change a thing about a single one of them.  Being free from all of my “technology” allowed me to focus on all the important things that day.  I was free of distractions and simply “ran like I’d never run again” as my friend Ashley Kumlien had instructed me to do prior to the race.  It was awesome.

When my wife Dawn and I relocated briefly to the suburbs of Philadelphia in 2004 I took up distant running.  I had started training for my first marathon at that time and one of our neighbors used to refer to me as “Spider Man” to my wife.  Over the winter months I would be bundled up head to toe in my running tights, technical shirts, jackets, hats and gloves.  I would have my iPod wires trailing behind me as I cranked out one sub-8:00 mile after another.  I ran each and every mile with my music playing, quickly jumped inside, uploaded my run from my Garmin into my computer and analyzed every mile.  Did I hit my goal?  How fast did I take those hills?  Did my time fall off over the final 3 miles?  How much did the wind and elevation impact my time?

Sunday's Run 5/9/10

Now don’t get me wrong – there is absolutely a time for doing exactly what I just described.  Runners today have amazing tools at their disposal to analyze their training.  I seriously doubt I would have been able to run my PR last year at Pittsburgh and qualify for the Boston Marathon this spring without a top-notch training plan and the ability to teach my body how to “run fast”. 

But last week taught me a valuable lesson, that not each and every run needs to be about time, distance and improvement.  Sometimes you should just run because you love it.

So in that spirit on Thursday of this past week I went for my first “naked run”.  No iPod, no GPS, just me and my Asics pounding the pavement here in Avery Ranch.  I ran as far as I felt like running.  I ran as fast as I felt like running.  Just like the latter stages of the Pittsburgh Marathon, I enjoyed every stride.

Going forward I am going to take one day per week and make it a “naked run day”.  To start I am going to “go naked” on Wednesdays and see how that works.  Give it a try this week and let me know what you think.  My guess is you are going to really enjoy it.  Besides, just think about how much fun you will have when your neighbors come over and see your training plan on your refrigerator that says:

“Naked Wednesday” – it really doesn’t get any better than that.

As I write this the Pittsburgh Marathon start is less than three hours away.  It’s a big day today and I know it.  Sure, you try to downplay it and act like it’s just another Sunday.  Just another day to lace up the Asics and go for a run.  But deep down I know.

Over the past several months I’ve had a tremendous amount of love and support come my way.  I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people from literally all over the world.  People have reached out to me from around the U.S., Canada, Great Britian, Singapore, Brazil, Mexico – all who tell me how wonderful my effort for Dom has been and how they have been touched by Dom’s story in some way. 

Back in August when I circled the dates April 19th and May 2nd on my calendar and took my very first steps toward running back to back major marathons for Dom I knew that it was “big”. 

Let’s face it, three months shy of my 43rd birthday – I know I’m putting myself “out there” a little bit this weekend.  But that was the point.  To help share with as many people I could how terrible this disease is and how it effects so many of those around us who we love. 

I told myself that I didn’t want to be a passenger on the bus, I wanted to be the driver.  Do something my mind told me, don’t just stand by and watch this happen.  So here we are 9 months later in Pittsburgh waiting to run the best 26.2 miles that we can today for Dom.

I have a friend who is asleep somewhere around the Nevada/Utah border right now named Ashley Kumlien.  Ashley was mentioned previously here on the blog as she is running across the United States this spring and summer in honor of her mother who suffers from MS.  You can click here to see my original story about Ashley and her incredible battle.  http://wp.me/pHGel-2E

Ashley is someone that I look to for inspiration.  I feel honored and humbled that she considers me a friend and goes out of her way to check in on me from time to time.  Ironically she will be making her way through Pittsburgh four to five months from today on her way to finishing her run on the East Coast.

This week Ashley sent me a quick note as she was battling massive elevations and serious cross winds in Nevada.  With regards to today’s race she said:

“Joe, run like you’ll never run again”.

I have that written on a small piece of paper, tucked into my shoe this morning to carry along with me on every step.  By the time Ashley takes her first strides at daybreak out West – we should be well on our way to wrapping up this final marathon.

Thank you Ashley for having the ability to sum up every thing that today is about in six short words.  I plan on doing exactly that.  

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

Just a quick pre-race update as it is time for me to get a little rest and prepare for tomorrow’s race both mentally and physically.

The physical part is actually much easier for me at this point.  Stay off my feet, a little massage this afternoon, an hour or so of ice on those sore hips and shin area and we’ll be as good as we are going to be for tomorrow’s race. 

Mentally however, the day before the race can be tough.  Lots of sitting around, waiting for things to happen and some mild “obsessing” about tomorrow.  I find it therapeutic for me to pour over the course maps, think about the various challenges I will encounter, landmarks and where I can anticipate looking for Dawn, family and friends.

Looks like tomorrow the Clemente Bridge at the 10K point will be my best opportunity to see some loved ones along the course.  That will be a perfect spot as I may be able to swap out a water bottle for a fresh one if I’m lucky, grab a quick high-five or two and push on for the remaining 20 miles or 2 hour+ battle.

I should have a good feeling at that point as well regarding what kind of race we are capable of tomorrow.  Especially how much of a toll that Boston course took on our body.  It’s sure going to be interesting – but a lot of fun too.  I find myself facing a lot of the unknowns that I stared down in 2006 at my first marathon.  I have to admit I’m really looking forward to testing myself tomorrow.

But this morning it was time for a little fun at the expo.  I ran into two very special people on Saturday.  The first who I consider my “mentor” when it comes to marathoning Hal Higdon.  Hal was the author of the very first training plan, running book and web-site I ever consulted when preparing to become a marathoner.

Following his training plan he got me to the finish in my first marathon fighting off an IT Band injury in 3:58:08.

Two years later Hal coached me to my Boston Qualifying time of 3:17:43 at last year’s Pittsburgh Marathon.

Saturday he was kind enough to talk with me about my “double” this weekend and posed for a quick picture at the expo.

Joe & Hal Higdon - Pittsburgh Marathon

Meeting Bill Rogers was pretty special the day after Boston two weeks ago.  But I have to say – finally meeting Hal in person was a real treat.  Thank you Hal for everything I quite literally would never be here without you.

Moments later at an expo with more than 5,000 people milling around I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was young Brian Cass.  The young man whose story I shared with everyone here a few weeks ago.  Running his first ever half-marathon this weekend with Run 4 Dom proudly displayed on his Bib.

Brian is someone I have been happy to “mentor” myself this year as he tackled training for his first half-marathon.  Brian did all the hard work, I just checked in on him once in a while and passed along some of the lessons I learned the hard way.  But I can honestly say that I am so very proud of Brian and it will be an honor to race with him tomorrow.

When Brian reaches mile 12 tomorrow it will be extra special as not only will he be 1 mile away from his first half-marathon medal, running a distance he has never run before even in training.  But he will be running a mile that he sponsored himself as part of Run for Dom.  Thank you Brian for all that you have done for our cause and I can hardly wait to see you at the finish with that medal around your neck.

For those of you who are going to be at race day along the course I wanted to share a picture below of our “gear” for the day.

Pittsburgh Marathon Race Gear

We will be wearing royal blue Under Armour gear tomorrow and a white Boston Athletic Association ball cap if the weather forecast holds true and there is rain.  Dawn will be kind enough to wake up early with me and apply a reminder on both arms of who we are running for tomorrow.  So look for 4 DOM in Royal Blue swinging by on both arms.

My favorite bit of gear this year however is my Bib.  I’ve had some good ones over the years – but this one is pretty special.  You don’t have to look very hard to see what tomorrow is all about.  Just check out the graphic above the number.

If you are not able to make it to the race you can follow race progress by following me on Twitter.  The Pittsburgh Marathon is utilizing “Tweet My Time” this year, where my twitter account will automatically send out “tweets” with my progress from the course as I pass each checkpoint and the finish line.  All you have to do is logon to Twitter and follow me at:  https://twitter.com/joe_runfordom

This time tomorrow it will all be over.  It will be time to look back on the race, and really the last year to burn some mental images that will last a lifetime.  We’re not done yet, still another battle to be fought and a medal to be earned for Dom.  Fundraising continues until after the race – so if you’ve wanted to make a gift and just haven’t had the time yet, please do so as we’re closing in on the finish line.  http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html

I’ve had a lot of people ask me what’s next after Pittsburgh?  I keep responding that I really haven’t gotten that far yet.  May 2nd is the date we’ve been working toward and it’s always smart as a marathoner not to look too far ahead.

It is starting to become a bit more clear now as we sit here on the cusp of marathon number two.  Please know I’m not going anywhere nor is our hero Dom.  We both plan on being around for a long, long time.

Well, we’re now less than 24 hours away from race day at the Pittsburgh Marathon.  Usually I will go for a quick 2-mile “shake-out” run the day before a race to burn off some pent-up energy from the taper period.

As you roll back your mileage transitioning from “training” to “taper”, your body rebels a bit.  As your legs feel stronger and stronger you want to run further and further.  But because you are loading up your glycogen stores for race day and trying to heal those small bumps and bruises from training, you cut way back on your mileage.

For me leading up to the second of back to back marathons my Pittsburgh “taper” really was more of a recovery from the rigors of the Boston Marathon course just 12 days ago.  So this morning I decided to forgo my final pre-race shake-out and opt for another day off from running.  Instead Dawn and I are headed over to the race expo in a few minutes to pick up our Bib Number and race bag – shop a bit, and then get ready for my pre-race massage at 1:30 p.m.

Sounds pretty cushy right?  Well, I have to admit today is going to be pretty low-key.  But tomorrow morning that won’t be the case.  It will be an “all-go, no-quit” kind of day tomorrow and quite honestly I am chomping at the bit to get back out there.  We have a little bit of un-finished business on the agenda, just me, the elements and 26 miles, 385 yards.

Before I left for the morning I just wanted to thank all of you for your amazing outpouring of love and support over these many weeks and months leading up to this final race day.  As of this morning our new fundraising balance crept over the $19,000 mark to benefit Dom and his family.  That is an incredible total and I can’t thank everyone enough.

I set a lofty goal when the idea of “Run for Dom” first struck me during a training run along Brushy Creek Trail, 1,500 miles away from here back home in Austin.  I wanted to run two major marathons in just 13 days in the hopes of raising $26,200 (in honor of the 26.2 mile challenge that is the marathon) for Dom and his family.

With 24 hours to go we sit just $7,000 away from that goal.  Will we get there?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  The only thing I can do is run the best race I can tomorrow to honor my good friend and his family.  They are saying it will be hot tomorrow.  They say there will be thunderstorms.  They say the winds will be blowing strong and it will be pretty rough out there.

Whatever.  What the hell do “THEY” know anyway?  One thing about us Italian guys – we’re pretty stubborn.  I know Dom has a lot of fight left in him as he continues to battle.  With each set-back in treatment he has come back stronger and more determined than ever to fight this terrible disease.  There is no quit in that boy, I know that in my heart.

As for me – bring it on I say.  I plan on having a tremendous day tomorrow.  One of the greatest in fact of my 42+ years.  So I’ll take an “easy” day today if I can get it, because tomorrow we race.  There won’t be anything easy about that.

There is still time to help!  http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html

The closing miles of a marathon are a pretty amazing experience.  It really doesn’t matter if it is your first race, your fourth or your fortieth.  There is something magical about those final miles – pushing yourself toward the finish line that stood 26.2 miles away more than three hours before.  You have good miles and bad ones, easy stretches and difficult ones.  You find yourself smiling at times, grimacing at others.

You question why you are doing this to yourself.  In your next race you question why you are doing this to yourself again.  Better still, why for the second time in 13 days? 

Three plus hours, that’s a long time to be alone with your thoughts.  Despite wanting to quit at times, you find a way to dig deeper than you have before and you keep on going.  In a strange way as your body grows more and more weary, your resolve grows stronger and stronger.

You have thousands of people around you – many in the same situation you find yourself in.  Yet, you feel very alone.  Fighting, scratching and clawing – using any means necessary to keep on going.

Now imagine doing that for 12 months.

I can’t begin to imagine what the last 12 months have been like for my friend Dom.  Some days when I would be out on a training run and I would think of Dom it would bring a great sense of pride and accomplishment.  I would remind myself that I was training for a great reason.  To honor a close friend and do all that I could to help make a difference in not only his life, but that of his wife, daughter and son.

Other days I would find myself choking back tears as I ran – wishing that the news I had heard the night before was better.  That my friend was getting stronger and that his cancer was being kicked to the curb.

Some mornings I would wonder what May 2nd would feel like when I came through the chute.  After fighting for more than three hours through all the soreness, fatigue and pain to get that finisher’s medal. 

Will I be able to find the right words as place it around my good friend’s neck and thank him for allowing me to do this for him?  What do you say to the bravest man you’ve ever known?

Tomorrow (Friday) morning, Dawn and I will be heading to Pittsburgh, off to tackle a second marathon in less than two weeks.  Packing my race bag last night I’ll be the first to say that the emotions of this trip are really starting to get to me. 

Frankly, it’s hard to write about.  I can only imagine what Sunday morning will feel like standing in the starting corral surrounded by more than 16,000 runners, but very much alone.  Finding myself more than three hours away from the faces of family and friends, hugs and tears.

The only thing I know for certain when I cross the starting line is that no matter what happens along the way, I have to keep going.  I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and never quit.  It’s simply not an option.  Not this time, not this race. 

Thank you Dom for teaching me that.  It’s a lesson that I promise to never, ever forget.  This one is for you on Sunday.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

To help please visit:  http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html

Dom, Val, Sierra, Nico

Something different today as we have a giveaway for our readers and followers of Run for Dom! 

Now a giveaway by definition would lead you to believe that you can get something for nothing.  But if there is anything I’ve learned preparing for two marathons in 13 days – there is no such thing as a free lunch.  So to be eligible you are going to have to do a couple of things. 

But first, the good stuff.  What is the prize? 

British Bulldog

Steve Speirs a fabulous runner who hails originally from Wales, now from the Virgina Beach area – affectionately known as British Bulldog has donated a signed copy of his book – “7 Weeks to 100 Pushups” – to Run for Dom. 

Steve posted a sizzling 2:54 at last Monday’s Boston Marathon on a course that really tore up yours truly.  I believe I’ll be reading Steve’s book cover to cover before passing it along to the contest winner. 

Steve – thank you once again for your generosity and support – you Sir are the greatest. 

So what do you have to do to be eligible to win? 

1.  Log on to our secure site and make a gift in support of Run for Dom.  The gift can be any size and if you have made a previous gift to my effort to run two marathons in just 13 days to support my good friend’s battle with cancer – you are already eligible.  To give click: 

http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html 

2.  Post your prediction of my finishing time at the Pittsburgh Marathon this Sunday in the comment section below. 

I will check in after the race with my time and announce the winner on Sunday after our post race celebration with Dom and his family. 

The winner will be the person with the closest guess to my chip time (not clock time) – but unlike The Price is Right, the winner’s guess can be “over” – it just has to be the closest.  If we need a tie-breaker we will use gift size to crown the winner. 

Thanks again everyone for all of the kind words and support as race day is now less than 4 days away!   Please stop back throughout race weekend as I will try to keep everyone up to speed on all the events as they transpire.

As of Tuesday morning our second marathon in as many weeks is now just 5 days away.  I received notice that we have been awarded bib number 845 for the Pittsburgh Marathon.  Nice to score a sub 1,000 number in a race with more than 16,000 participants – somebody up there must think we’re fast or something.  

I’m still rolling around my race strategy in my mind right now trying to decide if we are recovered enough to “go for it” at Pittsburgh or if we should just play it smart, run a few easy miles to start and see where we are at the 10K mark.  Illusions of running a “Boston Time” keep entering into my head – but deep down I know that is just crazy talk.  13 days is not a lot of time to prepare for another race when most experts tell you it takes a full 4 weeks to recover fully from racing a marathon. 

Even though I know the facts, images of that perfect race literally one year ago this weekend play over and over in my mind where I raced flawlessly to a 3:17:43 on the very same Pittsburgh course.  Weather is calling for slightly warmer temperatures this year – 54 degrees at the race start vs. 47 one year ago.  There is also rain in the forecast for Sunday, which depending on the type of rain may or may not be a factor. 

So with 5 days to go I’m still holding back from finalizing my race plan.  I’m hoping for some divine intervention frankly that will clear my legs of this lingering soreness and allow me to get after it again on Sunday.  I will most likely wait until I get back from my 2-mile shake-out run Saturday morning to really zero in on my race expectations.  It will be very interesting to see how I feel on Saturday compared to my shake-out before Boston two weeks ago.  I felt absolutely perfect prior to Boston and raced not so great.  Will the situation be reversed this weekend?  We’ll see. 

As for the Pittsburgh course itself, if I had to choose a word to describe it, I would call it “fair”.  Are there hills?  Of course, we’re racing in Western Pennsylvania – but the nature of the hills is very different from Boston.  Thankfully the only significant “downhill” racing we will be doing Sunday is during the closing miles from 21-25.  I’m hoping that the late arriving “downs” will allow my hips and quadricep muscles that were so taxed at Boston the rest they desperately need until the closing portions of the race.  

Going into any race whether it is a 5K, half-marathon or marathon, I like to break the course down into smaller, bite-sized portions.  It helps me stay sharp mentally as the miles tick by and allows me to have certain “check-points” to look forward to whether it is a hit on my water bottle or my next nutrition boost from my energy gels.  At Boston I broke the course into three 8-mile segments and then a “hang-on” period over the final 2 miles.  When I make my return to Boston I will approach that course very differently based on the lessons I learned last week. 

For Pittsburgh the course really sets up nicely in 4 mile intervals – so let’s take a look ahead to Sunday’s race: 

Miles 1-4:  Strip District to 16th Street Bridge 

The first four miles are essentially a 2-mile out and back loop to start the race through the Pittsburgh Strip District.  Get your mind out of the gutter – not that kind of “strip” district.  The Strip – as it is familiarly known, is just that – a narrow strip of land in a flood plain confined by natural boundaries.  The Allegheny River to the north and the extension of Grant’s Hill to the south.  It was a wholesale produce and commerce area from the 1800’s to the post war years, now in addition to produce there are great restaurants, pubs and coffee houses. 

The terrain is relatively flat in this part of the course with very little terrain change.  A great start to the race where last year I posted very even mile splits of 7:13, 7:13, 7:11, 7:13. 

2009 Race Start

Miles 5-8:  PNC Park, Heinz Field and Bridges 

The next four miles begin with the first hill to navigate – heading up over the 16th street bridge to the North Shore where runners pass PNC Park – home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Heinz Field where the Steelers play football.  Runners then cross over the second bridge in the first 8 miles of the course – the 7th street bridge – followed by a small incline past the River’s Casino up to mile 8.  

This section is a bit rolling but still fair where last year I posted miles splits of 7:25, 7:24, 7:34, 7:34. 

First Hill on the Course

Miles 9-12:  West End Bridge to the South Side 

Mile 9 begins with a left turn for the marathoners heading over the West End Bridge.  At the base of the bridge the runners make another left turn and head up W. Carson Street for a 4 mile gentle climb.  Nothing to fear at this point, just a nice gentle climb of about 50 feet net over the next 4 miles.  This part of the course through the South Side is wonderful as there are great crowds and a beautiful look back to the left at downtown Pittsburgh.  

The final mile in this section crosses the last of the bridges as runners cross over the Birmingham Bridge – which provides a great look to the right of the Forbes Hill that looms in the distance.  I admit that the view can mesmerize you a bit peering at the incline you will be racing in just a few minutes.  Trust that it is just a hill.  Nothing more than you’ve encountered during your training.  

This is a good time to settle into your “cruising pace” and conserve a little energy for the hill ahead.  Last year we were able to post mile splits of 7:27, 7:18, 7:20, 7:32. 

Miles 13-16:  Time to climb 

Just past the foot of the bridge and the mile 12 marker the runners make a hard right onto Forbes Avenue.  The crowds here are some of the best on the course.  It’s a good thing too as this is where the course tests you a bit.   I’m not going to sugar coat it, you climb for the better part of two miles.  The total elevation change is just over 100 feet or 10 stories.  But because it is stretched out over close to two miles, it really isn’t too bad.  You just have to focus on the steps ahead of you and not look too far up ahead as the incline seems to stretch forever. 

Right at mile 14 the course flattens for a mile before another small hill leading up to mile 16 and the 10 miles to go point of the race.  Last year our mile splits over this section were:  7:30, 7:26, 7:38, 7:35. 

A Look From Atop Forbes Climb

Miles 17-20: Oakland to Shadyside 

Miles 17, 18 and 19 lead runners from Oakland to Shadyside over a small rolling downhill section.  The last climb on the course is found leading up to mile 20 but is very fair.  Once you cross the 20-mile mark it is all downhill from there – quite literally. 

Last year mile splits over this section of the course were:  7:35, 7:20, 7:33, 7:34. 

Miles 21-24:  Shadyside to Bloomfield 

This section of the course is very much downhill.  There is a small “bump” here and there that makes you think the course is flattening out – but they don’t last very long.  The course declines from 925 feet above sea level at mile 21 down to 740 feet at mile 24.  A welcome respite after the hills that led to mile 20. 

Last year as my glycogen fuel stores converted over to fat burning and I went through my “funky” period –  I was able to stay smooth and consistent with mile splits of:  7:36, 7:44, 7:48, 7:28. 

Miles 24-26:  Homestretch to the Finish 

The course bottoms out at the 24.5 mile mark and gently climbs to the finish.  Some of the best crowds found on the course line the streets over the final miles.  Being a “loop course” the start and finish areas are within a block of each other allowing for great crowd gathering.  Enjoy the final stretch, don’t punch your GPS until you are through the finishing chute and remember to smile.  Nothing like the finish line at the end of 26.2 miles. 

Last year’s final mile splits when our celebrating started for making our Boston time were:  7:41, 7:58. 

I remember really shutting down the jets over those final two miles and enjoying every closing minute of the race.  Our Boston time was well in hand and it was time to enjoy running a great technical race. 

Pittsburgh Marathon Finish 2009

What kind of time the 2010 race brings remains to be seen – but the strategy will remain the same.  Start smooth, stay strong through the hills and close with a purpose. 

It may be tough to keep it together this year at the end of the race with Dom and his family waiting in the grandstand.  My wife Dawn, family and friends will be waiting to greet me at the finish and the weight of two marathons in 13 days being removed from these shoulders.  It is going to be a helluva ride this weekend – of that I am certain.  Just 26.2 miles to go.  

I’ve honestly never been more excited about a race before – and that includes Boston.  Boston was different.  This one is personal.  I would be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that this is going to be an “all-go, no quit” kind of race. 

Rest assured the #845 Pittsburgh Express is leaving the station on Sunday morning, so clear a path.  We’ve got some cancer-kicking ass to whip.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.