Pittsburgh Part 2 of 3: A Race to Remember

I was already awake when the hotel wake-up call service pierced the silence with the insanely loud ringing of the telephone at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. My alarm clock never did go off.

I took a quick shower to wake up, got dressed, laced up my shoes, put on my Grace Band, woke Michael up and headed down to the lobby to meet Suzi, Duane and my family for breakfast. Somehow I was late too. I ate a non-toasted English muffin with some peanut butter with some watered-down orange juice (not my choosing) and downed about three glasses of lemon water.

Clearly, I was not really ready to be social or to run or anything at 5:30 a.m. on what was only the biggest race day of my entire life:

Seriously, am I really about to cry?

Not to mention, my stomach was a mess. Thanks, Bravo! Or, should I say, thanks nerves!? Regardless of which to thank, I was seriously wondering if I would even be able to make it to the van without using the bathroom, let alone run 26.2 miles. Just my luck, right? Just my worst nightmare. Bathroom issues.

We loaded into the car and headed back into the city. We were supposed to meet Laurel and Kim – two of out MIT teammates – at the Westin, but traffic was stacked up (again) so we grabbed a spot in the first parking garage we came to. My stomach was literally turning in circles. I don’t think anyone could have said anything to calm me down.

Duane followed us in his car and parked near us (not that my eyes weren’t glued to his car or anything).  We all got out and got our bibs situated. I think I stabbed myself with the safety pin about three times before Suzi helped me. I wore the bib in honor of my mother in my back. Suzi pinned in on straight for me and we caught the elevator to street level. It was misty and cool – perfect weather in my opinion. Too bad my stomach wouldn’t cooperate.

Thank you Races 2 Remember

There was the traditional paparazzi photo extravaganza. My mom would have taken 17 pictures with 42 cameras for all of us. Thankfully, Michael, my Dad and Mollie managed without a hitch:

Duane, Me and Suzi.

 

Me and my sister Mollie

The sun was rising and the humidity began to rise only slightly, still, I was slightly worried. I didn’t want to be hot. Clearly, I decided to stick with my blue theme, which is why I am wearing pink. Thank you VSX for a super-comfortable, super-light, feels-like-you-are-running-naked race outfit. I picked it out just Friday and wore it Friday night in order to not have to wear anything new on race day:

Me before the big race!

I checked and re-checked myself. Bibs? Check! Grace Band? Check! Suzi to run the Half? Check! Duane running with as much as his calf would allow? Check! Garmin?! Check! Whew. I thought I forgot it for a second. Sister? Dad? Check! Check!

My mind was spinning. I didn’t want to run today. Not at all. Not this race. Not without my mom there to cheer me on. It hurt. Bad, almost unbearably. I wanted to go home. The thing is, I knew everyone would understand if I did. I knew I had the most acceptable reason in the world for backing down – for running the half at the last minute – for calling it quits. I knew people, especially my family, would understand. My dad told me three weeks ago if I wanted to skip Pittsburgh, he would understand, the money didn’t matter, the time and travel were trivial. I even thought my mom would understand. I, apparently, was the only one who would not.

I pondered my options, I mean really thought about calling game over.

So, there I was, standing alone on a crowded street – runners everywhere – when out of nowhere someone tackled me from behind in a bear hug, arms clenched around my neck. Then another, and another, and another. Four of them. First instinct when this happens to you in a big, strange city with your friend, family and coach staring at you mouths hanging open in disbelief? Run for your life!!!!!

Or, on seond thought, try to figure out what is going on. If you do this, you will be unbelievably and pleasantly shocked! It was the LUCKY 13’s!!!!! I could not believe my misty-eyes as reality sunk in. They came to cheer me on! I was in total shock:

They told me the story piece-meal and it was impressive to say the least. A very pregnant and very ecstatic Mandy drove them from Columbus to Pittsburgh at 2:00 a.m. to make it in time for the start of the race. “I thought you guys might come to the Finish Line, but I never expected this!” I exclaimed. They had planned to surprise me, but amazingly in a sea of over 17,000 people they ran into me on their way to the start line. What?!?!?! Mandy said there was no way they could not tell me they were there. I was thrilled – they were even wearing MIT shirts so I could spot them on the course. Brilliant!

And so it began. My crew it tow, we filtered through the racers and spectators to the start line. We couldn’t find Corral E. We asked about a thousand people before we discovered it was way on the other side of where we already were. They were checking bibs to let people through. It was time to part from our friends and my family. Me, Duane and Suzi set off into a city of strangers. I was nervous.

Then, from out of the blue we heard familiar voices calling our names? What?! It was Laurel and Kim! How was it that we randomly ran into our racing partners at the last minute? Unbelievable. I looked to the Heavens and thought, “Alright, I get it, I’m running this race whether I like it or not. Done deal, no backing out now. Clearly that would be unacceptable to You.” Suck it up, Wyen and run. Got it.

We waited in our corral for what seemed like forever – I do believe it was like 20 minutes or so. I was annoyed that I left my hat at the hotel and it was drizzling harder. Who runs in the rain without a hat? I visited the porto-john again (just how do you spell that?). My stomach was twisting. It was not good.

From what we could tell the race started. We waited some more. We walked, we jogged, we heard screaming spectators. Then we were off. I crossed the start line and started my Garmin. No turning back now. Duane? Check! Suzi? Check! Laurel? Check! Kim? Check! We broke free of the pack. We were flying. Like a 9:50 or something crazy. My mind was screaming, “Rookie mistake! Rookie mistake!” It was too easy to get caught up in the excitement. We kept running fast. I stopped trying to slow down. I think I was enjoying the moment, damn the consequences, this was my day.

Our pace eventually evened out to a 12:15 or so – still a little quick for me with so many miles ahead. That resolved itself with the first hill (or, so I thought it was hill at the time, but it was more like a slight incline). We slowed again. We were feeling the burn. We kept running. Our little pack – just like on Saturday mornings is what I kept telling myself. In the back of my mind, there was worry – what was I going to do when I was alone? I focused on my Grace Band, Mile 2 was for my Mom. I ran it strong. I threw a kiss to the Heavens when it was over. I kept running.

The hills were rough. We started walking them. I remember Laurel telling me it was okay, just keep moving. Duane reminded us to take the inside path. We tried to. Kim pulled ahead, cruising at a nice race pace, but not without waving to us first. It had begun. We were each running our own race.

I slowed considerably. I had way more to go. The pack pulled away. I was cheering them on in my mind. Duane drifted back to run with me. I asked him how his calf was holding up. He said it was great. I believed him – why wouldn’t I? He was running strong.

We were coming up on the first relay exchange – between Miles 5 and 6 maybe? Duane said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m about to call this race quits.” I know I looked at him like he had lost his mind. “I don’t know about you, but I have 20 more miles to go, Duane!” I thought. He slowed again; I thought I saw him limping. “Yup, I’m about done with this,” he said. He almost stopped. “This is it,” I though, “Operation-Run-Pittsburgh-All-By-Yourself-And-Take-All-Day-Doing-It-Too starts right now.” You’ve trained for this, Sara, you ran 18 miles alone and you succeeded. This is just 18 miles with 2 more tacked on.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Deb on the sideline. I screamed to Duane, “There’s Deb – look!” Hi, Deb! Nice to see you, Deb! Duane took off his bib and I remember thinking, “Man, when he is done, he’s done.” I waved goodbye to them. Then, all of a sudden, Deb was running towards us. She grabbed the bib from Duane and put it on. She said, “Hi, I’m Diane today, the bib has a typo in it!” I stared at the two of them in disbelief. “What are you doing, Deb?” I asked. “You didn’t think we were going to let you run Pittsburgh alone, did you?” she answered.

I started crying. I looked behind me and saw Duane cruise to the sideline. He was grinning for ear to freakin’ ear. I wave at him again and again. I looked at Deb, tears in my eyes, and told her I had goose bumps. “How long,” I asked her, “How long did you have this planned?” She said for a couple of weeks. She recounted the planning in great detail. She told me about the ones who couldn’t be there, but wanted to be. She told me all about the people who were rooting for me. It was a perfect plot. She called it Operation Pittsburgh:

Operation Pittsburgh Sign Making Party!

These ladies even thought to get a picture with their Cap City medals, which I wanted, but wasn’t able to get after the race:

Deb, LeDawn, Sarah, Amy and Mandy

Deb ran with me and chatted about the Operation. It was awesome. I got chills every time she told me more about it. Deb kept me laughing through about 5 miles. It was magical for me. The half runners eventually turned off and I was more than thankful for my running partner. Deb said, “What she [Sara] didn’t know was that a Lucky 13 was waiting for her at every relay exchange, so one of us was running with her the whole race. I got to be the one to meet her first. The look on Sara’s face was priceless as she slowly figured out what was going on!! The section I ran was supposedly one of the flatter sections, but there were still a LOT more hills than we’re used to in Columbus. We walked some of the hills, but kept a good overall pace. It was a good run.”

Leg number three – Amy! She was smiling for ear to ear. I got tears in my eyes all over again. The switch of “Diane’s” bib was seamless. People were actually screaming – “Go Diane!” Amy powered forward. No hesitation. I started jogging to keep up. Then, I remembered one thing for our training season – Amy loves hills. This must mean hills. Lots of hills.

And then there was Mt. Washington. Almost a mile of straight up hill. We walked it. Amy in front, literally pulling me along. I was tired already. And I was worried about finishing the race. Amy kept smiling, kept persevering. She never faltered. I told her she was the calming presence of our group. If I could just follow in Amy’s stride, I was golden. She rocked it out to “I Gotta Feeling” up Mt. Washington. Literally. It was amazing. Amy, run Pittsburgh. You already got this course nailed. She made me laugh, but mostly, she calmed my nerves for the next five miles. Amy recounts our trek together beautifully, “So honored to be able to run part of this marathon with Sara! I was lucky enough to be the one to be with her going up Mt. Washington…the killer hill of all killer hills! We decided to walk it! I am soooo proud of her out there today. For her, it was tough mentally and physically, yet she persevered and finished! My time is not exact, but we also did a lot of walking around Pittsburgh trying to figure out where to go!!! I think I got in a good 13 miles today. Amy – run Pittsburgh. Run Pittsburgh and never look back.

Stay tuned, friends, for my half-way-done-life-saver and the miles where I almost fell apart…

Until the next mile marker,

Comments

  1. MORE! MORE! MORE! This should be made into a movie! 😀

  2. I love that you didn’t question why they were all in running gear wearing hydration belts! And I second Wendy!

  3. We love you Sara! It is so fun and making me a little teary eyed to read about how it all appeared and felt from your perspective. I’ll third Wendy! 🙂

  4. I AM SITTING AT MY DESK BAWLING FOR YOU!!! Girl, I am SO sorry about your mother. I want to reach in my computer and give you the biggest hug ever. You are so so strong. You are absolutely AMAZING. I am SO glad that your friends came to be with you. I am praying for you and will be thinking about you all week!!! LOVE YOU!!!

  5. this is one of the most amazing posts I have ever read. YOU ARE AMAZING for finishing this race…what a GREAT feeling for pushing through to the end for yourself…for your mother. WOW. And then to have all the support. I just can’t believe it. I have tears in my eyes just imagining the feeling you had running that race! This will be a lifetime amazing memory! So proud of you!

  6. @runningonwords – I know! We were so sure she’d take one look at us and know everything. It just goes to show you how preoccupied and focused on the race Sara was! 🙂

  7. Oh my goodness..what a wonderful story!! You are truly blessed with some really splendid friends.

  8. Sh*t Sara, how many times in one blog are you gonna get me choked up with tears!? For the love of God, I’m in awe of how lovely your friends are and the support!! You are so special and obviously everyone knows it but still…

    Now, hurry up and get the rest of it up!

    xo

  9. I am so loving reading this story. You have such wonderful friends and family. I know you must be wonderful, too, for them to love you so much.

  10. I just found you through Julia and wow, what an amazing and INSPIRING story. You truly overcame and did something you set your mind to and that is so amazing. Your mom has to be so proud of you! Thanks for sharing and i’ll be following!

  11. Rochelle says:

    I’m bawling. I didn’t know you before Julia led me to your blog but I’m in awe. You are amazing and how awesome for everyone to be out there running with you. Friends are the best and it’s seriously times like these you know there is a God watching out for us during our times of trials. So proud of you and can’t wait for the rest of the recap!!!

  12. What an inspirational story. I had tears in my eyes as i am reading your story about you mom. My prayers are with you. You have a great bunch of friends and support system. What an awesome fininsh for you marathon. CONGRATS.

  13. way to go! that is so awesome, especially since you weren’t feeling it before the race. that is what friends and support is all about!

  14. Jessica says:

    Sara this is making me almost cry! If I wasn’t at work I probably would be! It’s amazing how you remember every little detail, for me everything is such a blur!

  15. Now I’m glad I waited to read this cause I can go straight into part 3 while I’m still weeping.

  16. Now I’m glad I waited to read this cause I can go straight into part 3 while I’m still weeping.

  17. What an inspirational story. I had tears in my eyes as i am reading your story about you mom. My prayers are with you. You have a great bunch of friends and support system. What an awesome fininsh for you marathon. CONGRATS.

  18. Oh my goodness..what a wonderful story!! You are truly blessed with some really splendid friends.

  19. this is one of the most amazing posts I have ever read. YOU ARE AMAZING for finishing this race…what a GREAT feeling for pushing through to the end for yourself…for your mother. WOW. And then to have all the support. I just can’t believe it. I have tears in my eyes just imagining the feeling you had running that race! This will be a lifetime amazing memory! So proud of you!

  20. Sara this is making me almost cry! If I wasn’t at work I probably would be! It’s amazing how you remember every little detail, for me everything is such a blur!

  21. @runningonwords – I know! We were so sure she’d take one look at us and know everything. It just goes to show you how preoccupied and focused on the race Sara was! 🙂

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