Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Smith Sisters Crush the Pittsburgh Marathon

Today, we are honored to have a guest blog post from Clare Smith (Mary's big sister), reviewing the girls' very strong run at the Pittsburgh Marathon this weekend. Enjoy!

On an overcast Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, the sisters Smith, Mary and Clare, separated by 457 miles or 735 kilometers, reconnect at the Pittsburgh International Airport. It's been too long since they've seen one another and even longer since they've been able to run together. But this weekend, they’ve joined forces to tackle the Pittsburgh Marathon together and nothing can stop them.

Mary, looking svelte and fit in her AX jeans, approaches the waiting Clare in her favorite "Lucky Mario" Lemieux t-shirt. (Her Pens, however, are losing game 1 of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the HATED Washington Capitals). The girls hop into the Jetta and take off to confirm their race numbers at the marathon expo.

Mary's been given an elite or seeded runners' bib, #369, somehow. Clare is a little lower in the pack #3545, but both are excited and ready to run. After a quick lunch in the historic Strip District in Pittsburgh, they head to a friend’s house for dinner and relaxation before the big day. The girls fall asleep on the couch watching the Pittsburgh Pirates and are in bed by 9 pm.

The alarm goes off at 5 am Sunday and they're up, donning the matching Mizuno Wave Riders, pink City Sports running skirts and black T-shirts (thanks Chrissy!) for the “tag team” effect. Parked downtown by 6am, they have plenty of time to eat breakfast and drop their extra gear at the bag check. The savvy sisters had even scoped out the starting line the night before the race and smartly make the decision to line up between the 8:00-8:30 mile pace, as there was likely to be a nasty bottle neck anywhere behind the 8:30 pack.

After the national anthem and some pep talk by “Boston” Bill Rodgers, the wheel chair racers are off. Now, only 15 minutes until the marathon starts. The crowd numbers approx 10,000 in the corral for the full, half, and marathon relay. Tick tick tick tick tick, the gun finally goes off and they start moving. It takes Clare approximately one minute to reach the start, Mary approximately one minute and one second (this become relevant later).

The first 5K takes them through the Strip, nice, flat running with plenty of crowd support. Aside from the annoying and almost obnoxious pace group, it was great. They cross the 16th Street Bridge and enter the North Shore section. Mary hears her name from a familiar blond—it’s one of Mary's former Clarion Univ XC teammates! They cruise through the North Shore, coming across “Mr I AmSterdam” for the first time. Mary eats and drinks for the first time. The North Shore is known for its historical neighborhoods and the girls cruise by a host of mom and pop businesses. It's also where they pose for their first photo...holding hands raised in the air. The first relay exchange zone is just before the West End Bridge, about mile 7.5. The course makes a hairpin turn and the girls can see the elite runners on the bridge. Clare takes a Lifesaver and offers Mary one too, so Mary eats for the second time. As they cross the West End Bridge, they can see Heinz Field. Mary realizes it's where the Steelers play and says “BOO Steelers.” Bad move--she narrowly escapes being pushed into the Ohio River by a rowdy "Stillers" fan--they're everywhere!!!

Coming into the South Side, about mile 9, the girls hit Carson Street. They make use of the port-a-potties and keep trucking. Clare confesses that she feels half nauseated but eats some jelly beans. Both drink and Mary eats for the third time.

There is McDonald's billboard that shows french fries and Clare almost loses the jelly beans. They see a sign that reads "Your feet hurt because you are kicking ass!" Both laugh and keep rolling, the half marathon runners begin turning off course just before mile 10. Right after that they come up on the Boast brothers. Clare tackles her boyfriend Johnny, gives him a sweaty hug and kiss and they're off again. Carson Street to the Birmingham Bridge is nice running, the course really opened up when the half runners turned off and both girls are feeling pretty good.

Just before crossing the Birmingham bridge they hear a band covering Styx “Renegade” and Clare tells Mary that is "such a Pittsburgh Steelers' song - Let's GO PENS!" Coming off the bridge, they start climbing into Oakland, home of the "always choke in March” Univ of Pitt Men's Basketball team. The Smith sisters, however, are coming on strong and passing many runners on the steep hill. These girls are tough as grandma's cookies. They reach the half-way mark in mid Oakland and enter Shadyside. Mary eats for the fourth time.

As they run down the posh, yuppie lined streets of Shadyside, it begins to drizzle, 2 miles later you can see some rain drops and Aquaphor saves Clare's legs from chaffing--nothing like wearing brand new skirts on race day - however, the sisters did look especially good and it was all worth it.

By mile 18 Clare was beginning to feel a tightness in her right quad. She finally confesses she feels "ok, let's keep going and not talk about it.” Mary looks and feels great, she is cruising along like a machine. Eating and drinking, eating and drinking, eating and drinking. Mary eats for the eighth time. Clare manages down a gel outside of Homewood. Many cheers of "YOU GO GIRLS" follow them through Homewood and East Liberty (not the nicest parts of town). The neighborhood is full of men, women, and children making BBQ chicken.

Coming into Friendship and Bloomfield Clare starts to flashback to the Duquesne days. They run past the old apartment on Stratford Avenue. Mr "I AmSterdam" appears again and starts to chat with the girls. He tells them he's impressed with their consistent pace. Apparently they've been passing each other for the past 22 miles.

Turning onto Liberty Avenue puts goosebumps onto the entire field's neck, the banners honoring Pittsburgh's three fallen officers display proudly and many of the locals are out in their black shirts honoring the officers (the 3 officers killed a few weeks ago attempting to resolve a domestic dispute). This is the hometown of one of the three. Clare is feeling like garbage and it grateful to have her little sister pushing the pace. They start a brutal 3/4 mile downhill at about 23 1/2 miles. The girls politely decline beer from the local hash house harriers. Mary is doing her best to keep Clare entertained, telling her stories about "Crazy Dave" and their 30K training runs and beer. Clare's half delirious and dehydrated at this point, every muscle in her legs start to burn, not just the right hamstring. They push through the last 2 brutally flat miles in the Strip, actually re -running part of the first 5K of the course. They come up on the 26 mile marker and Mary lets out a yell: "4 minutes to qualify for Boston!!! Let's GO!!!" Heads are lowered, legs and lungs burn and the girls make their way into the chute. They join hands, raise them up into the air and cross the finish line together.

Mary 96th woman, 576/3453 overall 3:38:23. Clare 97th woman, 577/3453 overall 3:38:24. Both are happy and exhausted, just as they should be after a marathon. They claim their medals and pose for one more picture.

All in all, the Smith sisters rocked the Pittsburgh Marathon. They loved running one together and can't wait to tackle the next challenge. The 457 miles between them doesn't stand a chance!!

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