Image courtesy of Jojo Veltri   

It’s likely about time that I wake up from my post-race stupor to detail my experience running the Pittsburgh half marathon. Why the half marathon? Well…I’m 40. I’m due for a mid-life crisis. Constant physical activity may just be the solution to bury that dog. Attaching a goal and a schedule to that activity seems like the way to go. And although I admire the runners that trot the entire 26.2 miles of asphalt, the time and training involved in running an entire marathon may just make spending time with my kids a distant memory. I’ll opt for half the training. Half the gumption. Half the calories. So in February, I begin my quest to run marathon-lite.

I can’t admit that I am careful in selecting the best running schedule. My web research eventually leads me to a timetable that seemingly works with the parameters of other obligations. That is the ticket that sells me. To carefully follow through with the plan, it is ideal to train during lunches at work. I do this enough for most co-workers to question my sanity, especially when the appeal of avoiding freezing rain and snow doesn’t occur to me. I tell myself that I am a machine…although my lower back and left calf muscle say otherwise. Between physical ailments, stirring up motivation, and sticking to a food plan, this 12-week schedule feels more like a 12-month schedule at times. A great coping mechanism is entertainment. I have my iPhone music playlist, my 5-year old daughter acting as a stretching coach, countless barking dogs, and at one time a shard of broken beer bottle glass that goes straight through my rubber sole…luckily, no dismemberment is suffered. But thank you, South Side.

Once May 4th rolls around and I find myself on Liberty Avenue with more than 30,000 runners, the event feels more like a payoff than a grind. The camaraderie of surrounding racers proves to be a strong mental boost. Unlike training, I avoid wearing headphones so I can fully absorb this grand spectacle. At most times, this experience keeps my mind away from the action of running and more toward my surroundings. The first two miles through the Strip District house several local bands along the route performing tracks by Tom Petty, Weezer, and Steve Windwood, among others. More impressive are the countless volunteers handing out water and Gatorade with unbridled enthusiasm. The vocal spectators give me both a sense of purpose and an injection of humor with their creative signs. Among my favorites are “Run like the wind complete stranger,” “Bottomline: Keep running cause Stone Cold says so,” and “Run faster, I just farted.”

Into the homestretch, the uphill battle on the Boulevard of the Allies proves to be the most difficult. Once I get past Duquesne University and begin downhill, I see my destination in distant sight. At this time, my desire becomes stronger than my physical limitations. I begin increasing my pace and passing several racers. Not my best idea. Enter leg cramp number 1. A tight stabbing pain enters my left hamstring, causing me to halt my torrid pace. At this time, a friendly woman offers me a banana for alleviation. I’m grateful to accept. Thirty walking steps later, I feel better and start running again at a much slower pace. Adrenaline soon kicks in and I feel the need for speed. With the finish line less than fifty yards away, I decide to end with a sprint. Bad decision…again! Enter leg cramp number 2. A stabbing pain now enters my right hamstring, bringing me to yet another halt. Seeing myself this close, I limp past the finish line like a wounded animal.

Now, today, I assumed I’d be relieved for it to be all over. But no…I miss it. Training got me into a physical routine I haven’t experienced since before my wife and I bred children. I enjoyed it. I felt the so-called “runner’s high”that I thought would be unattainable when I started. My advice to anyone living in their mid-life: challenge yourself. Do something you’ve never done before. Or as Steve Jobs once said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”