18 miles in Vibram FiveFingers: training for the Pittsburgh Marathon through a St. Patrick's Day parade

Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day preparation

My second Saturday group training run with the Steel City Runners happened to be on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and therefore took place just before the Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day parade, which starts at 10 AM.

Overtraining and knees

Last week I mentioned that I was having problems because of overtraining; I ran five days one week only to have to scale back to three the next. This week I consciously got in four days of running, with higher total mileage than either of the previous two weeks (when I did 26 and 23). This week, I got in 29. It wasn’t easy, especially given that I ran last week’s long run too hard and therefore had left knee oddness that actually lasted three days! It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t run, but I clearly had to let it heal up, which it did in time for another long run.

Unfortunately, both of John’s knees were in serious pain the day after last week’s training run, and a week later, he is still waiting for them to heal up, and therefore did not join me for today’s training run. Oops.


For today’s run, I decided to run only the first 16 miles and then walk the last 2 miles. Also, I joined the 10-minute pace group.

It turned out that a lot of things went “wrong” on this run, but I got back to the start OK in the end!

Unknown territory

I wore my Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS shoes again. This is an important test, because I have never been on the road for 18 miles straight in these shoes before, run or walk! I need to know whether wearing these for the Pittsburgh Marathon will work out.

Weather conditions

I had watched the forecast all week with concern that it might be pouring rain, but I was committed to do this run regardless of conditions, because if the Pittsburgh Marathon involves running in rain, I need to be ready to deal with that.

It turned out that we lucked out; although it was cold, there was drizzling rain but no downpour!

Start of run

The route

Here is the route of the 18-mile training run:

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRun

The run

I started with the 10-minute pace group. I actually immediately fell back, wanting to start off running more slowly, but was never too far from the pack.

St. Patrick’s Day

Immediately and throughout the run, I saw people in green who were a little loud and clearly had a bit to drink. I was amused that they were up and around already at 8 AM in the morning.

We ended up running on Liberty Avenue through the setup for St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown (which begins at 10 AM). We got some cheers (many of us were wearing green) as well as some jeers. It was a strange experience, and I felt a bit embarrassed to be running through parade preparation.

Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day preparation

First water stop

At the first water stop, I drank some water and grabbed a GU gel to go. I caught up to the 10-minute pace group at the first water stop, since a lot of people didn’t immediately keep going but waited for everyone to get water.

My new system with gels is to take one and then eat it some minutes after drinking water, rather than immediately with water. It saves time.

Big uphill and losing my map

There’s a big uphill going east on Liberty Ave during which I lost the 10-minute pace group because I prefer to go slower uphill to maintain an even effort rather than pace. I always make up the loss on the downhills.

Second water stop

The second water stop was near mile 8 in Shadyside. I caught up yet again to the 10-minute pace group at that point, and took another GU gel.

At this point, I realized that I must have lost my paper map while running up Liberty Avenue. This was bad, because although I roughly knew the route, I did not know all the details. I did have my smartphone on me, but the MapMyRun Web site did not display very well on it.

Worse, it appeared after the second water stop that the 10-minute pace group was either going much slower or I was all “warmed up” and going much faster, because I could not tolerate their pace, and I decided I had to forge ahead into Oakland, even though there was nobody ahead that I could follow.

I did find two other people who were willing to go at a faster pace along with me, so the three of us took off into Oakland.

Birmingham Bridge

The three of us crossed the Birmingham Bridge together to the South Side. I remarked that the last time I did the Pittsburgh Marathon ten years ago, I was humbled by the uphill going into Oakland (in the other direction) on the bridge.

Birmingham Bridge to South Side

South Side and falling behind

The South Side was a total party scene, as might be expected.

Going east on Carson Street, I suddenly noticed at around mile 11 that I had lost one of my gloves. I had taken off my gloves earlier as it was getting warmer, and put them in my pockets, but just as I had lost my map because I hadn’t zipped my jacket pockets, I had now lost a glove. I apologized to my two companions and said I was turning back to find my glove if possible.

Luckily, my glove was just a block back, and a group of runners saw it and picked it up and gave it to me. But now my two companions were far away from me. I could still see them, but I didn’t want to run super fast just to catch them.

Three Rivers Heritage Trail and getting lost

I saw my companions turn onto the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. At this point, I no longer knew exactly what the rest of the route was for the last 8 miles. I knew that there was a water/gel stop at some point in the next 7 miles before the West End Bridge, but had no idea where it was!! I really didn’t want to miss the final water/gel stop, since that would mean going 8 miles without any water or fuel. Of course, I did have some money on me, so I could stop somewhere to refuel, but I didn’t really want to stop if I didn’t have to.

So now I’d run around 12 miles and my feet were definitely sore. It was a huge relief to be running on the trail, actually.

But then I made a mistake. I suddenly saw what seemed to be a water stop because a bunch of runners were gathering there. I approached and asked if it was the Steel City Road Runners water stop and they said no, it was Elite Runners and Walkers. They offered to give me some water anyway, but I declined, which was a mistake, because during the seconds I spent on this detour, I lost sight of my two companions!

I kept on running on the trail but they were just gone, and I never saw them again.

Running to the West End Bridge

I just kept on running west, figuring I would eventually get to the West End Bridge. I went through Station Square and made it across the West End Bridge. Now, I had planned ahead of time to stop running shortly after crossing the West End Bridge, because it was going to be 16 miles then.

However, I started feeling cold, and so I did some run/walking east all the way back to the start. It was very lonely going the last 8 miles of the route alone.

Safe and warm

I made it back OK. I grabbed two energy bars and went inside to get warm and stretch and devour the two energy bars. My feet were totally killing me, but I had survived 18 miles on them in Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS shoes. I still have no idea whether I can last a whole marathon in them.

My feet

Although my feet are sore, everything seems to be OK.

Franklin's feet

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS shoes

Franklin's soles of feet


On the Steel City Road Runners Facebook site is a photo album of the St. Patrick’s Day run.


I ran about 16 miles of the 18-mile route, as planned, but got lost, which I did not plan. I learned some lessons. In the future, I am zipping my jacket pockets, and I am also studying the printed map thoroughly before starting one of these runs. My super-sore feet have me worried about running the marathon in Vibram FiveFingers, so I will investigate alternatives. I’m still waiting for my order this week of Luna Sandals to come in.

Again, I’m thankful that Steel City Road Runners made it possible for me to do such a long run without feeling completely alone, and not having to haul all the water and fuel I needed during and after the run. Ten years ago when I was marathon training, I did carry along everything I needed, but it really is much nicer to simulate actual race conditions.

I am grateful that when I was done and called home, Abby baked a pizza for us to share when I got back. Fuel! Abby has been understanding and supportive during my training for the Pittsburgh Marathon. She thinks it’s a crazy thing to do, and it is, but I want to do it this once again while I have the opportunity.

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