Getting up when reality punches you in the face: running the second Liberty Mile in Pittsburgh

Last year, I reported on the excitement I had running in and watching the first GNC Live Well Liberty Mile. I was so excited about running it again that late this May, having mostly recovered from my Pittsburgh Marathon disaster, I quickly pre-registered for the Liberty Mile for this year. I anticipated training to run well in this year’s Liberty Mile, given that I was not really trained last year.

Unfortunately, this year I have been in very poor shape since the marathon, because of a whole series of health problems and disruptions in my life resulting from a skin rash I got during a Rachel Carson Trail hike in May. The upshot is that I have been running (and exercising in general) very little in the past three months. As the Liberty Mile approached, I wished that I had not registered for it at all.

So I faced a dilemma: what should I do about the race?

Deciding to run it

The good thing about the mile is that it’s short enough that of course I can finish the thing. So I felt there was no excuse to just bail out and forfeit my pre-registration. I was going to run it.

The bad thing about the mile is that it is brutal to actually run fast. I have always felt pukey after running a mile as “fast” as I can.

In any case, I decided to still try to run the Liberty Mile as fast as I could, knowing that I would probably suffer for it.

In recent weeks I’ve been trying to go out periodically for short, slow runs, something like two miles at a time, to gain at least have some kind of conditioning. Also, earlier this week I put in some “fast” repeats of about 300m out in Frick Park: the only “fast” running I’ve done since April!!

But this whole week I was feeling bad, stress exacerbated by home repair disruptions with the contractors coming over.

Support from Abby

Last year, I went to the race alone.

This year, Abby offered to go downtown with me so she could watch the race and be with me. (In May when I was pre-registering for the race, she had just spent months barely mobile because of a broken foot and was simply not certain she would be able to even run a mile again by August.)

I really appreciated this because I felt rather vulnerable about this race. We planned to watch the first wave start, and then have me run my heat (again the “Unstoppable 40+” heat), then hang out afterwards and watch the elite heats.

We drove downtown and parked and walked to the packet pickup area in Market Square. I was pleased that it wasn’t raining; it had rained earlier in the day, but that was all over.

Because we arrived later than other people, they had run out of Small T-shirts and so I got a Medium.

Abby holding my T-shirt

Changes in the course

I should note that the course was changed from last year. The change makes sense because it considerably simplifies the logistics. Last year, the course was a straight shot down Liberty Ave toward downtown. This year, the course was an almost-loop course, first going out on Penn Ave, then turning to head back in on Liberty Ave. The advantage is that the start and finish are close together, so it is much easier for people to plan to spectate or get back to their cars or whatever. I do like the concept of the straight downhill road course, but understand the logistical difficulties.

My plan was to do my best to avoid going out too fast, and try to push hard in the final downhill portion of the race. Easier said than done, because last year I certainly wanted to avoid going out too fast, but did anyway!

Before the race

I wore my Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS shoes again.

Franklin before race

At the GNC booth, I saw they were giving out free samples of energy bars and other stuff. I was feeling hungry, and although I know that it is best not to race having just eaten, especially unfamiliar foods, I took a GNC Pro Performance Pro Crunch Lite energy bar, and ate a couple of bites before giving the remainder to Abby to put away.

It was probably a big mistake to have eaten from the energy bar, because it didn’t really agree with me. Oops.

Start and finish lines

We checked out the start and finish lines.

Start line

Finish line

First heat (at 7:00 PM)

We watched as the first “fun run” heat went.

My race (heat at 7:20 PM)

I got to the start line and lined up at the back, where I knew I belonged. I was not sure that I would not be last place in my heat!

Here I am, looking as tired as I in fact was, still taking medication for my skin problem that is not completely gone (usually showing up as spots on my neck or hands and arms):

Franklin before the race

As the race began, I tried not to go too fast, but did. 1:34 for the first quarter mile, not good at all! Last year, I ran the mile in 6:39, and went out in 1:29 for the first quarter. This year, I was hoping to go under 7:00 at all.

I slowed down for the second quarter, then finally found a steady pace for the third quarter. During the final quarter, I saw the finish line and eventually saw the clock ticking up toward 7:00. I was furious that I might not be able to finish a 7-minute mile. I sprinted all out and didn’t actually finish under 7:00 according to the clock (the official race results say I finished in 7:02), but my chip time was 6:56, so I actually did run the mile in under 7 minutes!!

My splits:

More photos of the Liberty Mile

More photos of the entire event can be seen here.

After my race

Afterwards, I felt really, really crappy:

Franklin done for a while but still in pain

In fact, for a full half hour after the race, all I could do was walk and sit around with Abby trying to feel less crappy. I have never felt so bad for so long after any race of any distance.


Mentally, also, I was still very angry at myself: I came in 60th place out of 74, running a chip time of 6:56, a whopping 18 seconds slower than last year. That’s a huge decrease in fitness for a mile.

My plan for this year, 2013, was supposed to be to get back into great health and fitness, “the shape I was in five years ago”. It’s why, for the new year, I got into climbing the Cathedral of Learning. It’s why I got into running in the winter](/blog/2012/12/31/why-i-went-frick-park-trail-running-in-snowfall-for-the-first-time-in-a-decade/). It’s why I decided to run the Pittsburgh Marathon. I blew it my overtraining for the marathon and then suffering freak skin problems after a hike that ended up seeing doctors something like five times, and being put on medication that messed with me.

I had a lot to be angry about. But after I recovered, I became calm and stopped being angry about being punched in the face by reality. I decided that it was motivation for me to turn my life around. I decided that I was going to get back into a regular exercise routine.

In just the past three months, I have lost all of my fitness of the past several years. But I have a plan to get back on track, starting tomorrow. I believe that for 2014, I can still get back into my 2008 shape. It’s a matter of making it a priority, over all the other things I have been doing in my life.

Going home

After I recovered enough that I felt like eating and walking again, Abby and I went back to our car and we went home.

Only minutes after getting home did I realize that I had totally forgotten to stick around to watch the elite runners’ races!! That was far from my mind when I was feeling nauseous and reflecting on my poor fitness.


The race was very well organized, and I’m thankful for the continuation of this new Pittsburgh tradition. Although I had a humbling experience in my heat, I totally want to be back for a third try at executing a good mile next year! And I am thankful that I actually ran it, because it gave me the resolve to regain my lost fitness.

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