Pittsburgh Marathon Debut

The Pittsburgh Marathon sometimes goes under the radar compared to other Pittsburgh sporting events, but there is actually quite a bit of hype surrounding the event this year.

Unfortunately for the runners, fans, and spectators, there is currently about an 80% chance of precipitation along with thunderstorms for Sunday, May 1st, which is when the main event is taking place.

The runners will start their 26.2 mile journey at 7:00 am, and it will last for several hours throughout the morning and afternoon. Family, friends, spectators and workers will line the streets of Pittsburgh early Sunday morning and early afternoon as they cheer on all of the participants.

Most of the participants in the marathon have been training for this event for years, and many of them are returning participants from previous years. Along with these experienced runners there are also going to be several runners that will be making their marathon debut.

For one runner, it will be his marathon debut, but the journey to get to this point has been anything but ideal.

Zach Neal, a sophomore Nursing student at Duquesne University, had a goal last year of being able to participate in the Pittsburgh Marathon. Although he had never participated in a marathon to that point, Neal was no stranger to long distance runs. Before last year, he had participated in three half marathons, and along with the three half marathons Neal ran, he consistently went on runs that lasted up to double digit miles.

In 2015, not only did he want to participate in the marathon, but he also wanted to compete well enough where he would qualify and be able to compete in the Boston Marathon this past month in April of 2016.Unfortunately for Neal, he ran into a health issue while training for the race back in early April of 2015, and it put a stop to his quest for the Boston Marathon.

Just several weeks before the 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon, Neal was training like an Olympic Decathlon athlete, and he was averaging roughly ten miles a day. It got to the point where ten miles was just the average run for Neal and it was no longer difficult to do. That is when he started getting pain in his foot, and although he tried to keep training through the pain it was just too much for him to handle. Neal went to the doctors a few days later where he was diagnosed with foot tendinitis, and his doctor requested that he sit out for the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2015. This meant that Neal had to wait yet another year to participate in his first marathon.

This set back did not stop Neal from attempting to conquer his ultimate goal. Even though he wanted to get back as soon as he could, he knew it would be a smart idea to take it easy and ease his way back into the running aspect of his training. Over the fall and early parts of the winter, Neal weight trained every single day. He took no time off in the weight room and went from weighing 160 pounds in late April of 2015 to weighing about 190 pounds today. The only issue with this was that he had to focus on lifting rather than running. Since he took his time to get back into running, he only started his marathon training in mid January.

Neal ended up easing his way back into running like he planned, and he has only started getting up into the double digits in miles over the past month or so. I asked Neal if he physically is where he was last year at this point in time. He responded, “I can clearly see I am not where I was compared to last year. Now when I run and feel tired I do my best to shut off my thoughts and just go”. He added, “If that does not work, every time I finish a mile I say to myself, “I finished one, I know I can do it again”, because if I can do three, then I can do it again, if I can do six then I can do twelve, and if I can do twelve then I can do twenty-four, understanding that my body will do what my mind believes”. Obviously, no one expects anyone to gain that much muscle and still be able to run the way they used to. Getting back into that type of shape comes with time and long and intense training.

When I asked Neal about what he expected out of himself this year, he said “My goal this year is finishing the race in just under 4 hours, and also to run an 8:15 minute per mile pace, which is slower than what I have hoped”. He also added, “Last year I had hoped to finish close to three hours, but unfortunately I overworked myself and had to sit out for several months”.

Obviously, finishing about an hour behind what he had hoped to finish last year is not what he wants, but he knows that in order to get himself in the shape he needs to be in for future marathons, this is what needs to be done. He said that over training again and trying to overdo it is the last thing he needs to do.

Some of you may ask, “why”? Why does he want to run marathons and where does this motivation come from?

Well, I asked Neal why he runs marathons, and where he gets the motivation to run so much, because usually your average person doesn’t wake up every morning and say they are going for a 10 mile run.

Neal said, “Why not. I love to run and we all have a gift, so why not use it. When I truly think about it, I think about all of the people that would die to just feel the pavement under their feet, and have legs that can bare their weight, and I do it for those who simply can’t move on their own”. He went on to say, “That is what I think about. I run because they cannot. I carry the though of them with me as if they are completing this race with me, because I know they would do anything for this opportunity, and it is one I am not going to take for granted”.

The attitude that many people have when it comes to a sporting event is that they want to do it to prove people wrong, and sometimes to prove something to themselves. Sometimes you come across the people that do it for a certain person in their life, or maybe for someone that was once in their life. The above attitudes are completely acceptable and are great reasons to do something. Rarely do you come across someone who wants to run for something bigger than them, but that is exactly why Neal does it. He truly believes that by running a marathon he is allowing hundreds of other people who cannot even walk, run a marathon through his feet.

As Neal prepares for the marathon on Sunday, he will continue to work hard and strive for his ultimate goal that he would love to accomplish one day, which is to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Neal will continue to work his way up to the point that he needs to be at in order to run the 26.2 miles.

Finishing a marathon is not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination, but Zach Neal is clearly up for the challenge.


Hunter Stiehler

The Burgh Blog Writer

Twitter: @hunter_stiehler

Stay tuned early next week for a recap of the marathon!

Below is a rundown of events that will take place this weekend as well.

5K Run: Saturday, April 30th, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Kids Marathon: Saturday, April 30th, 2016 at 9:30 AM

Pet Walk: Saturday, April 30th, 2016 at 12:00 PM

Marathon Relay: Sunday, May 1st at 7:00 AM

Half Marathon: Sunday, May 1st at 7:00 AM

Marathon: Sunday, May 1st at 7:00 AM

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