Race Date: May 7, 2017
Weather: mid-upper 40s and SUNNY
Course: One mega-hill; several rolling hills
Run Again: Yes. Maybe.
In the week leading up to this race, I have to admit I was dreading it. And questioning my own sanity. The weather forecast for Sunday was grim – low 40’s and rain, rain, rain. In fact, that was actually what the weather was like on Saturday – the day of the expo. And with a forecast still calling for rain for at least the first hour of the race, I went to bed on Saturday night wishing I had taken up golfing or antiquing as a hobby instead of a sport that requires one to stand out in the dark, cold, rain – covered in a trash bag – while getting ready to run.
AS luck would have it, Ma Nature apparently got all of her rain out of the way on Saturday because it was cool and dry on Sunday morning. Suddenly, those low 40’s didn’t seem so bad after all. I brought a space blanket and gloves along for waiting in the corral but I never even needed to put them on. I met some super friendly runners in the corral pre-race, included 62-year old Bob who was running Pittsburgh for the 5th time and gave me lots of tips on what to expect and what to look for (thanks Bob!)
And then we were off.
I really did not know what to expect for this race in terms of time goals. As I have written in previous posts, I was sick (chest and sinus cold) 5 times this winter, including 3 times during this training cycle. That combined with the hilly terrain left me unsure what time to shoot for. So instead of time, I went for effort and just wanted to keep running strong for the entire 26.2 miles.
Taking a look at the elevation map for Pitt, I knew that in order to run strong for the whole race, I would need to run conservatively for the front half. I settled into a comfortable but still racing pace of 10:15-10:30 and concentrated on taking in the sights. Pittsburgh, by the way, is gorgeous, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to see it up close.
The steep hill came between miles 11 and 13. Bob told me to watch for the hill runners and I’m so glad he did. These men and women, who were wearing green “Hill Runner” shirts are volunteers whose only job that day is to run up and down this hill encouraging people along the way. Talk about stamina! Bob had told me that when people are struggling, the Hill Runners will ask if they can help run with them to give them one-on-one support during the climb. Thankfully, I didn’t need this kind of attention, but I did really appreciate their cheers and support along the way.
Speaking of support, I will say right now that in all of the marathons I have run, the support I have received at PA races is always the best. I’ve run 4 marathons in PA now and at every single one, the volunteers are amazing and the spectators are so genuine – yelling their heads off for perfect strangers in a way that really makes you feel like they proud of you and happy to see you.
After the mega-hill was done, the course consisted of a series of gently rolling hills that took us past PNC Park (where the Pirates play), Heinz Field (Steelers), the Carnegie Science Museum, the Strip District (not at all seedy), and a number of cool subdivisions in which spectators came out in droves offering everything from beer to gummy worms.
I was feeling so good during this race that I never felt the dreaded ‘wall’ and even decided to start picking it up in the back half. By mile 20, I kicked it up a notch and then kicked it up even further around mile 14 where a steep descent had me flying toward the finish line.
I actually ran a negative split for this race (2:19/2:12) which for this course I think is absolutely amazing and I couldn’t be more proud.
All in all, the Pittsburgh Marathon was stellar. Swag included a long-sleeved tee, fabric race bag, and custom Pittsburgh marathon socks. My only complaint is that the tee was blue. As a Penguins fan (hockey) I was kind of insulted. Have you ever known a city to be more closely associated with colors than Pitt is with its Black and Gold? The blue just did not fit.
So would I race the Pittsburgh Marathon again? If there were a group of folks going, I would gladly tag along. And I wouldn’t even worry about the weather this time. Still I don’t think I would make the trek to Pittsburgh again just to take on this course. But I would never say never to this one!