The Pittsburgh Marathon is like a party in the local running community: everybody trained hard, is happy to be around their friends and have a good time. There is a lot of excitement and every year, new people start to train and complete their first marathon. For some, it will be also the last one but for others, this is the start of a longer journey. If you are a happy member of the Steel City Road Runners,you have access to facilities before (bathroom area, breakfast) and after (tent with post-race food) the race. I ran it last year, had a blast and, so, was planning to do it again.
I took the race as a nice training run around the city. A 20+ miles run every month to maintain the fitness level: even if you run every day, it is mostly short runs. This is why it is important to take the opportunity of long workouts. As I got a free bib for the race, I thought it was a good idea to take it easy and just enjoy the race.
Packet Pickup, expo and preparation
The packet pickup and expo is located in downtown in the convention center. The expo is huge with vendors all around and you can spend a lot of time around. The packet contains a marathon week-end guide, a calendar, some food and … your bib. I did not hang out so much at the expo – just wanted to get my packet and go on.
I was busy the week-end working on many projects. So, instead of resting on Saturday, I woke up at 0530am, work, go back and forth to Lowe’s. Instead going of sleeping early, I went to a party to hang out with friends, eating party food and drinking beers until 10pm. Then, it was time to get some rest for 4 hours before waking up and trying to be in corral B.
A friend of mine gave me a ride in the morning, which is good since I was barely awake at that time. I did not remember where was the Steel City Road Runners starting area and tried to find it 15 minutes before the startt. This was quite challenging because all the downtown area was crowded. I finally found the area, dropped my bag and go to corral B. Staying in the corral is just painful and boring, that is why I stayed in the back of the corral, walking back and forth, not talking to anybody. This was totally fine: at that time, I just wanted to go, run and not chat to anybody. Just. Be. Alone.
The race starts at 0700am. The course go over many neighborhood: Strip District, North Side, West End, South Side, Oakland/Shadyside, Homewood, Highland Park and Bloomfield. The support from the local neighborhoods is great and the presence of music bands is more than appreciated. The worst neighborhood is Oakland (nobody is there) and the most active is definitively Homewood with people singing and dancing on Michael Jackson and other funk/soul artists. Homewood literally shows you what community means. There is a general idea that this part of the city is a poor, unsafe area and it is common to see people scared to run there. For these people, you should go to Homewood, put your butt out of here and just see the support and the joy from the residents. You do not have such an experience in other neighborhood, especially not in what is “considered as the wealthy and secure ones”. Yes, Shadyside is boring (only Walnut Street is active), Point Breeze is just ok. Homewood is a blast. Without Homewood, the marathon would not be the same. Another active area is Bloomfield, there are beers stop and parties over the course. If you just want to have fun, this sounds like a great way to get some fun on the course.
When talking about Pittsburgh, many runners are concerned about the elevation profile with the common belief that Pittsburgh is a hilly city. In fact, this is not hilly at all: there is a single hill (about 150 ft) around mile 12 but is clearly not a big deal. Many other marathons have similar hills. If you are considering to run Pittsburgh, this is definitively not what should turn you off. The week after the marathon, I have talked with many other folks that told me the “big hill” was almost nothing compared to other races (look at Baltimore for example)
I was planning to run it under 3.5 hours and so, as I started in the back of the corral, had to pass a lot of runners. After a few miles, everything was ok and I was on a good pace (about 08 min/mile). I continued but, with a poor pre-race nutrition strategy, I did not feel thirsty until mile 18. Everything was ok then and did not take any gel, water, gatorade or other fluid. However, it was really warm and I then started to think it would be a good idea to start drinking. Unfortunately, my body did was not able to hold anything, which makes hard to maintain the pace. The pain was growing over the miles and even if people told me I looked strong, I was just going through a lot of pain, trying to make it under the 3.5 hours goal.
Unfortunately, it did not happened and completed the race under 3:32, about 2 minutes over the goal. Pretty happy with it, especially considering the conditions (really warm) and the poor preparation (4 to 5 hours of sleep every night since two weeks, bad nutrition strategy).
Once you finished, you get your finisher medal and there is food and water. The post-race party takes place in Point State Park where you can hang out with your friends and buy more food if you need to. For the Steel City Road Runners members, there is a tent with a full food buffet where you can also hang out with your fellow runners and congratulate each other. When arriving to the tent, I was dehydrated and not able to hold anything in my body. I tried to get some food but it made me more sick. When sitting, I got the feeling I was about to pass out. This was a good race, it was just time to rest. Fortunately, my partner in crime picked me up, took care of myself and was ready to celebrate this new personal best few hours later at Brew Gentlemen!
During the next days, the excitement around the race spread across the running clubs in Pittsburgh: race reports, photos, story about bad or great race, everybody starts to tell the story about the race they was hoping for, the one they would have run and the one that they actually run. There is also the usual marathonofoto rip off that offers to download your pictures for about $70 – who seriously pay such a price for race pictures? I still do not understand how they can make business. On the side, other (unofficial) photographers take pictures and share them on social media. The quality of their work is often better than what is offered by the official pictures – so, in case you want to get some pictures of you or your friends, you might want to just spend some time and research the person you want.
Let’s do it?
The Pittsburgh marathon is the best road race I have done so far: the support of the communities around is amazing and the course is challenging without being too difficult. The weather, even if it was slightly warm, is great for a marathon. The overall organization of the race is well done and whether you are a Pittsburgh or not, this is a great opportunity to discover the city. The Marathon office do a really great job and makes this event a premier running event. This is also why Pittsburgh was selected as one of the best nine marathon in the USA for 2014.
If you are not from Pittsburgh, I would advise to be careful about the weather. In May, the weather can be totally unpredictable: it can be very cold or give you a hard time with heat. During this 2015 edition, because of the weather, more people than usual were brought to the hospital and one 25 years old guy did a cardiac arrest and was still at the hospital few days after the race. Conditions is this event are unknown but as for all running events, consider adequate hydration and nutrition. Fortunately, the medical support over the course is very good and if you experience any problem, the staff will take care of you.
If you are also looking to do a PR, the pace team can help you to reach your goal. There are many pace team for the marathon and half-marathon for many different finishing times. While some folks like to run their own race, other like to have a reference and follow a pacer, especially when they worry about the elevation profile.
- Awesome course, reasonable elevation (if you are not convinced, look at the other marathon)
- Pace team
- Homewood, heck, YEAH!
- The support (regular aid station, medical staff on duty)
- The overall organization (everything goes smoothly and is well organized)
- The medal!
Thanks to all the Steel City Road Runners members and friends for their support and encouragement over the course. It has been very helpful and helped me to make it to the finish line. With an increased work load and other personal projects, I was less involved in the club during the last few weeks, but people was still there to help me, which is more than appreciated when you start to have a hard time. Last one, thank to my partner in crime for picking me up after the finish: I was sick, miserable, was barely able to walk – having somebody to take care of you makes a lot of difference.