This past weekend I finally got to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. I was so excited. I used to live in Pittsburgh and it was the first half marathon I had any contact with. The Hubs did it in 2013 as his first. At the time, of course, I thought he was insane. I did the 5k last year with friends while he did the half a second time, and this year we were bot able to run it.
First things first, I’m totally biased. Pittsburgh is basically my favorite place in the world. I know, weird. But I think it’s a combination of nostalgia and the fact that I know my way around that just makes it a really fun place for me.
We got into the city fairly late on Friday and went out to get a late dinner. We ate at Eleven which was fairly close to our hotel. The food was really good and the service was excellent.
Speaking of hotels, I need to give a huge shout out to the place that we’ve stayed now all 3 times we’ve been in town for race weekend. The Hampton Inn on Smallman Street in Pittsburgh has always been an amazing place to stay. It’s close enough to walk to the start and from the finish. It’s very close to the expo so if you are like me and like to go at least twice, that is pretty convenient. It’s close to a riverside trail and walking distance to the Strip District which itself is an awesome place. We always make a stop at Penn Mac for spices, nuts, italian stuff and sometimes cheese. We also LOVE Pittsburgh Popcorn Company. We did all of this on Saturday and ate lunch at Rolands and got dinner at Emporio which served pasta and meatballs. After that we got a drink at The Sharp Edge while we watched the Kentucky Derby and then went back for an early bedtime.
As for the race itself. I often tell people that The Pittsburgh Marathon has the expo that ruined all other expos for me. Since it was the first one I ever went to, I thought that all expos were just that big and awesome.
I wasn’t able to get an angle that showed how amazing it is. But it is row after row of vendors. Dick’s Sporting Goods sponsors the race and has a huge store inside. There is also a Fleet Feet, and there was a Brooks store set up with a treadmill doing gait analysis. There was also a Sierra Nevada Beer tasting, Bubbly wine tasting and Wigle Whiskey (local to Pittsburgh) tasting as well. There are a ton of really fun custom T-Shirts that are great for nerds like me that like Pittsburgh as much as I do. (You can see some at Steel City Cotton and Fresh Factory). There are a too many more places to name, but trust me when I say it’s worth saving some time to walk around.
The morning of the race I wasn’t in a huge rush to get out of the door. The weather reports had been mixed for a few days, but pretty much all of them involved some sort of rain. I knew that since I was starting in the last corral, I’d be waiting for a long time before I got to the starting line. The Hubs and I walked over and met Becca, who graciously offered to run the Half with me, even knowing how I get on long runs, and Debbie who was doing the full Marathon but was able to start with us until the course split. To add to the confusion of this race, I was a member of a relay team. The wife of one of my high school friends reached out to me to see if I’d be on her relay team. I was already signed up for the half, but it turns out that you are able to do both, as long as you do the first leg (or 2). Another friend of mine was going to pick up leg 2, but ended up injured. Since it didn’t lead to any more miles for me, I offered to just pick up leg 2.
After waiting in the corral for what seemed like forever, we were off and headed down Liberty Ave. It was SO crowded. It was hard to move at all. We also ended up behind a walk run pace group. While I think that whoever wants to do the race should, and I fully support the interval folks who come out to do the race (some of which finish faster than I do) it can be frustrating to be bunched in with them. A lot of them follow the appropriate etiquette when stopped (hand up when they are walking) some of them did not. I almost ran full force into a few as I was looking around trying to enjoy the sights.
We turned down Penn and Over the 16th Street Bridge and I was feeling great. This year the course changed so that you were directed around PNC Park and Heinz Field which made the time go a little faster. Around mile 6 1/2 you head over to Southside and this is where things got hard. At mile 7 I finally decided to give into my bladder and stop to pee. I thought this was basically destroying any hope I had at beating my time from October’s race. But I had to stop, it was actually painful and I knew that I still had a long way to go. I also worried that when I had to stop at the relay point, my bladder would just give up on me. I will say this was a strategic error. I did feel SO much better and I needed to pee, but had I known that once I got to the relay stop there would be rows and rows of porta-potties I would have waited.
The relay stop also took longer than I thought. Pittsburgh is a really well run race. Everything I read about doing both the relay and the half it said volunteers would help get off my bib and shoe tag. This is one place that I felt they dropped the ball. No one helped me at the exchange. Well, no volunteers. Becca came to the rescue and helped me so we could get moving again. But those two stops, so close together didn’t do me any favors. By the time I hit mile 11, I was pretty out of it. I think that my fueling wasn’t great. I only ate a banana and Gu before I started and then I had one more on the way. I did have another on the dreaded Birmingham bridge because I was so out of it I didn’t know where I was. I thought it was the final last hill and not just out of wishful thinking.
When we turned off the bridge there was a little downhill and one last big uphill. I just couldn’t make it all the way up and had to walk a little bit more. At that point I thought there was no way I was going to PR, but Becca came to tell me that if we really pushed the last 1-1.5 miles we might do it. I thought she was crazy, but I decided that that was all I had left, so I really started to run. I’m normally a 12:30 ish pace or slower on long runs, but mile 12-13 was 10:49 and the last .3 was a 9:46 pace which is unheard of for me. I was really proud that I pushed myself and was able to get a PR even with a bathroom and relay stop. I really didn’t think it would happen. It wasn’t a huge PR, but it was a mental victory given all the things I dealt with during the race.
After the race we went back to the hotel. I was SORE. It was more my back than anything, so I spent some time with my feet up on the wall.
After that we went with friends to Bakersfield to get some tacos and beer. We walked around a LOT that night and got home fairly late. All that walking led to me somehow injuring my ankle which is worrying me right now since I have Ragnar in less than a month. I haven’t had a chance to get it looked at, but for now I have a restrictive brace and compression socks on in hopes that it will help until I can get somewhere.
Oh, I did forget one more thing. When I lived in Pittsburgh I LOVED Prantls. We used to get little things there, but a few times we had their burnt almond tort which is now famous since it was named “Greatest Cake America Has Ever Made” by the Huffington Post. I will say that it’s probably #2 in my book (Wegmans Chocolate Cake has them beat) but still I told myself that if I got a PR I would buy one so…..
Overall I think I will someday do this race again, but probably not next year. It’s a little sad for me since I love this trip whenever I make it, but this course beat me a little and I think I need some time to recover. I won’t ever do the relay and the half again. It really was nice to help out a team, but the time I lost was a morale killer, especially after my bathroom break. Also, going to a city I like and know as much as Pittsburgh has it’s downside. I eat and drink more than I likely would anywhere else and so it’s not an ideal race/recover spot. I did bounce back today with a green smoothie for breakfast and a day full of raw almonds, grilled chicken, tea, and carrots. So maybe I can look at this as a last hurrah until next time we get to the city. Or maybe, much like me saying I’d never even do a second half marathon, I’ll change my mind when the time comes.