So in 2013 I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon, my first 26.2 mile venture, with a very "go big or go home" mentality. Why run half of something when you can run the whole thing? After 3 consecutive Pittsburgh full marathons, with a Walt Disney World and a Marine Corps full peppered in the calendar, I knew it was time to switch gears and run the 13.1 mile half in Pittsburgh this year.
|Half Marathon Course Map from www.thepittsburghmarathon.com|
The funny thing about having trained for and completed 5 full marathons is that, when it came to training for this half, I kind of let it fall by the wayside. In February and March, when temps were colder, I thought to myself, it's only 13.1 miles! I can do this! By April, I'd realized that I'd undersold the race, that just because 2016 was the first year since 2012 that I didn't have a full marathon on the calendar didn't mean that I didn't have to train properly for other races. Oh I ran 3 miles here and 5 miles there, but not with the focus and nuance to properly race a half. I knew I could finish a half marathon, and I did, but I knew going into this race that it would be a running (and walking) tour of this beautiful city more so than a race, and I knew I'd be okay with that.
Race weekend threatened thunder, lightening and rain from the time the 10 day forecast was revealed until the time I woke up race morning and learned that we were in the clear. I was glad that I was running for fun, because the threat of weather so severe that it could postpone or cancel a race would've made me crazy nervous if I'd been a first time runner or gunning for a PR. But we woke up to grey skies and light rains, so it truly was Game on, Pittsburgh!
|Corral D waiting in the rain. Pay no attention to the 8:00 mile pace sign because that is NOT me, lol.|
|Covered in rain, but still ready to go.|
The race started on time and my corral crossed the start line within 30 minutes of the initial gun time. The first three miles of the course are flat and relatively fast. The field of runners is dense as thousands of full marathon, half marathon, and relay participants start out together, but the course is as wide as the city streets of Pittsburgh's Strip District neighborhood. The first 11 miles of the half course would be the same as the first 11 of the full course I'd become accustomed to, save for a couple of small changes due to road construction on the course.
In those 11 miles, I'd get to cross all 3 of the city's famous rivers via all 5 of the course's signature bridges, 4 of which I absolutely love running, and 1 of which I absolutely hate.
After crossing the 16th Street Bridge, runners enter the North Side, which is really an amalgam of multiple small neighborhoods including East Allegheny, Allegheny Center, and Allegheny West. The North Side is one of my most favorite places in the city, and its residents come out in spades to cheer the runners, including a Mimosa station shortly after mile 4!
Runners in the North Side run for a bit through the Deutschtown business district, then zig across the Rachel Carson Bridge, and zag back across the neighboring Andy Warhol Bridge to complete the Tour de North. These bridges, 2/3 of the Allegheny River's "Three Sisters" are totally fun to run. By this point in this year's race, I was employing a walk/run strategy pretty liberally, deciding when to walk mostly by effort and not by prescribed time. These two suspension bridges are great for walk/run, as they slope gently up to the center, and then back down again. I walked up the bridges, coasted joyfully down them, and continued on to find mile 5 in the North Side's Allegheny Center.
|Crossing the Rachel Carson Bridge|
|Back in the North Side, not raining but now very humid!|
|Runners pass the Pittsburgh Children's Museum with the Downtown skyscrapers in the distance.|
One small change to this year's course layout was in the North Side, where runners turned a block of off last year's course and ran past the Community College of Allegheny County for a block or two. I suspect this was to make up for slight distance lost by the construction on the Birmingham bridge circa mile 11.
|The new part of the course, complete with banners celebrating the Run for a Reason charity partners.|
Crossing the 4th bridge, across the Ohio River and in to the West End neighborhood, I attempted to keep rough pace with the 5:30 full marathon pacer. I knew that I was taking it so slow and easy that I'd fallen behind any of the half marathon pacers, and decided that keeping vaguely with the 5:30 full marathon group would put me at a comfortable and reasonable pace for this half I hadn't really trained for.
|On the West End bridge.|
|On Carson Street with less than 5K to go!|
|Doggie spectators supporting Going Home Greyhounds in the South Side.|
After the flat, friendly miles of the South Side, the course takes a brutal turn. Runners of both the full and half marathon courses turn to ascend the Birmingham Bridge, a bridge that, unlike the three sisters bridges crossed earlier in the course, slants uphill for the entire duration of the structure. At the end of the bridge's hill, half marathoners turn left, full runners turn right, and somehow, the course continues uphill both ways! For those keeping score at home, this is the 1 out of the 5 bridges that I HATE!
|The fifth, final, and most fearsome bridge.|
|Will run for beer!|
|A uniquely urban encounter in the final miles.|
The refreshing cool of this Uptown oasis was just what I needed to power through the final mile. I referenced my phone to verify where my mom would be spectating at the finish, and coasted downhill to the end.
|Running towards the finish. This time with MORE COWBELL!|
After close to three easy hours, I finally crossed the finish line. It wasn't my fastest or most daring race, but it was my 8th half marathon, and completed in my favorite city in the world. I accepted my medal and grabbed some snacks - in the form of a hometown favorite Eat n Park smiley cookie and a much needed sodium-replenishing bag of Salt and Vinegar chips.
|To the victor go the spoils.|