These are a few of my Favorite Things

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Yinz Run Half Marathons?

4 years ago, I decided I was was going to run a marathon.  I stood at the finish line of the 2012 Pittsburgh Marathon, actually just there to kill some time prior to meeting some out of town family members for brunch downtown.  I was so fascinated and inspired by the runners and walkers as they triumphantly, sometimes exhaustedly crossed the finish line, I knew I wanted to run the race for myself.

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

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.

Crossing the 16th Street/David McCullough Bridge around mile 3.  I love this one!
My favorite thing about the Pittsburgh Marathon courses, other than the bridges of course, is a tie between the unparalleled crowd support and the tour of the city's unique neighborhoods.  Those two facts are surely related, as the residents of neighborhoods on the route have a friendly competition as to who has the best "cheer section."  The race even sends surveys out to participants post race and the worthiest neighborhoods and organizations can win not only bragging rights, but monetary donations to their nonprofits and neighborhood initiatives.

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.

At this point, I was more than half way done, and still feeling okay with my easy pace.  The West End neighborhood also has a fun and frantic cheering section, and I accumulated my very own cowbell with which to run the final 6 miles!  After the West End, the course follows the South Side's Carson Street for several straight, flat, kind of boring miles.  I knew that my father was waiting for me at 18th street, and, looking at my watch, knew I would be right on pace for when I planned to pass him.  Even in a slow race, there is something gratifying about knowing I can predict and keep a certain pace expectation.

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.

I was excited to run the half course for the first time and, at the end of the Birmingham Bridge, this is where the half and full courses made their first split.  I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the hill of the half was almost as severe as that in the full, however, I was pleased to find one of my favorite unofficial cheering sections, the Hash House Harriers, handing out beer around mile 11.5, just as I'd always found them at mile 23 on the course of the full.

Will run for beer!

I powered up with a cup of their Yuengling Lager, and soldiered on to the end.  Luckily, after the elevation grade of the race's 5th bridge and its aftermath, the course progressed easily downhill for the final mile.  Despite the downhill, I continued my run/walk strategy, and eased into the final part of the course.  At this point, it was no longer raining, and a bit humid.  Runners were presented with a welcome cool while passing Duquesne University, in the form of a city fire hydrant spraying a cool mist of water.

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.

By the numbers, I enjoyed 13.1 miles, over 3 rives and 5 bridges, in under 3 hours, to complete my 8th half marathon!  And, as always, I can't wait to run the next.


No comments:

Post a Comment