Today is my last day in Pittsburgh, and I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. I arrived on Thursday night and spent Friday with my mom. We grabbed breakfast at the local bakery before heading to the expo at the Convention Center downtown. I was very impressed by the expo. In fact, I think it was better than the Disney expo. It was spacious, organized, and filled with great vendors (both large and boutique companies). I went a little overboard on tank tops. Lululemon was screen printing the Pittsburgh skyline on tanks. I also got a Nike tank with a funny Pittsburgh saying on it and this tank from Fittsburgh. My dad arrived later that evening. On Saturday, we visited with family in the morning, grabbed lunch, and headed downtown to check into the hotel. We were in the suburbs for most of the trip but stayed downtown the night before the race.
Pre-Race — We woke up around 5:20am on race morning, got dressed, and ate while walking to the corrals. I went with a banana and packet of Justin’s honey peanut butter (plus a few Shot Blocks) before the race. Mom and I were in the corral by 6:45am. I was so grateful for perfect weather, after rocky weather at my marathon in January. It was about 60 degrees with no wind or clouds. At a few minutes after 7:00am, we were off. Mom and I decided to split at the start to run different paces.
Miles 1-2 — The first stretch of the race was an out-and-back in the Strip District. This is a business district where food and other materials are brought in by rail and boat. We ran down Liberty and looped back around on Penn, where there was some awesome street art. I consciously held back on these miles and enjoyed the shade before reaching the first bridge.
Miles 3-6 — When we rounded the corner from Penn Avenue, the yellow 16th Street Bridge (first of five) rose in the distance. It was a spectacular view at dawn. The climb to the bridge was easier than expected, and it was nice that each of these uphills had an equal and immediate downhill stretch. After the bridge, we were briefly on the North Shore (where the stadiums are) to grab water before taking the 9th Street Bridge back into the city and immediately taking the 7th Street Bridge back across. By this point, we were almost halfway! Miles 5 and 6 were my fastest of the race.
Miles 7-10 — Both of my least favorite miles were part of this stretch. We took the West End Bridge into a series of rolling hills before hitting a long flat at Mile 7. I was hitting every water station at this point, which were all well-managed, because the sun was getting warmer by the mile. Miles 8-9 weren’t bad, with gorgeous views of the river and the city on our left. I had been looking forward to Mile 10 in South Side, an area of bars and retail, but it was a rough mile for me. I’ve decided that I don’t mentally run endless flats well during races. Crowd support was great, but I found myself looking for more hills to break things up. Mile 11 gave me those hills.
Mile 11 — I knew from studying the course map that I would have to save energy for Mile 11. We started the mile by running the Birmingham Bridge, the last and longest of the bunch. At the end of the bridge, the full marathoners split to the right. I was relieved to only be running a half marathon. Once we got over the bridge, we ran up two long, gradual hills near Duquesne University. I wondered how these hills would compare to Harlem Hill in Central Park or the giant hill I ran in San Francisco. I think they were both comparable to Harlem. The hills slowed me down, but I didn’t stop running.
Miles 12-13.1 — Just after hitting Mile 12, we reaching the top of the second big hill. I knew it was almost all downhill for the last mile and really opened up my stride to pick up my pace. I felt tired but strong and knew I could PR at this point. With about .4 mile to go, the finish line came into view. At that point, your body stops feeling and just goes. I was sprinting as fast as I could and saw my dad just before crossing the finish line. I finished at 2:10 with a three-minute PR. Mom came in at an impressive 2:14. I was elated as I got my medal and made my way to the post-race festival.
Post-Race — While I didn’t take advantage of many of the booths at the festival, I loved that we finished at Point State Park. There was so much room to find relatives, sit in the grass, and enjoy the sunshine. We took pictures before walking to the fountain at the point to enjoy the mist. Eventually, we headed back to the hotel to shower and pack up before heading to lunch.
All images via Pittsburgh Half Marathon
I’m not sure if I could pick a favorite race, but Pittsburgh was definitely up there. The events were organized. The course was gorgeous. The crowds were welcoming. It’s also special to race in your hometown. However, I would still recommend Pittsburgh as a destination race to anyone (either half or full). While I’m incredibly proud of my PR, I think my biggest takeaway from the race was to work on my mental game. I need to get better at focusing on my current mile, rather than thinking about the distance ahead. I also need to trust that I can hold a fast pace for the total distance. I’ll be working on these things heading into training for Toronto in June!