Friday, May 9, 2014

Race Recap & Review: Pittsburgh Half Marathon

This past Sunday, I had the absolute privilege to run in the sixth annual Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Half Marathon. If you're a regular reader, you know I'd been looking forward to this one for months. All I'd heard about this race was how supportive the city was and that I would be amazed at the amount of crowd support. I'd also heard that it was a challenging course with a killer hill at mile 11. I woke up at 4 am on Sunday absolutely pumped.

Todd and some other friends were also running on Sunday so we all were able to grab breakfast together before heading to the city. We had plans to be parked no later than 5:30. With a 7 am start time, and because we weren't familiar with the city, we wanted to make sure we were settled with plenty of time to get to our corrals. After the Sole of the City 10k parking debacle, we knew to allow ample time to get there and park.

Matthew, Jamie, and Todd.

We had originally planned to park in the garage near Chelsea's apartment- we'd parked there the day before with no issues. However, her street was already closed by 5:25 am. Luckily, we found another parking garage for only $5! We parked, gathered up stuff for our checked bag, and then headed toward the start.

Now, even though the race did a really good job with identifying the corrals, we had a really hard time finding the bag check. Eventually, we dropped off the bag and then started heading back to Matthew's corral- he was in B and I was in D- the last corral. Security was tight getting into corrals- they had high chain link fences and volunteers/race officials guarding each entrance. I had plans to meet up with Lauren, Jeff, and Steff at Lauren's hotel so we said our goodbyes and wished each other a good race.

Ready to race!

B is for Bad-Ass :-)

No corral hopping allowed.

I wandered around until I found the Fairmont Hotel. Thankfully the lobby was warm and had a real bathroom. It was probably around 45 degrees and lightly raining by this point so I was glad for a little respite from the weather. I met up with my friends, chatted, and wished them well. We also figured out where we'd be meeting up after the half to cheer on Jeff and Lauren- they were running the full marathon. Basically, the races follow the same first 11 miles, and then the marathon course turns off to the right and continues for the next 17 miles.

Gloria, Steff, Me, Jeff, and Lauren. Thanks to Lauren for this picture!

I left the hotel lobby and went to find my corral. I got a little lost but saw some awesome signs/spectators along the way. I guess it was about 6:45 when I tried to squeeze into the masses trying to get into D, the last corral. I had been texting another blogger friend whom I'd yet to meet in person, Becca, who was also starting in D with her dad. After probably 10 minutes, I finally made it into the corral. Somehow, among the close to 30,000 runners, we found each other!

This made me LOL.

Lots of signs; still super lost.

It's kind of a big deal.

Thanks to Becca for this awesome pre-race photo!

Chatting with Becca about the race helped to calm my nerves. I don't know why, but we didn't start the race until almost 7:30- there seemed to be a hold up but we were so far back that I couldn't hear whatever they were announcing. Becca warned me to not go out too fast at the beginning of this race- it was easy to get caught up in the energy of the start. She was totally right. This race just felt so... different. Everyone was in a good mood. I always think of the last corral as the "party corral" and this race was no different. People just seemed genuinely excited. It was easy to catch the enthusiasm of the crowd of runners and spectators.

At a little past 7:30, we were off! To be honest, the first few miles of this course were a little bit of a blur. I remember at least three bands in the first two miles. I kept my 2:30/1 intervals and planned on running just around 12 min/miles. After PRing the 5k the day before, my only goal was to finish the half strong.

At this point I think it's important that I let you in on a little secret- from the starting corral until the finisher chute, I took 146 pictures. One hundred and forty six. 146! The only excuse I have is that I was having so much fun that I guess I just really wanted to document it.

I can honestly say this is probably one of the best times I have had while running. I don't know if words can do it justice: Pittsburgh totally rocked my world on Sunday. I have never seen crowds like that out for a race. There were people of all ages out there, five and six deep, just cheering their hearts out- shouting words of encouragement, giving high-fives, ringing cowbells and clapping hands like you were in the front of the pack. It was so unbelievable. I think I cried at least seven times on the course. There was one point, around mile seven, where we ran downhill and there were thousands of people at the bottom of the hill, cheering for us like we were elite runners. I've never seen anything like it before.

Rather than give you a play-by-play of the miles, just take a look:

Forrest and Jenny.

True story.

Loved this.

He was yelling, "nice legs!"

One of my favorite "cheer stations."

These bridges were gorgeous- we ran over 5!


City in the background.

Always appropriate.

Definitely cried at this one.

Still not sure what "yinz" means...

They can have the I.C. Light :-)
Best sign on the course.

Awesome views of the city- mile 9ish.

Elite fueling station.

The best way to see a city is by foot.

Flattest mile on the course- mile 10.

Hmmm, which way should I go?

On the last bridge! Because this guy told me so! Mile 11.

My thoughts about the hill behind me just after 11.

Last .25 miles of the course; half marathoners on the left, full marathoners on the right.

Yup, this happened. All five bridge selfies. 

If you had any doubt that I was having the time of my life, this is mile 11.

"Runner of Steel" status acquired.

What I loved about this race:
  • The crowds- simply the best I've ever seen. They were loud, encouraging, funny, and distracting- all things you want when trying to stay positive and upbeat.  
  • The well-marked and well-organized course- There were always signs letting us know when a relay exchange point or water or aid station was coming up. It gave me enough time to get to the correct side of the course.
  • Medals/swag- very detailed and intricate medals and pretty awesome long-sleeved tech shirts.
  • The course- Not only did we get a very cool and unique tour of the city, but we got to run the last .25 with the marathoners. I finished in 2:41:10 so I was finishing with marathoners in the 3 hour range which was really, really cool.
What could have been better:
  • More bathrooms on course! I finally had to stop at mile 8- and wait in line to use a port-a-potty. Every single one had a line.

Overall, I was blown away by this race. The city of Pittsburgh totally stole my heart last Sunday. Though I'll always be part of Raven Nation, I can't hate on the "Steel City" so much anymore. 

After I finished, I called Matthew to find out where he was. He'd actually finished when I was about mile 9 and he called to see how I was- he's so damn sweet. I walked through the finisher chute, collecting Panera bagels, Eat n' Park cookies, bananas, chips, etc. I had my hands full and as I was leaving, this wonderful volunteer handed me a plastic bag to put all my stuff in- what an ingeniously simple idea!

I was super impressed with two things- this cookie and the branded mylar blankets.

I met up with Matthew and we headed back to the car to get freshened up- we had to cheer on the marathoners! We didn't go near the Finish Line Festival because it looked totally mobbed. By the way, Matthew finished in 2:15 which is amazing on this challenging course! He makes me so crazy proud.

We eventually found a comfy little spot on the corner of Smithfeild and Sixth Avenues- just about mile 25 of the marathon. We were keeping track of Jeff and Lauren through Chelsea's twitter updates- after running her marathon leg, she went home, got on her bike, and rode along with our marathoners. 

It was incredibly inspiring to cheer the marathoners in. There were only about 5,000 people doing the full (compared to the nearly 25,000 running the half), so the mid and back of the packers were trickling in. We cheered, clapped, and gave out a ton of high-fives. It was really cool.

Steff eventually found us so we passed the time chatting about the race and watching for our marathoners. Finally, we saw them! Just ahead of the six hour pacer and looking amazing!!! This was Lauren's second marathon in six days and Jeff's 30th marathon- talk about inspiring!

We don't know him. But he ran 26.2 miles with Yoda on his back.

This dude carried four dummies with him for the entire marathon. 

"Life is better... When we run together."

Captain Chelsea in the lead with Lauren and Jeff right behind her!!

All smiles at mile 25!

This picture fills my heart with so much joy :-)

Rock. Stars. 

Jeff was doing circles- he wanted to run his first "ultra."
My heart can't even handle all the love in this picture. Thanks to Lauren for sending it to me!

Could they be any cuter?  Picture courtesy of Lauren aka BAMF.

After seeing our teammates, we walked over to the finish line to welcome them back. They both had a fantastic race and honestly, they both looked great! After saying our goodbyes, Lauren headed back to the hotel to shower and the rest of us headed out for lunch. A few hours later, we had to say the real goodbye- which I'll admit, was hard. This group of people are the most wonderful, encouraging teammates I've ever known- they welcomed Matthew and I with open arms. Though it sucked saying goodbye, it makes us even more excited for Akron Marathon Weekend.

Chelsea, Matthew, and Steff.

Marathon, half, and relay medals. Photo courtesy of Lauren.

In short, this was a race weekend filled with love, joy, and friendship- way more than I thought could be crammed into a few short days. The races were fabulous, and if it's possible, the company was even better. Pittsburgh, you surprised me and made me fall in love with you. We will be back to this race again for sure.

Yinz can bet on it! :-)



  1. Great job! And yinz is just another way to say y'all or the collective you or yous guys, etc. !! Glad you loved our city!

    1. It really was completely unexpected. The city and its residents are amazing!

  2. I'm so happy you had a great time running the race! Next year, we all do the full =)

  3. I kinda love how strict they were about corrals! Congrats on finishing another great race. Looks like you had a ton of fun, and I love how many pictures you took! Do you use a camera, or your phone? They came out great. I love how much fun you and your relay team had together – seems like such a great group of people :) I'll definitely need to keep this race on my radar in the future—would love to complete a race in Pittsburgh!

    P.S. Eat'n Park cookies?! Those are my favorite and bring me back to my youth (we would visit family in Pittsburgh over the summer when I was younger).

    1. The cookies were AH-MAZING!

      And I always run with my phone- I have an HTC One and that's where the majority of these photos came from. It's pretty rare for me to run without it- I am just a little obsessed with documenting the experience :-)

  4. Yeah, you SERIOUSLY need to have more fun while racing ;-) Great recap! Now I want a cookie...

    1. Thanks! For real, that cookie was awesome. Wine at Epcot in November will be cool also :-)

  5. Wow. I sort of have a 50 state goal, but with Philadelphia, Hershey and this one, it's going to be hard to choose one for PA! Looks like you had a fantastic time!

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! It truly was a GREAT race. I've heard Hershey is awesome too- one day I'll get out there for it :-)

  6. Sarah CONGRATS again to you and Matt - you guys did GREAT! Thank you for your race recap with all the pictures. I smiled, laughed and got a little teary eyed at times as well. You aren't like family to me, YOU ARE FAMILY! I never knew running would introduce me to so many good people and form friendships that will last a lifetime! I LOVE YOU GUYS! :-)

    1. Ditto! We love you too, Jeff!!! We were just talking the other day about what a great weekend it was and how everyone was just so welcoming and supportive. Akron will be just as awesome :-)

  7. Congrats! Loved the recap in photos! I think I saw you with Steff at the 5K on Saturday but didn't know you were a blogger or I would have introduced myself to you too.

    1. Sorry I missed you, Jennifer! And thank you! I am such a sucker for telling a story through pictures- it's quite ridiculous the amount I actually take :-) Hope to meet you in real life soon!