Thursday, December 24, 2015

Race Recap & Review: The Great Race

On a Sunday in late September, the great city of Pittsburgh holds an annual event: The Great Race. It is a race that's sponsored by the city, extremely large (10,000+ runners and walkers), and is a point-to-point, meaning the race starts in one area and finishes in a completely different area.

Last year, I was signed up for this event but wasn't able to participate due to my stress fracture. This year, I was determined to get my revenge on this course and finally complete it.

And then my foot started acting up in early September. And I had my first DNF the day before the Great Race at Akron. Yeah- these races are back-to-back. Our wonderful friends put us up at their house in Pittsburgh the night of the Akron races- luckily Pittsburgh is only a two hour drive from Akron.

So the night before the Great Race I was debating a lot on what to do. Should I start the race with a bum foot? What if I had to stop- how would I get to the finish area? What if I walked the whole thing? Could I walk six miles? Would this hurt my foot even more? Was this a stupid decision to attempt this race?

I decided to make a game-time decision: I would make the call at race time. The next morning, race morning, I got up and dressed and joined Matthew and our friends for the short drive to Pittsburgh. We parked downtown and joined the ever-expanding line to get on the shuttles to take us to the start line. As we were walking, I heard someone yelling for "sparkly runner." It was a sweet blog reader, Elana! We chatted for a few minutes and grabbed a selfie. Then I went back to the end of the line with our friends and waited for our turn to get on the shuttle.

The never-ending shuttle line.

"Official" bus stop. 

Once at the start, we had some time to kill. There were a TON of people there and it was near impossible to get to the bathrooms- all of which had extremely long lines. So, I went behind this little brick wall :-) I credit my love of running with my ability to pee anywhere!

The starting line of this race is really odd; it is literally in a neighborhood. People were coming out of their homes, drinking coffee, and just staring at the thousands of people standing on their street.

Starting line before it got super busy...

...starting line with thousands of runners.

At the starting line, I decided that I was going to walk the entire race. I wasn't 100% about my foot but knew I wanted to try. Our friends spread out in the starting corral to what pace they wanted to run. Matthew and I said our goodbyes as he moved up towards the eight minute mile pacer. Gloria, Kelsey and I made our way to the back of the pack so we could start towards the last people as we didn't want to get trampled. My ipod had died that morning so I borrowed Steff's instead- I cued up her awesome running playlist and started my walk over the starting line.

Probably my favorite picture of the entire race.

Because I was worried about keeping up with the required pace, 14 minutes/mile, I was hustling that first mile- I think it was just under 13 minutes! Which was about my pace when I first started running five years ago! It was really, really difficult to NOT run. I was so excited to be racing and my foot was feeling great and it was so tough not to just break into a run.

But I didn't run. Instead, I was power-walking the crap out of the Great Race. I was lost in the new music and the surroundings when around mile two, this man came up and started talking to me. I took my headphones out and he said, "You walk as fast as I run! Can I stay with you a while?" Obviously, you know my answer- "Of course!" I said to him.

Jim became my new running buddy for the last four miles of the course. I learned all about his life (he's a professor for Pitt's medical school- moved here from the mid-west a long time ago), his wife (married for 30+ years), his son (studied art in college), and why he was running the Great Race. As it turns out, Jim was a runner for many years but eventually, his joints gave out on him and he could no longer run. He switched to cycling but in his mind, that doesn't compare to running- he runs the Great Race every year as his one running "indulgence." How cool is that?

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this race- Jim running beside me, me walking fast to keep us on pace, chatting and laughing as the miles flew by. Parts of this course were very familiar to me as I've run in Pittsburgh a few times now. I  knew some of the hills we'd face on the later part of the course towards the finish line. Even with the heat (it was crazy sunny and hot) and the hills, the course is beautiful and offers spectacular views of the city.

And there were greyhounds on the course! Just like during the Pittsburgh Marathon!

One of Pittsburgh's many bridges and river views.

As we neared the finish, I spotted Kelsey making her way up the last hill. I introduced her to Jim and the three of us headed towards the last downhill of the race.

Matthew had called me to let me know he'd finished and that he and some of our other friends were on the course waiting to cheer for us. As we neared the downtown area, I spotted Matthew, Coach Jeff, and a very pregnant Natalie on the sidewalk. You may recall, Natalie had run the Akron Half Marathon the day before and I had stayed with her (and Coach Jeff and her husband Jimmy) for the first part of the course and my relay leg.

Before I knew what was happening, Jeff and Natalie jumped in and said they were going to see us to the finish! My heart swelled with love for these people- especially soon-to-be momma Natalie as I can't imagine it's easy to run when you're seven months pregnant! Matthew snapped a few pictures and we rounded the corner to the finish line. Now, even though I said I was going to walk the whole thing, I may have ran in the last .1 mile :-)

Coach Jeff, Natalie, Me, and new friend Jim.

We crossed the finish line, exchanged emails, grabbed a picture, and then headed to get some post-race snacks and water. I also ran into Elana again and we were able to get a picture on my phone.

Smiling 10k finishers.

I always look creepy-happy when I meet readers in real life!

We finished in 1:21:34 with a 13:07 average pace. And I WALKED! I can't tell you the last time I'd walked that much- probably during Dopey training two years ago. Walking is a totally different mechanical function- it's definitely not the same as running six miles and it definitely feels different in your legs, back, hips, etc.

We found our running ohana, snapped a quick picture and then headed back to Steff's to shower and get on the road to home.

While it wasn't quite the comeback race I'd been planning, it was still awesome. I met a new friend, learned that I can walk a pretty quick 10k, and got to see my running ohana all weekend long- sounds like the definition of a great race to me. :-)

The crew. 

Have you ever participated in the Great Race or any other city-sponsored race?

AND- Merry Christmas Eve to all who celebrate! :-)


  1. Yaaay! Great recap! :) Hope to see you again in Pittsburgh soon (maybe marathon weekend?). Happy New Year!

    1. We will be there! I'm in for the 5k for sure... and maybe the half. What about you??

  2. I miss you all so much! Such a fun weekend. I cannot wait to do it again!

    1. Seriously, Pittsburgh weekends are my absolute favorite :-)