Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Report

First off, I had a blast at Pittsburgh Half Marathon and would suggest it to anyone looking for a challenging and scenic course with a lot of fan support.  I ran a good race, but not my best, and still enjoyed the heck out of myself.  Here is a link to my post with our pictures.

Background: I picked this race as kind of an afterthought.  I had my spring race plans sorted out long before I thought of running in Pittsburgh, but the race fit in perfectly with my annual early Mother's day trip to my hometown of Fairmont, West Virginian.  Also, other than my wife, none of my family had ever seen me run, so this gave them an opportunity to watch me run.  As luck would have it the race also fit neatly into my schedule and filled a gap between a couple of races.

Pilot Mountain
Concerns: In order to get from Raleigh to Fairmont, I would need to drive eight hours.  Then the drive to Pittsburgh would add on another two hours to my time sitting stationary.  I had flown to a race before, but I had never driven such a long distance, so I had a high degree of uncertainty concerning the condition of my legs come race time.  However, Hiroko and I made stops along the way at Mt. Pilot and the New River Bridge where we took some time to look around and eat some snacks before continuing our drive.

My other concerns were mainly centered on my unfamiliarity with Pittsburgh.  I have been to the city a few times, but only driven there once.  I was worried about all of the race logistics as well as the course, which I knew would be hilly.

Pre-Race: I was right to be concerned about the hills, and my own unfamiliarity with the roads, but the race day logistics were a total non-issue.  Hiro and I left Raleigh Thursday morning and the trip to Fairmont wasn't that bad.  Stopping and sightseeing helped a great deal.  I did a four mile run on Friday as a shakeout run, which also aided in keeping my legs fresh.  Saturday, was an adventure because our hotel had recently undergone a name change and wasn't in our GPS, nor was its new street name.  Eventually, we were able to find it, but the stress of finding the hotel put a bit of a damper on my time at the Expo.  Luckily, the morning of the race was much easier than I expected because the hotel was running shuttles to the starting area.  I can't tell you how much stress that relieved.  The start and finish areas were planned very well and there were plenty of "facilities" for the runner if you catch my drift.

The Course:

Ok, here is the skinny.  Before the race, I kept seeing lots of people ask the same question: is the course hilly?  There answer was never a straight forward yes or no.  I saw lots of things that said there were some hills, but the also stressed that the course had a negative elevation gain.  Let's just get this out in the open, shall we, the course is hilly.  It's Pittsburgh.  You're running across five bridges and at the meeting point of three rivers in the middle of the Appalachian mountains.  If you want a pancake flat course, you're in the wrong city.  If you want stunning views in a richly historic town with tons of support, you're sure gonna get it.  And, I think that should be how the question the hilliness of the course is addressed, but that's my opinion. 

Hills? Check!
The Race:  My wife, mother, and two aunts came to watch me run in this race.  It was the most support I have had at any sporting event in my life.  My family cheered for me at around the half mile mark the four and half mile mark, and the at the finish, and I can't thank them enough for all of their efforts!

From Start to mile 3 -- this portion of the course was pancake flat and saw me go out fast!  I won't say that it was too fast because I felt great and although the first mile was a blistering (for me) 7:44.  In my defense, it felt great and I was forced to run by feel due to Garmin interference from tall buildings.  By miles two and three, I was able to right the ship a bit and get back to a manageable 8:56 and 8:55.  Running through the downtown and strip districts was really awesome.  The crowd support was great with lots of people and bands.  I was really glad that I chose not to wear my I-pod.

From the 16th street bridge  to mile 6 -- This section was my favorite part of the race.  The 16th street bridge was gave us our first incline of the race.  But, the view of the Allegheny River was awesome.  Also just as I crossed the river one of the bands was playing "Float On" by Modest Mouse, which is a song that I love to run too.  The trip back over the Allegheny on the Rachel Carson bridge was awesome because the crowd grew larger and louder as we made our way back to shore along downtown.  Most of the people who had been cheering at the starting line had moved to the portion of the course between the Carson bridge and the Andy Warhol Bridge, which would take us back across the river for a third time.  The section of road between the two bridges was no more than a block or two and along with the bridges formed a crowd filled horse shoe.  Once across the Warhol Bridge, we had another nice climb up East Commons until we made the turn toward the Allegheny Center and the first Relay exchange and Aid and fluid stations near the mile 6.  I did mile 4 in 8:47, mile5 in 8:56, and 6 in 9:13.  By Mile 6, I the heat had risen and I had begun to get a side cramp on my right side that I would battle for the next four miles. 

Miles 7 through 10 -- this section was just dealing with pain. I don't remember much other than the climbing The West End Bridge across the Ohio River and that I had lost sight of the two hour pacer in the water stop at mile six.  The crowd around S. Main St. was awesome as were the crowds around the second exchange point at mile nine.  But, at this time the sun began to take a toll and forced me to drink to much.  I had fueled at the 45 minute mark and the 90 minute mark like I planned, but I knew that I had taken in too much liquid along the way.  My times were slipping, but the course was getting more hilly and the pain in my side was moving down along my ribs until it passed  just after the 10 mile mark. 

Mile 7: 9:13
Mile 8: 9:25
Mile 9: 9:40
Mile 10: 9:41

Miles 11 through the Finish: -- Here be where dreams fade.  At this point, my dream of a sub two hour half still had some life and my hope for a PR was still very real.  But then came The Brmingham Bridge across my beloved Monongahela, which originates in my hometown, and the bluff along Duquense University.  I made it across the Bridge without walking, but the climb up the hill to the university caused me to take several walk breaks, which cost me my hope for a PR let alone a sub 2 hour race.  The heat was harsh, but the hill was worse.  I wanted to finish strong, and didn't want my family to see me struggling at the finish line, so I made the very wise choice to walk a bit up the hill and run the rest of the way in once I crested the hill.  At the crest I took My last GU and headed for a strong finish.  My choice paid off as I was able to run in fairly strong and turn in a respectable time that I will be very proud of until I return to Pittsburgh next year and CRUSH IT!  Also, I was happily cheered to the finish by my wife on the left side of the street and my mother and Aunts on the right, which made the race all the more awesome!

Mile 11: 9:53
Mile 12: 12:18 
Mile: 13: 9:53

Over all time: 2:05:12

1 comment:

  1. congrats on a great race & a strong finish! glad your family was there to cheer you on!