Race Report: Pittsburgh Marathon

May 3, 2015.

Marathon #11-Pittsburgh

It was a beautiful day for a run. Sunny but cool, with just a hint of a breeze. The humidity was low as well.

The corals were filled with runners well before 7am in the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, waiting for the starting gun to fire. I was assigned to coral “B”. I really didn’t belong there.

I had run the 5k yesterday, and I finished in 23:05 (7:25 min/mile pace). I had just missed a PR by 16 seconds, and I had just missed finishing in the top 10 for my age group, and just missed top 100 overall. I can justify my place near the starting line for short course events, but not for the marathon.

Three years ago, I finished my first marathon in 4:27. I have run the same distance 9 more times since then, and I have only topped that finish once. Grandma’s marathon was a cool day, on straight and flat course, with a 15 mph tailwind the whole way. I broke my PR by a mere 52 seconds. I haven’t come close since. My finish times for all the shorter distances have showed steady improvement…but not the marathon.

I didn’t expect that to change today. I have struggled with my training. It was hard to get motivated for the long training runs in the depths of the cold Minnesota winters. By the time it’s icy grip was weakening, the hard training should have been completed and I was barely starting. I always struggle with the sprring marathon training and this year was worse then usual. But my goals have shifted from setting PR’s to simply enjoying these long events and in participating in what I thought was impossible just a few years ago. It still does not excuse my lack of training. I should respect the distance more then I have.This may be a personal worst for me today (and I will have nobody by myself to blame for that), but I will still running and that will make it a good day.

I am surrounded by 18,875 other runners. Most are running the half marathon, some are doing the marathon relay. About 4200 are doing the full marathon.

The gun fires and we stream out of the downtown core. The first couple of miles are boring. We are going through some commercial/industrial areas where everything is shut down for the day. Porta-potties are located every half mile or so (I had too much coffee, so these were a welcomed sight). They had bands at about every mile and the aid stations were plentiful. I ran past a medical station and I saw the expected green flag (ideal running conditions). After a mile or so, we made a couple of left hand turns and headed right back downtown. All the spectators from the starting area were able to shift a block or two to this new vantage point and we’re got some very vocal crowd support. We then headed to the first of five bridges. Downtown Pittsburgh is on a peninsula between two rivers that merge into a third. We would take 5 total bridges to move to the north shore, back to downtown, back to the north shore, over to the south shore and finally back to the downtown area by mile eleven. The bridges were historic and had a lot of character. They only had a slight incline and the views were phenomenal (Pittsburgh really is a beautiful city). They connected some of the coolest neighborhoods and this whole section of the race was really entertaining.

Right after the final bridge at mile 11, the half marathoners turned left, went back downtown for the finish line. The rest of us turned right and headed up the one really big hill on the course heading towards the “hill district” (not what you want to see on a marathon map!)

By this point, I knew that I was on track for a personal worst. I was running at about 10:30/mile since the starting line I had no speed in my legs at all. Usually I can start strong, but not today. The race yesterday, and touring the city has left me sluggish.

By the top of the hill, I started to notice the heat. The temperature was climbing slowly and there were no clouds or breeze to help. That impression was confirmed at the next aid station flying a “yellow flag”- warning us to slow our pace since running conditions were no longer ideal. The aid stations started handing out disposable face cloths soaked in ice water (those were so wonderful)!

The second half of the course was less scenic then the first. No more bridges, but we traveled through a few nice neighborhoods, with some “filler miles” in between. The spectators, volunteers, bands, and aid stations were all plentiful and allowed the miles to fly by.

Towards the end of the race, most aid stations had run out of ice. That was unfortunate. It wasn’t hot enough for it to be a big deal, but the forecast was not a surprise and they should have had enough for everyone.

In the last few miles, I noticed that I had not imploded at mile 18 like I usually do. My pace was a little slower then at their start of the race, but not by much. I usually start the race in the mid 9 minute range and finish in the low 13 minute range. Today, I started in the mid 10 minute range and was now in the low 11 minute zone. Much more consistent and more enjoyable overall.

We re-entered the downtown core for the final mile towards the finish line. The crowds were great and the weather was beautiful as well. I had a little left in me for the final few hundred yards to the finish.

Finish Time 4:51:51

Age Group-195/257

I got my medal (a very nice 3 1/2″ diameter and very heavy medal!) and some post race food (pretty meager selection compared to other races) and a few post race photos. There was a finish line party which really did look like a fun event. I had to maneuver through to get to the Steele Challenge tent to get my bonus medal (for completing the marathon and the 5k). Before heading back to the hotel.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, Pittsburgh Marathon was a really nice event. The city is charming, historic and hilly, making the venue quite scenic. The downtown is a fun place to explore and spend a weekend. The expo is big but relaxed with a lot to see and do. The course is above average for an urban venue. There are certainly stretches of filler miles, but it does a good job of representing the city. The event is mostly well organized, with ample aid stations, eager volunteers, enthusiastic crowds and lots of entertainment on the course. They did run out of ice in the later part of the race and it was discouraging running through an aid station and seeing all the used face cloths on the street and none being available. They need to make sure they don’t run out of supplies late in the race. The finish line food was quite limited. There were bagels, chips, fruit cups, bananas and cookies. For the very steep registration fee (Pittsburgh is certainly on the high end of marathon fees), they should have provided much more. The finish line party really was a party and was fun to see. Again, I heard by the massage tent that they would not be providing any more massages. This really is unacceptable for the slower runners to be turned away from an advertised benefit that would be available for, again, a very steep registration fee.

From what I could tell, there was nowhere for runners to wait indoors prior to the race (unless you were willing to pay an extra $100 VIP fee). Detroit gives you access to Cobo Hall, Twin Cities grants access to the Metrodone, Houston to the convention center. The weather was nice at the start, so there was no need for an indoor staging area, but it would be nice, and the convention center is right next door.

The finishers shirts are certainly above average and look very nice with an eye-catching design. The full and half marathon shirts were long sleeved, and the relay and 5k shirts had short sleeves. Running the “Steel Challenge” (5k Saturday and half or full on Sunday) gives you one of each which was a thoughtful bonus. The race day program and visitors program was some of the nicest that I have seen.

The bling was pretty good. The marathon medal was a generous 3.5″ in diameter and quite heavy. The design was a little generic with the skyline in the background and one of the city’s many bridges in the foreground. Previous years had a much more graphic representation of the city’s bridges which was much more striking. This year’s just seemed a little uninspired. The ribbon was beautiful. It was a light blue with yellow line sketches of the city’s beautiful bridges with “Runners If Steel” printed in bold black print. The 5k medal was very similar to the marathon, but 2″ diameter (fine for a 5k). The ribbon was a single color and could have at least had the name of the race on it. The bonus medal for the Steele Challenge was very cool. It had this 3D steel girder design which worked very well. It was 2.5″ diameter and did feel a little small. The ribbon was similar to the marathon/half marathon ribbon but in different colors (blue bridges on a yellow background for the Steel Challenge, and yellow bridges on a blue background for the half and full) and complements that medal nicely.

So, overall, they did a good job, but there are areas that scream for improvement. Certainly a worthwhile race if you live in the region or will be traveling through the area in the spring. If you are looking for a Pensilvania marathon for the 50/50 club, this is worth considering, but I have heard very good things about Philadelphia. In the immediate area, Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon is held on the same day, and I would say that it is a superior event overall, but Pittsburgh in worth consideration as well.



Filed under Race Reports

3 responses to “Race Report: Pittsburgh Marathon

  1. Very in-depth description and discussion of the pros and cons of the race. For newbies like me, what an excellent read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad it helped. In their race guide, the organizers talked about how they work with other big marathons (NYC, Chicago, Houston) and learned some things. Their post finish-line area was not the short end of the “industry standard” I found this term surprising, but it is an industry and as it grows, there are certain expectations from runners. It is interesting to see that most of the basics are the same at every major race. After awhile, race-to-race differences seem smaller then initially thought. Not sure how I feel about that. It’s nice to know that certain minimums will be met, but it may also take away from the unique character of a given race…


      • I agree. I am just starting my racing “career” and I do want to stay away from the big races and do more local ones for awhile: with one caveat–I signed up for an urban raid because obstacle courses just look so fun. Hoping to do a half marathon in the fall *fingers crossed*


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