Preview: The story of this race report actually began more than a decade ago, when the Port Authority closed off a section of the T track…
What? Pittsburgh Half and 5K
When? May 6 and 7, 2017
How far? 3.1 miles and 13.1 miles
Where? Pittsburgh, Pa.
|B||5K: Sub 30||Yes|
|D||Half: Don’t walk||Yes|
|E||Half: Enjoy it||Yes|
After running the EQT 10-Miler in the fall, I decided to use another HH training plan, this time going for his Novice 2 Half plan, since one of my goals was to bump up to running four days a week. I hit every single one of the runs, although had to do a lot of moving the days around due to travelling for work. While not ideal, it still got me through injury free, so I was thankful for that for my first half. Most of my long runs were half on pavement/cement and half on trail. In hindsight, I wish I had done more time on the pavement, but otherwise I was very pleased with my long runs, I really came to enjoy them, except for my final 12 mile run, but that was due to the temperature being in the high seventies and muggy as all hell.
A friend from the Frontrunners and I also became accountability buddies about three weeks out from race day, and we texted each other each day to make sure were foam rolling, which helped a lot to ease quite a bit of stiffness that I had accumulated.
Friends and I always volunteer Thursday night, helping to set up the expo (we unpack every single shirt. Good lord, there are so many) and going back down Friday, packet pick-up was a breeze. I ended up playing the part of “packet mule” picking up seven total (including two for myself). I had quite a collection of drawstring bags on my back walking through the convention center! Normal assortment of vendors, although to be honest, I was sad that this is the first festival (of any kind) that I didn’t see Gutter Helmet. If there’s a place to buy booth space, they are usually there, I’ve seen them at Pride and at alternative-fuel vehicle conventions.
My best friend’s wife comes over the night before this race every year and we made waffles with peanut butter and honey and watched an animated movie. The “movies for ages 3-4 and 5-7” fit us just right on Netflix.
It rained. It was gross, but we knew it was going to be going into it. I’ve run enough in the rain and snow that it didn’t bother me, although other friends I was running with complained. In my mind, this was actually the A event for me to race. I’ve run a sub-30 5K on a track many times, but never did in a race. This was the very first race I ever ran, so it’s a great benchmark for me each year, and I really wanted to break 30 this year. /u/ahf0913 even predicted that I would so in my mind, the pressure was on.
My friend who paced me at the 10-miler ran with me, as my ‘almost full out race pace but not quite since I’m running my first half tomorrow’ pace fits neatly into his shake-out race for the full the next day. We settled in, and because of the crowds, fell a bit behind the 10:00/mile pacer. Which I enjoyed: he was great eye candy. But eventually we passed him after the first mile. My friend looked at his watch and said that we were actually running a 9:30 pace, which was great for me! There was an unexpected bottleneck going across one bridge (one side was closed for construction), but otherwise, just normal foot traffic in a race that size. The rest of the race was typical, lots of great cheering fans, including the woman I look for every year as we leave Allegheny Commons and head for the bridge. She always has a pot and a metal spoon; last year I called out that I look for her ever year, and we had another moment this year, she really is just my favorite spectator on the course!
We cross the bridge and take in the last mile. As we turn onto the Boulevard of the Allies, I see the clock time, try to do some quick mental calculations, hurt my brain, and just give it a great kick. Chip time: 29:33, knocking a minute off my 5K race PR and a minute and a half from my time last year!
The weather was raining and cold, so we skipped the finish line festival, and like so many others, ducked into the T to go back to the North Shore, we did however meet at Lost Child, as is our tradition, since we have the mentalities of children. Crammed onto the subway, as we were headed under the river, I glanced up and saw a friend from the Frontruners and his we chatted through people’s arms until we could get off at the platform. I met his husband, they congratulated me on my PR and wished each other luck for the next day.
We did a quick change and stretch at a friend’s hotel, I lost my voice cheering for the Kid’s Marathon as we walked back to the Expo where I cheesed for a picture with a giant 13.1. Also of note, there is another giant cut out of Dick’s (they sponsor the race) where you stand in as the I. Of course I did that, because it was a giant dick, just calling to me….but my friend hasn’t sent me that picture yet.
I spent the night before anxiously refreshing the weather. It was on the cusp of me needing long sleeves, and while I had worn long sleeves during the 5K, I got a tad overheated at the end, so I finally decided to go with short sleeves. I do a really good job over-hydrating the weeks before a race, so I got up four times in the middle of the night, otherwise though, it was a restful night. I take the busway into town, I don’t want to deal with traffic, so head to the park ‘n ride and catch the 5:00 bus.
Pre-Race: Super Secret Subway
Okay guys, here’s the thing: I’m a closet public transportation nerd. Like, big time. When I used to work in the Hill District, I would take the busway into town then walk up, sometimes cutting through the Steel Plaza subway station if I had gone to the gym. I’m still looking into it, but from what I can tell, at least ten years ago (although probably longer), the subway connector between Penn Station (at the end of the busway) and Steel Plaza was shut down, cutting off direct access to the busway from the subway. They took out the track allowing cars to loop around, but left the rest. Well, for race weekend, THEY OPENED IT BACK UP! One-day, special edition, never before have I ridden, hidden subway track! Here’s a map in case you were interested. It’s okay, you can skip ahead to the next section, I’m going to continue to nerd out for a bit here.
So I get off the bus and head over. I’m the only one. It’s not even the way I’m going, I just want to say that I rode it. It was glorious, and really, really short, but totally worth it. Spoiler: I rode it again that afternoon after the race!
Because the Frontrunners had over 20 members running on Sunday, we were part of the Running Club Rally, so I got to head to the SCRR lounge, have some fruit and use the bathroom, all while looking around awkwardly for someone I knew.
I joined some friends in Corral D, which honestly, was a great decision, I wanted to try to stick with a 10:30 pacer. We got started late (compared to previous years, I was told) and didn’t cross the start line until about 7:45, but I did hear some Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga as we waited, so that was good. During the first mile or two actually was able to see both /u/karmicbias and /u/miikermb which was so awesome! My friend was amazed I had actually met people from Reddit in real life, she thought that was just an urban legend that never actually happens!
My goal was to just enjoy my first half and have fun. A good friend stuck with me, and we kept each other motivated and entertained. I’m kind of a goof-ball and play off the crowd, so I spent 13 miles cheering on spectators and complimenting their signs and hats. A few times, other runners commented that they wanted to stick with us for the entertainment value, and we put in plugs for other races we run together.
We stopped so she could use the bathroom once, and between the wait, and my legs tightening up, we lost a bit of time, but I’m taking that as it will be easier for me to get a new PR the next time I run a half!
The crowd support was great, although there were certainly stretches where it was sparse, but that was to be expected. South Side was a lot of fun, as was the polka band in the West End. The crowd at Station Square was pretty awesome as well.
The big hill for the half course is the Birmingham Bridge, which I’ve run enough times that I was prepared for it. Although by then, the sun was out in full force and it had warmed up a bit into the 50’s, and it affected quite a few. After that, there was a small hill into Uptown, which was where I failed pretty hard during a training run, so even though I slowed down, I made it without stopping, which was huge for me.
Coming down the last mile, through downtown was amazing. I had one earbud in for the race, just for some music for the quiet periods, but as we passed The Paint Bucket, I tucked it away, taking in the screaming crowd. We took a left onto Grant and then the right onto the Boulevard towards the finish line. As we were coming down Grant, the crowds were packed, and I yelled out “Pittsburgh, show me some love!” getting them riled up even more and getting quite a few high fives out of the deal, so it was a win-win!
All in all, I cheesed for the camera quite a bit, ran a solid, consistent race and had an absolute blast doing it!
Best sign: Run like United needs your seat
Race Day Bingo boxes checked: Happy cop, angry cop, happy EMT, bored EMT, barefoot runner, Vibram 5-fingers runner, running in costume, over-prepared guy (about 17 GUs on his belt), under-prepared runner (walking in jeans and a heavy rain coat less than a mile in), and somehow: runner reading a book. That one hurts a lot, like I’m going to get an aneurysm if I keep thinking about the how and the why.
Collected all the food and things. While we had bags to collect the water and chips and fruit and Smiley Cookies, they were the last things we got, which was dumb. Should have been medal, heat sheet, bag then the rest, hopefully that is changed for next year.
Met up with friends, helped them find their gear check bags, got my Steel Challenge medal from one of my favorite P3R employees (and promised to volunteer at the Triathalon again this year) and then headed to the hospitality tent as another reward for the Running Club Rally. The Frontrunners took a group photo with the PR bell and then we all headed home our separate ways. I traveled via the T back to the busway with a fellow club member, and we rode the special edition connector again! This time, we paid special attention to the sparks the track was throwing off. I think it needs some more maintenance if it’s going to be in regular rotation again.
It was a great weekend, one that I look forward to every year. I love the celebration of our personal achievements and the hard work we all put into ourselves paying off in such a fun way that brings the whole city together.
My feet are toughening up too, only had problems with one toe, but the nail doesn’t even look like it will fall off. My big goals are to further work on my nutrition and I desperately need to improve the hours of sleep I get each night. After a week off, I’d like to keep building my base, and maybe even add in a fifth day of running, but I’m not sure about that yet, but looking at my schedule, if I keep doing the four mile runs with the Frontrunners Saturday mornings, I could move my long run to Sundays, giving me five days a week. I also want to switch up my cross-training (and add in more stretching yoga) and strength training days, just to improve a little bit more in those areas as well, but I’m taking it all one thing at a time.
I’m eyeing the Greensburg Half in the fall, but they don’t have a date for that yet, and there’s a few small races coming up that I’ll be doing (Rainbow Dash, Great Race, Stride for Pride, Mario Lemieux, plus a couple virtuals for Zombies, Run and Beat the Blerch). My pacer friend gave me his old GPS watch (a Forerunner 10) so I can use that to help me with speed work going forward.
As I mentioned before, one of the reasons I run is that it helps me manage my depression. I work through things and it helps me make connections, as well as improve my mood. My long runs were perfect for that, I would figure things out and really see a considerable improvement in my mood, as well as solutions to problems I was facing. Races do not provide me the time to think like that. I worked at a camp for 11 years, and I used all that experience to make an ass out of myself for 13.1 miles to entertain those around me. I loved every second of that, but that was for others, not for me.
I need to remember that I do need to race, to mark my improvements, but also as a way to give back, just a little. But I need to go into it with the mindset that I’m not going to have any mental revelations, that way, I can just enjoy it for what it is. After the race, lots of people told me how proud they were of me and that was amazing (although a bit uncomfortable, since I hate having the spotlight on myself), but I tried to take it all in. Hopefully that’s a lesson I can better learn with each race.