Well, my friends, another half marathon – #10! – is in the books for me, and Matt has officially become a half marathoner! On Sunday morning, we ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon with my brother Steve and a bunch of friends.
Until recently, I didn’t think Matt would ever be interested in doing a half marathon – he’s a speedy runner thanks to lots of soccer games every week, but he hadn’t exactly ever jumped at the chance to do long runs with me. Then last fall we were in NYC cheering on friends doing the NYC Marathon, and Matt’s younger brother Drew said that a half marathon was on his bucket list. Matt said he would do one if Drew did – and I suggested Pittsburgh, since it’s their hometown and I’d heard it was fun (if hilly). And so it was official – Matt would do his first half marathon this May!
Drew ended up needing to bail on the half marathon due to some knee trouble, but Matt and I and my brother, Steve, were still fully on board, as were a bunch of our friends. And, you know, 30,000 other people, too. Yep – HUGE race!
Doing the Pittsburgh half was fun because it meant that we also got a little weekend vacation and some time with Matt’s parents, who came out to cheer us on during the race. Also, a big thank you to the Pittsburgh Half Marathon PR team for providing me and Matt with free bibs in exchange for this race review!
After our epic pre-race feast on Saturday night, Matt, Steve, and I were up ridiculously early on Sunday morning to head downtown to the starting line. We were up by 4:15, met friends at 5, and hitched a ride downtown with them. We met up with more friends at their hotel downtown, then hiked over one of the bridges into the city and the race start. It was so beautiful with the lights reflecting on the water!
The race started at 7 and we were in the starting area by about 6 or so. We hit the porta potties once and then started making our way towards our corral (B). Since it was still early we decided to wait in line for the porta potties again, but by this point the lines were massive. By about 6:45 we were near the front of the line when we heard an announcement that they were closing the corrals. Ack! I don’t like when races do this. Not sure if they really closed them or not, but we figured we shouldn’t take a chance and aborted our porta potty attempt. Fail. To the corral it was!
We lined up just ahead of the 2 hour pacer, with the goal to aim for about 8:30 minute/miles. In retrospect we probably should have lined up a bit farther ahead since we spent a lot of time weaving around to pass people during the race. Oh well!
Ready to go! I was really excited to explore Pittsburgh on foot.
A short while later and we were off! Exciting.
My brother is really fast but has mostly been focusing on lifting instead of running since we did the Richmond Marathon in the fall, so he decided to stick with us for the race. I told Matt that I’d stick with him no matter what unless he wanted to go faster than I could handle, in which case they could ditch me.
We spent the first couple miles weaving in and out of people. We also ended up stopping for the porta potties around mile 2 – my brother and I both had to go since we weren’t able to use them before the race. Boo! I hate stopping during races but it was necessary. We lucked out with a row of porta potties with no line, too.
- Mile 1: 9:26 (crowded!)
- Mile 2: 9:50 (porta potty stop)
After our pit stop, we set to speeding up to our goal pace of 8:30. I had some trouble keeping up with the guys here – it was so crowded and they were weaving in and out of people like crazy! I just focused on not losing them and on taking in the scenery. I loved the beautiful painting on the building in the photo below!
- Mile 3: 8:31
- Mile 4: 8:28
One thing to know about this race is that you run over a lot of bridges! Pittsburgh is sometimes called the City of Bridges and this race certainly lived up to that. Did you know that according to this website Pittsburgh has nearly 2,000 bridges – more than Venice, Italy? Wow! We didn’t run over quite that many during the race, though, thankfully. We ran over 5 bridges total, which gave us really nice views of the city. It was fun to see so much of the city! But bridges also meant that we had to conquer the hills up the bridges.
Matt and Steve usually kept the same pace up the bridges and then down them, while I slowed down a little on the uphills but picked it up on the downhills. This meant I still caught back up to them, but I definitely struggled a bit on the hills! We were nailing our average pace goal, though.
- Mile 5: 8:33
- Mile 6: 8:27
We were really glad the weather held out – it was forecasting a chance of rain, but it ended up just being cloudy and in the 50’s. Great running weather, though not as pretty for the photos as sunshine would have been.
We spotted Matt’s parents cheering for us around mile 6 – so awesome to see them out there and a great burst of adrenaline, too! There was GREAT crowd support at this race, and lots of fun bands along the course, too. That always helps with morale!
The adrenaline from the crowds and bands was welcome because even though I didn’t let on to the guys, I had a really tough time with this race – I’m so proud of myself for not giving up and losing them! Full marathon training really crushed my speed, and there were definitely a few times on the hilly bridges that my legs were screaming at me: “Just slow down… let them take off without you. It would be so much easier…” as I saw them gain a significant gap between us on the uphills. But I forced my mind to reply: “NO! You are not giving up. It is okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes. Challenge yourself. You’ll be sorry later if you take the easy way out.” So up I went, focusing on getting up the hills as quickly as I could and then catching the guys on the downhills.
Around mile 7, I started eating a mocha Clif Shot Gel – bring on the caffeine! Still rocking out our goal pace for these miles:
- Mile 7: 8:33
- Mile 8: 8:33
Below you can see the entrance to the Incline, a cool railcar that takes you straight up the mountain from Station Square to Mt. Washington, with beautiful views of the city. It’s a must see if you visit Pittsburgh!
Miles 9 and 10 were tough for me – I was feeling pretty drained and it was so hilly. I just focused on my mental game and sticking with it! It’s amazing what a difference your mental game will make while running. I need to train my mind to be okay with speed again – it’s such a different type of hard than super long distances at a slower pace, I find. I tried to focus on the scenery, crowds, and views and just let my legs do their thing, but we all slowed down a little here.
- Mile 9: 8:42
- Mile 10: 8:49
Getting over mile 10 in a half marathon is always really exciting – makes the finish line seem so much closer! Matt was still feeling good, though he mentioned his calf getting tight – we made sure he kept up with water stops and fuel (he also had a gel to eat, and got some Gatorade at the water stops, too). We found the water/Gatorade stops, at least when we went through them, to be well organized and well stocked.
Flattest mile on the course – woohoo! I liked the sound of that.
Around mile 11 we saw signs for the half marathon/full marathon split. Hooray! I knew that would thin the crowds a bit.
Just before another bridge we split off from the full marathoners, who were on the right side of the bridge and veered off towards the right after we crossed it. Props to the full marathoners – I’ve heard this is a really tough full given all the hills!
- Mile 11: 8:46
- Mile 12: 8:46
I knew from looking at the course map that there was a big final hill around mile 11.5 or 12, but I ended up getting a huge second wind before we hit it and the three of us dominated the hill. I honestly didn’t think it was any worse than any of the other bridges, which was a nice surprise. It looked scary on the course elevation map!
Look how high we were! Really showed how much height we climbed. So pretty up there, too – the photo doesn’t do it justice. I loved this part of the race!
By the time we were back downtown around mile 12 or so I was feeling AWESOME and Matt and Steve were still feeling really good, too. Bring it on, finish line! We own you!
We kicked things into overdrive big time the last mile. It felt like we were flying – it actually helped with leg soreness to go a different pace, too! I LOVE sprinting it out for the end of races. I was on the biggest endorphin high, cruising into the finish line with the crowds cheering for us and the guys by my side.
- Mile 13: 7:31 (!)
- Final 0.1 mile pace: 6:49 (!!)
The three of us blazed into the finish line and all grabbed hands just before crossing. I was so proud of all of us and especially of Matt – who was officially a half marathoner! He crushed it – our official finish time was 1:54:03 (well, theirs was – mine was 1:54:04, lol. As you can imagine Matt was pumped he “beat” me ), and that was including about 1 minute for a bathroom stop for us!
Success! We did it.
Eat ‘n’ Park smile cookies for all. Matt said these are apparently a Pittsburgh staple!
Isn’t the race medal beautiful?
As always, a huge thank you to all the volunteers who were out there supporting us and to all those who came out to cheer! Overall, I’d definitely recommend this race – like I said, the crowd support was awesome, there were a ton of fun bands out playing, and I found the race overall to be well organized, too. The only thing I’d like to see in the future is more porta potties at the start and a more staggered corral start to thin out the crowds a bit.
Great weekend and happy to add another medal to the collection! Matt had a great experience with his first half and even said he’d consider doing another half marathon with me sometime. I’d call that a success!
Anyone else race over the weekend? How’d it go?