Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pittsburgh Half Marathon race recap

The 2016 Pittsburgh Half Marathon was my 27th half marathon completed!
This race ranks high on the list of races I have been happiest to complete due to the amount of work I put in to prepare for it. As I've discussed ad nauseam, this meant a lot of incline training. It also included ample strength work (squats, lunges, et al).

Ready for a ton of pictures???

The entire week leading up to the race included rain in the forecast. Therefore, part of my night-before prep included concocting my second edition of the world-reknown garbage bag dress. Accept no imitations!
On race morning, our friend Julie had graciously offered to drive us, as well as our friends Laurel and Natalie, to the race. Thank you, Julie!!! Adam and I left for Julie's place at 5:30 AM. I must also note that Adam willingly and cheerfully did this on only 4.5 hours of sleep after staying up late to watch the Penguins' big Game 2 victory over the Capitals. Huge sacrifice on his part!

Going to the race with Julie, Laurel, and Natalie made life SO much easier. Thanks to Laurel's husband, we had keycard access to one of the downtown parking lots. The ladies also knew of a hotel right by the starting corrals. We were able to use indoor restrooms and do all of our final pre-race prep inside. The whole process was a godsend for which I am extremely grateful. The locals always know best!

Here's a pre-race photo:
From L to R: Natalie, me, Julie, and Laurel
Afterwards, we split to head to our respective corrals. As I was waiting to start, the sound of Renegade, a song that the Pittsburgh Steelers have adopted as an anthem, was played over the loud speaker. It made me smile.
It began to rain as my corral crept up to the starting line. That didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, though. Here was my view as I was approaching:
The course was very crowded. Even though I had no time goals for the day, I had told Adam I thought I'd run a 10:30ish pace. Initially I tried to stay true to that.

The course wound through downtown, followed by the Strip District. I was looking all around, observing the scenery and soaking in the atmosphere as best I could. At the same time, I was trying to be careful not to bump into others or trip on anything.

I saw Adam for the first time around the 2.8 mile mark. Our spectator plan included a total of four points, and we had noted he would be on the left side for every single one. I joked with Adam that it reminded me of this Patrick Kane commercial:
Sure enough, as I saw Adam, he yelled, "HOW YOU SCORE FROM THE LEFT SIDE?" It made me burst out laughing.

Since it was raining, I didn't have my phone out. However, when we approached the first of five bridge crossings, I had to take a picture:
The 16th Street Bridge
In the past, I had been bothered by the inclines on the bridges, but today I didn't notice. YAY! I hoped this would continue on all of the other bridges, too.

The course ran briefly through the North Side before looping right back on the 9th Street Bridge. I saw Adam again around the 4.2 mile point. We then ran briefly along Fort Duquesne Blvd, which was especially mobbed with spectators. It was very energizing! 

I grinned at some of the signs I saw. One sign I saw frequently had this local expression on it:
I understand this to be Pittsburghese for "You run like idiots"
Then we turned around again and crossed the Sandusky Bridge back to the North Side. I still had no issue with the bridge inclines, but there was a long, gradual hill around the Mile 5 marker that made me take notice. 

The next stretch of the course took me to some areas of Pittsburgh I had never seen before. We passed by the National Aviary, which was in a beautiful park:
Source
Then it was on to the West End Bridge, which was the fourth bridge crossing. The rain had stopped so I decided it was time to whip out my phone and take some pictures. This was the view:
The city as seen from West End Bridge
Next, the course wound through the West End. This seemed like a more residential area and there were again a lot of spectators. One guy had a giant cooler and was busily handing out full cans of beer! I giggled at some of the spectator signs. One said, "I thought this was the pierogi race!" and it reminded me how the Pirates have pierogi races during their home games.
Pierogi down! Pierogi down!
Source
The course turned onto Carson Street, which runs along the Monongahela River. This stretch afforded more beautiful views of the Pittsburgh skyline.
We ran by the base of the Duquesne Incline (I've never ridden any of the inclines in Pittsburgh):
I saw Adam again around Mile 9, which was in Station Square. He got this picture of me in the crowd (I'm in the turquoise with my arm raised):
Around Mile 10, we entered the South Side where we were greeted by a sign welcoming us to "the flattest mile on the course." Right on! In retrospect, I should have taken a selfie with that sign. =D I enjoyed the flatness and took my time walking through one of the aid stations. I wanted to gather some mental and physical strength for the big hills that I knew were approaching after Mile 11 (which I discussed at length here).

We crossed the Birmingham Bridge, which was the fifth and final bridge. The Mile 11 marker was on the bridge. Spectators shouted all kinds of encouragement to us about the final stretch. Several runners around me made comments about how the moment of truth was coming. I took some deep breaths and braced myself.

After the bridge, we turned onto the Blvd of Allies. I expected to see a venerable mountain ahead of me, something like this:
Source
The actual hill was NOTHING like what I had envisioned. Jessie mentioned the elevation chart was a bit dramatic, and she was absolutely right! In all honesty, it looked no tougher than any of the other hills we'd already passed. I wondered if it was perhaps just the prelude to something else, but it wasn't. I was so relieved! It felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Here are more of the stunning views from the hills near Duquesne University:
I couldn't believe it when I hit the Mile 12 marker. REALLY? Was I truly that close to the finish? I looked down at my Garmin to be certain, and sure enough my Garmin agreed. WOW! I had held myself back so much in fear of that final stretch, but in retrospect I could have pushed much harder.

Jessie had mentioned there would be a Duquesne University sign to mark the end of the final hill. When it came into view, I almost pulled off to the side to do a dance of joy. Since Adam and I had talked at length about this point being the final challenge on the course, I took this picture and texted it to him:
Then - it was time for the final, glorious, triumphant downhill stretch to the finish. I felt very strong, I was brimming with elation, and I couldn't stop smiling. Adam got this snapshot of me as I was approaching the finish line:
Obligatory race photo body spasm
My final time was 2:20:34 - and it could have been much better had I run more aggressively!
Posing with the classic post-race trinity: medal, space blanket, and an Eat N Park smiley-face cookie! =D 
I am THRILLED at how much the hill-training ended up paying off for me! I actually had a tougher time with the hills at Rock N Roll DC six weeks earlier than I did in Pittsburgh. Just goes to demonstrate how training efforts manifest themselves more and more over time, yes?

All in all - I loved this race!!! The course was a stunning tour of the city, the event was very well-organized, and the spectators and volunteers were phenomenal. It meant so much to me to be able to run a hilly course with relative comfort. It also meant so much for me to get to know more about Adam's hometown the way only a runner can during a race. 
The finish line
Source
Thank you to everyone for all of your support, and thank you to Pittsburgh for such an amazing experience! I will most definitely be back. =)

My next race: the Cinco de Miler on May 7

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Linking up with MarciaPatti, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

40 comments:

  1. Cracking up at "Pierogi down!" and "HOW YOU SCORE FROM THE LEFT SIDE?"

    Congratulations on a strong race! Nice to have all your hard hill work pay off!

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    1. LOL - I knew you would appreciate the Kaner commercial reference! Glad you enjoyed the pierogi jokes too. =)

      Thank you so much, Bobbi! Really appreciate it!

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  2. Congratulations on your strong finish! It is always a sense of relief when you know you have reached that final hill then you are on the home stretch.

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    1. Thank you so much! Yes - the mantra "what goes up must come down" was extremely applicable in this race. It was amazing to run the finish on a glorious downhill stretch - it was like taking a victory lap!

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  3. Yay! So glad to hear your strength training paid off! It sounds like you crushed the hills. & seriously a great plan to discuss what side Adam would spectate from. My friend didn't do that, so I was looking for her on the wrong side. She saw me...but I'm sort of surprised she did with all the people around.

    Congrats! And so glad you had fun!

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    1. Thank you so much, Jessie! Seriously - your advice on the Duquesne University hills was SUPER helpful. I really do appreciate you sharing! Yes, I've learned the hard way that spectating can be really tough when there are so many runners and crowds around. The more specific you can be, definitely the better!

      Congratulations to you too on conquering the race yet again! I know you feel like you didn't have your best day on the course, but still be very proud of what you accomplished. That is not an easy course by any stretch of the imagination!!!

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  4. Congratulations on an awesome finish!! This Half marathon looks like so much fun, I need to give it a try! maybe next year!

    Your course pictures are great!

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    1. Thank you so much, Ana! Absolutely - I highly recommend running this race. The course is beautiful and the spectators are amazing! Keep me posted if you do decide to go for it next year - if I run it, also, it would be awesome to meet up! Thank you for the kind words on the photos, too! =)

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  5. Yes!! That's so awesome that your training paid such dividends and that you were able to enjoy the race so much. You look happy even with the rain and hills :-)

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    1. Thanks so much, Erin!!! The spectators on the course were absolutely amazing. It was hard NOT to smile at some of their signs. And I think I was also riding the wave of momentum after last week's Ravenswood race, thanks to you. =)

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  6. Aw, the Cinco de Miler! My friend Dawn is running it. Are you solo again?

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    1. Yes, Cinco is this Saturday!!! Too bad you aren't going to be there, it would have been great to see you and meet Quinn for the first time! Bummer that I missed you when you were in town for the wedding this past weekend, too! This year my friend Marcia will be running Cinco with me. =)

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    2. I know - I'm bummed you were out of town. Good to hear you have a partner in crime for Cinco de Miler. Maybe next year I will run it with Quinn and we can meet up. Have fun!

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    3. Perfectly bad timing! I do hope you can run it next year! And at some point, I do want to come up to Minnesota and run a race up there with you, too!!!

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  7. Congrats Emily! You ran this so well and that strong finish speaks to your hard work and impeccable training. I am SO happy you enjoyed this race so much. You certainly earned it! Can't wait to see you Saturday! : )

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    1. Thank you so much, Marcia! I really appreciate all of your confidence in me during the preparation process!!! Can't wait to see you Saturday, too! (Here's hoping the Cinco medal isn't really a donkey keychain. =) )

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  8. Great job! It's such a great feeling when all that training comes together for a great race. It's funny too since I was only just introduced to what "yinz" meant since I never heard of it. I like "y'all" better.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lesley! Likewise - you are about to experience all of your hard work and training coming together for Tinker Bell. =) Can't wait to hear how it goes for you! LOL on the "yinz" - I only learned about it myself a few years ago, too. It's much less common than "y'all" for sure!

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  9. Congrats! I am happy your training paid off and the hills weren't what you feared! It's a great feeling to know you put the work in and conquered them!

    Did the crowds ever thin out? It doesn't seem like it from your pics from later on in the race!

    This looks like a neat course with great views!

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    1. Thank you so much, Kim! I took a lot of your advice during the training process, e.g. finding hills and running them over and over - so thank you for your helpful suggestions!

      The course stayed fairly crowded the entire time. The race has 30,000 participants and there were only four corrals. I was in the third corral and I started only about 20 minutes after the gun went off! Very different than, say, RnR races where they've got like 40 corrals and some folks don't start until almost an hour after the gun!

      The course was beautiful, indeed! I would highly recommend this race to all!

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  10. Congrats! So much to like in this recap! I love how you were having so much fun that you were surprised that you were already at mile 12! It's so rewarding when all of your training pays off like it did. I find that even the most difficult races are enjoyable when there is crazy good crowd support like you had. Love the pictures, it makes me want to actually run Pittsburgh one day! Congrats again!!

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    1. Thank you so much, Pete! As I've said many times, all the advice I got from you, the Master of Race Strategy, made such a difference. You should think about writing a book and/or starting your own personal running coaching strategy business! Seriously! YES - crowd support makes an ENORMOUS difference during those rough stretches. You should have seen how popular the guy was who was handing out the cans of beer. =) I would highly recommend running Pittsburgh - I think you would really enjoy the experience!!!

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    2. Yeah, maybe I should write a book (or maybe an online pamphlet) on race strategy and also start a coaching business when I retire! I'm sure the "beer guy" was very popular. I would've definitely been tempted to grab a can of beer. Pittsburgh sounds like a one-of-a-kind experience!

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    3. You would do very well selling your advice! I can already see it - www.masterofracestrategy.com. =D =D =D On that note, I should get your autograph now before the paparazzi take over! Yes, being the beer guy is a surefire way to make you the instant life of any party!!! LOL!!!

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  11. Yay great job! It sounds like a blast to be able to see cities from those perspectives while you're running. I cannot imagine hills like that though! I love my flat flat flat IL haha

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    1. Thank you so much, Alexandra!!! It's indeed a privilege to be able to see cities from a different perspective during races. Sometimes I get frustrated by how expensive race fees can be, but then when you see how much goes into the planning it makes more sense. And don't get me wrong, I will always love my flat flat flat Illinois, too. =) How are you settling into your new city digs, btw???

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  12. Yay! So glad you had a great race. A strong finish is the best feeling. Looks like a really neat course too, I've never been to Pittsburg - Love seeing new cities through race recaps!
    I need to take your training approach and do some serious hill work these next couple weeks for my 10-miler Memorial Weekend. My current race day strategy for the hills is: Suffer. ;-)

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    1. Thank you so much, Kelly! YES - I have had so many races where I was DYING during the final stretch, so it's a wonderful feeling to finish feeling good. We are seriously very blessed as runners to be able to see some of the sights we do during races. I hope your training goes well for your 10-Miler of Memorial Day! You've got a month to prepare and you can make a LOT of progress in a month! And I know that sufferage race-day strategy better than I care to admit. ;)

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  13. GAH this makes me SO happy!! I am just over the moon for you. Congrats congrats congrats on having such a great race! It's SO wonderful to hear that all your hard work paid off. Way to go!!

    Bethany @ Accidental Intentions

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    1. Thank you so much, Bethany!!! It's definitely times like these that all the tough days make the effort worth it! I know you understand completely, having gone through many similar instances with hard work resulting in strong results yourself!!! =)

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  14. I can't even imagine hitting mile 12 and thinking "already???" That is so awesome! I bet the hill seemed better than you were expecting because you were so well-prepared for it to be bad, and because you were focusing on incline work leading up to the race.

    Even with the hills, this looks like a great race! I haven't been to Pittsburgh (outside of a Pirates/Cubs game maybe 10 years ago) since I was a kid, so it was nice to see all the pictures around town! Very cool.

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    1. Thanks Anne! You hit the nail on the head - I had these god-awful visions of 90-degree hills floating through my mind. Obviously there's no such thing, but it sure does help the mindset on race day to find this out in person!

      Oh my gosh, you went to a Pirates-Cubs game? My mother-in-law's birthday is July 7 and the Cubs will be in Pittsburgh that same weekend. So if we end up going to Pittsburgh that weekend, I'm hoping to get to PNC Park for the very first time. From what I understand, the city has changed a lot over the past few years and really revitalized itself!!!

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  15. Congrats! So glad you felt so good and had a fabulous time running! One of my friends ran the marathon and he commented that it was the most fun he's had in a race pretty much ever! Wonderful that all of your hill training paid off :)

    Good luck at the cinco de miler!

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    1. Thank you so much, Xaar! I have to give a lot of credit to you, too, as I utilized a lot of your training advice, e.g. running the hill near the Shedd over and over, etc. It made an ENORMOUS difference! So awesome that your friend had such a good time running the Pittsburgh Marathon! It is NOT an easy course so I am really, really glad to hear he enjoyed himself.

      Thank you for the good luck wishes! As always I very much appreciate it!!!

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  16. Pierogi down? Reminds me of those sausage races at Miller Park in Milwaukee!

    My neighbor (from Pittsburgh) has a license plate "Yinzers". I had to ask him what it meant..

    Great job on the race. Sounds like a blast!

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    1. LOL - I TOTALLY thought about the sausage races at Miller Park in Milwaukee, too! I think the two cities have a lot in common with some of the European-based population. =)

      That is HILARIOUS that your neighbor from Pittsburgh has a Yinzers license plate! He is very true to his roots. (If you google Yinzers there are some really funny definitions out there, hehe)

      Thank you so much, Wendy!!! Likewise - great job to you on Big Sur! We are both celebrating hill-running accomplishments. =)

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  17. Yaay!!!! Congratulations :) I loved every pic and every word and look how freaking adorable you look approaching the finish line! You look like you barely cracked a sweat lol
    It is nice Adam kept up with on the course:)
    The 16th street bridge is really awesome looking. I am glad the rain wasn't awful...it seems like you had a pretty good day.
    That is a great medal.

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    1. Karen, you are TOO SWEET. Thank you so much! I definitely did not push the pace very much since I didn't want to wear myself out too early, given the complexity of the course. =) I was very grateful that Adam was able to do such a wonderful job spectating! The bridges were my favorite part of the course, too. They are so iconic!

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  18. Congrats Emily!! So glad that the race went so well and you had so much fun!!! Way to conquer those hills- that hill training really payed off! So happy for you! :)

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    1. Thank you so, so much Kayla!!! Really appreciate it! I am glad to hear your training has been going well, also - can't wait to catch up with you in July for RnR Chicago!!!

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