Recently, I ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon and it was a total blast! If you’re not familiar with a half-marathon, it’s 13.1 miles which is pretty long, but my hat goes off to the people running the 26.2 miles of the full marathon that day. My goal when I decided to run the race was to get anywhere between an 8 minute/mile pace (which is about 1hr 45 min) and to finish under 2 hours. Much to my surprise, I ended up beating the better end of the goal and got a 1:44:13 (which is about a 7:58 minute/mile pace) so I was pretty excited!
UPDATE: I put the pictures up on Flickr.
The whole course was a ton of fun. There were people lining the road for just about the whole length of the race. The starting line was in the Strip District right in front of the restaurant Eleven (which I highly recommend, by the way). After a couple of miles, the course went into the North Shore area (where Heinz Field and PNC Park are) and we even ran right past the datacenter where LyricWiki‘s web-servers are kept.
We kept winding through different parts of the city and finished shortly before the rain started – the runners doing the full marathon weren’t so lucky!
I’d run quite a few road-races when I was younger, but the longest race I’d done was still pretty short at 3.5 miles. However, for longer races like this one, there was something that was an unexpected treat for me: pacers. They had designated people who hold up a sign and try to run at a specific pace the whole way. This was super-helpful to me since I planned to go just slightly slower than an 8 minute/mile pace until near the end. At every mile-marker they had a clock and I noticed that the pacer I was following was staying about a minute faster than he was supposed to be. That worked out really well since I don’t think I would have felt confident passing him early in the race. Even though he was a bit faster than planned, the pace was fairly consistent the whole way through which is helpful.
Between the energetic crowd, the water stands every two miles, and the cool temperature – the conditions were great and I have a feeling that a lot of people set personal records that day. I remember that as I was sprinting in, I had a big smile on my face because I was ahead of pace and I still felt great! It was a fantastic day for a run :)
I started training a bit later than would have been wise. I didn’t start until March 9th which was 50-some days before the race. I just kept hearing about the event and thought it would be a super-cool event for the city and that I’d want to be a part of it – the race had been gone for 6 years, but then they got Dick’s Sporting Goods (a Pittsburgh-based company) as a sponsor to bring it back. Also, I felt like I needed a challenge and that this would be a good one. Everything worked out great – I hit my goals, it was a huge event for the city, and it was totally fun. Even if you’re not a runner, it’s worth checking out next year as a spectator!
Anyway, the training was less than I would have liked to have done to feel comfortable going into the race, but it all came together at the end. I started really late and since I hadn’t been running I got tendinitis from trying to ramp up my distance too fast. After two weeks I went to the doctor for my foot and he told me I had to take 2 weeks off to let it heal. This was probably the spot in the training where I was least optimistic. I was now down to less than a month to go and still had a weak foot. This was all rather dumb of me. If you can, just make up your mind about a race far enough in advance not to put yourself in that position. I guess I lucked out though because after the 2 weeks, the foot was good enough that I could start running every few days with some biking mixed in. Keeping to that fairly tame schedule worked out well. My foot slowly went to being sore only in the last mile or two of a run and then to only being sore after each run.
All in all, what I’m saying is that the training was a mess – don’t follow my example. Start as early as you can, and if you’re early enough they sell pre-made training plans. Do those!
Technology at the Race
It was really interesting to see such a basic sport like running make use of some not-yet-mainstream technology to make things work better. “Chip” timing has been around for a while and it’s really quite cool. Each runner puts a little paper-like tag (which has an RFID chip imprinted on it) on their shoe and the time that they cross the start and finish lines is what’s used to compute their official time. This is pretty mandatory since so many people run in these races that it takes a while to get to the starting line.
The cool innovation that I hadn’t heard of before this race though, was that you could register online to get text message updates about a runner during the race. So friends who were watching got notified about half way through with what my time was, what my pace was, and approximately when I’d finish. After a runner finishes they send another message with a time that’s really close to the official time (mine was off by only one second) and the minute/mile pace. That’s just totally neat!
Random People I Saw
At any huge event in your home-town you’re bound to run into some people you know. Due to the whole Small World Phenomenon, you’ll probably run into a few really unexpected acquaintances as well. I saw some people that I would expect to run into: a guy from my high school cross-country team, two friends who are married to each other (from high school), but it also got a little stranger. I saw a friend who lived behind me in kindergarten and first grade, and another who I went to preschool with and who apparently lives about 100 feet away from me now (which I didn’t know before the race). What makes this a bit strange is that I lived in upstate New York until after 4th grade.
I hadn’t seen either of these (former) New Yorkers in over 15 years, so there was no chance I would have recognized them on my own. Our parents still remember each other well enough that they connected the dots for us. Speaking of which… my dad ran the last leg of the relay for his team & did better than he was aiming for also. Good job Dad! :)
This was way too long of a post, but to sum it up, I had a great time at the race and if you get a chance, I’d highly recommend checking it out next year!