The Year Racing Returns continued this past weekend in Pittsburgh, PA with the return of the Pittsburgh Marathon, a weekend-long road racing celebration in the city of three rivers. The race organizers, P3R, presented a variety of events to engage the local community and visitors alike.
From registration to the expo to the finish line celebration, P3R provided a solid and fun racing experience for all participants and spectators.
The relationships between P3R and their race sponsors were evident throughout. Ahead of the race weekend, free running shoes from Brooks and Dick’s Sporting Goods were raffled off. There were free chicken sandwiches from Chick Fil A (the title sponsor of the kids’ race), health screenings from UPMC and IC Light beer tastings at the expo, and several local gyms offered free exercise classes. The package pickup process was extremely easy to navigate and I was even able to exchange my race t-shirt for a suitable size.
The course was well marked and in good condition. The refreshment and refreshment stations would have benefited from clearer signage and better training for the volunteers – particularly in the first half of the course where the many runners obscure the stations. Otherwise the stations were well stocked and frequent enough to support the participants.
On Saturday, 15,000 people took part in the festival-like atmosphere of a 5K, toddler trot, children’s marathon and pet walk. The weather was perfect, with sunny skies and mild temperatures. My hotel room overlooked the Andy Warhol Bridge – one of four of Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges featured at the weekend’s races. I enjoyed my morning coffee while watching the 5K from my window. Then I got ready for a shakeout and ran out to watch the Kid’s Marathon (one mile) runners cross the same bridge. Watching the kids was so much fun that I briefly considered adopting their 50 meter sprint pace strategy for my own race.
Sunday’s main event included a 26.2-mile full marathon, a 13.1-mile half marathon and, for the first time, a “hind half marathon” for a limited number of fundraisers. About 17,000 people attended these events. Organizers assembled a small but impressive elite field for the half marathon, including running luminaries like Caroline Rotich, Aliphine Tuliamuk and Sarah Sellers, who represented the women’s podium. Wesley Kiptoo, James Ngandu and Jared Ward completed the men’s podium.
The corrals were grouped by pace and shuffled by event, making for a fun combination of energy and edginess that led to the starting gun. The weather on Sunday was markedly different from Saturday’s celebration, with the rain starting just as I checked into my corral, continuing for the next 10 miles and reappearing sporadically (and epicly). As runners, we sometimes like to blame the organizers for not sacrificing enough to the weather gods to ensure perfect running conditions. If that’s the case, I also have to thank P3R for creating an amazing rainbow as I climbed the 16th Street Bridge over the Allegheny, the first of the three rivers I crossed on my 26.2-mile journey 14 of Pittsburgh’s boroughs would cross. About 4½ miles into the race I found I had caught up with my wife and primary training partner, Sharon. We spent the next 8 miles running together in the rain, which was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a race. We crossed the Ohio River on the West End Bridge to get from the north side to the south side of Pittsburgh at mile 7. At mile 11, as we crossed the Monongahela River on the Birmingham Bridge, we left the half marathon runners and the flat portion of the course behind.
The second half of the Pittsburgh marathon course is HILLY. The Mon to Oakland run is a steep ¾ mile grind difficult enough for teams of volunteers to run up and down the slope to encourage racers to participate. My treadmill hill training all winter in anticipation of that hill paid off when I climbed to the top with a great view of the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning. Sharon and I attended college in Pitt and were excited to walk around campus. Unfortunately, Pitt’s graduation was the day before, and the students were gone, and Oakland was desolate.
Thankfully, the negative energy of the empty campus streets was temporary. There were many highlights at the track that brought us back to happy racing. Live bands played every few miles along the route – mostly classic rock; and most importantly – a polka band and a death metal band. At one point, a band was even rocking near the pumps under a gas station canopy. The helpers and spectators who came out and braved the weather kept the audience entertained throughout the day. There was not one but two different women at megaphones inventing marathon lyrics to popular songs. A special shout out to the aid station in Homewood – you brought it! All runners received a boost at the Greyhound Mile, a section of the course at mile 18 where runners can high-four and run with retired greyhounds being cared for by Steel City Greyhounds volunteers.
As you begin to think about spring racing for next year, the Pittsburgh Marathon should figure prominently in your planning. P3R offers a great event in a great city that is especially fun for running families. I’ll end by mentioning another sponsor for the 2022 Pittsburgh Marathon – Magee Women’s Research Institute and Foundation, the sponsor of the PR bell I had the privilege of ringing. Racing is definitely back in 2022!