Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012 Pittsburgh Marathon Race Review

I guess now would be the time to confess that my running of the Pittsburgh Marathon last week was my very first ever race experience.  No 5ks, ever, nothing.  Unless you count running the 800 and 4x800 in high school, which I'm guessing you don't, no?  That's just fair warning that this is a factual(ish) review with absolutely nothing to compare to.  I have spectated the Pittsburgh Marathon a few years though.  Brace yourself, this should be a long one.

Race Expo
The race expo was held at the convention center downtown on Friday and Saturday.  The 5k and kids run were also held on Saturday, so I imagine the expo was crazy that day, which made the 2 day option so nice.  The race organizers Facebook'ed that parking was tight on Friday, but I had zero trouble parking in the Strip District surface lot, for $6, and coming into Downtown through the Strip.  I have the advantage of knowing my way around well though; cars trying to approach from the Downtown side were doing a lot of sitting in traffic.  it should have been a short walk for anyone staying near the start/finish downtown though.
Swag and freebie pickups
Shortly after the expo opened on Friday, the lines were non-existent and things weren't too busy.  Head off to one side to pick up your bib and shirt.  Then to the other side of the exhibit hall to pick up your bag. Zero lines.  I really didn't need or want anything else, so I headed out after picking up those things.  Many complained about the shirt, but I had no issues with the Asic long-sleeve tech tee.  I thought the fit was nice, and true to size; I had gotten a small.
I kind of dig the shirt
Parking Race Morning
On any other Sunday morning, it would take me less than 5 minutes to drive from my house to the starting line.  It wasn't any different on race morning.  No traffic, no problems parking, and we were in the garage on 6th and Fort Duquesne for $5.  Bonus of this garage is that there is a real bathroom in the lobby!  We were very close to the start but traffic was absurdly backed up trying to pull into the garage on Stanwix and Fort Duquesne, and those poor people shelled out $20 to park.  The marathon site provided a nice parking map, but it would have been helpful to include parking prices.  There were hundreds of people paying $15 more, sitting in traffic, and a block closer at most.

Pre-Race and Corrals
There were a total 5 corrals, A-E, with the elite and seeded runners lined up in Corral A.  Marathoners and 1/2 Marathoners were lined up together.  Corrals A-D were completely fenced in, and were supposed to be monitored for entrance based on the Corral printed on your bib.  I was back in Corral E, which had only the front end fenced in.  That's what happens when you're slow.  I wouldn't have minded the open ended corral, except that many took advantage by passing though with baby strollers and bikes or by keeping their entire spectating party with them in the corral.  When the race started, Corral E was spilled out onto the sidewalks in all directions because it just wasn't big enough.

There was a long line of port-a-potties on the cross street between Corrals D and E.  There were more scattered further up as well.  45 minutes before gun time, the wait was less than 10-15 minutes, though it looked much busier over there closer to race start, and there were still many in line when our corral started moving toward the start line.

Race Start
Apparently there was a singing of the National Anthem, and I heard it was wonderfully done.  From where I was, I couldn't even tell it was going on, which is unfortunate.  We did hear the gun though, and it seemed to be right on time for the 7:30 start.  A few minutes later, we started the walk to the start line.  According to gun versus chip time, it was 20 minutes before I crossed the start line, and there were still hundreds (or more?) behind me as well.

I spotted the 1/2 marathon 2:30 pacer and full marathon 5:00 pacer in the middle of the E Corral.  So that leaves a wide range of runners and walkers starting together.  My first mile was a slow 11:58, and I passed a minimum of a few hundred people in that time, far too many of whom were walking.  It would have been nice if at least the walkers were shifted to the back.  I started even with the 5 hour pace group (11:27 even splits), so I don't believe it's that I was lined up too far back either.

Both port-a-potties and a fluid station were available early on, if you needed them.
Elites early on.  Photo Credit: Hodnick Photography
The course was hilly with a big climb from miles 10-12 and a significant downgrade in the last few miles, but you can't expect anything else in Pittsburgh.  Being a Burgher, I think it was a nice tour of the city with strategic turns to wind you through business districts and neighborhoods.  I know the course has changed every year for the past few, but it wouldn't be bad to keep it as is.  Early on, some of the setup also allowed spectators to move from one spot on the course to a few miles ahead by only walking a few blocks, which is nice to catch a certain runner in multiple spots.

The entire course in run on public roads, all of which are entirely shut off to traffic.  Late in the race, I did see officers allowing cars to cross the course, but never at the expense of stopping runners.

Course Support
There were 18 fluid stations on the full course, all offering Gatorade and water.  By the time I passed by, a few stations had run out of water cups, but did encourage you to grab a Gatorade, dump or drink it, and then they would fill it with water.  If you were keeping a fast pace this might be annoying, but let's be honest, no one that far back was shooting for a course record.  There were an abundance of volunteers at each station, and they were helpful in quickly refilling my own bottle for me as well.

GU Gels were first available around Mile 12, and then what seemed like frequently after that.  They were plentiful, and available in at least 4-5 flavors when I passed through.  For me, Mile 12 was too late, and I was forced to carry at least one of my own.  It would have been nice to have them around Mile 7 or 8, but I now suspect this was their way of not having to provide them for the 1/2 marathoners, as the course split during the 10th mile.  There is always far, far more people running the 1/2 than the full.  I don't think I'm the only one that needs fuel before Mile 12.

I thankfully didn't need an aid station, but there were 15 of them along the full course and again at the finish.  Most, or at least all further along, were offering sticks with Vaseline.  Based on later news reports, there were a lot of heat related emergencies, and all seemed to be handled well.

Crowd Support
The crowd support was, in my opinion, phenomenal even for use slow pokes in the back.  I came through many areas  hours after the elites, and people were still cheering enthusiastically!  Many, many bands and other organized groups were set up along the course.  The course also runs through many neighborhoods and business districts where spectators were out in full force, even if I think many were just using the marathon as an excuse for public, morning drinking ;)  Welcome to Pittsburgh.

Did I mention it was hot, because it only got hotter as the miles passed by.  I think I came across the first Super Soakers just before the halfway point, and the squirt guns, garden hoses, sprinklers, and open fire hydrants were plentiful from there on.  I came across friendly people also passing out oranges, cups of ice, pretzel rods, and Swedish fish.  I apparently was too slow for the generous sharing of gummi worms on the South Side and Italian ice on the second pass through the Strip!
Photo Credit: Hodnick Photography, and sorry if you see this photo a million more times because it's my favorite
Finish Line
Finishers were pretty sparse as I came through, which made the chute uncrowded and seamless.  I was immediately given Gatorade and water, my medal, and offered a jug of water to be dumped over my head.  For how late I came through, almost 6 hours gun time, there was still an overwhelming amount of food left.  As I recall, bananas, fruit cups, potato ships, Panera bagels, and Eat'n Park smiley cookies.  I don't suspect there was a shortage even for the slowest stragglers.

There was also a photo-op setup just before the food, but I passed right on by.

There was a festival set up in Point State Park, just steps from the finish, but I didn't even set foot in that either.  I heard it was nice with a family reunion area, food vendors, massages, etc though.
Photo Credit: Hodnick Photography
Getting Out of Town
There was a Pirates game going on the same afternoon, just across the river from the finish line.  This may have caused some congestion if you tried leaving shortly before game time, but we were much later.  No problems getting back to the garage and out of downtown.  Loads of unwanted traffic on Rt 28, but that's PennDot's problem, not the marathon's.

There is really no doubt that I plan to run Pittsburgh again.  It is minutes from my house, I love this city, and even people that have run so many other cities seem to like this race.  I think starting further up in the corral and milder temps would solve any semblance of a complaint I could come up with.  Obviously neither of which are the fault of race organizers.

And while this is pretty insignificant, I've always thought it would be nice if the race was held while the colleges and universities were still in session for the Spring.  The course winds through or very near many campuses, and I think the student crowd support there would be fun.  Instead, the university area was pretty dead, just a person or two on the sidewalks here and there, probably one of the quietest areas on the course I thought.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great recap! I'll be running Pgh this year as my first full...can't wait!