The morning started out perfect. I woke up right when my first alarm, I set 6 just to be sure I wasn’t going to sleep through any of them, went off, and the texts from everyone started to trickle in that they were awake. I got up, got dressed and was confident in my long sleeve I had picked out the night before. I walked down to the lobby and met up with everyone. I had some super unhealthy pineapple upside down bread, which was ammmmazing, from the hotel breakfast bar, water, and some cantaloupe. Not my normal breakfast of pb&j, but hey, when in Rome.
We started off on our trek to the start. I was wearing a jacket over my long sleeve and still a tad cold so I took it as a sign that wearing a long sleeve was a good idea. My only gripe about the race was that we got stuck in the wrong corral. We had to leave half our group since 2 of us were gear checking stuff and the other 2 were not. We made our way to gear check where they went through my bag for security reasons and then took it and tied it up. Linzay and I were suppose to be in Corral C, but we ended up being the front row of Corral D. In the end, it worked out as we didn’t have to bob and weave really at all, but we were trying to get up to Corral C and they wouldn’t let us through. Oh well! I really had to go to the bathroom (already took Imodium AD, so not that kind of bathroom…) but at this point, they were singing the national anthem, and I knew the start was quickly approaching. I figured I would just hit up the first portapottie stop and not worry about it.
We were ushered to the front of the starting area and that’s when the sun was shining down perfectly on the street in front of us and I saw the crowd. The masses of people out, apparently super excited for the marathon. Now, call me crazy, but this was mind blowing to me. It wasn’t just a few people out on the corner, waiting for THEIR runner to pass, it was 6-7 people deep, lines of people ALL going NUTS. It was like everyone had 10 cups of coffee and it was 10 am in the morning and the Steelers were going down the road after winning the super bowl kind of nuts. I was shocked. They were holding signs with their hands out in the air for high fives, cheering for every single person like they were a long lost friend and they were not only running the race but they were winning the race. I thought to myself as we traveled under the start line, oh well this crowd won’t last long, they always like this at the start of the race. Boy, Pittsburgh, you proved me wrong. As we started running, I felt my eyes well up with emotion. This was the first big race I was running since everything had happened at the Boston Marathon, and though I wasn’t at Boston, I thought of the people affected by that tragedy and how these people all came out to support us, strangers, running through their town. It was an incredible feeling seeing everyone so excited for an event, for me, to run.
As I ran I looked around and just saw more and more people, more signs and more cheers, coming from all directions. They weren’t letting up. The streets were just as packed as we started. We passed mile 1 and I stopped quick to hit up the bathroom, and continued to run and enjoy the crowd, reading the signs and taking in some of the city. We ran through a lot of the city and when the crowd was a little sparse, which was probably for less than a mile of the race, runners chatted amongst themselves. I listened into conversations between runners about training, other races, the city, what we were running by. The air was so full of energy it was electrifying. The volunteers were all out smiling, giving out water, happy to be helping and I tried my hardest to tell as many of them thank you as I could. That’s one of my personal favorite things to do during races, because it almost surprises the volunteers, and they beam when they hear the words. Most volunteers responded back with a hearty, “No, Thank You!” Which was awesome and pumped me up even more.
The first few miles were through an area called the Strip District, which isn’t what you think it is, it’s more bars, shops, and a billion spectators out, cheering for you, rocking their Steelers, Penguins, Pirates Gear, holding hilarious signs and looking for high fives. And the bands. Holy cow. How many bands are even in Pittsburgh? They were ALL along the course. I saw the first one around mile .25 it seemed and I thought to myself, wow, a band? Already? Maybe they set up in the wrong spot, but they were EVERYWHERE along the course! A great distraction and they seemed so excited to be out there. Runners would run by raising their hands, singing or dancing and they would cheer for the runners, and get the crowd going. It was band after band after band with spectators lining the streets encouraging everyone along. Then we started going over the bridges, which, being from CA, we don’t really have rivers here or bridges like Pittsburgh does, and this was really one of my favorite parts of the course, scenery wise. It was perfect weather, and the sky was as clear as can be, you could see the entire city from the bridges. Even the bridges were packed with people. I don’t get where they all came from. We started going up and down hills, which weren’t as bad as I was expecting and before I knew it, I was at mile 5!
I tried not to look at the mile markers because I was so paranoid about my ankle and didn’t want to have issues with it, but once we hit mile 5, I was happy that I wasn’t having issues and that I was feeling good! I think it was around mile 5, there was this huge group of kids called Team Impact or something, and they were at the top of a hill. They were literally going insane. Screaming their lungs off, losing their minds crazy for each and every runner that passed by them. I almost laughed at how crazy this situation would look to other people, but these kids were amazing! They were so into cheering and it made that hill a piece of cake. Everyone was wearing sombreros too, for Cinco De Mayo.
At mile 6, I started to play mind games with myself so I wouldn’t get discouraged. When we passed mile 6, I told myself we were at mile 3. Imagine my surprise when we got to mile 8! At this point, I was used to all the crowds and how chatty the runners were, and how if you yelled Go Pens, the crowd would go nuts, which yes, I did a few times and it was awesome. The water stations were all perfectly spaced and well managed, and I grabbed water at a few stations and also nabbed a few gummy bears that were being handed out by spectators around mile 8. I tried to take in all the sites, since I hadn’t seen much of the city yet, and tried to continue to say thank you to all the volunteers. The hills were starting to get to me at this point and I was just tired. I knew I was so close to finishing and would just have to break down the mileage into easy, manageable segments. The people of the city are what got me to the top of those hills and kept me running.
We got to mile 10 and I saw a huge bridge looming ahead of us, and a large hill across the river that we would be running up once crossing the bridge. This was also where the half and full marathon split. I was quite turned around and didn’t understand how we would end downtown, it seemed like where we started was 10 miles away! Up and over the bridge I went, where you guessed it, spectators were lined up, cheering for everyone. Then it was onto the last hill, where an entire medical team was stationed. They weren’t just standing under their red tent though, off to the side. They were standing and cheering on the side of the road, telling everyone it was the last hill and this was it! We could do it, we were almost done and we were almost to mile 12! Running up this hill, my ankle was starting to feel a bit sore, but other than that I had no issues at all! The medical team standing out there cheering for all the runners was a pretty cool way to really make the most of their time along the course and I appreciated them not only being out there, but cheering for us and making that hill much more fun.
Finally we reached mile 12 and I tried to push as hard as I could along the last mile. A girl ran up behind me and asked me if I was Danica! I was so surprised, and thankful that she came up and said hello to me and it was so nice chatting with her for a bit. I saw the finish line in the distance and heard sirens behind me. They kept getting closer and closer and I thought, why is an ambulance coming? It was the first elite male marathon finisher with police escorts! The crowd was going nuts and I was running right by him. I started pumping my arms above my head like an idiot and I heard some laughs. The last mile was pretty much all downhill, and my legs were hurting and I realized I wasn’t going to be under 2 hours. But that was okay because I finished and had an incredible experience.
Once I crossed the finish line I was handed my “Runner of Steel” Medal, and a bag to collect all the food we were given after the finish line. A Finishers Cup, Bagels (from panera, with flavor selections!!), Bananas, Smiley Face Cookies, Water, Fruit Cups, Gatorade, there was a ton of stuff and it was great that we could just put it on our bags and leave the finish chute. I looked up my finish time yesterday, and I finished in 2:01:48. That darn bathroom break!
I left the area in a daze and spotted a few of the people I was there with. We exchanged congratulations and talked about our races. The overwhelming common thread? How amazing the crowd was. The ENTIRE time. It never stopped. I was so glad that it wasn’t just me imagining things and the other runners agreed. A marathon or half marathon are a completely different event when the city is embraces the race, and I don’t even know where half the people cheering along the course came from, but they were the ones that made the experience so incredible. Even the guy holding the sign “Hungover, but still supporting” made from a cardboard box, and the lady holding one that said “Hurry up! The Pens play at noon!” It was so neat to experience a race in a city that takes so much pride in the event, and the people running. I wish I wore a go-pro just to capture it all out and replay it whenever I was on the treadmill.
I know I’m also super picky about races, since I used to work for a race management company, and this race had great execution on all the things that usually bother me. Great mile markers, easy to navigate and consistent water stations, a good corral system, plenty of portopotties, a scenic course, tons of bands along the route, and something that you can never plan for. The most amazing crowds along the route, cheering for everyone. It was a celebration of running for 13.1 miles, and that it something so unique and it makes a complete difference.
The Dick’s Sporting Goods Event is something incredible. Not only is it a well managed race but the city loves the race, and that’s something you can never replicate or replace.
Thank you for such a memorable time and for reinvigorating my love for running.
PS to see more photos and all the crowds, here’s a great link to a bunch!