This is NOT a piece on how Chicago is better than Pittsburgh.
I adore Pittsburgh.
I do think, however, that Pittsburgh can learn a thing or two about running a Marathon from Chicago. Or Boston. Or New York. Perhaps visiting one of these races and shadowing how they are executed would be a great education for my new fabulous city.
Pittsburgh is still fairly new to the Marathon table having taken a break from throwing the race from 2003 until 2009, in order to work out some glitches. Unfortunately, last year, one of the elite female Marathoners mistakenly took the wrong turn alongside a Half-Marathoner and ended up taking second in the Half, rather than finishing the full Marathon. Not good press. Really bad runner management.
This year, while I can’t speak to the Marathon and the Half, I can speak to the relay.
Pittsburgh has bitten off more than they can chew.
Aside from the rain, which could not be controlled, and the bomb threat which caused the course to get re-routed during the race, and caused a TON of confusion up by my leg of the relay when an annoucement went out that the race was being “shut down at Mile 22”, Pittsburgh still has some work to do in ironing out the glitches of running such a huge event.
The Expo rocked. Loved it.
It was once we got to the start that the confusion began. Where was gear check? Could someone point us to the relay shuttles?
If we were able to find a volunteer in order to ask these essential questions, the answer was usually, “Hmm, I’m not sure.” Thus, we relied on just following the crowd, who in turn was following us. The result? A ton of us walking in circles.
At the shuttle stops, the signs had apparently been printed incorrectly, or something, so a few race volunteers stood in the street yelling to the crowd as to where to load the proper shuttle to get to the designated relay exchange. One shuttle got a flat tire. My shuttle didn’t know where to take us. At the end of two of my teammates legs the shuttle stops to get them back to the start were not correct and they ended up walking a few miles in the wrong direction.
My relay stop included a few small tents, not enough mylar blankets to keep us dry during the rain (they had some, just not enough), and one table with water/gatorade. However, one didn’t know of these amenities because there was absolutely no signage to alert us to them. I winded up walking to a Sunoco, grabbing a cup of coffee and, thankfully, a Kind bar, which was a much better choice then your normal gas station munchies. I then sat against the wall for about 2 hours in order to stay dry and watch the elite runners come in. Even with my dollar store plastic poncho, I was soaked. My toes? Already pruned. The race started at 7:30. At 9, the elites started coming by. My exchange, however, wouldn’t happen until closer to 11:15. So I sat.
And believe it or not, met a teacher from Blackhawk High School who works with my friend who ran the first leg of the race. Crazy.
Knowing the coffee and bar would do some work on my system (sorry, but runners talk about this stuff), I headed over to the johns around 10:30 – flushable ones. Thank God. In line, I heard the first rumblings of a “suspicious package” found at the Finish Line. The race was being re-routed while authority’s inspected the package. (Post-race, I would learn that the package, a microwave, was destroyed.)
I then began to look for my chute where I would line up until my teammate came through the pass off the baton (or, in this case, a slap bracelet). The signs listing bib numbers, which would assist in an orderly line-up were not properly set up, but rather, left on the ground to be either tripped on, or ignored.
Suddenly over a mic, “There has been an emergency. There has been an emergency. We are stopping the race. Runner’s please stop. We are stopping the race.”
An ambulance than made its way to us and we “parted the waters”. Once it passed us, everything resumed as normal.
For 10 minutes.
And then, “The race is being stopped. There has been a bomb threat. The race will end at Mile 22. Runner’s please stop. The race is shut down.”
And then, it was back on again.
11:15. My teammate came through and I TOOK OFF. I was so happy to be leaving my exchange pergatory. After rising at 4:30, walking in the rain, getting lost on the way to the shuttles, having a driver who was unsure where to drop us off, hanging at Sunoco with others in the neighborhood – not the greatest I must add (no one needs to see thongs or track marks before a race), having the race get called, TWICE, and just feeling as if we Relayers were second fiddle, all I wanted to do was run.
Getting out of there was great incentive to take off at a nice clip.
My leg rocked: Downhill most of the way, which probably explains why I was able to run 10 minute miles for 4.3, GREAT live bands, my quick stint with “Apollo Creed” (a guy who resembled him and ran with a flag pole up his back – um, ouch), beer from Penn Brewery (skipped it – but that’s cool), high-fiving a homeless guy that everyone kept ignoring, being the last leg and getting to cross the finish line, and generally feeling VERY strong once I came to my senses that I should stick to my Galloway plan rather than going all commando, are the good memories I’ll take from the race.
My friends, however, were experiencing hunger, as there was no food for those who had completed their legs. (Back when I ran the Baltimore Marathon Relay, there was a “food court area” where you would enter with your bib after taking a shuttle back to the finish. Here? Not so much.)
Pittsburgh, you are one great city. So very cool. But, I think, until you have the glitches worked out, you should stick to just a full and Half-Marathon. Why muddy the waters? I know the Relay is fun, but, I gotta tell ya, it wasn’t an easy experience – and I’m not talking about the actual running part. If the execution of a Marathon has caused you problems in the past, why add more by also organizing a Relay? Get those races down to a perfect science, and then, put the Relay back in.
Will I run it again? Perhaps not the Relay. The Half-Marathon, however? Yep.
For as my new running shirt says, “13.1, I don’t go all the way”.
And I don’t. And won’t.
Even though I come from the “big city”, where I think they get Marathons right (yeah, if people are dropping dead on the course because it’s too hot, I do support shutting down the race), you are my new home, dear Pittsburgh, and regardless of the events of today, I will continue to run you.
And you, in turn, will give me memories.