Pittsburgh Steel Challenge day three: the half-marathon

The night before the race, the weather forecast turned rainy and cooler. But I had zero complaints–the cooler the better for me, as race performance goes. It wasn’t raining when we got up, but odds were good we’d see at drizzle at some point.

I wore short sleeves and brought a garbage bag along in case it started to rain while we waited. Other than that I kind of didn’t care about rain, but I don’t want to be cold and wet before I even started.

My stomach didn’t feel great, and as we waited, I felt less and less good. Potty lines were still extremely long as our corral moved forward, so I hoped it was just pre-race anxiety.

We finally approached the starting line sometime after 7:30.

The first three miles followed Liberty Avenue, then looped back to Penn Avenue and through the Strip district.

My stomach was not improving, but every potty stop had lines six or eight people deep. It wasn’t that critical, just not good.

As we crossed the first bridge–the 16th Street Bridge–I slowed to add some Drip Drop electrolyte mix to my handheld water bottle. There hadn’t been many water stops early on, so for once I was glad to have brought my own. This is where I lost K, but I didn’t mind. I had a pretty conservative race plan (traveling, lack of sleep, plus the two-race weekend made me dial expectations back) and she’s been running SO well lately–I didn’t expect her to slow down with me.

On the north side of the Allegheny River, the route wound around streets I semi-recognized from the 5K, and at nearly the four-mile mark, I spotted some potties with only one person in line. It cost me a couple of minutes (I’m not Shalane) but I felt better.

As I waited in line, I could hear a spectator cheering over and over for “Henry.” I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day.

And then I saw Dad and J as I came up a small hill. Yay! Coincidentally, the song she contributed to my playlist (Skid Row’s “I Remember You”) was playing at that exact moment.

I meandered around the Pirates’ stadium some more, and I saw them a second time right around mile five.

From there we passed the Steelers’ stadium, then some kind of casino, before crossing the West End Bridge. Crowd support in this area was kind of thin, and I realized it was the first time all morning there WASN’T a bunch of spectators.

On the other side of the bridge, spectators were back. We looped through a little neighborhood with a lot of enthusiasm. Then we turned onto West Carson Street, which I knew would be a long haul of more than three miles.

Still, although I was tired and taking some walk breaks, the mile markers seemed to be coming quickly. Water stops were plentiful, especially after the first five or so miles, and I just kept refilling my bottle and adding in the Drip Drop. I’m not sure what exactly slowed me down–breathing was okay, I didn’t really hurt, temps were still in the 50s, but I still struggled.

Along Carson Street we passed a minor league soccer stadium, the Duquesne Incline, the Monongahela Incline, and then continued into the South Side. Spectators were everywhere, each neighborhood having its own party, and they kept me distracted.

At some point it turned into East Carson Street. Then the half split from the full a little before the Birmingham Bridge–the signs were REALLY good, plus volunteers with megaphones directed people as well. I think the marathoners had to get some extra mileage before crossing, and at the end of the bridge they turned right up into Oakland when we went left toward the finish, so we had the left side of the bridge and they were on the right side, across the concrete barrier. No missing the split on THIS race!

The bridge is pretty long–I ran/walked it–and towards the end I was feeling kind of queasy. But once we turned left and crested the hill, the rest of the race was literally all downhill. I knew I could hang on.

Past the Penguins’ hockey arena, still downhill. Some well-dressed guys offered cups of water or whiskey, but I declined both. Three more turns, still downhill. Spectators were ten deep along the last quarter-mile or so, and it was raining a bit so I had to be careful on the wet streets, but I was moving pretty fast thanks to my downhill momentum. At the finish line I heard the announcer call my name, and the funny thing is that the very next name he called was my son’s first and middle names. I may actually be smiling in a finish line picture because wow, what a coincidence.

I collected my medal, water, snacks, and one of those Mylar heat sheet blankets, which doubled as a rain deflector as I walked. And walked. And walked through the finishers’ area to the same park as yesterday. By some miracle (spectators bunched up in front of the exit and made things very difficult–as a true Pittsburgher would say, yinz need to move the fuck away from the exit, ya jagoffs) I spotted K sitting on the median with Dad and J. She had killed it and needed a bit more recovery time; after a few minutes we maneuvered out of there to find our Steel Challenge medals.

The half-marathon bib had a Steel Challenge sticker for those doing both races, and it was super easy to collect the challenge medal. Austin really should take a page from this race’s playbook (and Cleveland’s which I did last year) to offer a challenge series-kind of incentive like this!

After retrieving our third medals for the weekend, we found a cart selling sodas and wow did a Sprite hit the spot, even better than water. So then we got in line to take our picture.

I really needed a stepstool–my medals nearly strangled me. But other than that I felt pretty good. My hydration plan had worked well, and the contents of my stomach remained there. I’m told I was a little pale, but “just pale” is a vast improvement from my last half-marathon. And while my pace was only marginally better than Zooma, I felt completely different, both during and after the race. I’ll take that.

We walked back to the hotel thankful for 1) our sherpas, and 2) the Mylar heat sheets. By now I was cold (in my very wet clothes) and this blanket was magical. Plus we had a 3:2 sherpa to runner ratio, and they were amazing. Carrying our stuff, fetching drinks, you name it. Thank you!

Shocker: after showers, we went to lunch at the meatball place again. I had mashed potatoes with chicken meatballs and basil pesto sauce. So much yum.

Then my friends had to leave. 😢

But since Dad has family there, we kept one of the hotel rooms and stayed an extra day. I was excited to get a really good night of sleep, then meet one of his cousins for lunch before flying home.

All in all, this was a great event. Both races were well-organized (save the ever-present problem of long potty lines), the medals rock, and the crowd support was fantastic all along the course.

The 5K and the half-marathon shirts are technical fabric, and the half-marathon version is long-sleeved. The design wasn’t really different across the distances, but they were labeled for each distance so it’s not like the marathoners got the same shirt as the 5Kers. K, the Clevelander, didn’t like that they’re so yellow, but since I run at night and after dark much of the year, I really like the bright color. I wore the long-sleeved one after the race and it was so comfy.

My medals are really cool–solid and shiny–and they made a satisfying clank.


Not that the race had any control over the weather, but it wasn’t too hot after all, and organizers were prepared with the aforementioned (and appreciated) Mylar blankets since it didn’t take long for us to get cold after we stopped running. Post-race water, food, and volunteers were plentiful. The finish line area funneled runners right into Point State Park, which had photo ops, benches, and vendors plus the Steel Challenge medals. It was easy to reunite with my people, although the crowd bunched at the finishers’ exit added some degree of difficulty.

The race hotel had no problem giving us late checkout, too. Thank you Courtyard Marriott Downtown and Pittsburgh Marathon! Traveling across the country to races isn’t always easy, but I would do this race again. Especially with these people. ❤️