What is it like to run a full marathon without spectators, road closures, hydration/nutrition stations and medical support? Well, I’m about to tell you!
As a participant of this event since 2012, the Pittsburgh Marathon was a little (okay, a lot) different this year. When they made the announcement that you could either request a refund or run the race virtually, it was a no-brainer for me. The money was already out of my hands, and I’d hate for P3R to lose excessive funding for future events. Plus, what else was I going to do?
I decided to run on the date that the marathon was originally scheduled for, which was May 3rd. I had just completed the L.A. marathon in March, so I wanted some time to recover (using that term loosely) from that. And it was also a way to keep myself motivated during the pandemic/lock down. The next thing I needed to do was plan. Prior to this, I’ve run the Pittsburgh Marathon route a total of 6 times, not including the hundreds of training runs throughout the city. That being said, I’m very familiar with the course.
I Googled the turn-by-turn directions for the course and found them pretty easily. Through online word-of-mouth, I decided to cut out the section (~1 mile) after crossing the West End Bridge due to safety concerns regarding traffic and to hop on the trail in the South Side due to a section of the course not having an accessible sidewalk. Other than that, the course, without official road closures, was runnable.
I also planned on running with one other person – a girl (Ellen) I met while pacing for the Steel City Road Runners. This was supposed to be her 1st full marathon, and she was still determined to earn that title. For safety reasons, I also liked the idea of having a buddy for the duration of the run. I would’ve hated for either of us to have an emergency and be completely alone. Twenty-six-point-two miles is a long way to go!
We texted back and forth for a couple of weeks to hammer out the details. I chose to start running at 7 AM on Liberty Avenue, which is when/where the marathon typically starts. Well, at least the Elites do anyway. Me? I normally don’t cross the start line until 7:30 AM or later due to being in corral D. Ha!
May 3rd rolled around, and I woke up, got myself ready and headed downtown. It was definitely a less stressful drive, so that was a perk. I truly expected to see a lot of other runners who planned on tackling the course on this particular day, but that wasn’t the case at all. I saw maybe 3 other runners on Liberty Avenue while I waited for Ellen. The city had an eerie feel to it – a far cry from the magical feeling you can only get on race day. Regardless, I wanted to make the most of it.
Once Ellen arrived, we got started. Right off the bat, the weather was not in our favor. It was very humid, and it was only going to get hotter throughout the day. But, I would’ve been running in this weather anyway if the race wasn’t cancelled. The first couple of miles through the Strip District are a bit of a blur as we were finding our groove. The course then took us through the North Side. As we approached Heinz Field, a local photographer (Mike McNeil) was kind enough to spend his morning taking photos of any runner who crossed paths with him.