At the UPMC/City of Pittsburgh Marathon, a football-stadium finish at the home of the Steelers caps a 26-mile celebration of Pittsburgh, a true neighborhood city.
Posted Monday, 13 January, 2003
Pittsburgh runner Terry Moore is a hometown marathoner through and through. Moore has run the Pittsburgh Marathon every year since its first year in 1985. It's the first and only marathon he's ever run.
"I love this city, and I love this marathon," Moore said. "Why would I want to go somewhere else to run?"
Why indeed? The UPMC/City of Pittsburgh Marathon sports a varied course, solid organization, enthusiastic spectator support and, since last year, a splashy finish in Heinz Stadium, the new home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For runners seeking a mid-sized spring marathon, it all adds up to an opportunity to run a quality event and explore a richly textured city -- oh, and to see yourself looming 27-feet-tall on the Heinz Stadium Jumbotron scoreboard.
"C'mon, that's just really cool," Moore said. "You've just run 26 miles, and you go into a tunnel and you come out into the stadium. Now you know how an NFL player feels. It just leaves you speechless, a really great finish."
The stadium finish provides a final high-energy boost in an event (and a city) that prides itself on giving its marathoners enthusiastic support from start to finish. Pittsburgh is a neighborhood town, and its neighborhoods turn out en masse to cheer on the runners, with 12 festivals showering music and shouts of support on the passing runners.
"We've traditionally had great crowd support, and now we even offer matching funds to the neighborhood associations to have their race-day festivals," said race director Larry Grollman. "It's a warm hometown feeling that you get here in Pittsburgh, it's the nature of the people."
For runners, the effect is like running through a 26.2-mile party, a high-tempo atmosphere for covering the marathon distance.
"It's a giant party, and that's a big upper. It really puts a spring in your step."
-- Terry Moore
"There's lots of enthusiasm and spirit, and it spurs you on," said Regis Costello, a 72-year-old veteran of 48 marathons who has also run every edition of the Pittsburgh Marathon. "There are really heavy crowds in certain sections, and they give you a nice push with all of the music and bands."
With some 40 bands and DJs along the course, the marathon seems to transform the entire city into a giant block party.
"That's what Pittsburgh is about," Moore said. "Pittsburgh is a cultural, neighborhood kind of town, and the marathon lets you see the different aspects of each neighborhood. It's a giant party, and that's a big upper. It really puts a spring in your step."
Facing the rolling hills of the course's second half, Pittsburgh's runners can use that extra spring. While certainly appropriate for beginning and experienced runners alike, the course is nevertheless demanding.
"My favorite thing about this particular marathon is the challenge, definitely," said Costello, who also praised the marathon for excellent organization and course support.
Though challenging, the course could have been a lot harder. Pittsburgh is a hilly city, but race organizers have staked out a relatively moderate course. The first half is almost entirely flat, while the second half of the course has a few bumps thrown in to keep runners honest. "It's not the bear of a course that people expect it to be," Grollman said.
Pittsburgh is also a river city, straddling the intersection of three rivers, and the course makes the most of it with four river crossings.
The course starts at Heinz Stadium, and within the first mile, runners make their first river crossing, surging over the Allegheny River into "the golden triangle," Pittsburgh's downtown area. The course makes its way through the Strip District before crossing the Allegheny again to enter the city's historic North Side. From there, runners cross the Ohio River and make their way east through the South Side neighborhood and the popular Station Square district.
"That's a great area through there," said Moore. "It's party central there, with lots of bands, and the people there are so enthusiastic, having a great time."
The Oakland Hill
The work begins in earnest after runners take the Birmingham Bridge north across the Monongahela River. At mile 11, the marathon's single major hill rears its head, climbing 200 feet in a little over half a mile. "It's a gradual climb, but it just keeps on going," said Moore.
At the top of the hill, runners enter Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood before hitting the upscale Shadyside neighborhood at the halfway point. Between miles 15 and 16, runners are greeted by gospel music in the Homewood/Brushton neighborhood, and they finally turn back west to head for the finish.
The course takes the runners through rolling hills in the Bloomfield neighborhood, following a wide boulevard packed with spectators and alive with music. After mile 21, the course gives back the 200 feet it took in the Oakland hill, with a downhill that should remind runners to include some downhill training in their marathon preparation.
"The downhills beat up the quads, and runners who haven't done any downhill training may get hit around mile 22 or 23," cautioned Grollman.
By then, runners are back into familiar territory, running through the Strip District and into the golden triangle before making the final river crossing back to Heinz Stadium -- and onto the Jumbotron.
"Last year, when the lead runners entered the stadium, everyone in the stands stood up and started cheering, and it was really thrilling," said Grollman. "For all of the runners, there's this big crowd of people cheering them to the finish."
"The stadium is great, but it's icing on the cake," Moore said. "The Pittsburgh neighborhoods are the real highlights. I love Pittsburgh, and to me the marathon is just a great way to run the entire city."
UPMC/City of Pittsburgh Marathon website
Online race registration
May 4, 2003
7:00am: Marathon walkers
7:35am: Wheelchair marathon
8:00am: Marathon relay
8:10am: Wheelchair 5K
8:15am: 5K run/walk
Marathon: 3000 runners
Marathon relay: 2000 runners
5K run/walk: 1000 runners
Marathon relay (2-, 3- and 4-person teams)