Monday, May 16, 2011
Post Pittsburgh Marathon Post...
So after a day of mini heart attacks watching my wife and kid spend money like drunken sailors at the Premium Outlet stores in Grove City, we headed out in the blindly optimistic search for a hotel room on Friday night. Friday the 13th no less. Miracle of miracles, we found a room in Cranberry, just a few minutes north of Pittsburgh. And that's when I took another leap of faith, or another blind departure from established reason, similar to striking out on a Friday without booking a hotel room. Yes... on the night before the night before the marathon, I had a beer. Well, how could I help it when it was Happy Hour in Cranberry, PA?
So the next morning we struck out for Pittsburgh and got settled into our (pre-booked) hotel (at 9 am... pretty cool that they let us in that early) and headed out for the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Expo.
And what an Expo... there are good expos and crap expos in my extensive experience with these things, and I have to say that this was a very top notch expo. There was a great mix of cheap running clothes, out-of-town run booths, freebie power bar samples, shoe sponsor display area... and lots of well-initiated volunteers. Details, all taken care of, something that impresses the hell out of me.
We wandered the town for the rest of the day, spending a few hours in the Andy Warhol Museum (extremely cool, one of those places everyone should visit), and checking out various other stuff. Mostly we wandered slowly while our kid, who is an obsessed photographer, took tons of pictures, none of which are in this post. Yet.
We had dinner at the Bar Louie in a very neat little shopping area across the river from downtown. The view of the skyline was excellent, and the trains that passed were actually kinda neat. And that's where I did it once more; I had a 20 ounce Dos Equis. After all, it was Happy Hour again. The marathon was going to be interesting...
The start line was a few steps from our hotel. Better than I had even calculated. And the corals were very well designed to make the start orderly. A light mist of rain fell most of the four and a half hours that I was on the course, never too heavy and just noticeable enough to help mitigate the humidity. And as I settled in to find my stride and break out of the crush a bit, I was impressed by the fact that there was a pretty decent band performing close to the start. Very shortly thereafter, another band appeared. Then another. I counted 20 bands in the first 10 kilometres, apparently out of a total of about 60. There were choirs, bagpipes, stand up basses, steel drums (not all together of course)... even a couple of guys on idling Harleys who lit them up like thunder on demand.
I've never seen so many orange slices. There were easily a dozen groups - large groups - of people handing out orange slices. Orange peels covered the pavement in places. There were Skittles dispensing citizens, banana hand outs, countless water stations that were not official water stations...
I've seen kids high-fiving runners before, of course, but not like this. There were kids shaking out their hands from over-high-fiving, but they weren't gonna quit. Hundreds of high fives going on. Countless people shouting themselves hoarse from crowded bars (not a typo, and yes it was early morning)...
This is not to say that this was the first enthusiastic marathon host city I've encountered. This is to say that this was an enthusiasm that said "You want orange slices? We'll bring Florida up here. You want gels? Every couple hundred feet you'll get gels. We're gonna blast this baby out of the park."
So how could I possibly have declined the beer shots at mile 23? Not after the guy who was handing them out with the enthusiasm of a salesman earnestly assured me that it would be good for me. So what other explanation could there be for the noticeable dulling of pain that followed, or the crazy half mile sprint to the end?
And speaking of the finish area... half a mile straight in an open area, lined with wildly cheering mobs. Design geniuses, these course planners are. It was brilliant, right down to the size and space of the finish area and the meeting area outside of it.
So obviously I highly recommend not only the Pittsburgh Marathon but Pittsburgh itself. After all, who could expect a marathon of anything less than excellence when you look at how these folks approach their sports. They go for the win, and they sure as hell pulled this one off with flying colours.