Tuesday, October 9

Traversing Pittsburgh: The Great Race 10K

I started running a year ago. After trying yoga, Pilates, and other “calmer” forms of exercise, I found the adrenaline rush in running to be just what I needed. And what did I need? A sport pushing me to stay active, motivated, competitive: a challenge. 

Most days I run alone. It’s me and the trail, me and the treadmill, me and the pavement. But on September 30, it was me, 6.2 miles of Pittsburgh pavement, and 10,074 other runners. 

On the last Sunday in September, runners take to the streets of Pittsburgh for what has become the largest 10K in Pennsylvania. This year, in its 35th running, 10,075 people ran The Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race 10K. Add to that the 4,925 registrants for the 5K, and the grand total is 15,000 people, the largest crowd to date.

This was my first Great Race and my first 10K. To this point, my New Year’s resolution motivated me to run a 5K in April, May, June, July, and August. This was my September race. Many people told me that it is the best first 10K for a new runner. I felt welcome, albeit a little intimidated. 

My anxiety fueled my workouts. I would run that 10K and run it well, I told myself. I trained a little harder, diligently hitting the gym at least two days a week and running at least two more. I noticed I was feeling stronger as my distances grew. My legs no longer yielded to an incline.  By race day, I was ready for those hills.

I arrived at the start line much earlier than I needed to, but it was fun to chat with other runners about the course. And their shoes. Oh, the shoes! Brilliant, daring colors combinations with punchy laces forced me to greet people while staring at their shoes. But runners always talk about shoes. Any gear, really, but shoes are a big topic.

The gun went off and suddenly I felt like I was in a cattle drive—we all wanted to move, but we couldn’t until everyone in front of us began to move. After a few seconds of hesitant steps and running in place, we were off. Establishing my pace was relatively easy; I conquered that first incline through Squirrel Hill, hitting the first mile marker at just over nine minutes. 

People in the neighborhoods en route gathered on sidewalks to cheer as we ran past. Some cheered for family or friends; others were indiscriminate with their cheering and heartened the whole of us, telling us to keep going. Music faded in and out as we pushed onward; we were greeted by sound systems blasting “Eye of the Tiger” and collections of instrumentalists playing everything from college fight songs to the Rocky theme song. 

Going down Forbes Avenue into the Carnegie Mellon campus is when the rain began. By the time I was halfway down Fifth Avenue in the Pitt campus, I was soaked. It wasn’t a downpour, but it was steady enough and cold enough to affect me. My hands were numb by the time I passed Carlow University and reached the aid station on the Boulevard of the Allies; I couldn’t grip the cup of water to drink it.

I had been warned about the last hill. It was waiting for me at mile five in the Duquesne University campus. A bystander held a sign: “It’s just a hill: GET OVER IT!” I laughed and pushed forward.
The course literally is downhill from there. I ran cautiously not only because I was tired, but also because the sharp grade of that last hill, leading me down into Point State Park, could hurt me if I let it. With my feet slapping the wet pavement, I cruised down that final hill and reached the festivities in the park. (I have never seen so many umbrellas in one place!) Once I sensed that I was back on semi-level ground, I recognized the urge to run faster and sprinted for the finish line.

There is nothing like finishing a race. Finishing a race—crossing the finish line after enduring the trials of the course—is always my goal. I cross that line in my mind a hundred times because visualizing myself there, doing what I want to do, is what helps me make it a reality. When I crossed the finish line in Point State Park at the 2012 Great Race 10K, I smiled. I was drenched, exhausted, sore, hungry, cold, and desperately in need of a dry pair of socks, but I smiled.

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