Yesterday I ran the Pittsburgh Pirates Home Run 5K. If my last race, the Just a Short Run Half Marathon, was a case study in how a bad attitude could negatively affect a race, this race was a case study in the power of a positive attitude.
After the half marathon, I didn’t want to race anymore, maybe not ever. But I’d already signed up for this race with my friend Anna. Reader Tanya had sent me this article on how a positive attitude can affect running and racing. (Thank you again, Tanya!)
I’m usually a very positive person and am a firm believer in the idea that you attract what you put out into the universe (as cheesy as that sounds). So to fail so monumentally in having a positive attitude in my last race really disappointed me. After so many races that didn’t go well, I think it’s just hard for me to break out of my “I suck at races” mentality, which obviously makes me not think positively about races.
When I first remembered I had this 5K on my calendar, my thoughts immediately turned negative. Ugh. Why did I sign up for it? I don’t want to do it!
But then I realized I could use this race to practice having a positive attitude about races. So that was my main goal for this race–to have a positive attitude before, during, and after. I worked at it all week. Every day I thought of the race in a positive light. I told my friends I was excited about it. I emailed Anna and told her I was looking forward to it. I imagined race day over and over, imagined me being happy and having fun and ultimately having a good race. My thoughts became reality, because by race day I was genuinely excited about the race, looking forward to it, and feeling like I’d have a good race.
I met Anna near the trail early, and we jogged to the start line at PNC Park, the Pirates’ stadium. It was 46 degrees but really chilly until we started running. It was perfect weather for a race! The race started at 7:30 a.m., but we wanted to get there a bit early. There were plenty of porta-potties with no lines. We had already picked up our bibs, but it looked like no lines at packet pickup.
This is a very popular race, and I’d heard horror stories about how crowded it is. So I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to run. My other goal for the race was to run my best effort and practice being comfortable with being uncomfortable, especially in a crowded race.
New this year there was a 10K option, so there were a sea of runners at the starting line. We lined up with the 9:30 pacers. The pacers came from the Steel City Road Runners group, and I knew one of them from a previous group run, so I chatted with them a bit. Then I started getting nervous. I’ve run a 9:30 pace in a 5K exactly once, and that was after nearly a year of trying to break 30 minutes in 2014. But Anna talked me down. “No one’s going to make us run the whole race with these pacers!” she reminded me. That calmed me down. What was the worst that could happen if I started with the 9:30 pacer? I’d slow down. Oh well! I kept reminding myself that all I needed to do was try my best.
I’ve never run this race, but apparently they changed the course. PNC Park is across the river from Downtown Pittsburgh. The course started at the stadium, went over a bridge into Downtown, did a short loop, went across another bridge back to the North Shore, down onto the river trail towards Heinz Field, the Steelers’ stadium, around Heinz Field, and then back to PNC Park, ending inside the stadium. Races on the trail can be really crowded because the trail is narrow, so I was happy a lot of the course was on streets to let runners fan out.
There was a staggered start, where one or two pace groups would be released, followed by a wait of a few minutes before the next pace groups were released. With the course and the staggered start, crowding wasn’t really an issue. It was tight in places, but I was never jostled the whole time like I’ve been in other races.
Mile 1: 9:26
Finally our pace group was released, and I immediately got around a few people to stay close to the pacer. Anna didn’t make it around the other people, so she was running close behind me the whole time. I had my MP3 player and immediately started my music. I had made a playlist–another thing to try to get me excited. I recently watched the movie Straight Outta Compton and had downloaded Nuthin but a G Thang. (Note to show my age: I had to do a search for “What is a g thang?”) This was the first time using the playlist feature on my MP3 player, and I must have set it wrong up, because I had Nuthin but a G Thang on repeat. I didn’t want to fiddle with my player, so I listened to that one song most of the race. Ha!
That first mile I was just focused on staying with the pacer. The pace felt almost easy, but I tried not to think about how the pace felt. The only time the pace felt a little challenging was when we went up the incline on the bridges, but I was still able to stick to the pacer. It helped that he kept looking around to see who in his group was keeping up. That motivated me to stick with him.
Mile 2: 9:28
In the second mile, the pace still felt good. Not super easy, but not super hard either. What?! Again, I tried not to think about how I was feeling and to just follow the pacer. At the end of that mile we started up the only real “hill” on the course, which is pretty short and not very steep. But it was enough to tire me and make me drop back from the pacer as we started the third mile.
Mile 3: 9:36
We started around Heinz Field, and I slowed up. The pacer was farther away from me, but I could still see him. I felt like I was slowing a lot and looked at my watch the only time during the race. It showed I was running a 9:36 pace, which surprised me. That motivated me to keep my foot on the gas. People were slowing around me, and while I really wanted to slow down with them, I kept pushing and passed some people. I knew we were close as we were approaching PNC Park so just focused on pushing. Finally, we went into a sort of tunnel to go into the stadium, and I knew the finish line was just ahead.
Last .18: 10:37
Except the finish line wasn’t just ahead. We went through the tunnel and into the stadium, and I saw the finish line was all the way on the other side of the stadium. Dammit! As my pace showed, I didn’t have much left in the tank. I was pretty much dying at this point, I was wheezing like I was going to keel over, and I slowed down a lot. We ran on the outside of the field in the dirt area, and I have to admit it was pretty cool to run around the stadium. Finally, right before the finish line, I saw Anna surge past me! That motivated me to pick it up, and we surged together and crossed the finish line 1 second apart.
Per my Garmin, I ran 3.18 miles in 30:24 for a 9:35 pace. Official results are 30:23 for a 9:48 pace. I finished 991 out of 1,990 runners and 43 out of 193 in my age group. I’m thrilled! I haven’t done any speed training, and this is the pace I did when I was training hard for a 5K PR two years ago. My last 5K was last June, and I struggled to hold on to the 10:00 pacer and finished in 32:01 for a 10:02 pace with no 5K training. I’m beyond happy that I ran so well in this race with no 5K training. I have to believe my positive attitude helped! And it’s also good to see that my fitness level is pretty good following my half marathon training.
After we crossed the finish line, we followed the crowd and were instructed to keep moving so there wouldn’t be a gridlock in the stadium. We walked around the outside of the stadium to the post-race party on the other side of the stadium on a closed street. We got our medals then saw the incredible spread of food. There were hot dogs, Chick-fil-A sandwiches, pretzels, potato chips, snack mix, Eat-N-Park smiley cookies, bananas, Dunkin Donuts donuts, and water and Gatorade.
Swag & Organization
You get a lot for your race fee, including a tech short-sleeve tee (that’s actually cute!), a medal (everyone in the 5K, 10K, and 1-mile kids’ run got the same one), a free ticket for a Pirates game that weekend, and a BOGO ticket voucher for another Pirates game in the summer. Between all the goodies, finishing inside the stadium, and the finish line food, I can see why this race is so popular!
The race organizers did a great job of keeping the course crowd under control with the staggered start and race course that wasn’t on the most narrow part of the trail. This is a great race, and I’d definitely do it again!
There’s always something to learn in a race. My big takeaway from this race was the power of a positive attitude. I really believe that helped me run a good race! I also learned to double-check my MP3 player to make sure it’s set up right before I start. Doh! And this race also gave me something tangible to work on this spring–finishing strong and fast!