On Friday I headed for my first visit to the Steel City. Having never been to Pittsburgh before I did not know what to expect. The vision I did have was of a typical former industrial town. One that has lost much of its former glory as the industries that were the driving forces of the economy had moved away. What I did find was a vibrant city with a bustling city center. After my plane ride and arrival to the hotel, I took a stroll through the business district and ended up at Point State Park. Point State Park is situated at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to form the Ohio River. For nearly three centuries, this area has been strategically important. It started during the French and Indian War (1756-63) when the British attacked Fort Duquesne (Current sight of Point State Park). After the Revolutionary War, Pittsburgh became one of the most important producers of metals, like iron, brass, tin, and eventually steel. It still is an important hub of transportation and production for the United States and the Ohio Valley specifically.
Also walking around I could see how hilly the area was. Directly behind our hotel there was a cliff, which would have a fantastic view of the city. I said would have because I was not able to go up and whiteness it. But within the city, the streets rolled up and down. This made me excited to run on those streets, as I tend to run well on hilly courses.
On Saturday morning, I typically try to run the course, but with no tour guide and the warning that the course would have many stoplights and few sidewalks I ended up running with the local running club. Just like ZAP camps, it is always nice to talk to other runners, especially who do it more as a “hobby.” I only say “hobby” for lack of a better word, because they are just as passionate, if not more so, about the sport, but work a fulltime job. Talking with people who love to run helps instill in me an enjoyment of the sport.
As I mentioned above, the course is very hilly. While the hills are not long or steep, they are unrelenting. Before 7 miles, there is hardly a flat section to the course. Coming in, I had a very similar strategy to Twin Cities; let the other athletes run their legs off in the hills. The only difference is that Pete gave me permission to risks earlier in the race. He said if the pace had dragged the first 6 miles, I could go from there. Basically Pete was giving me more freedom to use my racing instincts.
With the first 7 miles being the hardest section of the course, the pace was moderate. The first four miles were around 4:45 min/per mile (19:03). A few people had made surges, but nothing that was not quickly reeled in, but that all changed in the fifth mile. Geoffrey Kenisi, from Kenya, threw in a massive surge on a downhill portion. Kenyans love to throw in big surges and then settle back to pace (here is a great example of that). Often run away from everyone while doing that, getting just far enough ahead that they cannot be caught. Knowing that sometimes the person who makes that move does not come back to the main field, I made the choice to go with him. We ended up running around a 4:20 mile from four to five, crossing 5 in 23:24. That was 20 seconds quicker than Twin Cites!
Knowing that Geoffrey’s surge could not last, I only had to wait it out. Eventually he slowed down, and I stayed tucked in behind him, much to his chagrin. I think he was hoping that I would continue with his surge so we could pull farther away from the rest of the field. He continued to surge over the next few miles, especially when we could hear another runner’s footsteps behind us. Every time he would try to pull away, I would match it and eventually I started to get anxious and began to pull even with him on occasion.
Around the 8 mile mark there are several turns in the course. Over a short half mile stretch, we made six turns, and I noticed that Geoffrey was struggling around the turns and I took advantage of two quick turns, surging out of them. From there it was a mile and a half to the finish along Liberty Ave. There was also a stiff head wind, so I just put my head down and drove to the finish. With a half mile to go, Liberty Ave. made a slight turn, and the finish came into view. But with that slight direction change, the headwind became much stiffer. From there I put my head down even more and pushed to the finish. With a quarter mile to go, Mourad Marafit appeared just over my shoulder, and that sudden appearance gave me a bit of a surprise and I was able to put one more surge to pull away.
Coming into the race I knew that I had a chance to win. The EQT Pittsburgh had assembled a fantastic field, including international athletes, but I had a great race at the TC 10 Mile and was just as fit, if not fitter. With that in mind, I ran with confidence at the front.
One thing that was much different about this race compared to the Twin Cites 10 Mile is that there was an international field in the race. This significantly changed how the race was run. At Twin Cities, the pace was honest from the gun, gradually increasing as the race progressed. I feel like this is a very “American” way of running. It is the simplest way to run fast. But running is not always about running fast. I feel that most of the international athletes, especially the Kenyans, understand this. This leads to them throwing in surges early and often, which is what happened in Pittsburgh. After the first mile, there was a constant barrage of surges from different athletes, and it was the fifth mile in around 4:20 that really broke open the race. Even after that fast mile, Geoffrey was still throwing in surges trying to drop me. This is a completely different type of racing that I have really experienced this fall and I had a feeling coming into the race that it might be run this way. With one of my goals for the fall to become a better instinctive racer, this was a good test, to which I feel I passed.
For this race, Pete gave me more freedom to use my race instincts than my three previous races. While I was running for the win, there was less pressure on winning as it was not a US Championship. I feel that I have grown as a racer over the last few years. Every race, and some more than others, has taught me something about how my best way to compete in races. My biggest lesson this year came at USA’s when I led for nearly ten laps, when I would have been much better suited to hang back and let the pace drag. The (disappointing) result has been the driving force of my tactics this fall. I have begun to see I have many tools that others lack. I have good foot speed as seen in breaking 4 minutes in the mile and a strong aerobic engine that allowed me to run 2:13 for the marathon. Now I just need to put them together to figure out the best way to be competitive and win races.
Before signing off, I have to give a big thanks out to the EQT Pittsburgh 10 Mile staff. They did a fantastic job organizing the event. The elite field was very good, the staff knew what they were doing, and the event went off without a foreseeable hitch. Unfortunately things do happen, and I would like to send my condolences to the family of Michael Kovacic. He passed away after collapsing at the finish line. Donations to his memorial fun can be made here.