Last Sunday 30,000 runners filled the streets of Pittsburgh for the marathon, the half marathon and relay teams. An early part of the 26.2-mile course winds through the North Side on East Ohio Street, Allegheny Commons, and Western Avenue, where neighbors turn out to support runners.
While hundreds cheer and party along the sidelines, a few hit the pavement. Two Allegheny City Central runners shared their marathon experiences with us.
For Jason Owens, this year’s marathon held personal significance. It marked the five-year anniversary of his first visit to Pittsburgh. Two years later, he would make the city his home.
Owens and Vince Salvino of Monterey Street have been running partners for six years. The weekend before the marathon, Owens suffered his first running-related injury, a pulled Achilles tendon. Not wanting to let Salvino – or himself – down, he nursed his injury and pressed on.
On race morning, with Owens’ ankle “wrapped like a Christmas present,” the two headed downtown. Not knowing if his heel would hold out, Owens says the marathon was more emotional than any previous run. He admits he struggled at times. As he approached the halfway point, he faced a critical decision: to complete the half marathon, or go the distance.
“The split came around mile 12 where half-marathoners go left across the bridge and full marathoners continue on the right,” Owens recalls. “My heel and left hip, from compensating, were screaming to stop. But this is where I realized it’s all mental.”
By mile 19, Owens says, knowing you’re only a few miles from the finish gives you a much-needed boost.
“I think this was Vince’s favorite part,” he continues. “Mentally you are in a happy place where you feel on top of the world. At mile 23 you’re cursing every stinking hill in Pittsburgh.”
From there it was all downhill. Owens and Salvino fed on the energy from the crowd and continued to the finish line.
“I can’t stress enough what spectators and volunteers mean to me when I reach those walls. Their encouraging words and signs help you to dig deep and keep moving,” says Owens.
“And the people who are out there running with handicaps and for people who have lost their lives – it’s an amazing feeling to be part of that.”
Sunday was the third time Terry Wiezorek of Buena Vista Street ran in the Pittsburgh half marathon. Over the past five years, she’s also run half marathons in Pittsburgh’s North Park, in Boulder, Colorado, and in San Francisco, California. In 2013 she completed the Freedom’s Run Marathon in West Virginia, her first and only full marathon to date.
According to Wiezorek, runners in Pittsburgh’s marathon love the North Side section of the course because of the incredible crowd support.
“Rain or shine, the course is lined with people cheering for everyone,” she says. “Seeing my family and friends in West Park is always a boost.”
Wiezorek and her children, Matthias and Anna, are part of Paws Over Pittsburgh, the charity team of the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center. Paws has about 400 runners participating in events including the Pet Walk, Kids Marathon, 5k, relay, half and full marathon. Their goal, says Wiezorek, is to raise $150,000, making it the largest fundraiser of the year.
On Saturday, Matthias and Anna ran in the children’s race from the North Shore to the marathon finish line. This was the fourth time they took part in the marathon’s Kids of Steel program.
Wiezorek plans to run the full Pittsburgh marathon next year. In September, she’ll run in the Air Force Marathon in Ohio.
Photo Credits: Bernadette Mydlowski & Judy Melvin