Running My Ninth Pittsburgh Great Race 10K: Blistered but Blissful in the 'Burgh

I’m temporarily using a walking stick right now, because of bad blisters I got on my right foot this morning. But I am very happy today, and it was a Great day in the ‘Burgh.

Franklin finishing Great Race 10K (photo by Abby)

Franklin giving it all he has

Franklin crossing finish line

Franklin over finish line

Franklin stopping his watch

I have now run the Pittsburgh Great Race 10K nine times now, beginning in 2000: I have only missed 2003 (the year it was canceled), 2009, and 2010. I have run it in all kinds of conditions (both in terms of weather and my physical state). There is no other race I have run for so many years, so it is always special to me.

But beyond that, today’s race was special because Abby participated in it, for the first time. She did not run the 10K, but did run the 5K (and took the photo of me above nearing the finish line). She just started running in races with me this year, and I am very proud of her for getting into running! Having once been a non-runner, it gives me great pleasure to encourage others to take up this wonderful form of exercise.

Abby in Oakland before Great Race 5K start

Of course, right after catching my breath and finding Abby, my first instinct was to ask her, “Where are the Smiley Cookies?” I limped over to pick one up, even as sweat was still dripping down my face, and eagerly gobbled it!

Franklin with Smiley Cookie after race


The Great Race is a wonderful Pittsburgh tradition. It is not only thrilling to be on the Boulevard of the Allies heading downtown getting a fine view of our city (although the uphill during mile 5 of the race is admittedly tough), but the sight of so many people participating in this event is heartwarming.

My Great Race stats

I was also very happy about my finish time. I had a plan to break 48:00 this year, and I succeeded handily (all times mentioned are “chip times”, not “gun times”). My time was, of course, not one of my fastest times in this race (my fastest time was 42:49 nine years ago), but it was faster than my time in 2008. The last three years of my life have been very tough for me physically, so I have enjoyed starting to get back into shape this year.

Here’s my record in the Great Race 10K over the years:

Year Chip time Comment
2000 53:53 First time ever ran more than 3 miles continuously at all!
2001 45:02 Lost weight, trained seriously.
2002 42:49 Trained really hard.
2003 (not held)
2004 45:36 Very sick, but was preregistered, and didn’t want to break tradition.
2005 46:49 Was too busy to train.
2006 46:55 Again untrained. Slower and slower.
2007 47:11 Not trained at all; extreme pain halfway, but kept going.
2008 49:12 Not trained at all, left shin hurting, unmotivated.
2009 (did not run) Too untrained to even think of running.
2010 (did not run) Too untrained to even think of running.
2011 47:46 Lightly trained, but put in a genuine effort on race day.

Details of the race

My splits (for each mile, then the final 0.22 mile) are below. I tried to run an even effort (till the final mile, when I simply tried to keep going hard despite the pain), accounting for the changes in elevation.

One trick I try to use in a race is to pick someone ahead of me who is running just a bit faster than what I feel I can hold, and see if I can slowly catch up (and maybe overtake eventually). In the Great Race, this is hard to do because there are so many runners, and people starting at different times, so there is always a lot of passing and slowing down going on, unlike in smaller races where things get spread out and you know people are basically running at the pace they can hold.

I have to work harder in these big races to maintain my own sense of pace. I do this by “feel”: having run in races from a mile up to the marathon, I know what a sustainable pace feels like. 5K pace gives me a burning, pukey sensation, for example, while half-marathon pace is not at all pukey. 10K pace is in between: uncomfortable but tolerable, till the final mile when I just do whatever I can without completely falling apart.

Don Slusser

I think it was after around two miles that I noticed ahead of me Don Slusser, a local legend in the running scene. OK, he is not at all what he used to be, and has had a lot of knee surgeries, but still, I felt it was an honor to be see him out there still running.

As long as Don was still ahead of me, he was going to be my target. He pulled away from me slightly over the next three miles, but was always in my sight. So in the final mile, I finally blasted past him. Then somehow he passed me at one point downtown, and that pushed me to pick up the pace again and finish ahead of him.

After he finished, I went up to him and shook his hand. He probably has no idea who I am or why I respect him or how he helped provide focus for me in my own attempt to run as well as I could today, but what can I say, it was a spontaneous gesture on my part. I salute you, Don: you and your wife Tammy have done much for the Pittsburgh running community and I am grateful for that.

A note on shoes

This is the second race in which I’ve run in my Bikila LS shoes (the first race was three days ago). Unfortunately, these shoes tend to give me blisters if I run over three miles and fast. I’ve run a slow eight miles before without blisters, but going fast, and in warm weather, my feet sweat and chafing happens. These shoes are nice but have a ventilation problem. I have never had any problems with my KSO Trek shoes that I use for trail running and hiking.

You can see in the photo above that Abby wore her KomodoSport LS shoes in the race. Wearing Vibram FiveFingers shoes for walking, hiking, and running has really improved our lives. (More on that in a later blog post.)

Photo update on September 28, 2011

Some official photos from Island Photography have appeared online. I have to confess that my original plan was to try to spot the cameras and try to look good for any photos of me that might be taken. Unfortunately, I was in such pain in the final mile of the race that I had tunnel vision and could not really perceive anything.

I’ve added some of these photos to the beginning of this blog post.

(Update of 2012-09-30)

The following year, I ran in the Great Race again.

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