The inaugural Liberty Mile: a review of Pittsburgh's first road mile race, a great community event

Franklin's race number and Bikila LS shoes

Tonight I was really excited to race in, and also watch, the inaugural GNC Live Well Liberty Mile, a road race that runs along Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, starting from the Strip District and ending downtown.

It’s about time Pittsburgh had a road mile race! Pittsburgh already has the wonderful

I hope this event is here to stay. Here’s my report on the event as both a runner and a spectator.

My history in the mile

I’ve run a mile race only twice before in my life, and that was on the track at Carnegie Mellon University. A decade ago, in June 2002, I ran in my first track mile, the Pittsylvania Mile on that track, and did it in 6:22. I could have run faster, but because of total inexperience, went out way too fast for the first quarter, doing it in 1:22, and paying the price in the other laps.

The following year, 2003, in probably my peak condition in my life, I improved, doing the Pittsylvania Mile in 6:10. I still went out too fast, in 1:26, had no sense of rhythm, slowed down a lot to try to compensate for going out too fast, then had too much energy at the end, which was wasted. Again, I had not trained for the mile distance at all, but happened to be in my peak condition anyway just because I was still conditioned from my intense training for the Pittsburgh Marathon that I had just done in May (my lifetime personal best in the 5K of 20:37 was achieved just two weeks after the Pittsburgh Marathon).

So I never broke a 6-minute mile during my peak.

That was the last timed mile I ever ran, until tonight.


Again, I wasn’t prepared for the mile at all. Apart from not having run much because of a non-running injury to my left leg that happened a month ago (from which I have fully recovered), I have just come back from a week of unexpected travel and am still kind of recovering from that. And no speed work to speak of in the past month, other than a few random sprints (which I do for general physical conditioning when I don’t do much else).

I had no idea what “mile pace” feels like. I just figured I would run a bit faster than 5K pace (which I always have a reasonable feel for).

I hoped to finish somewhere near 6:30.

Dr. Vonda Wright

Vonda Wright

I bumped into Dr. Vonda Wright while heading toward the start line, and thanked her for her support of those of us who care about maintaining our health as we get older. I want to plug her great work in promoting lifetime fitness, especially for those over 40. She has written a book “Fitness After 40” which is pretty good and has a lot of scientifically-backed tips on remaining strong and vital and even reversing what used to be considered “normal aging”.

I heard about Dr. Wright from a CMU “healthy campus week” talk she gave this January. Even though I had already known some of what she advocated, I was impressed that she summarized well the whole gamut of what we now know to be effective ways to increase strength and flexibility and avoid injury. Again, I recommend her books to anyone of any age who wants to be smart about diet and exercise and more than that, a whole philosophical approach to living in general.

The race, in waves

The race was held in waves separated by ten or twenty minutes. This is obviously necessary because of the variation in people’s speed. The slower, open waves were held first, and the elite racers were in the final waves.

Early waves

I arrived to pick up my race number when the first wave was already in progress. There was a bit of confusion in the first two waves because a good number of people arrived late or were unclear about when to run, and therefore missed the first wave. Most of these seemed to be kids. By the way, it was great to see so many kids at the Liberty Mile. Running a 5K (3.1-mile) race can be daunting for a kid, but a single mile is surely a great introduction to many kids (and adults too!) to the joy of running. I think it is really great that the Liberty Mile is not just an elite race, but also a race anyone can participate in.

My race, in the Masters wave

The Masters “Winning at 40+” wave was the first qualification-required wave.

I ran in this serious, competitive wave, not one of the open waves, because I easily qualified to run in this wave, whose requirement was proof of ability to run an 8-minute mile.

Lining up, I saw a lot of really fit-looking people in this wave, many of whom were clearly well over 40. In any case, anyone who looked anywhere near my age (42) was obviously going to kick my butt all the way to the moon. There was no chance for an age-group prize for me today! No problem: as a non-elite racer, I don’t race for prizes, but just to do the best that I can.

I ended up running 6:38.8, good for 26th place out of 27 in my age group, ha! I was disappointed that I didn’t make 6:30 as I had originally hoped when I signed up a month ago, but that’s OK.

In the first quarter, I ran 1:29; oops, went out too fast yet again! I hereby pledge that before the next mile race I run, I will actually train and learn not to go out too fast. There is no excuse for running three mile races going out too fast. I don’t go out too fast in 5K or longer distances, after all.

In the second and third quarters, 1:46 and 1:46 showed that I had gone out too fast. I did save something for the sprint finish, however, and did the final quarter in 1:38.

A serious and unexpected problem I had while running this race was that my mouth got very dry and I had trouble breathing as a result. It was pretty weird. I don’t exactly remember this in my mile races from a decade ago. I did hydrate considerably before the race.

Also, of course, as I do in 5K races, I felt like puking during the final quarter, and my arms were getting tingly and losing sensation. It’s just what happens to me in the final push. I believe there is no way to avoid feeling like puking if I’m running as hard as I can, but I have a feeling that the problem with my arms has to do with my tightening up (rather than relaxing) and flailing around. I plan to try to fix that for my next races this month and next month; what is required, clearly, is disciplined speed work, which is something I have not done in years.

Enjoying being a spectator

The really cool thing about a mile race held in waves is that you get to be a spectator for the remaining waves after you’re done. In a 5K race or longer, there aren’t any heats and you never get to be a spectator.

I was wowed watching the “Unstoppable” under-40 wave whose qualification time was running faster than 6:00. Watching good, fast running is a real pleasure to me, like watching skilled dancers.

Also a treat was getting to watch the female elite wave and male elite wave. These Olympic-caliber runners looked so elegant with their long, powerful strides.

My shoes

I’d been considering running a race soon wearing my Invisible Shoes huaraches, but without testing them out with speed work, I’m not ready to go there yet.

So I wore the shoes I’ve been road racing in for almost a full year now, the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS. They worked out just fine. I didn’t get blistered because it was cool and it was only a mile. Next month I’ll see whether I get blistered in the Great Race the way I did last year.

Race organization

I thought the race was pretty well-organized, especially given that this was the first time such a race has been held in Pittsburgh. Thanks go to the sponsors, the timers, the announcers, the volunteers who handed out race numbers and stocked water and bagels at the finish line and handed out goodie bags and T-shirts, the police officers who closed the roads and lanes where necessary and directed traffic and kept Liberty Avenue clear, the spectators who cheered, the providers of the many port-a-johns near the start line, the elite runners who put on a display of amazing running. Everyone without question was helpful and friendly. The whole experience was just wonderful.


The inaugural GNC Live Well Liberty Mile was a great event. I hope it is the beginning of a Pittsburgh tradition that, like the Great Race and the Pittsburgh Marathon, will continue for years and decades to come.

(Update of 2013-08-09)

I ran the second Liberty Mile a year later.

comments powered by Disqus