I generally prefer to run two goal races per year. Having qualified for the 2019 New York City Marathon, I searched for a race that would mean just as much to me but took place in the spring.
That’s when I came across the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. It was almost exactly six months before the New York City Marathon, which would give me enough time to train for each and rest in between. Plus, I had visited Pittsburgh many times before, and it is on my shortlist of favorite U.S. cities. Really, I’ll take any excuse to visit a city that boasts a signature sandwich consisting of grilled meat, melted cheese, coleslaw and French fries between two thick slices of Italian bread.
But during these past two weeks, while I’ve been training for the race, the real, deeper reason of why I decided to run the Pittsburgh Marathon started to surface.
Though my dad grew up in New Jersey in the 1970s, he grew attached to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a child. He idolized linebacker Jack Lambert and his toughness. I grew up in the 1990s and listened to his tall tales of that era of Steelers football. Lambert was a real-life Paul Bunyan figure in my life, but I also grew up watching some tough players during that time, too: Rod Woodson, Levon Kirkland, and later on, Hines Ward, among others.
When I visited the city for the first time as a college student, I clearly saw that Pittsburgh is one of the few cities in this country where the sports teams act as a perfect representation for the city’s identity. Tough, hard-working and resilient, but friendly and family oriented at the core — which are also traits essential to a great runner.
The city is home to two major athletes (Mario Lemieux and James Conner) who have conquered Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The late Dan Rooney, while owner of the Steelers, used to walk to their home games and operated the team with the same family values as the owner of a “mom and pop shop.” Not to mention the other countless Pittsburghers tougher than the steel forged in the city years ago or the recent events that have given new meaning to the term “Pittsburgh strong.”
My recent ten-mile training run took me to a point along the Hudson River, where the Twin Towers used to stand just across from it. It made me think about the other runners who are also training for the same marathon, many of them who participated in P3R’s official Kickoff Training Run on January 5. I think about the question that always circles my head: “Why?” Specifically, “Why Pittsburgh, out of so many other marathons?”
The City of Pittsburgh has only been healing for a few short months from a senseless tragedy. While many only offer their thoughts and prayers, I want to do more. Running 26.2 miles might not solve this country’s problems, but maybe doing it alongside runners of all skin colors, religions, races and sexual orientations is a good start. This is arguably one of Pittsburgh’s most important marathons since its return in 2009, and I needed to be a part of it.
Because being “Pittsburgh strong” is more than just playing through injuries like Rod Woodson did in the Steelers’ biggest game in 1995. It is more than fighting against hitting that proverbial wall during mile twenty of a marathon. Roberto Clemente, right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-1972, was “Pittsburgh strong.” Despite having to battle racism and prejudice his entire career, he spent every offseason involved in charity work.
As I ran through a memorial in Liberty State Park that honors all of those that lost their lives on September 11, 2001, I realized one undeniable fact. Tragedy is what binds us.
We are connected through our struggles — both our internal demons and sometimes those of the outside world. This relationship transcends time and space. All humans throughout history have been faced with their share of adversity and tragedy.
But it is our love that is a beacon of light in that darkness.
And for many of us, myself included, love takes the form of long-distance running. It is the love and admiration we have for fellow runners we wave hello to during our morning runs. It is the love and support from our family and friends that honor our sacrifice and help us reach our goals. And it is the love we have for ourselves that urge us to strive for something more in our lives.
From May 3-5, 2019, tens of thousands of runners and spectators will pour into Pittsburgh for race weekend. But it is bigger than just the City of Pittsburgh, which is precisely why l am making the trek from New Jersey. The city needs us now more than ever. Running 26.2 miles might not solve this country’s problems, but maybe we can show, like Roberto Clemente did, that love conquers hate. Because living in New Jersey — in the shadow the Twin Towers used to occupy — I learned that while tragedy may bind us, love is bigger than anything in its way.
I cannot wait to experience race weekend with the people of Pittsburgh, as well as fellow out-of-towners. With a marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, 5K, one-mile kids marathon, toddler trot and even a pet walk, there is quite literally a race for everybody. There simply is no excuse not to get involved. It is our chance to show that the love that unites us is strong as steel and tougher than the hate that tries to divide us.
I hope to see you at the starting line!
Visit the ‘Burgh Blog each month for more training tips and tricks from Armando Martinez and the other 2019 Official Bloggers! You can also follow along as Armando trains for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon on his blog Barefoot BF.