Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hell on Hills 5K Recap

My friend sent me the link to this inaugural 5K a few months back. At the time I was still undecided on whether or not I would run a fall half marathon. I wavered back and forth for a month or two, but finally decided I wasn't willing to put in the hard work to run 13.1 miles this fall. Instead, I registered for the Hell on Hills 5K.

Hell on Hills claimed to be the world's steepest 5K. And the start line was indeed at the bottom of Canton Avenue. Known by name to Pittsburghers, it's claimed to be the steepest street in the US, boasting a 37% grade, steps rather than a sidewalk, and pavement that switches to old school cobblestone halfway up.

I laid out Flat Jessie the night before - unsure how the cold temps would feel. But I made the right outfit choice.


There was no parking at the start line, as it started on a small neighborhood side street. Instead, parking was set up down the road, with a shuttle to take all the runners to packet pickup, which was offered day of only, before having runners walk up a short hill to reach the start line.

When packet pickup info went out, I saw no mention of a bag check for the start line, a big no-no in my mind since everyone would have a shirt to pick-up & this was a point to point rather than a loop course. I inquired on their FB page & suggested bag check. I had a response within the hour, and by that evening a confirmation that there WOULD be a bag check.

Packet pick-up was otherwise smooth. Though the race was small, only 230 runners, only 3 port-o-potties made for a long line at the start, so I opted to hold it. At 8:30 the announcement was made to head to the start line, about a 3 minute walk away. So, I shed my sweatshirt (in 39 degree weather mind you) and checked my bag before heading to the start line.


30 minutes later, we finally started race prep. A few last minute thank yous and thoughts from the race director, the playing of "Climb Every Mountain" en lieu of the National Anthem + a few technical difficulties. Finally, at 9:11 AM we were off!


I was a little surprised at how good I felt running up Canton Ave. After that I figured every other hill would feel like a breeze. Nope. What I failed to remember is, just after cresting Canton, just when you think it's all over, you turn the corner and an even longer hill states you down. I walked a few steps in the middle, looked at my watch at the top, and thought, oh good, only 2.8 more miles of this shit to go. 

Mile 1 : 10:27

The start of mile 2 was a steep downhill, so much so that I leaned backwards rather than forwards. I was afraid if I leaned into it my legs wouldn't be able to keep up. To gauge the steepness, this road also had stairs, rather than a sidewalk.


As we all know, what goes down, must go up. You know, the famous saying. Of course, just on the other side of the bend we found a steep 1/4 mile+ uphill.

Also, man does this elevation chart make molehills out of mountains. That shit was steep. And literally uphill both ways.


Mile 2 : 10:12

There was a small reprieve at the beginning of mile three. It felt flat at the time, but the slight downgrade explains why I was holding an 8:30 pace with no problem. Mile 3 flew by, the race director was cheering on the side of the road, and encouraged us by letting us know there was just one more hill. She lied. We round a corner - the finish line is in sight. But instead of turning to go towards it we're directed down a huge hill, that we then have to run back up. What a cruel joke.


Mile 3 : 8:32
.26 : 3:36

Final : 32:49

Finally, the finish line!


My sick new medal...and my free banana (not pictured).


It was a sick joke of a walk to pick up the shuttle, which involved some Pittsburgh stairs, and walking up a few more hills. All in all, for a first year race I thought this went pretty well. The shuttle had some kinks to be worked out. As did the finish line festival - which was not fully set up when I finished, though I finished 10+ minutes behind the overall winner. But definitely a unique race to run!

Linking up with  Marcia x Patty x Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

23 comments:

  1. That medal is awesome! And this is a race i'll never do - I give you props, girl!

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    1. Hahaha, you have to go in knowing it's just for the kicks of doing a crazy race. But that ish was HARD.

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  2. OH MY LORDDDDDDDD - those hills! Most pictures dont really show how steep hills are - these pictures make it look HORRIBLE so I imagine it was worse than this even looks.
    What a fun medal!!!!
    My shin splints hurt just talking about this post & the hills

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    1. The down was way worse than the up. I was afraid to go fast. I'm kind of like a freight train, once I get moving it's hard to slow down. I was afraid I would lose my legs and just tumble on down!

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  3. Congratulations on a strong finish on a challenging 5k!!

    I read about this somewhere on instagram, it sounds interesting! but I felt tired just thinking about it! How do you train for that? But that is a really cool medal!!

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    1. Honestly, I didn't really train any different than usual. I did some hill repeats a while back, but then just stopped. I run varied long run routes that usually have some hills thrown in, though nothing like these ones. Racing this was more to keep my lack of half marathon blues at bay.

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  4. Wow, this sounds like a tough 5k! Those hills are definitely intimidating, both the uphill and downhill. Good job on suggesting the bag check. I'm glad they took you up on that.

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    1. Me too, I was trying to figure out how the heck to run with a t-shirt if they hadn't! Guess I could have worn my hydration pack without the bladder? And stuffed it full of stuff? haha.

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  5. i don't really care about bag check but on a race that you have to do packet pickup the day of and everyone has a shirt... it seems like they absolutely would need one! i despise hills and most likely would not have done this hahaha. good job!

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    1. Exactly. I was also worried cause the start was supposed to be in the thirties, but the finish in the 50's - 60's. Like, WHAT DO I WEAR!?

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  6. What an accomplishment, Jessie! There's no time to run better than fall. Congratulations and I look forward to reading future posts from you! I'm new to your blog.

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    1. Thanks Linda! Welcome! I'm so glad you found me. :)

      Fall is definitely my favorite - and after all the summer heat it always feels so much easier too!

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  7. Wow, that course looks intense!! I've run a hilly 5K, but nothing that steep! Congrats!

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    1. It was intense, and I learned afterwards that they had to do a last minute change and take out one of the hills - so it was supposed to be even WORSE!

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  8. That sounds like a killer race. Wow. My quads are wanting to hurt after reading that.

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    1. I was definitely a little sore the next day, which is a first for me after a 5K.

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  9. Wow first of all, kudos to you for even signing up for a Race with the name "Hell on hills"..lol. I think the name alone probably scared people off! Congrats on a strong finish. I hope they work out the kinks for next year!

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    1. I hope so too, the race director already sent out an email or two after talking about next year, so sounds like there will be a round two!

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  10. Oh man this race sounds brutal. Kudos to you for running it strong!

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    1. Thanks Marcia! It was definitely a tough one!

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  11. Awesome time for that course! Not sure if you saw it but they showed it on the local news. I was looking for people I might know but didn't see anyone.

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    1. AH! I didn't see it. I may have to see if I can find it online, I did see a camera guy or two roaming around!

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  12. Girl, you are INSANE! I hateeeeeee hills and totally feel the burn after running the tiny 5km around the park by our house and that's broken up by flat areas and not all hills - I can't imagine doing this! Aye aye aye!

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