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Local group helps runners achieve goals

By Connor Mulvaney

Point Park News Service

The thermometer read 29 degrees for the Steel City Road Runners Club’s February Spring Race Series, but the clock measured a personal record for Jeffrey Eaton.

Lori Gephart also set a personal record, who enjoyed the accomplishment with her husband.

Photo by Connor Mulvaney  A member of the Steel City Road Runners club runs along River Avenue on the North Side during the group’s February Spring Race Series 5k run on Feb. 3.
Photo by Connor Mulvaney
A member of the Steel City Road Runners club runs along River Avenue on the North Side during the group’s February Spring Race Series 5k run on Feb. 3.

Despite Eaton and Lori reaching admirable goals, this 5k is only the beginning of their training.

“[SCRR] is a place where there’s people of all backgrounds and skill levels running together.  We have a training program that caters to all different skill levels,” said SCRR coach Jon Kissel.  “We have lots of runners that are attempting a distance for the first time, and there are all kinds of mistakes that runners can make when they’re training on their own.  [We] are able to guide newer runners into avoiding those mistakes.”

Steel City Road Runners was formed last year by Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, Inc. to not only train marathoners, but to also educate them in nutrition, injury prevention and sports psychology.  The group was created in 2008 with the mission to revive the Pittsburgh Marathon. The race lost sponsorship by UPMC as well as services provided by the city of Pittsburgh, which caused the event to be dormant from 2004 until 2009.

Starting over hasn’t been a tough burden, according to Pittsburgh Marathon Race Director Patrice Matamoros.

“The previous marathon had a really strong existence.  It was an Olympic trial and they did a great job with it, so bringing it back was a good thing because everyone came together and said ‘yes, finally, let’s do it,’” Matamoros said.

However, the running world changed while the Pittsburgh Marathon was away. Marathons are no longer a challenge only for professional athletes.  Amateurs now challenge themselves to race 26.2 miles as well.

“[The challenging part] was really trying to figure out what the needs are for today’s races and the [medical needs of runners] and types of runners [competing] are totally different than it was eight years ago,” Matamoros said.

The group meets three days a week in the Pittsburgh area, often starting runs at their headquarters on the North Shore.  These runs include workouts focusing on hills, speed and distance, all coordinated by Kissel.

In addition to creating the workouts for the club, Kissel advises runners on avoiding marathon training pitfalls.  Doing too much too soon is the most common.

“When the first week of January hit, runners wanted to run as hard as they could and as fast as they could because they’re excited, but the race is four months away,” explained Kissel. “So the challenge is to get runners to be patient and not run too hard in the first couple of weeks even though they have all this excitement.”

In order to progress in marathon training slow running must be mixed with fast running, according to Kissel.  Athletes must adhere to training plans that mix speed and distance to avoid injuries and fatigue.

The competitors’ excitement for running is reciprocated by the coordinators of the SCRR in the form of motivation and lessons in running.

It was out of this excitement for running and understanding of runners’ needs that SCRR was formed.  The marathon has grown modestly since its return in 2009, expecting about 30,000 people to participate in the marathon, half-marathon, relay, 5k and kids’ race this spring.  The SCRR has grown as well in the year since its creation, first attracting 20-30 people to runs, and now drawing 200-500 runners for races and events, according to Matamoros.

Eaton was one of the few who ran with SCRR from the beginning.  He started running 2011 to help his wife train for the marathon relay.  He decided to run the marathon weekend 5k that year, his first race ever.

“I got something in the mail from [SCRR] because I had signed up for the 5k and said ‘sure, what the heck, I’ll sign up and find some more people to run with’,” said Eaton.  “It’s a lot easier to train on longer runs when you have someone there running with you instead of running by yourself.”

Eaton narrowly missed his goal time for the half marathon last year by 14 seconds.  This year, he aims for the same goal and is on the right track after beating his 5k record at the Spring Race Series.

Personal record setting was a theme for the SCRR’s first race of the year.  Lori Gephart also beat her best time that day.  Lori began running two years ago with colleagues at work and registered for the half marathon at the 2011 Great Race, a large local 5k and 10k race.  Although she was a new runner, she committed to the half marathon to motivate herself to train.

“Last year when I first started training I tried doing it more on my own and ended up [injured] because I over-trained,” Lori said.

Although she was hindered by a stress reaction last year, Lori plans to finish the half marathon without walking this year with the help of SCRR.

“This year I’m doing it all through Steel City Road Runners and I have no pain, and I’m improving on my endurance, on my time, everything,” said Lori.  “The camaraderie is second to none,” she added.

The companionship shared by these runners is almost a necessity for marathon training, especially for distance runs that may take several hours.

“It’s a lot easier to train on longer runs when you have someone there running with you instead of running by yourself,” said Lori’s husband Keith.

Motivation and support is not in short supply in the SCRR.  Keith began running after watching his wife and daughter run the Great Race.

“I can’t be just a spectator,” Keith said to himself after the 2011 Great Race.  “So I started running too. I ran a couple 5k’s and I was hooked.”

Keith ran the half marathon last year and aims to complete the full this year.  He largely attributes his drive to achieve his goals to the SCRR.

“If I didn’t have these training runs with this group, I wouldn’t be doing it.  It’d be too easy to quit,” said Keith.  “Because we’re in this group and they have all these races and have all these different things we keep doing it.”

It is goal-oriented runners like Keith, Lori and Jeffrey that Steel City Road Runners was made for.

“I usually accomplish something and say ‘what’s next?’ I gotta do something else.” said Keith.  “If there’s a challenge, I’m going to meet it.”

The challenges of running a marathon come in steps, and according to Kissel this group is beginning to hit their stride.

“What we’re seeing already [is] the progression of these runners,” said Kissel.  “They’re posting online after their run how excited they are.  They post a picture of their Garmin watch that shows their finish time, their average pace, things like that, so we see them gradually building to eventually race day.”

The Steel City Road Runners offer anyone interested in the group a free 30 day trial of the club, and charge $30 for a year long membership.  A calendar of the group’s events and more information can be found at

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