When the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania enters the conversation, a few things come to mind: The city’s bridges, its long history as the ‘Steel City,’ its sports teams and sports fans, Andy Warhol, and probably a few other things.
What does not immediately come to mind is running. The city’s hilly topography coupled with its grey and rainy climate do not scream out that Pittsburgh as a running mecca, but it is slowly and surely becoming more of one in 2022.
Pittsburgh’s Liberty Mile — which turns heads in both the Pittsburgh area and national running circuit alike — just turned ten years old. The Fleet Feet Liberty Mile ends on Pittsburgh’s Liberty Avenue, and ends with a slight downhill cutting through the heart of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.
The Liberty Mile is Pittsburgh’s answer to a summer race that will bring people out en masse, but that also won’t melt its racers.
When asked about why the Liberty Mile was in fact a mile, Run P3R’s CEO Troy Schooley explained it was about recognition and ease for all runners.
“In 2012, we wanted to create a new event that would bring a lot of excitement to our running community and be different from the typical weekend 5ks,” Schooley said.
“We thought the mile distance was perfect for showcasing top talent but also an opportunity for participants of all ages and abilities to participate.”
Schooley hit the nail on the head — not everyone wants to try their hand at a half marathon or even a 5k. In the summer, spectators won’t want to carve out half of their morning to cheer on a friend or deal with half of the city being closed for the race.
A half marathon may not excite nonchalant members of the community — but a mile?
Everyone knows the mile!
“... The mile is such a classic American distance,” Schooley said. “Even if you aren’t a runner, you understand what it means to run a mile and have a general idea of what a fast mile is.”
The impetus came from other popular road races such as the 5th Avenue Mile, but the goal was also to create a party-like atmosphere on the back end. This placed the Liberty Mile squarely on a Friday night. After its first year was a smashing success, it became known as a premier summer race for professional athletes and amateur athletes alike. To boot, the winner took home $5,000 on both the men’s and women’s side.
Not a bad payout for a short race.
Schooley admitted the payout is a good incentive to come to Pittsburgh, but the buck doesn’t stop there. “We put a lot of care in our elite athlete program and really focus on giving our athletes a wonderful experience while they are in Pittsburgh,” Schooley explained. “The money is one of the top purses in the country, and coupled with the hospitality, it’s one of the best races in the circuit.”
After a couple of tweaks and changes to the course, factoring in Pittsburgh traffic and viewer visibility, the Liberty Mile’s now-familiar horseshoe course has come to be a mainstay. Excited spectators can watch the runners take off at the start, and only need to cross one block to get situated at the finish line.
From there it’s a waiting game, until little specks slowly become bigger and bigger and you can figure out just who is kicking for home in front. The excitement builds from the finish line, and the cheers get louder and louder as the runners get closer to the end.
The first wave of cheers from the 1200 meter mark ignites a roar among all those watching, as they know firsthand who is in front and that it’s going to be close coming down to the finish. The mile also makes for spectacular drama. There is such little time to create separation, and with the perfectly staggered and equally competitive heats, almost every race has a photo finish.
The immediate-classic race of 2021 comes to mind, with Vincent Ciattei out-kicking Craig Engels, Colby Alexander, and Craig Nowak in dramatic fashion to win the men’s race. The same thing happened in 2022, with Ciattei reigning champion over previous winner and former Olympian Ben Blankenship. Ciattei, Blankenship and fellow pro Kasey Knevelbaard all ran 4:04, but Ciattei took home the biggest prize.
On the women’s side of racing, the running household name of Nikki Hiltz took down a fast-charging Emily Lipari and they had to fight tooth-and-nail to earn their $5,000 prize as well. Both Hiltz and Lipari ran 4:28, and just like the men’s race, it came down to a matter of inches.
Thankfully there is a good purse for all of the podium athletes, and a 15-rack of Pittsburgh Brewing Company’s Iron City Light was quickly placed into the hands of all who earned a spot on the podium.
It is a party in downtown Pittsburgh, after all!
The focus of the Liberty Mile began as a chance to bring the community together to support running more, and in such a rich sports town such as Pittsburgh, to have a race where the community can focus on and cheer for the fastest runners in the country shows that the fans love amazing competition, no matter the sport.
As Schooley explained, P3R has a distinct focus that it adheres to, and it is kept in mind when putting on the Liberty Mile. “P3R’s mission is to inspire any and all to move, and we love that this event makes it so fun to run,” Schooley said proudly.
The Liberty Mile has made its way onto many professional and amateur runners’ bucket lists, and that was evident in 2022. With three former US Olympians and both 2022 US Road Mile champions making their way here during the World Championships, the draw to Liberty is real.
After another successful year, organizers will lie dormant for a little while, before the planning ramps up to make 2023’s race even better than the last.