The Breakfast of Champions was the catalyst for Jeff Paladina to launch his running journey in the City of Champions.
Now, he champions the Pittsburgh Marathon, his hometown race that he will run for the 10th consecutive year this May.
A Heart for Running, a Passion for PittsburghLooking for a way to lose weight at age 30, Paladina found a discount on his Wheaties box for the Pittsburgh Race for a Cure 5K. “I had a really fun time, but I wanted to try to improve my time, so I kept signing up for 5Ks,” he recalls. “From there I progressed to 10Ks and from there, half marathons.”
Feeling like he had accomplished what he could at shorter distance, Paladina sought out another challenge: 26.2 miles.
“I didn’t follow a training plan, I just kept extending my mileage every week,” he says of his training for his first full, the Columbus Marathon in 2002. “Like a lot of beginners, I overdid it and ended up injured. I ran the marathon anyway, and hobbled sideways across the finish line. It was a miserable experience, so much so that I swore off marathons, figuring that my body wasn’t made for them, and 13.1 miles was enough exercise.”
Call it fate. Call it a mid-life crisis. Call it whatever. But Paladina was lured back into running marathons when he discovered the 2012 Charlottesville Marathon was scheduled on his 40th birthday.
“I decided to give marathons another try after not running any for almost 10 years,” he says. “I trained properly that time, and had a much better experience. Ever since then, I’ve been running multiple marathons every year. Pittsburgh will be my 16th marathon, and I am also doing Buffalo (N.Y.), Marine Corps and Rehoboth (Del.) this year.”
An affordable race with crowd support
Home is where the heart is. And Paladina’s hometown — and heart — are in Pittsburgh.
Paladina, a native of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania, now lives in the central part of the state in Harrisburg. But the city where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River is never far from his mind.
“Pittsburgh is an incredible city with so much to offer runners,” he says. “The city takes great pride in its race, and the crowds come out in droves to support the runners. The individual neighborhoods we run through have very competitive cheer competitions, and there are many bands and cheer squads. The course is incredible as we run along the three rivers and cross bridges. And it is so affordable. You are getting all the excitement of a big city race at a fraction of the cost of hassle that you get in some other cities.”
The race’s early bird registrations started this year at $65. This year, marathon participants will receive 10th anniversary pint glasses and tumblers with the marathon logo on them. Also worth noting, he says, Pittsburgh allows bib transfers, “so even this late in the game you can pick up a great deal on a bib.”
Paladina recommends booking hotels early, too. The Drury Hotel chain has an MTA discount code here: https://www.druryhotels.com/content/mta
Hauling in a crew from Harrisburg
Hotels come in handy with the Harrisburg mafia that will be descending once again on the race.
“We have over 130 runners who come from two running clubs, the Harrisburg Area Road Runners and the Harrisburg River Runners,” Paladina notes. “Most of us are members of both groups. Every one of those members is traveling in excess of three hours from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, and they are all staying overnight in the city at least one night.”
Paladina started doing the Pittsburgh race solo but then would meet up with others from Harrisburg.
“During the early years, I would make the three-hour trip from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh alone to participate in the race,” he recalls. “As I got more involved in the local running community, I would meet up with friends were also doing Pittsburgh.”
It wasn’t until last year when Paladina discovered the Pittsburgh Marathon’s unique run club rally program. “Any running club can register,” he says. “All members of the club can get a group discount on registration. If you get 20 members, your group gets free VIP benefits before and after the race, as well as a commemorative item. We get access to a special hospitality tent with great food and massages. It’s an incredible value.”
His goal in 2017 was to hit the 20-member threshold.
“As I recruited more people, the excitement started to build,” he says. “We went all the way to 120, and were the largest recruiting group. I organized a group outing to a Pirates game, and I found a great affordable restaurant not far from the expo willing to close its doors for us and host our pasta dinner. This year, we are going on a riverboat dinner cruise. We do a training kickoff run here in Harrisburg in January where we wear Pittsburgh-themed clothing, and a send-off run the week before the race for our Pittsburgh runners. Both runs are followed by a potluck tailgate where members are encouraged to bring Pittsburgh-themed food.”
He also helps with logistics, guiding runners on where to stay, arranging roommates and carpools, and educating them on where to eat and park.
“There are a lot of runners who really want to run a race like Pittsburgh, but they are intimidated by going to an unfamiliar city,” he says. “I say to them, ‘Look, I’ll help you get a best price on registration, I’ll find you a great deal on a hotel. And I will plan an entire weekend of fun group activities.’ I do everything but run the race for them.”
Inspired by Marathon Training Academy
Paladina is a big fan of Marathon Training Academy (MTA). He started listening to the weekly MTA podcast about the time it launched.
“I really felt like I connected with them,” he says, referring to MTA hosts Trevor and Angie Spencer. “They had three kids who were close in age to my children, and they were dealing with the same struggles with juggling parenthood and marathon training that my wife and I were struggling with. Trevor would take the young kids to Angie’s races and try to keep them entertained while they were chasing her around to cheer at different points on the course. My wife was doing the same thing for our four children during the race.”
Paladina praises the podcast. “It is informative and entertaining. It is a great was to pass the miles when running alone. They are both funny, and both very good at presenting information about running in a simple, easily digestible way.”
He is also inspired by older runners, including his friend Hap Miller, who has run the Harrisburg Marathon for 44 straight years. “That streak just blows me away,” Paladina says. “He is running into his 70s now. I feel like it is such an honor to run in the same race as him. I feel like I am playing baseball with Roberto Clemente.”
Home sweet home in the ‘Burgh
A self-described “midpacker,” Paladina says he is only competitive with himself.
“I am not blessed with great athletic ability,” he says. “My goal is to always beat my last race, or at least not get any slower. I do intend to run Pittsburgh every year I am physically able to move. I have also been chasing the four-hour mark in the marathon for a few years. I ran a 4:04 last fall in Harrisburg, so I am creeping a little closer.”
Pittsburgh is known for its sports teams, rivers, bridges, pierogis, hills and a unique way to reserve parking spots. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parking_chair
Paladina says the race really isn’t that hilly, however. I actually think that the Pittsburgh hills get a bad rap. “The half marathon has a couple of hills, but they took the worst hill out two years ago, and I would call it a fast course,” he says. “The full marathon has a long gradual hill at Mile 13, and then some rolling hills in the second half of the race. But a lot of people turn in some very good times. I also feel the crowd support more than makes up for the hills.”
For Paladina, there is no city he’d rather run in.
“I tell people if they are on the Boston bubble and 10 seconds is going to make a difference in whether or not they get accepted into Boston, then maybe they don’t want to choose Pittsburgh,” he says. “There are plenty of small flat marathons that are essentially Boston time trials that they can run. But personally, I am not sure I’d trade the Pittsburgh experience to run one of those races.”
Name: Jeff Paladina
Hometown: Aliquippa, Pa., (outside of Pittsburgh), but I moved to Harrisburg, PA., in 2006 with my family for work
Number of years running: 19
Point of pride: My wife (who is a better runner than me) and my four children
Favorite Pittsburgh food after a race or training run: I don’t live in Pittsburgh any more, but if I did, I’d say an omelette at Eat-N-Park with home fries
Favorite Pittsburgh neighborhood: the Strip District (not what it sounds like)
Favorite Pittsburgh sports team: ALL of them, but for now a tied between the Penguins and the Steelers. The Pirates and I are having a rocky relationship right now.
Favorite Pittsburgh landmark: The top of Mt. Washington overlooking the city
Best thing about living in the ‘Burgh: I don’t live there any more – but I’d say the best thing about Pittsburgh is the people. Western Pennsylvanians are so down to earth and special people. When I meet one here in Central Pennsylvania, we are instant friends.
How often do you still say y’ins?: I have a shirt that says “Yinz Run like Jagoffs” if that counts.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: The MTA theme song!
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Send ‘em! (a battle cry we Harrisburg runners use that was coined by our local running store owner, who is also a popular local running coach).
Where can other runners contact/follow you: You can friend request me on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/jeffpaladina. Also:
This is incredible. I’ve started running after a long time. My target is to participate in a half marathon this year. The story of Jeff is really inspiring. Thank you so much, Henry, for sharing this with us
My pleasure, Madhu. Thank you for your kind words and for reading it.