Pittsburgh's Great Race: Record numbers a by-product of marathon

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In one week, the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race will wind its way through the streets of Squirrel Hill, Oakland and Downtown.

But really, the city is home to two great races.

Between the Pittsburgh Marathon in May and the Great Race, which will take place Sept. 26, 30,000 opportunities exist for people to run the city's streets. While the marathon has grown larger than the Great Race, it has not taken away from its luster.

That may seem counterintuitive, considering the success of one event usually comes at the expense of a similar event.

THE RACE

• Event: Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race.

• When: Sunday.

• Where: Frick Park to Point State Park (10K), Oakland to Point State Park (5K),

• Info: Register online at www.RunGreatRace.com.

Great Race organizers expect a record 14,000 individuals will run this year's event, and race director Mike Bradley said the Great Race is as strong as it is in part because of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

The races share resources, staff and a major sponsor in Dick's Sporting Goods. Organizers from both races learn from the successes and failures of the other.

"It's a great effort, a good team effort to make these running events," Radley said.

Pittsburgh Marathon director Patrice Matamoros said Radley and his staff have been helpful in reviving the marathon, which took a five-year hiatus from 2004-09.

"We support each other in our efforts," Matamoros said. "We help them in whatever they need, and they've helped us tremendously. I love the Great Race."

The marathon had a record 16,000 participants this year while the Great Race is annually Pennsylvania's largest 10K (6.2 miles) race.

Though the marathon has grown into a larger event than the Great Race, Radley said he does not view it as a competitor.

"I just have so many good things to say about that marathon and what it means for this town to be on the map as a major city with a major marathon," he said.

Instead, he is an enthusiastic supporter, especially considering the Great Race is most successful in years in which the marathon also takes place.

In 1987, the third year of the Pittsburgh Marathon, 12,807 people participated in the Great Race, the most all time. Last year, the first year the marathon was run since 2003, 12,788 people registered for the Great Race, the second most in the history of the event.

When the Great Race was in its infancy, "the numbers weren't real strong," Radley said, in part because road racing was not too popular. That changed in the 1980s, about the same time the Pittsburgh Marathon was founded.

The marathon helped increase the city's interest in running, Radley said, which led to more Great Race participants.

"When the marathon is successful, we are successful because we are all under that great fitness umbrella," Radley said.

Since the inaugural running of the marathon in 1985, the types of runners who show up for the Great Race has changed. Now, cyclists, swimmers and other fitness-conscious people take part in the races. Originally, running enthusiasts were the only ones who competed in road races.

"This diversified the crowd a little bit," Radley said.

And with two large races, Pittsburgh is turning into a destination city for regional runners, Radley said. The Great Race will welcome runners from about 40 states.

"Pittsburgh is a destination for the folks that travel here to be a part of these events," he said.

Radley was one of the founding organizers of the Pittsburgh Marathon at the same time he was Great Race director.

"I just like the association of this town having a marathon," he said.

And the Great Race is even better because of it.


Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.


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