Great Race celebrates 35 years as community 'fun run'


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Rehema Townes moved to Baltimore from Beltzhoover four years ago, but on Sunday morning, she was back in Pittsburgh, dressed to run the Great Race.

"Everyone said, 'you should do this race,' " said Ms. Townes, whose cousin, brother and uncle also were running.

Near the starting line in Frick Park, Ms. Townes wasn't standing with family, but instead was chatting with Barbara Waxler, a friend she had made in line for the bus that brought them from Downtown to Squirrel Hill that morning.

The scene -- a conversation struck up between a 27-year-old woman originally from Beltzhoover running her first Great Race and a 54-year-old woman from Ross running her second -- may have been what then-Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri had in mind in 1977, when he initiated the Great Race as a community "fun run."

Sunday marked the 35th anniversary of the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race, which donates a portion of its proceeds each year to research and advocacy of amyloidosis, the rare protein disorder Caliguiri died from in 1988 at the age of 56.

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This year, the race went international, with more than a dozen Pittsburgh area soldiers holding their own Great Race at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, according to a news release from Citiparks.

In Pittsburgh, 15,000 runners and walkers registered for the race, with about 10,000 runners participating in the 10K that started in Squirrel Hill and about 5,000 in the 5K that began in Oakland.

"It's definitely the most fun race in Pittsburgh," said Enrique Billa, 47, of Munhall, who has run the Great Race for about 15 years, on and off. This year, he was running for his goddaughter, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2 and 10 years later is healthy.

On a cold -- and temporarily dry -- morning, Mr. Billa was standing near the starting line on Beechwood Boulevard. The 10K course starts in Frick Park, continues through the East End to Oakland, into Downtown on Boulevard of the Allies, ending at Point State Park, a route through the neighborhoods that makes it a fun race, Mr. Billa said.

"You see Pittsburgh as it is, the great city that it is," he said.

His friend, Ernie Larson, 37, of Trafford and running his first Great Race, chimed in.

"And you get to dress like this," Mr. Larson said.

Amid a sea of sneakers and spandex, Mr. Billa and Mr. Larson wore striped red-and-white shirts, uniforms from their days working together as bartenders at T.G.I. Friday's.

Mr. Billa, who is now a financial adviser, also wore suspenders, a jester's hat and a few dozen pieces of "flair" -- pins advertising various drink brands.

They stood out, but then so did John and Alisa Messner of Moon, a husband and wife who ran the 10K in matching kilts.

"It's lightweight, and it's incredibly comfortable to run in," said Mr. Messner, a 40-year-old who has embraced his Scottish heritage and said he prefers running in a kilt.

Their kilts are acrylic, rather than traditional wool, which was fortunate Sunday, since it began to rain shortly after the 10K began at 9:30 a.m. It was still raining as the Messners stood in Point State Park, watching other runners approach the finish line.

In her kilt, Mrs. Messner, who is 38, said she ran her fastest 10K ever Sunday, finishing in just under an hour. And -- since inquiring minds need to know -- the Messners do wear spandex leggings under their kilts.

The rain, falling heavily at times, didn't slow down the Messners, and it also didn't slow down Mario Johnson and Latifa Miller, who both ran the Great Race for the first time.

"The rain wasn't that bad," said Mr. Johnson, 35, of Wilkinsburg. "It motivated me to run a little faster."

Ms. Miller, a Greenfield resident, was motivated to run the 10K by her upcoming birthday. In three weeks, she'll turn 40, and she wanted to run a 10K first.

On Sunday morning, she crossed the item off her bucket list. Her first attempt at the Great Race, she said, was "great."

Mr. Johnson went a bit farther, calling it "amazing."

"I'm almost ready to turn around and finish running back," he said.

neigh_city

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published October 1, 2012 4:00 AM


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