Gebo Burka Gamade of Ethiopia, Clara Santucci of Greene County win the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon

Clara Santucci may reside in Dilliner, Greene County, and go to her share of games at PNC Park, but until fairly recently, the Pittsburgh Marathon course, at least as a running route, was a bit foreign to her.

That's why over the past few weeks, she took the time to drive and run various parts of the marathon course.

Her preparation paid off Sunday.

Gamade, Santucci win 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon

Gebo Burka Gamade of Ethiopia and Clara Santucci of Dilliner, Greene County, are the winners of the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon. (Video by Andrew Rush; 5/4/2014)

Thousands cheer on 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon runners

In addition to the runners, thousands of spectators turn out for the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon. (Video by Nate Guidry; 5/4/2014)

Ms. Santucci, who grew up in a one-room schoolhouse in rural West Virginia before graduating from West Virginia University, became the first American woman to win the Pittsburgh Marathon since 2009, finishing in 2:32:25.

Ethiopian Gebo Burka Gamade was the men's winner, clocking in with a time of 2:16:30.

A record 23,458 runners participated in the 26.2-mile race under a cloud-filled sky with occasional light rain and temperatures in the low 50s.

The Pittsburgh Marathon medical team treated 166 runners -- 89 at the finish line medical tent and 77 at the medical aid stations along the course. A total of 26 runners were transported to local hospitals, and another runner later reported to a hospital seeking treatment. Roughly 40 percent of those runners were treated for musculoskeletal issues such as cramps and strains, and 30 percent for fatigue.

Pittsburgh police reported several suspicious packages were checked out. All of them proved to be personal items that had been left behind.

As Ms. Santucci crossed the finish line, she draped herself in an American flag and embraced Pittsburgh Marathon race director Patrice Matamoros.

"It's just really awesome," Ms. Santucci said. "I'm up here all the time going to Pirates games, and it's just a lot of fun to feel like you're winning something that's so close to home."

Ms. Santucci's preparation with the course helped her craft the best strategy possible Sunday. She mostly stayed with the lead pack during the hilly first half of the race, then made her move over the latter portions, when the course starts to move more consistently downhill.

By the 20-mile marker, it was just she and Ethiopian Yeshimebet Bifa, and that's when Ms. Santucci made her move to pull away.

"I kind of knew what was coming," Ms. Santucci said. "I think just knowing where the tough parts were and having that mental picture of where I would have to push and where I could kind of relax and get my energies back, it really helped."

Once she crossed that 20-mile mark and still felt good, Ms. Santucci said she knew she was in position to take home the win. Of course, it helped having her husband, family and friends along the course cheering her on.

"I just kept pushing the pace, but I knew the [course] record was out of reach at that point, so I just made sure that I kept my energy level steady, had enough to finish strong, and felt really good about getting the win," she said.

This wasn't just any win for Ms. Santucci, though, it was her first marathon win. She had some good results before, including being the top American woman in Chicago last October, but Sunday was the first time she crossed the finish line before any other woman.

For her win, Ms. Santucci took home $15,000: $8,000 as the female winner; $4,500 as the top American woman; $1,500 for achieving a 2016 Olympic qualifying time; and $1,000 as the top Pennsylvania resident.

"I'm really excited to have a victory," she said. "I just wanted to know what winning felt like. I think sometimes you have to practice that, and this is a good place to start."

On the men's side, Mr. Burka Gamade, who won the 2014 Los Angeles Marathon in March, set a fast pace out of the gate and dared his competitors to keep up. While some did for the first few miles, he had built a fairly sizable lead by the time he crossed the Birmingham Bridge at the 11th mile.

Mr. Burka Gamade extended that lead over the next eight miles, clocking in consistent mile times just over five minutes, before he began to experience stomach pains around the 20th mile.

He held a lead of around one minute at that point, and while his splits crept closer to 5:30 per mile, the runners behind him couldn't catch up.

Mr. Burka Gamade finished 1:07 ahead of second-place finisher Fidele Jefferson, who was born in Burundi but races as an American citizen.

"It was OK," Mr. Burka Gamade said. "The race was good. Maybe a little up and down."

Two-time defending champion James Kirwa had to bow out of the race early with an injury.

In the half marathon, Kenyan Sophy Jepchirchir set a new women's course record with a time of 1:11:37. In the men's race, Habtamu Assefa won a sprint to the finish to beat Emmanuel Bor by a second with a time of 1:02:45.

Sam Werner: or on Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published May 4, 2014 9:31 AM

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