When former state Rep. Tom Stevenson decided in 1997 to rename Official Field -- a small softball and baseball park in Mt. Lebanon -- in honor of fallen FBI agent Martha Dixon, he looked for a way to publicize the effort.
JoAnne Giarla, one of Dixon's seven siblings, knew that attorney Rick Rinaldo of Mt. Lebanon was an avid runner and asked him to organize a race in conjunction with the park rededication.
"The race was a great success, and the response was overwhelming," Mr. Rinaldo said.
"The only problem is we were credited with creating the largest traffic jam in the history of Mt. Lebanon. For the race, we closed off Washington and Cochran roads and Mt. Lebanon Boulevard, and you couldn't drive anywhere."
After the race, Mr. Rinaldo said the Mt. Lebanon police, who were supportive of the event, asked him if he could change the course to avoid future traffic tie-ups.
"The race is no longer causing a traffic jam because Officer Chip Sanders and I spent all of the following winter trying to plan a 10K race that didn't close a major artery," said Mr. Rinaldo, who has been director every year since the race began.
The race is dedicated to the memory of the agent, who died in 1994 when she tried to stop a gunman who had entered police headquarters in Washington, D.C. Holding a race is especially appropriate because the Mt. Lebanon native was an enthusiastic runner.
She also loved children. At her wedding just 10 weeks before her death at age 35, 15 of her nieces and nephews led her down the aisle.
Because of her affection for children, a special fund was established in her name to construct or renovate playgrounds in the Pittsburgh region. To date, $130,000 has been donated, including $50,000 in 2007 to renovate a playground in Mt. Lebanon Park, where she played as a child.
To date, The Martha Fund has not spent any donations on salaries, administration or other costs that do not directly further its charitable goals. All of the board members and assistants are volunteers.
"Almost everyone involved has been with the run from the start," Mr. Rinaldo said. "If you count those volunteers who help with registrations, we have about 60 volunteers."
This year's 17th annual Martha's Run certified 10K race is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Saturday at Mt. Lebanon High School stadium on Horsman Drive.
Also starting at the stadium will be a 2-Mile Fun Run and 1-Mile Memorial Walk at 8:30 a.m. and the 10th Annual Children's Races at 10:30 a.m.
Racers may register online on www.marthadixon.org. They also may register from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center near Cedar Boulevard and Morgan Drive or from 7 to 8:15 a.m. on race day at the same location. Registration is $25 for the 10K and 2-mile runs; $22 for the 1-mile walk; and $10 for the children's races.
Every racer will receive a Martha's Run T-shirt. Children racers also will receive a finisher's ribbon. Awards will be given for first-, second- and third-place finishes and for age groups.
"The run would not be possible without the support of a large number of individuals and organizations," Mr. Rinaldo said.
He said the state Department of Transportation loans more than 500 traffic cones for the run, and the second water stop is set up in front of Mr. Stevenson's house.
Organizers decided to hold the race on the second Saturday of April because it falls three weeks before the Pittsburgh Marathon and serves as a good way for the marathon runners to prepare for that race.
"We've had good weather virtually for every run, and everyone in the Dixon family has a job connected with the event," Mr. Rinaldo said.
"We like to say that the weather is Martha's job, which we like to say accounts for the run's good weather."
The 10K is considered difficult because of the hilly terrain, and Mr. Rinaldo said that a number of elite runners from the area have reported that the course is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes slower than Pittsburgh's Great Race because of the terrain.
Cindy Grimm, 61, of Industry won the race in 1998 and 1999 and has won every year since in her age bracket.
She and her husband, Curt, 64, have run both the Boston and Pittsburgh marathons as well as Martha's Run for most of the years it has been held.
"We like Martha's Run because Rick Rinaldo, the race director, is such a great guy, because the cause of building playgrounds is close to our hearts and because the course is a definite challenge," Mr. Grimm said.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com