2013 Pittsburgh Marathon: Scenes from the course

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The big banner hanging over Mary Armstrong's marathon and mimosa party at Cedar Avenue and Avery Street, along the marathon route on the North Side was new this year and said it all.

In the middle, Pittsburgh's area code, 412, ran horizontal, crossed with Boston's 617 running vertical and sharing the middle 1. On one side of the cross were the words "Pittsburgh Proud," and on the other, "Boston Strong."

It was only mile 4 of the 26-mile race, but many runners took note or stopped to have their photos taken with the banner waving overhead in a light breeze. The spirit of unity in the wake of last month's fatal bombing at the Boston Marathon seemed to permeate the event, overcoming the tension and increased security.

Around the corner, at the intersection of James Street and East Ohio Street, county policeman Mike Havens was working his 20th marathon and said he never considered not volunteering to work security.

"We can't let stuff like that stop us from doing what we do," he said.

Ms. Armstrong, an accountant for U.S. Steel Corp., said this is the fourth year in a row she has hosted a marathon party for friends and each year there's a new banner. This year's banner was more timely, she said, though last year's worked well, too.

It read, "If you can't run with the big dogs stay on the mimosa porch."

Shortly before 7:30 a.m., Ms. Armstrong was offering mimosas around, but one of her guests demurred. "Just coffee for now," he said. "Maybe at 7:30."

"Well, it's 7:30 somewhere," she responded with a laugh.

"This year we wanted to recognize the runners and Boston," said Art Perkins, a resident of Avery Street who worked on the banner. "It's kinda scary that people do something like that, commit a random act or terrorism, and target a marathon where innocent people get hurt."

Roco Ed went to the Allegheny Center Alliance Church on East Ohio Street at 4 a.m. to start cooking sausages and pancakes for the North Side church's free marathon breakfast.

By 8 a.m. he had already turned and flipped hundreds, and would need to flip hundreds more judging by the crowd that had gathered to watch the marathoners pass on East Commons Street and listen to the 70-member Urban Impact youth choir and drum corps performing on the steps of the church.

"Every Sunday we serve meals to 250 people from our congregation from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.," Mr. Ed said, "but this is the first year we're doing breakfast at the marathon. It's going great."

Before runners or wheelchair racers passed by -- and with South Side sidewalks cluttered from the Saturday night that had ended just hours earlier -- the eye-catcher at East Carson and South 16th streets were five greyhounds, each dressed in Hawaiian grass skirts and leis and looking completely uninterested in the soon-to-begin marathon.

Hey, greyhounds are sprinters. Marathons are for huskies.

Hurry Home Hounds had the handsome racing retirees to promote their mission of rescuing greyhounds after their racing days, while the group also passed out orange slices to runners. HHH also entered a relay team in the marathon.

Hurry Home Hounds co-founder Beverly Bader of Robinson said the onetime race dogs are low-key, even lazy, prompting her to describe them as 40-mph couch potatoes. On Sunday morning, they fit that description. The dogs named Walter, Lioness, Jolene, Tegan and Miya could cool off in a baby pool. The five were particularly anxious to head home and climb onto their respective couches when a loud rock band began playing next to them in the middle of 16th Street.

Ms. Bader declined to give her specific age but said she's 50-plus, or between 7 and 8 in dog years.

"We're just around town letting people know we're out there," she said.

And speaking of the band next to the Hurry Home Hounds, the keyboard-centered rock band School of Athens gave a powerful show with high decibels that have caused complaints when it played in two previous marathons.

With a sparse crowd in the South Side before the marathon, Drew Fogle, lead singer and keyboardist of the band of Sheraden natives, predicted the crowed would "get bigger and get angrier" due to the band's volume level, which was magnified by the fact the Philadelphia-based band, the Kalob Griffin Band, also was playing lights out just a few blocks away.

Mr. Fogle said South Side partygoers don't want to be awakened early Sunday morning, especially after a bender. The Churchill man said that in a previous marathon, a resident was awakened by the band. The person found out the band's name, went to its website and got an email address. During a break Mr. Fogle received the email that insisted that they turn the music down or off.

The band continued playing, but the email wasn't a total turnoff for the band. Mr. Fogle indicated the complainer admitted to liking the band -- just not at 7:30 a.m.

Anyone wondering what happens when you hold a marathon on Cinco de Mayo needed only to show up in Shadyside to catch the spectacle there that celebrated both in a Mexico-Pittsburgh partnership.

The True Runner store on Walnut Street combined the two into a mariachi-on-the-run celebration that featured Pittsburgh's only mariachi band, Miguel's Mariachi Fiesta, with a giveaway that had plenty of takers.

The specialty running store, which is owned by the race sponsor, Dick's Sporting Goods, handed out 300 sombreros, 200 maracas and 200 tambourines, clearly setting the mood to celebrate the marathon Mexico-style as some runners paused to dance on their way to the 15-mile mark.

Miguel's Mariachi Fiesta, led by Miguel A. Sague III of Verona, performed its own mariachi-athon.

"There were lines of people with sombreros from coast to coast," Mr. Sague said. "We are Pittsburgh based, Pittsburgh proud and Three Rivers Mariacha," he said, adding a Mexican-style "ye-ahh" trill of tongue.

But all was not outright celebration at True Runner. Above the store entrance hung a huge banner quoting David and Kelvin Bright involved in the "runforboston" social-media group that's organizing runs nationwide in memory of the Boston bombing victims: "If you are trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target."

One overactive, fun-loving Homewood group was awaiting the last marathoner to pass by Frankstown Road and North Braddock Avenue so they could put an end to their four-hour vigil.

The Pittsburgh Soul Steppers began line dancing about 8 a.m., when the first wheelchair racer passed by, and the group of 20 continued dancing throughout the morning, maintaining remarkable symmetry to a steady high-energy beat until the last marathoner oozed by about noontime.

In each of the past two marathons, the Soul Steppers received $750 for being selected by runners as one of the best cheer-a-thon stations on the marathon route.

"We're here to have fun, do some dancing and cheer the runners," said Roland Ford, 64, the leader of the Soul Steppers. He said he ran Pittsburgh's first marathon, then ran and won his age group four years ago in the half-marathon.

Near the end of his Sunday morning dance marathon, Mr. Ford pulled out his pedometer that showed he had taken 22,000 steps during the line dance-a-thon.

At 9 a.m. in front of Caliente Pizza & Bar, Liberty Avenue and Pearl Street in Bloomfield, marathon watchers were waiting for the day's first "breakfast pizzas, $2 a slice" to come out of the oven.

Angie Bogacz, Caliente's owner, said she has done the specialty pizzas -- bacon, egg and cheese; ham, egg and cheese; or sausage, egg and cheese -- for other races and events but this was a first for the marathon.

"We wanted to come out and support the runners, especially since my sister-in-law, Laura Bogacz, is running in it this year," Angie Bogacz said. "Our prayers go out to the folks in Boston and our support to those marathoners here."

On Highland Avenue in Highland Park, at mile 19, weathered red plastic stadium seats, 10 of them from Rows O and J at Three Rivers Stadium, were lined up under a white tent and along the sidewalk as they always are for the marathon.

"It's a rite of spring, like the buzzards in Hinckley, Ohio, and the swallows in San Juan Capistrano. We do this every year. Those seats have paid for themselves many times over," said Dick Skrinjar, who is director of community services for the Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation Department and has served as a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation and several Pittsburgh mayors.

He said family and neighbors come out and gather in the stadium seats under the tent and graze around a dining room table stacked with food.

"All the neighbors come out and bring something. New this year is the walking taco," he said, referring to the high school lunch staple that combines ground beef, lettuce, sour cream and salsa in a bag of Fritos.

"For the marathon," corrected his wife, Barbara, "we're calling it the 'running taco.' "

The sign on the lawn of the house at mile 20 of the marathon route on North Negley Avenue at Jackson Street in Highland Park was a simple one: just an outline of a heart with the word "Boston" inside.

"We just wanted to have some small show of support," said Fran Escalante, whose two aunts living in Boston were "locked down" during the search for the bombing suspects. "This is always one of our favorite days of the year and we always try to show some sign of support for the runners. This one just seemed so obvious."

For those waiting on family and friends to complete the Pittsburgh Marathon, the moments after they cross the finish line are ones of jubilation and celebration, all mixed with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride.

For Brandon Tuziken of Ross, it will forever be home to a life-changing moment.

Dressed in a black suit awaiting his girlfriend, Ashley McLachlan, after her 26.2-mile trek, Mr. Tuziken dropped on one knee and proposed to her.

It was something he decided to do in September when she registered for the race, her very first marathon.

"I figured it would be the best time to do it," he said. "And I knew she would be so worn out that she couldn't run away from me."

(Live dispatches, earlier in the day)

1:40 p.m.: As the race clock ticked past six hours and a sparse stream of runners approached the finish line, Rob Powers continued doing what he had been doing the entire race -- encouraging each runner that passed his gaze.

Standing on the Boulevard of the Allies on the side of the marathon's course, Mr. Powers worked as the event's emcee, speaking into the microphone and offering words of support on a second-by-second basis.

Mr. Powers is the founder of the American 300 Foundation, a non-government organization that sponsors activities aimed at motivating and honoring military service members, and he regularly plays a critical role at long-distance races across the country.

The day before the Pittsburgh Marathon, he worked at a half marathon in Indianapolis where he performed similar duties to the ones he did today in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Never bereft of enthusiasm for running or the spirit of those participating in the race, Mr. Powers said around noon that he had about 15 cups of coffee today.

12:35 p.m.: For those waiting on family and friends finishing the Pittsburgh Marathon, the moments after they cross the final line are ones of jubilation and celebration, all mixed with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride.

For Brandon Tuziken of Ross, it will forever be home to a life-changing moment.

Dressed in a black suit awaiting his girlfriend Ashley McLachlan after her 26.2-mile trek, Ms. Tuziken dropped on one knee and proposed to her.

It was something he decided to do in September when she registered for the race, her very first marathon.

"I figured it would be the best time to do it," he said. "And I knew she would be so worn out that she couldn't run away from me."

12 p.m.: With most runners having finished the race, UPMC spokesman Chuck Finder reported that there have been 17 medical transports, nine from the medical tent near the Boulevard of the Allies finish line in Downtown.

11:47 a.m.: Twenty members of The Pittsburgh Soul Steppers, performing at the marathon for the third year, started line dancing when the first wheelchair marathoners passed their position at about 8 a.m. at Frankstown and North Braddock avenues and were determined to continue their marathon dance until the last runner passed their location.

Their leader, Roland Ford, ran the very first marathon and last year ran the half marathon. At 64 years old, he had danced nearly four hours this morning and his pedometer showed he had taken 22,000 steps.

He said the group has received $750 in prize money the past two years for being one of the most popular at the cheer-a-thon stations along the marathon route.

"We're here to have fun, do our dancing and cheer on the runners," he said, pausing briefly to chat.

11:04 a.m.: After studying all night for finals at Carnegie Mellon University, Aadam Soorma, 26, of Akron headed home at 6 a.m. and realized the marathon was soon to start. Rather than go to bed, he got a cup of coffee and put on his Gumby outfit to go outside and cheer runners along Walnut Street in Shadyside.

He said he bought the costume for Halloween two years ago but says it has come in handy other times to go to parties and bars.

He even cut off a corner of the mouth so he can drink beer from a bottle while he's in costume.

He said he's gotten a thousand high-fives so far from runners.

"I've been up since Friday going into my finals, but when I got home I thought the best thing I could do was put on Gumby," he said.

10:58 a.m.: Valerie Constantino, 31, of Shadyside has been drawing some attention with her sign "Great stamina? Call me" with a phone number, but Ms. Constantino of Shadyside will not be the one that answers the phone.

That's actually the number for Lulu Lemon, a yoga and athletic apparel store in Shadyside that has made a large presence along Walnut Street, including another employee dressed as a lemon, Eva Lin, 27, of Shadyside.

10:47 a.m.: Mike Bruno brought it upon himself to run the Pittsburgh Marathon blindfolded to support his daughter, Cassidy, who is blind herself.

Along the way, he raised about $25,000 for vision research and Sunday, he was able to finish the race in just over three and a half hours.

"It was amazing, challenging," Bruno said of the experience. "All of the sounds and the sensory detail was motivating, but intimidating, as well."

Bruno, who is the women's volleyball coach at Point Park University, was guided by the university's cross country coach, Jim Irvin.

8:55 a.m.: Running 13.1 miles can be difficult enough, but Joe Foster was more than happy to give himself an extra challenge.

Foster ran the entire UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon while holding an American flag on an eight-foot wooden pole.

His son is in the Air Force and the Shadyside, Ohio, resident ran the race to honor service members like his son.

"It's to motivate all Americans," Mr. Foster, 50, said.

He finished the race in just under an hour and 45 minutes.

In the past, he has run the Boston Marathon and was supposed to this year, but he was not able to get off of work.

8:23 a.m.: Big events bring out the humorist in some people. Here's a sample of signs spectators have for runners around 21st Street and East Carson on the South Side: "Worst Parade Ever;" "The Kenyans are already finished;" "You feel like crap but you look great;" and, in a takeoff of a popular television commercial on how a child thinks they can make his grandmother fast, "Tape a cheetah on your back."

8:20 a.m.: Two medical transports had been made to local hospitals, according to Dr. Ron Roth, city and race medical director with UPMC.

He said one of the transports was for a runner who sustained a broken ankle. No details were available on the second transport but Dr. Roth said he did not believe it was serious.

Some 550 medical volunteers from UPMC were on hand to help with race issues. The finish line medical tent is located at the Point State Park parking. There are 18 medical aid stations situated along the course.

8:02 a.m.: Activity is picking up on East Casron Street on the South Side as the elite runners come through the neighborhood.

Many of the spectators are of the four-legged variety. Especially conspicuous were five Hurry Home Hounds -- rescue greyhounds dressed in grass skirts and wearing Hawaiian leis near 16th Street.

7:57: The Pittsburgh Marathon is one of the most highly staffed events of the year from a public safety perspective and security is extra heightened this year in light of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Police officers and medics from across the state are working at the event. In addition to the Pittsburgh police and medics, officers and medics from Baldwin, Murrysville, Allegheny County police and sheriff's deputies and countless others are working the event. Representatives of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency are also in town.

Some officers who are working now began their shifts at 4 a.m. and expect to continue working through the end of the day. Others began even earlier, helping to check for explosives as a precaution.

A few medical calls have come in so far -- most for broken ankles and other running-related injuries.

The Pittsburgh medics are donating their wages to The One Fund Boston, which benefits victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said the marathon has run smoothly so far with no major police calls.

7:20 a.m.: East Carson Street on the South Side looked like it does on most mild Sunday mornings -- pretty desolate exceptfor the trash and other remnants of a busy Saturday night in the entertainment district. Blocks in the the area of 15th street only had a couple of -people walking, but runners weren't due for another 20 minutes or so.

6:50 a.m.: A police squad on motorcycles sped through the race course on East Ohio Street. One officer walked both sides of the street, checking the contents of cardboard boxes near the "Elite Fluids" tables at mile 3.5, and the permanent trash cans all along the street.

Allegheny County Officer Mike Havens, who was working his 20th marathon but first on the North Side, said he wasn't sure if crowd was lighter this year, after Boston.

"We can't let stuff like that stop us from doing what we do," he said.

6:30 a.m.: A volunteer table near mile four on the North Side said the station was light on volunteers and they were having trouble getting water and Gatorade cups set up and filled. Woman who declined to give her name said the station had more volunteers last year plus more than 40 walkups.

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com. Also contributing was Craig Meyer. First Published May 5, 2013 10:45 AM


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