Let the running begin

After myriad meetings, marathon officials say they're ready

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Runners, lace up your shoes, pin on your race number and make your way Downtown to the starting line. Pittsburgh is ready for you.

The course is set, winding 26.2 miles through 13 city neighborhoods. The bands, musical accompaniment to aching muscles, are booked. Medical teams will be out in force, traffic will be diverted and security measures, fine-tuned after the Boston Marathon attacks, will be in place.

A race that was on hiatus for the five years before 2009 is now a rite of spring, and this weekend, the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon marks its fifth year back in Pittsburgh with a record registration. A year's work, planning that started after the final runner crossed the finish line last year, will be showcased as the first runner steps over the starting line this weekend.

Race director Patrice Matamoros, speaking Friday at a news conference, said the city is ready.

"We have planned extensively. We have prepared extensively," she said. "It's going to be a great event."

Marathon weekend opened Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, as runners streamed into the building to pick up their race day bibs, T-shirts and other swag. The convention center was a runner's paradise filled with items ranging from workout gear to energy bars.

With the main race day falling on Cinco de Mayo, marathon organizers decided to make this year a fiesta. David Ricardo Sanchez Guevara, mayor of Naucalpan in Mexico, which is recognized as a sister city to Pittsburgh, was invited to attend the race, and he helped cut the ribbon Friday to open the weekend. On Sunday morning, runners will be prompted to perform the macarena before the starting gun.

More than 30,000 people are running or walking in events this weekend, with about 26,000 of them participating in the bigger Sunday races. The race will draw participants from all 50 states and from 15 different countries. There will also be 37 people running in Pittsburgh who didn't get the chance to finish the April 15 Boston Marathon, which was interrupted when two bombs exploded near the finish, killing three people and injuring more than 260.

Dick's Sporting Goods reached out to charities with runners in the Boston race, volunteering to fly in runners who hadn't been able to complete their race last month, and offering to outfit them and put them up in hotels. They will also be recognized at the start of the race Sunday.

"They were excited to come in, to finish the race, and also to see Pittsburgh," said Dave Natale, director of sports marketing and events for Dick's.

In the weeks since the Boston attack, marathon organizers in cities across the world took another look at their security plans. Pittsburgh city, county, police and marathon officials did the same and have assured race participants and spectators that the city is prepared.

"It's been hectic, and we've had tons of meetings," Ms. Matamoros said Friday. "It hasn't been overwhelming because I think we already had a good plan in place."

Runners and spectators are asked not to bring large bags to the course and to be prepared for extra security screenings. Runners received clear plastic bags with their race packets, which can be used to hold items they would like available to them at the finish. Only runners will be permitted near the start and finish lines, both of which are Downtown. Mailboxes have been removed from the race route, and people are asked to call 911 if they spot suspicious activity or packages.

As for the medical team working the marathon, it will be about 500 people strong, said Ron Roth, the medical director for the race. He advised runners to dress in layers, since the temperature will rise from 47 degrees at the start of the race to the high 60s.

Runners, spectators and people who plan to spend any time in Pittsburgh this weekend will need to be aware of a large number of street closures. Information is available online: www.pittsburghmarathon.com/RaceWeekend.asp.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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