Great Race's popularity still on the rise

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The Great Race has never been judged solely on numbers, winners and the collective group of runners, but the popularity of Pittsburgh's annual race has grown beyond measure.

On Sunday, runners from Maryland, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and other parts of Pennsylvania will pace themselves through a 10-kilometer course that stretches through five university campuses. It is the largest 10K in the state and the 10th largest in the country. The 5-kilometer run and fitness walk will begin at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Atwood Street in Oakland with 90 percent of the race participants living an hour's drive of the Point State Park finish line. [See rungreatrace.com.]

And from a survey by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association that says 19 million Americans run 100 days in a year, it shouldn't come of any surprise that a record of 15,500 participants will run in the 36th anniversary of the Great Race.

"For the last three years, this historic race has experienced a 500 unit bump," interim race director Tim Ishman said. "This event continues to grow because of its well-established tradition, the dedication of the runners who register for this event year after year and the sponsors who have truly given their all to make the Great Race a success."

Ishman even said the race has "taken on a sense of urgency" and become a "hot commodity" as organizers received emails in the past about participants auctioning their spot in the race on eBay and craigslist.

"People want to be apart of the race's tradition that bad," Ishman said. "We don't encourage this, but we believed participants had reasons to drop from the race and not to that because of entrepreneurship."

Like the first 1,000 pioneers who assembled at Frick Park for then-mayor Richard Caliguiri's "community fun run," runners again will set their sights on the final Sunday of September.

"We welcome the whole community to come out and support the participants," Ishman said. "It's a great way to get out socially, be with your friends and be apart of a tradition. It's a 6.2-mile festival."

The Great Race also will host its 18th Annual Dollar Bank Junior Great Race featuring races for children including the 1-mile run, 50-yard Tot-Trot and the popular Diaper Dash.

New to the event is the organizers of the Great Race teaming up with Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, Inc. to expand the capabilities of the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Expo. The Expo is being held Friday and Saturday in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. A year ago, it was held at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

This free two-day event will feature product sampling, health screenings, demonstrations, kids' activities and discounted sporting goods -- and an opportunity to pick up race packets.

Ishman said the moving to the new facility increased the number of vendors from six to 75.

Though new events and progressions have been installed to the Great Race and events itself, what won't change is the Great Race donating a portion of its proceeds to the research and advocacy of amyloidosis, a rare protein disorder in which one or more organ systems in the body accumulate deposits of abnormal proteins. Caliguiri suffered from the disease that ultimately led to his death in 1988 at the age of 56.

The Richard S. Caliguiri Award will honor the first-place male and female City of Pittsburgh residents in the 10K.

As the community, fans, friends and family cheer on this year's participants in the Great Race, runners of old and new also will hear cheers from a 15-time NCAA All-American at Stanford, two-time USA outdoor 5,000-meter champion and three-time NCAA 5,000-meter outdoor champion.

"I'll never forget my first race, I can absolutely understand what they're going through," said Lauren Fleshman, who will be at the Highmark Expo between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday to sign autographs, answer questions and take pictures with fans. "The pre-race nerves, worried about how you're feeling, if you will reach your goal, it was both exciting and nerve-wrecking. I encourage them to push themselves out there, put your heart in it and motivate others around you."

sportsother

Kelton Brooks: kbrooks@post-gazette.com.


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