The streets are closed to traffic and music fills the air.  People line the streets cheering. The city puts out the welcome mat. It’s not a dignitary or the presidential visit.  The hoopla is for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon.

On May 5, 1985, Pittsburgh hosted its first marathon, and in 2011, the city hosted the 22nd running of the 26.2 mile foot race.  A record 18,000 runners, a 2,000 person increase over the previous year, tested their mettle against Pittsburgh’s course in five different events in 2011 with the numbers increasing each year.

In addition to the marathon, there is a half marathon, a team relay, a kids’ race and 5K.  Elite and seeded runners, wheelchair racers, and walkers take to the street each May.  This year, events will be held on May 2nd & 3rd.

Pittsburgh’s Certified Marathon

The Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon course is a certified one.  It is recognized by USA Track and Field and is a Boston Marathon qualifying course as well.  In 2000, The Pittsburgh Marathon hosted the U.S. Olympic Men’s Trials.  In 1998, it hosted the Women’s Trials.  It has also served as the U.S. Men’s National Championship course three times, and in 1986, it was the site of the National Wheelchair Championship.

In 1994 and then again in 2000, Pittsburgh resident Tammy Slusser won the women’s title.  The course record for women is held by American Margaret Groos, who ran the more than 26 miles in an incredible time of 2 hours, 29 minutes and 50 seconds.  The race not only attracts local and American runners, but athletes from all over the globe.  In fact, the men’s course record is held by Kenyan John Kagwe, who set the course record in 1995 with a staggering 2 hours, 10 minutes and 24 second time.  For the women, America is tied with Russia with seven titles each.  On the men’s side, the Americans lead with seven championships, with the Kenyan men right on their heels with six wins.

Pittsburgh’s marathon was held consecutively from 1985 to 2003 and was sponsored by University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, but when the city experienced financial distress and UPMC pulled out as sponsor, then-Mayor, Tom Murphy, concluded that the city was too strapped for cash to foot the bill for the extra security and expense of hosting the marathon. He canceled it.  After a five-year hiatus, the marathon was revived in 2009.  It came roaring back, attracting 9,000 runners, and participation has increased with each succeeding year, necessitating some modifications to the course to handle the increasing number of athletes.

A Grand Tour of Pittsburgh

Runners get a grand tour of Pittsburgh as they traverse the course through such neighborhoods as the North Side, West End, South Side, Oakland, Shadyside, Homewood, East Liberty, Highland Park, Friendship, Bloomfield, and Downtown.  Residents and spectators come out in droves to cheer on and inspire the runners.

To encourage people to become involved, marathon officials have instituted “Cheerathoners” who man Inspirations Stations along the course.  Schools, clubs, and athletic teams can enter a contest to compete for grants by being the best cheerleaders on the course.  After the marathon’s conclusion, the runners can vote online for the most inspirational cheerathoners on the course, who are then awarded the grants.

Throughout the course, runners encounter neighborhood festivals where events that reflect that neighborhoods’ ethnic and community traditions are celebrated, along with the achievements of the runners.  On the North Side, spectators make a sign to encourage their favorite runner.  In Homewood, residents hand out water and the Pittsburgh Soul Steppers held a dance marathon.  Highland Park residents passed out doughnuts and juice to the spectators, while Bloomfield, Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, turned the marathon into an Italian Festival.  They kicked off the celebration on Thursday of that week with a weekend long sidewalk sale.  On Saturday of marathon week, there was a competition to see who made the best meatball, and later that day, there was a marathon pasta event with the first contestant to eat 26.2 ounces of spaghetti being crowned the winner.

Sixty bands lined the course providing Music by the Mile.  Various styles of music from traditional Celtic to Classic Rock serenaded the runners and spectators.

Marathon Fundraiser

pgh marathonThe Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon also raises funds for charitable organizations.  In 2010, more than $750,000 was raised for its charity partners and affiliates.  Nearly 40 different charitable organizations benefited from the funds raised by the marathon.  Events leading up to the marathon include the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health and Wellness Expo held the Friday and Saturday prior to the marathon at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

That year, 50,000 spectators participated in the expo which featured products and services to help the athletes achieve their goals and to help the attendees live a healthy, fit life.

To learn more about the Pittsburgh Marathon or the Health and Wellness Expo visit the official site of the marathon.