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'Runner only' zones added to marathon

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 12:20 a.m.

Last week's bombings in Boston have prompted organizers of the May 5 Pittsburgh Marathon to implement extra safety measures for runners and spectators, race officials said on Saturday.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Patrice Matamoros, Pittsburgh Marathon director. “We've been reevaluating our security plans and looking at what other steps we can take to make it better.”

Matamoros laid out some of the security changes for a group of runners at the organization's North Shore headquarters before a training run.

The 26,000 runners will have to leave backpacks or other bags at a “gear check” station and place items they need to carry in a clear bag that will be issued. Runners then will enter fenced-in “corrals” to await the start of the race.

Several “runner-only” zones encircled by 6-foot-tall chain link fence at the start and finish line areas will separate participants from spectators.

“Spectators will still have a place at the starting line, but we feel that it was overly congested in years past,” Matamoros said. “In light of what happened in Boston, we feel it is even more pertinent to have these runner- only zones.”

Matamoros said three members of the finish line team who were working at the Boston Marathon will be in Pittsburgh on race to day to assist.

From 75,000 to 100,000 spectators are expected to line the race route, she said.

Security will be tight in the approximately 700-foot, runner-only zone that will be set up beyond the finish line.

Matamoros said some security measures cannot be revealed. Race officials will be meeting regularly with city police in the days leading up to the race to finalize security plans.

Marathon officials have added more private security officers to supplement the large contingent of city police along the 26-mile race route.

A moment of silence was held for the victims of the Boston explosion before the group took off for its training run.

“It's been a tough week for the running community to get through,” Matamoros said.

She said race organizers and the police are “committed to doing everything they can to make the event secure for runners and spectators.”

“But we need the public's help, too,” she said. “We are asking people who come out to the race to be vigilant.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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