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Planning for Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon hits sour note

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Sunday, April 28, 2013, 11:18 p.m.

The Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon — a race built around a music theme that was planned for Aug. 4 in Pittsburgh — has been canceled before the first note could be played.

Organizers of the race, which would have featured live music along the course and a concert by a national music act at the finish line, notified 4,000 registrants by email over the weekend that the race was off, said Dan Cruz, a spokesman for Competitors Group Inc., based in San Diego, where the first Rock 'n' Roll race was held in 1998.

Cruz said on Sunday that the city has refused to issue a permit for the race. Organizers hope to reschedule the event for 2014.

“We've applied for a permit several times and have repeatedly been denied,” Cruz said. “In November, the city raised concerns about the heat associated with running a race in August. We offered other dates for September, but those were also turned down.

“We felt that we could no longer proceed with organizing this year's event without the support of the mayor's office, the director of public safety and the (city's) special events committee.”

Michael Huss, the city's director of public safety, said on Sunday that decision not to allow the race on Aug. 4 was made after consulting with city emergency medical services chiefs and a physician who advises the public safety department.

They raised concerns about problems runners might face because of high heat and humidity, he said.

“During last year's (Pittsburgh) marathon in May, we were up against the wall with resources even though we brought medical units from outside the city to help,” Huss said, adding that half marathons often can result in more medical problems among runners because they often do not train as hard as those running in full marathon races. Half marathons typically are around 13 miles long.

Part of the key to the Rock 'n' Roll series' popularity is its accessibility for novice racers, and its emphasis on fun and the overall race experience, organizers said when the event was announced at a March 2012 event at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

“As far as offering us other dates, they (organizers) were dug in on Aug. 4, until recently,” Huss said. “We felt that holding it in September would conflict with the Great Race.”

Organizers said Aug. 4 was selected to prevent conflicts with the Dick's Sporting Goods Marathon on May 5 and the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race scheduled for Sept. 29.

About 4,000 runners — half of whom are from outside Western Pennsylvania — were registered for the race, Cruz said.

They were offered the option of applying their entry fee to another race, including the 2014 race in Pittsburgh, or a refund.

“We're very disappointed that we have to cancel this year's race (in Pittsburgh), but we're still hoping to have one next year if city officials will cooperate,” Cruz said.

There are 17 more Rock 'n' Roll races scheduled this year in the United States and Canada, as well as four in Europe. The closest ones to Pittsburgh are in Philadelphia on Sept. 15, and Cleveland on Oct. 5.

Craig Davis, CEO of tourism promotion agency VisitPittsburgh, which has been trying to add Pittsburgh to the lineup of Rock 'n' Roll races held each year, said his organization plans to continue offering its assistance.

“We will continue to work with the city and Rock 'n' Roll marathon officials to create a successful event in Pittsburgh in 2014,” he said.

The race was expected to generate about $7.9 million in direct spending in the city, Davis said.

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

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