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Marathon organizers may cap future marathons at 30,000 runners

| Friday, May 3, 2013, 7:12 p.m.

Five times around the lake at North Park and an extra loop equaled 26.2 miles. And after running that route in one of the races that preceded the Pittsburgh Marathon, Don Toy vowed he would never run that distance again.

Toy is now one of 15 “Sole Survivors” who have run in every Pittsburgh Marathon since its inception in 1985.

“It's just kind of turned into a compulsion,” the Apollo resident said.

Toy's change — the monotony of running around a lake initially soured him on marathons — may be equaled only by the changes in the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday. Close to 30,000 people will take part in the marathon or half-marathon, and sheer numbers since the Pittsburgh Marathon's rebirth show why its growth has been nothing less than staggering — and why the race may have maxed out on runners for now.

The 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon attracted 10,000 runners after the race took a five-year hiatus due to financial problems. The growth has been so steady since then that participation in the Pittsburgh Marathon will likely be capped at around 30,000 people for the foreseeable future.

“I think we're at a nice size now, and I wouldn't mind trying to stay here for a while,” race director Patrice Matamoros said. “I think we're right now in a really good place where we can start tweaking our operations and becoming more efficient in some of the processes we have race weekend.”

Matamoros' top priority may be easing congestion at the start of the marathon.

Runners are grouped in corrals according to times that are verified and then logged into a computer. The goal, Matamoros said, is to get 1,000 runners off the starting line per minute. Even if that is accomplished, it can still take runners a considerable amount to get into a groove.

Toy said when the Marathon was brought back in 2009 he reached the one-mile mark in around 12 minutes. It now takes him about 23 minutes to get through the first mile, he said.

“Really for three miles you can't get into the pace you want to get into because of the crowd,” said Toy, 59.

The inconvenience is a small price to pay, Toy said, as it shows how vibrant the Pittsburgh Marathon is.

Matamoros said her group has studied other marathons such as ones in Boston, New York and Chicago and tried to implement some of what they have seen at those races.

“We've traveled to all of the other major marathons that have gotten phenomenal reviews for runners, and we look at what they do,” she said. “I want to see what kind of experience these people have at these numbers this year and maybe sit at this place before we move forward.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ScottBrown_Trib.

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