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Pittsburgh Marathon races to have Black-and-Gold feel

| Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, 11:12 a.m.
A slow shutter speed creates the illusion of disembodied shoes in a river of color during the start of the sixth revival of the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, Sunday, May 4, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Revie
A slow shutter speed creates the illusion of disembodied shoes in a river of color during the start of the sixth revival of the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, Sunday, May 4, 2014.
Runners start the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday, May 1, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Runners start the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday, May 1, 2016.

Black and Gold will be well-represented during the 2017 Pittsburgh Marathon weekend.

A reconfigured course means runners will pass all three of the city's major professional sports venues: PNC Park, where the Pirates play; Heinz Field, home of the Steelers; and PPG Paints Arena, where the Penguins lifted another Stanley Cup champions banner this year.

"Runners have asked us for years if we could do a sports tour of Pittsburgh," Dee Stathis, the marathon's chief operating officer and director of operations and marketing, said Tuesday. "This year, it worked out that way."

Construction on the Andy Warhol Bridge between Downtown and the North Shore and on the Boulevard of the Allies in Uptown forced planners to make two changes to the course, which brought the stadiums and arena into play.

The marathon and half-marathon course will follow West General Robinson Street past PNC Park five miles into the race. The course turns onto North Shore Drive and will bring runners past the south end zone of Heinz Field a half-mile later.

The course splits at the Birmingham Bridge, at Mile 11, with marathoners heading east into Oakland and half-marathoners turning west into Uptown. In past years, the half-marathon course joined the Boulevard of the Allies for a long climb to the Bluff and Duquesne University. This year, the course sticks to Fifth Avenue, which means runners will run by PPG Paints Arena.

The full marathon course will not pass PPG Paints Arena.

Stathis said course changes must be made yearly — in Pittsburgh and other cities that conduct marathons — because of construction projects and other conflicts. The changes might not be permanent.

"We all experience it," she said. "It's just the reality of living in a city."

When the marathon resumed in 2009 after a five-year hiatus, the "sister bridges" spanning the Allegheny River — named after Rachel Carson, Andy Warhol and Roberto Clemente — were not part of the course but were added in recent years. They could not be included this year because the city requires at least one bridge to remain open at all times for public safety reasons. With construction on the Warhol, and the planned closure of the Roberto Clemente Bridge for that day's Pirates game — the bridge is closed to vehicles in favor of foot traffic on game days — there was no way to include the bridges this year, Stathis said.

"People need to appreciate how much work goes into developing these courses and how much coordination goes in with the city and Port Authority and other agencies," she said. "They're great partners. But everyone compromises when you have an event this big."

In 2009, the races drew 10,500 runners. Last year, more than 41,000 runners took part in the weekend's events, including the marathon, half-marathon, marathon relay, 5K, 1-mile kids marathon and pet walk.

While overall participation has increased, registration for the full marathon has declined. In 2013, more than 4,700 runners completed the 26.2-mile course. Last year, that number dropped to 3,681.

Stathis said those trends are occurring nationwide. More people are interested in running, driving up overall participation, she said, but many runners gravitate toward races with more manageable distances, including 10K, 10 miles and the 13.1-mile half-marathon.

"Group races, including the relay, are all increasing" in popularity," she added. "Not only do runners get to experience a cool course and event, but they get to do it with friends."

The Pittsburgh Marathon is scheduled for May 7.

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