Among the last to finish 2018 marathon, Beltzhoover man running again
William Harrison Sr. will crawl across the finish line if he has to.
But he won’t quit.
Harrison, 69, of Pittsburgh’s Beltzhoover neighborhood, was the among the last people to finish the 2018 Pittsburgh Marathon with the time of 7 hours, 7 minutes — seven minutes after the course officially closed.
This year, he’ll run again, just like he has in every Pittsburgh marathon since 1985, the year of the city’s first 26.2-mile race.
“If I’m alive, I’ll be there,” said Harrison, who was sidelined from sports at 15 after he was diagnosed with a chronic bone condition that affects his left leg.
He’s had multiple surgeries, but Harrison said there’s not much doctors were able to do to replace the bone and portions of his knee joint that were weakened. There also wasn’t much they could do to convince him to pull up a chair and join the cheering section.
“It would have hurt, too,” Harrison said of the prospect of becoming a spectator.
Despite not being able to train, Harrison has run every Pittsburgh marathon since the race started, making him a member of a special group of runners recognized by race organizers as the “Sole Survivors.”
There are 10 Sole Survivors running Sunday. Harrison is one of five additional Sole Survivors who race organizers designate as alumni because they have, at some point, not finished the race before the designated cut-off time, P3R volunteer and project coordinator Melissa Cade said.
In 2015, Harrison was awarded the Pheidippides Award by the American Hellenic Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon for his contribution to the race.
He runs with the phrase “Thank God” next to the number on his race bib.
“How can I take credit for this? I’m not allowed to train,” he said.
Harrison did admit to sneaking in a bit of training this year. He walked around on his tip-toes to strengthen his calf muscles. Otherwise, he relies on muscle memory and a dream of running the coveted two-hour marathon to keep him going.
“And the older I get, the more it excites me,” Harrison said.
His ran his best time of 4:14 in 1997.
Most runners hit a “wall” around mile 18. That’s when the body’s stores of glycogen — the fuel that’s burned to keep a runner going — start to run out. They might feel tired and want to stop as the body tries to conserve energy.
But that’s when Harrison, a 1969 graduate of Westinghouse High School, kicks it into high gear as the course passes through Homewood West, just blocks from his alma mater. That’s where he fell in love with sports as a member of the high school’s football team and cultivated dreams of joining the University of Pittsburgh football program.
Memories of the 29 marathons Harrison has run in Pittsburgh blur together. He gets emotional recalling the people he’s met and moments he’s experienced across the nearly 800 miles he’s covered, including the year he ran alongside his then-teenage son. After Harrison ran ahead at mile 11 to finish on his own, he doubled back to find his son and cross the finish line with him.
On Sunday, he says he’ll be thinking about the promise he made to his children many marathons ago.
“Run them all until you’re the last person who ran them all.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .