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Great Race, set for 40th running, maintains special place for competitors

| Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, 7:33 p.m.
Jennifer Bigham, of Pittsburgh raises her arms in victory at Point State Park winning Pittsburgh's Great Race, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jennifer Bigham, of Pittsburgh raises her arms in victory at Point State Park winning Pittsburgh's Great Race, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

Pittsburgh prides itself on tradition, and when it comes to running, few events embody those values more than the Great Race.

On Sunday morning, about 16,000 runners will gather for the 40th running of the event, the largest 10-kilometer race in Pennsylvania.

It is expected that 11,000 of those participants will participate in the 10K race that begins at 9:30 a.m. at the intersection of Beechwood Blvd. and South Dallas Avenue in Squirrel Hill. About 5,000 runners will compete in the 5K that starts at 9:30 a.m. at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Atwood Street in Oakland.

Both races end at Point State Park, and while the distance they cover may vary, defending women's 10K champion Jennifer Bigham said all the runners will feel a sense of community.

“I feel like the people of Pittsburgh are just behind the people of Pittsburgh. More than anything, and more than anywhere else that I've lived, people are just so proud to be from this city and support somebody from this city,” said Bigham, a Squirrel Hill resident.

“That's why it was really special to win last year. People were so excited that someone from Pittsburgh was winning. But it doesn't even matter if you win or if you're the last person across. People are just so excited to support each other and tell their battle stories after the race. It's an awesome community.”

The community adoration, along with the picturesque views of the city the race's route presents, is part of why Carl Hatfield of Bridgeport, W.Va., continues to participate.

Hatfield won the first Great Race in 1977 and has participated in every Great Race ever since. The Pittsburgh Marathon Hall of Famer has battled through sickness to maintain his four-decade long commitment, and he said he still looks forward to it every fall.

“I really like Pittsburgh, and my running career spans 52 years,” said Hatfield, a member of the 21-man Perfect Great Racers club. “I've run and won probably around 30 different races in Pittsburgh, but I always come back for this one.”

“You could call it a family event, because a lot of families run together. Even in my case, my wife ran the 10K in 1980 and 1981 and then later on, my daughter ran the 5K a couple of times. It's definitely a good, community-based, family event.”

To help enhance the family-friendly aspect of the Great Race, one of its sponsors, the Allegheny Health Network, will make its Healthy Ride bike share system free for the day for those who wish to ride around town.

While different features such as the free bike share system might bring something new to the Great Race, at its heart, the event will remain the same as it did in 1977, race director Brian Katze.

“There's no real pressure to perform. It's about the experience and about being a part of something. We don't have prize money, and we don't bring in elite runners or anything like that,” Katze said.

“It's really just a chance to get people out, see Pittsburgh, see their friends and families and do it for themselves and their personal accomplishments.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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