The Great Race

The Great Race is back this year, heading off the line in Frick Park next Sunday at 9:30 a.m. The P-G's preview today is curious, since in ways it suggests that local runners are afraid of the race eventually returning to the big-time status that it enjoyed before last year's collapse. Great: one more (minor) example of Pittsburgh for Pittsburghers.

Do I miss the point? Aren't the folks in the article just saying that the race belongs to the casual runner and jogger and shouldn't be taken over by professional elites? Maybe -- but then that would be just as wrong as saying that the top end of the race should belong to local swifties. When I lived in the San Francisco area, for years I ran the "Bay to Breakers" 12K, a race that dwarfs the Great Race in every way imaginable -- faster elite runners, better costumes, sometimes no costumes (and no clothes), more weddings, tougher course, and (most important) just way more people. More than 100,000 people "ran" the race in its peak years, meaning that the overwhelming majority of the group were casual runners (and joggers, and walkers, and occasionally cross-country skiers). The fact that the paid elites were crossing the finish line while many of the 100,000 were crossing the starting line took absolutely nothing away from the race's status as the world's largest mobile block party. ("Running" here is a euphemism, since with that many people, you could really run only the last 4 or 5 miles of the course.)

All power to the Great Race organizers. It's great that the race is back, and may it continue and flourish in the years to come. But bring back the elite runners. The best local runners could use the competition. And it can still be the biggest community event of the year in Pittsburgh.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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