It’s a big weekend for Pittsburgh as the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon takes place Sunday morning and neighborhoods throughout the city celebrate. Meet two of the 35,000 runners (from 50 states and 12 countries) who are participating in the marathon. Their amazing stories of setback and recovery will inspire you. Then read on for some amazing facts about our marathon.
Pia Crosby, 60, married to John and a mother of six, was a lifelong jogger before she started running competitively. She ran her first 5K at age 52, a fundraiser for Franciscan University, where her husband teaches philosophy and she coaches women’s cross-country.
“To my own surprise, I won it,” she says, beating many younger runners with a time of 20:44.
A month later, in July 2008, a 12-passenger Ford van struck Crosby during her six-mile neighborhood run. “The driver didn’t see me,” she says. She catapulted over the hood, breaking her pelvis and several ribs. Her lung collapsed; she went into shock. Flown to Allegheny General Hospital, she spent 12 days in the trauma unit, nine of them in intensive care.
Doctors let her pelvis heal without surgery, telling her to keep weight off her left side for three months. They warned she might walk with a limp. “It seemed like the end of a very short, competitive running career,” the Steubenville resident recalls.
Nine months of physical therapy involved pool workouts, massages and weight-bearing exercises. The first time she went to the local high school track, still using crutches, “I remember doing one round—it took me nine minutes. You begin to appreciate how it’s a gift that can be taken.”
But she walked, and then walked fast—and finally began to run again. She entered her first race after the accident in March 2011, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. “I ran it in 23:37 and won my age group!” she says. That trophy remains special among her medals and awards.
She agreed to run the half-marathon in Pittsburgh in 2014 with her son. “I had no idea,” she says. “I had trained, I had coached, I had gone even up to 13 miles a couple times, but not very fast.” She paced herself, and passed her son around the 10-mile mark. “It was difficult to decide whether I was going to be a mother and stay behind him, or be a runner,” she laughs.
Crosby finished in 1:42:15—second place for the 55-60 age group. “It was just a wonderful thing.”
Last year, she tried to beat her time in Pittsburgh’s half-marathon, and ran the first four miles too fast. After that, “The whole race was one uphill battle,” Crosby says. “I finished five minutes slower than the year before. That was an important lesson: don’t run too fast; don’t do what you can’t do.”
The four-mile point was significant both years. “You come over one of the bridges and you can see Allegheny Hospital—it was a very emotional moment,” she says. “I didn’t know if I would ever run again, and here I am, in the same city.”
This year, Crosby is battling an injured metatarsal. She ran 18 miles Dec. 26, her longest run ever, and the pain set in. “My secret hope was always to run the marathon, but because of this injury I’m trying to be content with what I have.”
In December, Crosby hopes to earn her master’s degree in theology. She takes a class each semester, a couple classes over summers. “It’s in the end game, I would say.” Running taught her to set goals, and brought her joy. And with the accident came the gift of a deep spiritual experience.
“You take everything for granted when you’re strong,” she says. “Then you go through this, and being dependent on the kindness of other people and their care—it’s a sign of how we are a human community, and we need each other. When you lose something like this, you become all of a sudden more appreciative. Now I look back and it has turned into a blessing, in terms of relationships.”
Jeffrey Whitmore, 26, of Washington, D.C., has a fast-paced life working for a marketing agency. Four nights a week, he pencils in a run, usually through Rock Creek Park, which stretches into Maryland. But when running, he admits, “I’m a lot less serious about it than I used to be.”
He almost died in last year’s Pittsburgh marathon, 120 yards from the finish line.
“I went into sudden cardiac arrest—my heart stopped, my pulse stopped, my breathing stopped,” Whitmore says. “I was coming down the chute and I collapsed.” A man helped him up. “We went another three or four yards, and that’s when I collapsed again.”
This time, a retired anesthesiologist and a nurse nearby stepped in, along with Dr. Ronald Roth, UPMC’s EMS chief and medical director for the City of Pittsburgh EMS and First Responders. They summoned EMTs.
“I was unconscious, not breathing, for close to a minute,” Whitmore says. “They put the AED on me, did CPR. Then I spent Sunday in the ER, and Monday to Wednesday in ICU. I don’t remember any of that.”
He woke up plugged into machines, “with tubes coming out of my body.” He spent Thursday undergoing tests, which found no disease or predisposition for cardiac arrest. “Best guess,” Whitmore says, “I got too hot —it was a hot day—my electrolytes were low, and I was dehydrated.”
Two weeks later, he returned to work. His doctors told him “my youth and my overall health before that allowed me to recuperate and recharge more quickly than most people.”
Within six weeks, Whitmore’s cardiologist cleared him to run. “I went for a run, albeit at much lower mileage and a much slower pace.”
This year, he’ll run Pittsburgh’s half-marathon with his girlfriend, Norah. He’ll wear heart rate monitors.
“I’m running half the distance, and not running for any sort of time, so I think I’ll be okay,” he says, though he anticipates having mixed emotions during the run. On this second trip to Pittsburgh, he wants to have fun and enjoy good food with friends.
Norah and his parents were in Seattle when Whitmore collapsed last year, on his father’s 60th birthday. “They got the call from the hospital and flew in, and had to sit there and deal with me being unconscious.”
His near-death experience taught him several things, he says.
“First and foremost, it taught me that it’s important to keep life in perspective. When the printer in the office isn’t working, I don’t get as worked up as I used to, or if they mess up my sandwich order. I don’t sweat the small stuff.
“And definitely, there’s a sense of gratitude that came out of it. I’m thankful that what happened, happened where and when it did, and that I was able to come through it alive. I’ve got a greater sense of appreciation for first responders and the medical community.
“The third thing is, I lost that sense of invincibility that young men have. It’s a humbling reality check—that I am not immortal and life is very precious. It can literally go away in an instant.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon by the numbers:
- The 2016 event will showcase more than 35,000 runners from 50 states and 12 countries
- One of the 20 largest marathons and half marathons in the U.S.
- The oldest runner is 86 years old.
- Students from more than 140 schools and organizations are logging 26.2 miles of running over 18 weeks as part of the Kids of STEEL program. They will run the last mile of their goal in the Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon, which will have more than 6,000 participants.
- 55 world-class athletes will compete for a total prize purse that exceeds $132,000 with $8,000 going to the first male and female.
- Top U.S. long distance runners will compete for an American prize purse of $40,500.
- 12 official #GameOnPGH bloggers are documenting their training experience leading up to race day.
- 150,000+ spectators line the start line, course and finish line.
- 20 companies are participating in the 2016 Pittsburgh Corporate Challenge, an opportunity for corporations and companies of all sizes to promote workplace wellness and build teamwork across departments.
- $7.5 million raised for charity since 2009
- 100+ official and contributing charities
- 13 official neighborhoods
- 8 years since the event’s revival
- More than 60 bands and 20 cheerathoners will line the course on race day
- The men’s Pittsburgh Marathon record is 2:10:24, set by John Kagwe in 1995.
- The women’s Pittsburgh Marathon record is 2:29:50, set by Margaret Groos in 1988.
- The men’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon record is 1:02:32, set by Julius Kogo in 2013.
- The women’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon record is 1:11:37, set by Sophy Jepchirchir in 2014.
- 20,000 gallons of water
- 30,000 Mylar blankets
- 700 Port-O-Johns
- 154,000 safety pins
- 22,000 Eat’n Park Cookies
- 32,000 bananas
- 18,000 ft. of fencing
- 480,000 cups
- 1,110 tables
- 4,154 volunteers, including 500 clinicians all volunteering their time and skill, including physicians, nurses, paramedics, podiatrists, certified athletic trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists
- 30 box trucks
- 1500 trash/recycling bags
- 500 cones
- 1200 gallons of Gatorade concentrate
- 50 generators for bands
- 1,000 signs and banners
- 15 medical aid stations and 20 fluid stations along the course
- Coordination with 13 neighborhoods along the course
- More than 100 bands and cheer groups will line the 26.2 mile course.
- 50,000 GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Expo visitors
- 130 vendors at GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Expo
- 60,000 bottles of water
- 22,000 Panera Bread bagels
- 30 school buses
- 300 radios
- 400+ private security