- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

In the amount of time it takes many Washington area runners to complete a marathon, you used to be able to drive four hours to Pittsburgh to one of the nation’s best endurance races.

But probably not in 2004. The race that twice served as an Olympic Marathon qualifier (women in 1988, men in 2000) and three times as the national marathon championships (1997?1999) was suspended indefinitely by Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy last week, an unfortunate victim of the local economy and the end of a long run by its title sponsor, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“We’ve put in a good eight years and had a lot of fun,” said 18-year race director Larry Grollman, who was loaned to the race by his employer and the UPMC. “To have the trials and the championships was a great thing for us.”

The UPMC Pittsburgh Marathon, which attracted many Washington area runners on the first Sunday in May, ranked No.23 in size for its 2,560 finishers last year. But even smaller marathons are not cheap to produce. Grollman said that in-kind services were a large part of the budget, but he declined to reveal the overall figure.

However, one source close to the race said that between registration fees, sponsorship cash and in-kind contributions, some $1million was spent conducting the race each year. That included a large in-kind medical contribution by UPMC since the inaugural race 19 years ago and an in-kind contribution of city services between $150,000 and $200,000.

UPMC’s eight-year run is fairly long for a title sponsor in the running community, and Grollman said the marathon wasn’t the only community event that UPMC sponsored. He said the medical center is bringing in a bio-terrorism security unit from another city and has plans to support the 2005 Senior Olympics.

UPMC notified the city in March of its intentions to take a lesser role — medical sponsor — in the marathon. Murphy, a running enthusiast, was faced with an projected budget deficit of $40million this year and $80million next year. He began slashing city support for numerous sports, arts and cultural events, including the Richard S. Caliguiri/City of Pittsburgh Great Race 10K, the nation’s seventh largest 10K with 5,755 finishers in 2002. The Great Replacement Race was run in its stead last weekend with 1,300 entrants.

City officials could not find a title sponsor to replace UPMC.

“With the city budget crisis, the mayor laid off 750 city employees, police officers, EMTs,” race spokeswoman Susan Manko said. “So last week when the city told us it was canceled, it wasn’t a big surprise to me.”

The marathon, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, had no cash reserves to make it through a year without a title sponsor.

“No significant dollars were passed on from year to year,” Grollman said. “I worked on a break-even basis. It would have been nice to have had a reserve fund, but we didn’t have that kind of money.”

Although he seems ready to move on to other ventures, Grollman did not rule out a marathon in Pittsburgh in the future.

“Remember what happened with the Chicago Marathon [now at 40,000 entrants] — I think it was in 1987, certainly Chicago missed a year,” he said. “But I think it’s a good representation of what can happen when people come in and revitalize it.”

There is some movement afoot to have a replacement marathon next year with little in city services, but Grollman said he is not involved with that effort.

Instead, he can sit back now and reminisce over a career that began in the Washington area in the early ‘80s as a trainer at first George Mason University and then George Washington University before he transferred to Pittsburgh for good nearly two decades ago.

He always has had a soft spot for Washington, even offering a discount to entrants of the failed 2003 Washington DC Marathon to come to the Steel City for his race.

And he always had a pretty good sense of humor, which fortunately he has not lost despite the demise of his race.

“I will always been known as the [person] who put on an Olympic trials on an 85-degree day,” he said, referring to the 2000 Men’s U.S. Olympic marathon trials. On that torturous day, only Rod DeHaven qualified for the Sydney Olympics because the heat slowed the field.

Debut marathon — Former American mile great Steve Holman of Arlington is expected to make his marathon debut at today’s Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota. Also look for Silver Spring’s Naoke Ishibe in the top 10 women.

And Arlington’s Michael Wardian is making his bid for an Olympic trials qualifier (sub-2:22) today at the Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Bank Marathon.

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