More than 25,000 people will be pedaling, running and walking around Long Beach this Sunday.
Truth is, several thousand people do that every weekend. But this Sunday, they’ll be going farther and faster than they usually do, and they’ll be doing it together.
It’s called the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon (and Half Marathon and Bike Tour and Run Forrest Run 5K and Aquarium of the Pacific Kids One-Mile Fun Run and Health and Fitness Expo and Finish Line Festival). And it has become a big deal.
When the first bunch of runners got together in 1982 and organized a marathon race in Long Beach, about 1,600 people entered. For years, it was primarily a volunteer affair for hard-core runners.
Long Beach’s marathon grew rapidly, peaking in the mid-1990s as an international race with a hefty purse for the winners. But when longtime executive director Bob Fernald died, the race lost its momentum, ultimately going on hiatus from 1996 through 1998.
But the dream remained, and supporters refused to believe a city the size of Long Beach couldn’t put on a viable marathon. It was revived in 1999 with the city sanctioning the promotion group.
When promised prize money wasn’t forthcoming in 2000, the city took another look at race management, and a group called International City Racing took over. Led by Olympian Bob Seagren, ICR took a different approach to the marathon, focusing on making it a “people’s race.”
That, and a huge emphasis on securing strong sponsors, quickly set the Long Beach Marathon back on its feet. International City Bank and Jane Netherton took Seagren and the race under its wing, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There have been many changes in the intervening 11 years, including ICR changing its name to Run Racing. But the name change could just as easily have been Community Racing, because Community has been the organization’s mantra.
One of the keys to any marathon’s success is the route, and Seagren and right-hand man John Parks long have taken advantage of Long Beach’s coastline, icons like the Queen Mary, the aquarium and the Lions’ Lighthouse for Sight. But even a long beach doesn’t offer a 26-mile route, and other parts of the city wanted to play a role.
One year, the marathon ended at Veterans Stadium in a display of patriotism after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Runners demanded a return to the ocean breezes of the coast. But merchants along Belmont Shore’s Second Street, long a part of the route, rebelled against closing their street to traffic — and customers.
Seagren and company not only obliged, they managed to create an even more popular course by staying on Ocean Boulevard closer to the water, and cutting through the green campus of California State University, Long Beach. Then they did more, lending their organizing expertise to the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade.
One of the most popular moves by the marathon, and one that has spurred its participant growth, has been the addition of fund-raising teams running for charity. There are 16 official charities in the running for 2012, and more than $100,000 will be raised.
Of course, there are detractors — you don’t put on an event where there are more than 25,000 participants (and several thousand more volunteers, vendors and fans) without some disruption. Streets must be closed, traffic diverted and inconveniences experienced.
But Run Racing continues to be sensitive to the impacts they create, doing their best to minimize where possible and mitigate when they can. The volunteers who come back year after year have been some of the best ambassadors the city has seen.
This year, there will be 15 Legacy runners in the race. These 15 dedicated athletes have run in every Long Beach Marathon since its inception in 1982. They are a testament to what dedication can do.
The premier status of the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon is a similar testament. It is a testament to what good things can happen when good people come together with the community in mind.
Congratulations, runners, organizers and volunteers. You’ve done, you are doing, something positive.
For that, we thank you.