If you’re looking for a fun fall race with great scenery (and a flat course) then sign-up for the Long Beach Marathon/Half-Marathon. This year was my third time running Long Beach and it is one I was looking forward to tackling again after missing the race in 2012. The race includes a full marathon/half-marathon/bike tour and other assorted smaller races making for a very fun and festive day. I don’t know the total number of participants, although the number I heard was somewhere around 13,000.
REGISTRATION/PACKET PICK-UP- The cost of race is in keeping with most standard half-marathons. They offer deals throughout the year, but of course the sooner you register the better the price. The expo is located in the Long Beach Convention Center and offers your standard helping of vendors giving out swag and races offering discounts. This year in addition to my normal swag I walked away with a complimentary loaf of bread… go figure. You can get in and out quickly if you need to just get your shirt/bib (which is nice) and the expo is fairly well organized. Parking for the expo is $10 at the convention center but if you’re willing to walk a little you might find some metered parking a few blocks away.
TRANSPORTATION/PARKING- This can be one of the major headaches for the race given Long Beach’s location. For those of us who drive, getting to Long Beach on race day can be a bit stressful. Plan to arrive around Long Beach about 90min- 2 hours before your start time due to the traffic back-up where the 710 ends. It can take as much as an hour to navigate the last few miles to a parking structure. That said, parking itself isn’t too hard to find as you can choose from the convention center or one of the many lots around town. But if you’re the kind of person who gets wound up on race morning, you might just want to spring for a hotel the night before and have a relaxing morning.
T-SHIRT/MEDALS- The T-shirt for Long Beach this year was an interesting “minimalist” blue design with the logo located at the bottom of the shirt. At first I thought it a little dull, but it’s quickly grown on me. The finisher medals continue with their theme of showing off landmarks around Long Beach. It’s a standard grey/silver medal with the marathon medal slightly larger than the half-marathon medal. An added “Beach City Challenge” medal is awarded if you complete Surf City/OC/Long Beach races all in a row. It’s a large brightly colored medal and a nice addition to your collection. FYI, I’ll get mine when I finish Surf City in Feb.
COURSE- This is the best part of Long Beach for me. I’ve only done the half-marathon, so I can only comment on the first 13.1 miles. The looping course takes you around the city of Long Beach, with most of it in sight of the water. Seeing the Queen Mary as you run is always a nice touch and I watched fireboats sitting offshore firing their water cannons to salute the runners. It’s a flat course as a whole with only a few smaller bridges and one slight incline to maneuver. For several miles you do travel along the beach running path and some other tighter turns. This does cause for some bottlenecking and added distance (if you don’t run tangents). I’m pretty aware of cutting corners, so I ended up only adding .08 miles to the 13.1 tally. My advice on the beach paths is to run tangents where possible, but don’t waste energy weaving in and around people… slow your pace a little and save some energy for the final two miles. Marathon and half-marathon runners do the same course in the beginning (FYI, the marathon runners start 90 minutes ahead of the half-marathoners) and then split off after mile 11, only to rejoin for the final mile or so (the marathon runners do finish at a different spot, but it’s just about .10 mile further than the half-marathoners. Oh, and the weather was perfect this year with the temperature in the low 60s at the start.
COURSE SERVICES- The course is managed pretty well, with water stops placed every mile. As with most races, the water stops are undermanned and the volunteers overwhelmed, so I recommend bringing a bottle or water belt of your own to make certain you’re properly hydrated. Powerade was the drink of choice on the course and it was provided every other mile. Around mile 10 they also offered cliff shot gels for runners. Runner tracking seemed a little off this year as I only was given 5K and 10K split times along with my finish (the other splits didn’t register and I know of other people who had the same problem). They do have RunPix set up some final graphics to track your run, which is a nice touch.
One pre-race complaint…the porta potties seemed be out of toilet paper almost immediately, causing for some pre-race anxiety. My advice as always is for runners to bring along a roll of toilet paper or some handy wipes. I brought mine and when I didn’t need it, handed it off to a group of ladies who thanked me profusely.
FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY- My other longstanding complain with Long Beach is the crowd control/funneling of runners after the race. For some reason they can’t seem to get this right as it takes forever for runners to navigate their way to the post race celebration. It’s a frustratingly slow walk in a throng of people when all you really want to do is stretch your legs, find your friends and check out the booths while listening to music. Once you do get through the gates, however, the party is a nice way to wind down after a satisfying run.
All in all Long Beach is a fun race, with a great view and nice vibe. I look forward to running it again in 2014, especially since it’ll be the 30th anniversary of the race. Good times.