Hundreds of runners were lined up with no place to go early Saturday morning when the Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon was canceled 45 minutes after it was supposed to start.
Police officers assigned to the race determined that it was unsafe to proceed because hardly any volunteers were deployed to monitor the 13.1-mile course along the waterfront into the Mesa.
“It’s on me,” race director June Snow said in an interview on KEYT. She confessed that rustling up volunteers was a task she put off and ultimately failed to accomplish.
Snow issued an apology on the event’s Facebook page, but that did little to mollify the people who paid $100 entry fees to participate in an organized run. Having incurred expenses to put on the race, Snow could not promise their fees would be refunded.
“I know I won’t see a dime of refund,” wrote a runner from Arizona. “I spent a lot of money for lodging, gas and food. … Unless a reputable race company takes this over, I see the end of this race!”
Bill Rupp, a longtime volunteer at road races in the area, showed up Saturday morning, expecting to help distribute food at the finish line. “There was no food there,” he said. He went to the Mesa and found that key intersections were unmanned. “My heart dropped,” he said. “This is a real black mark on Santa Barbara.”
At 7 a.m., Beverley Lewis was supposed to fire her starter’s pistol at Chase Palm Park, the start/finish line. While some 500 runners bunched up, the start was put on hold. At 8:45, Lewis was informed the run was canceled.
“Here I am in a red blazer,” she said. “Everybody was furious. I had to be the one to say I’m terribly sorry.”
As many as half of the field decided to run the course on their own, without receiving official times or medals. “An aid station on Elise Way ran out of water and had to get more from Lazy Acres,” Rupp said.
The first Veterans Day Half Marathon was staged in 2010 as a companion race to the Santa Barbara International Marathon. The event’s codirectors were Rusty and June Snow, former distance runners at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who had moved to Santa Barbara six years previously. The two runs drew over 5,000 entries at their peak in 2012.
There were some complaints in 2014, when promised medals were not awarded, and serious trouble arrived in 2015, when the full marathon was canceled with only three weeks’ notice because of diminishing participation. Those who entered the longer run are reportedly still awaiting refunds.
June Snow took over the half marathon after she and her husband were separated. The 2016 Veterans Day race was plagued by problems, including runners being directed off course and missing medals.
Snow, going by her maiden name June Parks, promised that she was “bringing the popular South Coast tradition ‘back on its feet’” this year, but her best intentions dissolved into a fiasco Saturday.