Carlos Handler crosses the Turnpike overpass in the lead which he held on to until the finish
Paul Wellman

Bouncing along in a surge of runners on Cathedral Oaks Road at dawn last Sunday, a perky woman addressed bleary-eyed bystanders: “Wake up, Santa Barbara-it’s beautiful!”

Would the sight of almost 3,000 people taking over several local thoroughfares-a few running very fast, many moving rather slowly-be considered beautiful by the residents of Goleta and Santa Barbara? Or would the first Select Staffing Santa Barbara International Marathon become known as “26 Miles of NIMBYs”? Those were the hopes and the fears of the race’s organizers.

The embrace of the community was reassuring. Hand-clapping, encouragement-shouting spectators appeared all along the course. “We knew our volunteers would be a huge presence,” said Rusty Snow, codirector of the marathon with his wife, June. “It was the way the people responded that made it the event we envisioned.”

To be sure, not everybody was thrilled by the road closures and detours, although a concerted effort was made to forewarn all affected neighborhoods. Those measures were essential to staging a major marathon. “We had entries coming from 47 states and 11 countries,” said Dan Campbell, the SBI Marathon technical director. “The way they were treated, they felt safe, protected and welcomed.” They also boosted tourism, accounting for 2,100 room nights in area hotels, according to Rusty Snow.

Law enforcement personnel-72 officers in all-were stationed at every major intersection. In order to pay for their services and obtain the permits to use the roads from several different agencies, the organizers had to dig into their personal savings. “Six weeks ago, Dan, June, and I wondered if we should go ahead with the marathon,” Snow said. “It was the most stressful time June and I ever had.” He estimated their losses at “probably $50,000.”

“We decided we’re going to do it, even if we have to go into debt,” Campbell said. “If you can’t make a vision of beauty happen in Santa Barbara, you can’t have a vision of beauty anywhere.”

They had some bad and good luck on the morning of the race. The bad: an incident on Highway 101 that caused a backup of vehicles ferrying runners to the starting line; the start of the race was delayed a half hour. The good: mostly sunny skies; a day later, and the marathon would have been run in a steady, soaking rain.

The runners were overwhelmingly complimentary of the organization and the aesthetics of the event. “It’s gorgeous,” said Carlos Handler, the runaway winner (2 hours, 24 minutes, 48.7 seconds) whose hometown is “smoggy Pomona.” First female Andrea McLarty (2:52:23.6), a naturalized Santa Barbaran, was so elated on the scenic final stretch along Shoreline Drive that she ran her fastest mile (5:50) at the end of the race.

Some runners complained that a water station was too far away when they got thirsty and a port-a-potty was not nearby at the moment nature called. “No marathon is 10- percent perfect,” said Dane Rauschenberg, a frequent marathoner (author of See Dane Run: One Man, 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends) from Washington, D.C. “This one was well organized, and the crowd support was fantastic. Finding fault here is like complaining about the glove compartment in a Lamborghini.”

Ryan Lamppa, media director of Running USA, said the number of U.S. marathons is more than 400. “Every city of note has one,” he said. Santa Barbara’s made a distinctive debut, he added. “It’s probably in the top three largest first-time marathons this year.” Why are so many people attempting to run them? “Distance running gives people a chance to participate in a serious athletic event,” Lamppa said.

The marathon is a beast that preys on people’s weaknesses. Dawna Ashton, coordinator of the medical volunteers from the S.B. chapter of the American Red Cross, said 312 participants sought treatment Sunday. One woman was taken to the hospital for what was described as a minor stroke. Ashton said she realized what superb athletes runners like Handler and McLarty are when she saw the struggling masses behind them.

Dropouts reduced the number of individual finishers to 1,686 (several hundred others ran part of the marathon in relays). Sore quads were epidemic following the race. My two daughters and a nephew pounded the pavement for all 26 miles, 385 yards. They sat in the upper balcony at the Granada during Yo-Yo Ma’s cello performance Monday night. At the conclusion of the concert, they went down the stairs sideways on wobbly legs, clinging to the railings for support.

Rusty and June Snow finished scouring the course for remnants of the marathon Monday. They dropped off extra water bottles and energy bars at the Foodbank and donated discarded clothes to the Unity Shoppe. They also announced that registrations are being taken for the second annual Santa Barbara International Marathon on December 5, 2010.


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