REVIEW: HOLLYWOOD HALF MARATHON (4/5/14)
“Hooray for Hollywood!” This past Saturday morning saw a “premiere” like none other as over 10,000 racers lined up outside of the famed Chinese Theater to take part in the 3rd running of the Hollywood Half Marathon/10K/5K. Started back in 2012, this race happens just a few weeks after the Los Angeles Marathon and utilizes some of the same course. For those of us who pounded the pavement at the LA Marathon, this race serves as a nice follow-up and a second chance to hit the streets of Hollywood. The race raises money and awareness for local homeless youth shelters (a very worthwhile cause) and has a very positive vibe about. The Hollywood Half Marathon/10k/5K features a combined start for all three distances, meaning the beginning of the race has the feel of a bigger city event. In 2014, over 5700 entrants ran the half marathon (making it the most popular distance) while the 10K and 5K each had between 2100-2300 participants.
Registration costs for the Hollywood Half Marathon are quite reasonable when compared to other similar races as I only paid about $70. And while prices do climb as race day approaches, the Hollywood Half offers plenty of discounts on social media, various websites and through its many ambassadors. If you can’t find a discount code, it’s just because you didn’t look. Like some other aspects of the race, the packet pick-up was slightly different in 2014. This year’s expo headquarters was at the Hollywood Palladium on Sunset Blvd. While the famed concert hall’s layout doesn’t really lend itself to serving as an expo hall, the race organizers did a pretty good job making the square peg fit into this round hole. Packet pick-up was on Thursday and Friday and was extremely easy to navigate. I was able to walk right in and get my bib and T-shirt. The expo itself was rather limited in size, featuring only a handful of recognizable vendors, but you could still find some race supplies and a few interesting items. I recommend against paying the $10 parking fee as this is a quick “in and out” expo and metered street parking wasn’t too difficult to find (just make sure you don’t park on the street during rush hour or you risk being towed.)
Since the race starts at the Chinese Theater, there are several solutions to your transportation/parking needs. You can either park at the Hollywood Highland complex or one of the many nearby lots (expect to pay anywhere from $10- $25, depending on the lot). Just be sure to get down there before the streets close. Another very viable option is to use the Metro Rail since there is a station that lets off right at the Hollywood Highland complex. I parked at the Universal City Lot and purchased a Metro Rail day pass ($5, plus $1 extra if you don’t already have a TAP card) and it was a short 5 minute ride to the start line.
In its inaugural running in 2012, the Hollywood Half Marathon introduced the “Walk of Fame” inspired star-shaped medal, which I really enjoyed. The first year’s medal was red and subsequent years have kept the design the same and just changed up the color, which works fine for me. Last year’s medal was white in color and this year’s is blue, making for a nice triad o’ stars. Similarly, the tech race T-shirts have had been a base white with the race’s logo on the front, but had colored side panels to give them some flair. The 2013 race had red panels and this year’s version sported blue. It’s actually a pretty cool looking shirt. In addition, this year marked the first year of the legacy program (for those who have run 3 races) and the inaugural gift is a red “legacy” tech shirt with side panels showing off a star pattern. And for those of you who like your bling really really big, this year’s race also featured a “Challenge medal” that you earned by completing both the 2014 New Year’s Race and the 2014 Hollywood Half Marathon. One additional bit of swag worth mentioning is in the “virtual goodie bag” where racers are given a coupon for a free race photo from MarathonFoto. Given the cost of race photos, this is a really nice surprise and one I hope other races pick up on.
The half marathon race course is definitely at home in Hollywood as its undergone a facelift each year. The first year’s race started at Universal (and featured that killer hill). Last year’s installment shifted its start/finish to in front of the Chinese Theater and a more friendly course. But for the 2014 race, the course again went “under the knife.” From what I’ve heard, Echo Park wouldn’t let the race use their streets this year, which forced some creative choices with mixed results. In addition, some of the course changes happened just 10 days before the race started, so their options were a bit limited. The course itself is basically an “out and back” configuration utilizing Hollywood Blvd. as its main route. Unfortunately in order to make up for the distance loss by not being able to utilize Echo Park, the race featured several turnoffs onto side streets running for just a few blocks before heading back to the main course. These turnoffs did nothing to enhance the course experience and the turnarounds caused several instances of logjams and runner slowdowns. It made this year’s course a step backward from the 2013 route (but understandable given the last minute changes). Here’s hoping they can make adjustments in time for next year’s race that alleviate this issue. And while the route does run through Hollywood and along the Walk of Fame, it’s not the prettiest of courses as we spend most of our time running down streets past storefronts of businesses that aren’t yet open for the day.
The course provided your basic services, water stops approximately every mile and a half, with an instance or two of energy drinks being offered. Unfortunately, the race suffered again from not enough volunteers and cups (although nowhere near the big problem at the 2012 race when they ran out of cups and runners were drinking from jugs left on the tables and ground). Twice near the end of the race I ran past tables where they just didn’t have enough personnel and supplies to meet the demand. I highly recommend for this race (and any other smaller race) that you carry a water bottle on you, just in case. Since I had two bottles on me, I filled up at mile 6 and was good for the rest of the race. The water/cup/volunteer shortage is another issue I hope can get sorted out in time for next year’s race. The course featured markers at every mile, although no digital clocks present, so carry a GPS or watch if you want to keep track of your time. One nice touch was a contest where each mile of the race was “presented” by a particular runner. Of course I’m kind of biased as my name graced the sign at Mile 5 (gave me a nice boost).
FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY
The finish line for the race was was nice, featuring a “red carpet” at the end for us Hollywood-types to run along as we crossed the finish line. Volunteers were present to hand out the finisher’s medals and post-race food (little bags would have been nice so we don’t have to lug our snacks around in our arms). There were also a few vendors on hand giving out food/drinks and a bit of swag. The challenge medal booth was also nearby, although it could have been better marked and given the large size of the line, could have used a few more volunteers. Otherwise it was pretty standard fare as it featured a music stage and space for people to congregate and gather their gear bags.
Being a founding/legacy runner, I have a soft spot for this race. I consider it to be the “little race that could.” Starting up a race is difficult enough, let alone dealing with the headaches inherent to Los Angeles. I give kudos to Ken Nwadike Jr. and his wife Sabrina for undertaking this challenging endeavor. The race has certainly suffered from growing pains over its short lifespan (course issues/ course services and organization) but I’ve seen much bigger races suffer from similar issues in spite of their greater resources. The Hollywood Half Marathon also does certain things right and has grand aspirations. I admire that and this is a race I want to see succeed. So while I do need to point out the race’s shortcomings in a review, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and plan to continue my legacy status in 2015 and beyond.