REVIEW: THE LONG BEACH HALF MARATHON
In 1984, Long Beach hosted its first marathon. In the three decades since, the race has become a popular annual event in southern California featuring almost 20,000 participants enjoying one of the many races they offer, including: the full marathon, half marathon, bike tour and 5K. This past Sunday the race celebrated its 30th anniversary and Long Beach was once again packed with energetic runners and cyclists ready to pound (and ride) the pavement of this seaside city. I ran the half marathon (my fourth time running the route) and will focus my review on that distance.
Registration costs for the Long Beach Half Marathon are in keeping with standard half marathons. The key as always is to sign up sooner rather than later to avoid the higher fees. I registered for the race back about 6 months ago and paid around $80 for the half marathon. You can find occasional discounts online or at race expos.
Packet pick-up for the race is on the Friday and Saturday before the marathon, located at the Long Beach Convention Center. Expo parking is $10, but street parking is available if you don’t mind parking a few blocks away. I ended up about a half mile from the convention center and meter parked for the cost of a few quarters. The pick-up process is pretty quick, but be sure to bring a copy of your signed release form (they e-mail you it ahead of time) as you need to have it in order to get your bib. And just to be safe, bring a blank one along with you as you’ll invariably find someone looking for a blank form (they don’t print ’em out for you). Fortunately, you can pick up the bib for a friend or family member, but again be sure to have their signed release form and a picture of their ID.
The expo itself is good sized and featured plenty of vendors showing off their latest wares and advertising upcoming races. I myself picked up a few new items to try out and a few bits of swag (can you ever have enough bottle openers and water bottles).
Those people traveling to Long Beach for the race should be aware of potential traffic problems. With about 20,000 people trying to reach LB in a short span of time, traffic back-up is inevitable. And since a huge number of people funnel onto the 710 freeway, it can become quite the quagmire as race time approaches. The race advises you to arrive 90 minutes prior to your race start time and that is some advice worth following. Better to get to the race early and relax near the start line, than to get a few extra minutes of sleep only to end up sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic wondering if you’ll make it to the start in time (I almost missed the start of the race in 2011 and it was no fun whatsoever).
As for parking, there are a good number of spots at the convention center, the Pike Shopping Center and various lots around town. You can pre-purchase parking passes and expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 whether you purchase ahead of time or at the lot itself. This year I managed to find a parking bargain ($5) at a public lot about a half mile from the start line. And again, it’s worth getting there early to save yourself some stress and making sure you don’t come across lots at capacity.
The Long Beach Marathon consistently utilizes a nautical theme when it comes to their shirts and medals (as well as signage). Past years have focused on the Queen Mary, palm trees on the beach and the Rainbow Harbor lighthouse. For the 30th edition of the Long Beach race, the scallop shell gets its moment in the spotlight. The familiar casing for that oh so yummy bivalve mollusk is front and center on just about everything race-related this year.
The finisher’s medal for the race features a silver scallop shell highlighted by sparkly blue text reading “30th anniversary” and a blue ring listing the distance of the particular race. All of the various medals (marathon, half marathon, bike tour, 5k) are basically the same design, just varying in size. The ribbon is white, blue and silver and lists the race distance run. They’re nice and elegant medals and will look good on your medal rack (or wherever you hang your bling). And for those of you who like challenge medals, the Long Beach Marathon is one of the three races comprising the Beach Cities Challenge. Finish this race along with Surf City and Orange County and you can earn the impressive 2014 challenge medal (a new “clasp shell” design will be offered stating at Surf City in 2015).
As much as I liked the finisher’s medal, I did not like the tech shirt at all. Last year’s shirt design introduced a more “minimalist” look where the majority of the shirt is a solid color (blue in the case of 2013) with the design/logo wrapping around one side of the bottom of the shirt. It kinda worked with last year’s shirt. This year… not at all.
The 3oth anniversary shirt started off committing what many consider to be the cardinal sin of race shirts: it’s white… really white. And given the small logo and muted scallop shell wrapping around the side (so muted at first glance you wonder if it’s inside out) this shirt looks like a big white mistake. Here’s hoping they get enough negative feedback to revamp their shirts (and add some color) for the 31st anniversary shirt.
The swag bag featured some fliers and a few freebies (there’s also a virtual swag bag online), but one bit of swag worth noting is that each racer gets a free entry to the Aquarium of the Pacific during the month of October. It’s a great aquarium, by the way, and worth another trip to Long Beach.
The Long Beach Half Marathon basically features a looping course that begins and ends near the water by the convention center. If you like waterfront views, then this a course for you.
Starting near the Pike Shopping Center, the course meanders down the main drag before heading up and over the Queensway Bridge that then winds around near the water and takes you in and around Rainbow Harbor, including a nice view of the Queen Mary. Continuing on through Pierpoint Landing and Shoreline Village you make your way onto the running path on the beach (which stretches from about mile 6.5- 10). The beach path is a scenic (and sometimes windy) path, but it also is a bit narrow and can cause a little bit of congestion.
Around mile 10 you climb the bluffs and head back along Ocean Blvd. making your way to the finish back near the convention center. The full marathoners share the half marathon course, until splitting off around the 10.5 mile mark and then rejoining it around the 24 mile mark. The course itself is mostly flat with only a few inclines, most notably the Queensway Bridge.
While I haven’t run the full marathon, the half marathon course is rather scenic, giving you the flavor of Long Beach and a nice view of the Pacific.
The Long Beach Marathon has been around for thirty years now and has had plenty of time to iron out any kinks. The course services for the race are basic but solid, featuring plenty of well-manned water/Powerade stops. Cliff was also present, giving out gels around the 10-mile mark. The course also featured plenty of porta-potties at the start, aid stations and support staff to handle any problems that may arise. Mile markers were present at each mile, although the only digital clocks were at the start/finish.
Long Beach did offer runner tracking, however my friends/family only received text updates for the 5k and 10K splits (might want to look into that). Race results were posted shortly after the race and one additional nice touch is RunPix graphics that give you detailed info about how you fared in the race.
FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY
One aspect of the Long Beach race that kind of irks me is the finish line/post party. The services themselves are fine… water, snacks (handed out in bags, thank you very much) and a free beer (for those of us runners over 21). What gets me is that the post party feels very claustrophobic, as if the crowds are too large in relation to the space they set aside for the party.
After being funneled through the finish area, which is a little too tight to begin with, you’re dropped into a sea of family members and other runners to fend for yourself. While there are food trucks, vendors and other services, they don’t seem to be organized with any real logic, nor is there sufficient signage to point out where things are. I typically enjoy hanging out for a little bit at post race parties, but every time at Long Beach I find myself feeling like a salmon swimming upstream. So I typically grab my snacks, drink my complimentary brew (yay carbs) and then make a beeline for the exit.
Given the overall good organization for the rest of the race, it’s an aspect I wish the race officials would give a long hard look at improving.
As I said earlier, I’ve run the Long Beach Half Marathon four times now.
I like this race; I really do like it. But I don’t love it. It’s a solid and fairly well-organized affair, but it does have a few shortcomings and lacks the extra touches that could elevate it to the next level. The race is reasonably priced, local and part of the Beach City Challenge (a series I like). I’ll continue to run it each year when it fits my schedule, but I wouldn’t be overly heartbroken if I missed it from time to time.