By Nick Green, Staff Writer
The venerable Palos Verdes Marathon, the nation’s second- oldest event of its kind, has staggered to the finish line for the last time, a victim of rising expenses.
This year, a half-marathon and 5K run and walk set for May 19 will replace the 26.2-mile endurance test.
That will change the focus from an elite event for serious runners, including many attempting to post a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon – the nation’s oldest – into a community-oriented fundraiser.
“We really hated to give up after 45 years because we’re the second-longest continuously run marathon in the country,” event chairman John Williams said.
“There are those (runners) that are upset,” he acknowledged. “I don’t think it’s an overwhelming number.”
The problem was simple economics.
Two years ago, the event abandoned its almost two-decadelong San Pedro base, at Point Fermin Park, for similar reasons.
Costs to stage the event reached around $20,000.
And that undermined the major reason the Kiwanis Club of Rolling Hills Estates organized the race in the first place – as a charity fundraiser.
Organizers generally aimed to raise $50,000 a year. But that goal was threatened by the increasing costs needed to stage the event, including traffic control provided by law enforcement personnel.
“Fees and charges from various public agencies became prohibitive,” Williams said. “It just got to be so expensive, we just thought let’s come up with a more hospitable situation.”
Race organizers thought they had found that in neighboring Rancho Palos Verdes, where the Terranea Resort offered them a base to start and finish last year’s race.
Then came two “combative” City Council meetings, Williams said.
More red tape emerged, including permit requirements organizers hadn’t anticipated.
Despite an approved traffic plan, race day crowds paralyzed local traffic, trapping some residents in their neighborhood.
And the exorbitant costs the Kiwanis had sought to avoid? They followed them to Rancho Palos Verdes, too, with traffic control expenses alone coming to around $20,000.
The problems the Palos Verdes Marathon faced aren’t unique, said race director Walt Walston, whose Southern California-based company stages 15 to 20 similar road races annually.
“All the cities that you ask are broke, and they’re figuring out all kinds of ways to make money,” he said. “And I can’t say they’re incorrect in doing this. Gone are the days we could request a waiver of fees from city officials.”
So what to do?
The Palos Verdes Marathon ran two laps of a loop that traveled through picturesque Abalone Cove as well as Lunada Bay and Bluff Cove in neighboring Palos Verdes Estates.
But last year, only 214 runners completed the entire course, which had a reputation for being hilly and demanding. In contrast, the 5K and half-marathon attracted about 2,200 participants.
So by halving the length of the route, the nonprofit event also cut in half its most onerous expense: traffic control.
Moreover, that should also cut in half the time local traffic will encounter disruptions, which in turn should go some way to mollifying local residents.
And it wasn’t expected to have a substantial effect on runner turnout.
In fact, organizers have turned this year to trying to attract more casual runners and walkers.
To that end, two “challenge” events have been added: one for elementary, middle and high school students and another for teams.
Prizes will be awarded to the South Bay schools with the most participants, based on a percentage of its total enrollment.
The team event has three categories: fastest, one for most participants, and another for the team that shows the most “spirit,” defined as donning costumes and the like.
Shelley Johnston, challenge event chair and a distance runner herself, said longer distances prove intimidating to many casual runners.
“We’re hopeful we’re going to involve more of the community,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is get the kids to come out and exercise and support their schools.”
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