It’s been a full week since the Santa Barbara International Marathon and the race has taken on a surreal quality in my mind. Did that really happen? Did I really have so much fun running 26.2 miles?! Indeed I did! I give high marks to the race and definitely recommend it.
Expo: Packet pick-up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara was convenient and easy with lots of parking available. There weren’t any goodie bags (aside from the virtual online goodie bag offers) but I am happy with the white v-neck technical tee. Plenty of vendors — the kind you’d expect to see with all types of running gear but also local groups like the pet shelter that tried really hard to send my kids home with a dog. 😉
Tip: If you’re driving up from Los Angeles on Friday night for packet pick-up, be sure to leave long before rush hour. We left Orange County at 4 p.m. on Thursday and didn’t arrive in Santa Barbara until 4 hours and 30 minutes later (the drive should have taken just over 2 hours). You really want to be driving through downtown LA by 3:30 or sooner or make arrangements with someone else to pick up your packet with a copy of your photo ID because you won’t make it in time.
Race day shuttles and drop-off: I opted to have my family drop me off at Dos Pueblos High School for the full marathon start and the drop-off was smooth and convenient. Plan to walk a few blocks to the high school.
I felt sorry for the people who opted to take the shuttles and even arrived plenty early to do so. They ran into a bit of a snafu with too many people waiting for too few shuttles from the UCSB parking lot. Race organizers have acknowledged the issue, apologized and vowed to plan better for next year. I think the race is still growing and on top of that, they picked up a bunch of runners who were planning to run the New York City Marathon before it was cancelled. Kudos to the organizers for offering those runners a discount registration!
Pre-race: I’ve never been to a better race starting area. Getting to wait inside the high school on a cold morning, and use the indoor restrooms, was a treat. There were plenty of porta-potties outside too.
The course: The race starts out at the high school in Goleta and makes a loop around the suburbs and through Isla Vista by some UCSB off-campus housing. Tip: Plan to bank some extra time in the first 13.1 miles to account for the hill you’ll hit at mile 23. The first half of the course has some nice downhills and flat sections and the views of the Santa Ynez mountains are gorgeous. Around mile 15 you head onto a bike path. It worried me a bit that it might be crowded on the narrow path but at that point it was not a problem. With just 1,375 marathoners the pack had spread out by then. The path is pretty and the support from spectators along the way is great. Shortly after mile 19 you are back out on the roads again. Take advantage of the downhill at mile 22 to prepare yourself for the 0.4-mile climb at mile 23. It’s not terribly steep but many runners opted to walk. The reward at the top is 2.2 miles of downhill with spectacular views of the ocean.
Plus the last mile was lined with American flags, an inspirational sight for Veteran’s Day weekend. Best of all, some military members in uniform came out to cheer the runners on at the home stretch (gentlemen, were you trying to make me cry?! Thank you for your service to our country and your support!) The race finishes on the track at Santa Barbara City College. I found I liked sprinting to the finish on the track — it gave me a bit of a boost at the end.
The finish line expo: At the finish I received my medal and was offered an ice bag (nice touch!) In hindsight I should have taken advantage of the offer to tape the bags to my legs. I kept walking though and made my way to the refreshments. I had a banana, Sun Chips and a Clif bar, and water. I didn’t see the Fluid replacement table although I hear there was a booth around the corner.
Ways to improve the race: There’s always room for improvement at any race. (1) Shuttles — I have faith that will improve next year. (2) Responsiveness from the organizers. As the race got closer and closer I sensed some frustration from people trying to get into contact with the organizers either through the Facebook page or email. (3) I would have loved to see more food options at the finish line — orange slices and muffins would have added a nice touch to the bananas, chips and protein bars at the finish. Also offer the electrolytes at the same table.
Best things about the race: It’s a manageable size with only 1,375 full marathoners in 2012. The course is gorgeous and it makes for a lovely destination race. I have to give a shout-out to the official pacers. Craig Prater did an amazing job in the weeks leading up to the race by making his presence known on the Facebook page and posting answers to questions and uploading inspiring photos from various points on the race course. Jill Christ was the 4-hour pacer and while I wasn’t running with her (I ran ahead for the first 5 miles, stayed right behind her until mile 21 and lost her as she kept on pace for the 4:00 mark) I could tell she did an excellent job.
I didn’t stay at the host hotel but I negotiated a 20% discount with a high-end hotel (Spanish Garden Inn) and absolutely loved it. We spent a 4-day weekend in Santa Barbara and it made for a nice weekend for my whole family.
I recommend this race for: anyone who likes a scenic course that has some downhills, flats and one significant uphill. It’s not necessarily the course I would choose for a beginner like me but I love a small(er) race and a destination race and it was great for me. I didn’t get the sub-4 I wanted but I achieved four of five of my marathon goals and I had a blast (you can read my race recap here). If you’re going for a PR you need to make sure you plan your pace well — train for some hills and as I said, bank some time early in the race for the hill at mile 23. Monica at Run Eat Repeat chose to run Santa Barbara after the NYC marathon was canceled and she PR’d with a 3:53!
Did you run this race in 2012 or have you run it in past years? What’s your opinion? What’s your favorite marathon course?