On its fifth anniversary, Pasadena Marathon has been downgraded to half-marathon status because city officials say the low number of entries for last year’s full 26.2-mile event doesn’t justify closing down wide areas of the city in 2013.
“The question is, is Pasadena big enough for a full-scale marathon?” Assistant City manager Steve Mermell said. "And based on the number of participants and the community impact we felt that wasn’t the case. "
About 1,000 runners took part in the full marathon last year, with about 850 completing the course, and Mermell said that wasn’t enough to justify issuing a 2013 permit to restrict access and close streets city-wide for hours on the June 30 race day.
“We certainly were very, very disappointed,” Pasadena Marathon founder Israel Estrada said Wednesday.
Estrada, who will step down as race director at Pasadena Forward following this year’s event, said losing the full marathon is a “huge step down” in prestige for the event.
“I explained to them the many challenges, and why we have not been able to bring back many participants,” Estrada said.
First, he said, city staffers won’t give the marathon a set date every year and don’t decide on a date far enough in advance to attract runners creating a schedule.
“Instead of helping us, they’re working against us,” Estrada said. “Whether by design or not, that’s what’s happening. When they don’t give us a date right away so we can open up (registration) it always hurts.”
As for the “low participation” cited, Estrada said the staff is comparing the fledgling Pasadena Marathon to such major events as the Boston, New York and Marine Corps races that have built up over decades.
Some started with a few hundred racers and now attract upwards of 20,000 participants, he said; staging a half-marathon is cheaper by about half – he estimates this year’s cost at about $250,000 – but he said Pasadena is being short-sighted.
“It will be more a local event,” he said of the upcoming half-marathon, 10K, 5K and Fun Run events. "We’re not going to get the same number of people coming from England, Germany, Brazil, Australia – we’ve had 20 or 30 different countries represented, and it’s something you build on year after year and eventually you get to the New York Marathon. "
The popular bike tour has also been cancelled, he said, because it follows the full marathon route.
Mermell said half-marathons are “very popular with the majority of people,” and far fewer runners do the full marathon.
“When we look at the city and look at the course for the full marathon and the impact it has, closing down that much of the city for 800 runners doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.
Pasadena has already hosted a half-marathon this year – the first Rock ‘n’ Roll event on Feb. 20.
It started and ended at the Rose Bowl – which the Pasadena Marathon has never been permitted to do – and was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, which previously sponsored the Pasadena Marathon.
The downgrade is just the latest in a series of challenges the Pasadena Marathon has faced.
“If anything, the event has proved (the Pasadena Marathon) is resilient,” said Michelle Bernal, program manager in the city’s economic development office. "Fire, heat, hail, rain – they’ve just about had it all and they’re still standing. Hopefully this year they’ll be able to pull off a great event for the city. "
This year’s route has “definitely changed” without the full marathon, Bernal said.
In another change, Bernal said a 15-minute “pace” clock will reduce the time runners can be on the streets. Stragglers who can’t complete the 13.1 miles in roughly 3.5 hours will have to finish the route on sidewalks on reopened streets and make their own way back to the finish line, she said, Bernal said the city is working on a public access map that will “shortly” be released to the public.
Mermell said the city has “continued to work with the (marathon) event promoters” but cited “some challenges and concerns” which contributed to scaling the event back this year.
“After every event we take stock on how well it went … and last year there were concerns along the race route that there weren’t sufficient amounts of water, or there were no cups for it,” Mermell said.
Pasadena Forward, the marathon organizers, “operates a relatively small organization and rely on other contractors to assist them,” he said, “I think the city has a very good working relationship with them and being understanding … but the city as a whole is interested in making sure it’s a quality event, and the public safety concerns are, will runners and participants be safe, will they have water along the route – these details matter.”
Estrada said there was plenty of water, and cups, last year but acknowledged that distribution along the route wasn’t uniform.
Mermell said if the event continues to build and shows more strength, the full marathon could return.
But Estrada says he’s finished with the effort.
“I didn’t expect it would be easy, and I expected challenges along the way, but I didn’t think it would be this hard – and I didn’t think the challenges would come from local government,” said Estrada, who briefly ran for a Pasadena City Council seat in the March elections. “I don’t want to spend my life fighting city staff. I want to move on, probably to other events in different cities.”