Today’s headline in my email inbox reads, “The latest list on www.marathonguide.com has the Clif Bar Mountains 2 Beach Marathon as THE most likely marathon in the entire nation to qualify you for Boston.”
As a veteran of this course, formerly known as the Ojai to Ocean Marathon, I am not surprised. Still, what surprises me is how, slowly but surely, Ventura County is stealing the mantle of “Greatest Running Locale” away from San Diego County, former capital of all things endurance sports in Southern California.
The email message from Mountains 2 Beach is not just self-gratifying horn tooting, it is part of a targeted marketing campaign aimed at drawing runners to the event. Qualifying for Boston is the pinnacle of distance running, so touting the race as the pre-eminent Boston Qualifier, especially when registration for the emotionally anticipated 2014 Boston Marathon is under way, is smart business. Sending it to people who recently ran other races in Ventura is even smarter. After nearly a dozen races completed there, I have yet to experience anything other than perfectly managed events. According to Mountains 2 Beach Race Director Benjamin DeWitt, in recent years, local race permits are significantly easier to obtain and some regulations have been streamlined.
Those who plan active outdoor events credit cooperation between groups often at odds in other locations. According to DeWitt, “There has been a significant rise in the number of (running) events in Ventura County in the past few years. For the most part, we (race directors) all have a great working relationship and help each other in ways that might baffle other race directors; we are supposed to be competitors. In reality, I played a significant role in the recent Ventura Marathon, and their race director plays a significant role at M2B.”
On the surface, Ventura and San Diego counties have much in common, a similar history, easy driving proximity from L.A. and Orange Counties, open trail space that the two counties in between lack, perfect weather, lower population density and an established culture of outdoor activity. Still, for years, Ventura County seemed to purposely remain on the periphery of the big, organized event circus while San Diego embraced it. There is nothing about the San Diego Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon that says “low-key.”
Still, it is the low-key aspect that draws me and many of my running friends to Ventura; and ultimately, what makes an event great is people. By their nature, runners walk that fine line between being the most laid-back, Porta-Potty sharing, leave-your-keys-with-a-stranger people you’ve ever met and, on the other hand, the most Type-A intricately planned nutritional intake advocates you’ve ever met. Mention the word “hydration” in certain circles and brace yourself for an hour-long conversation.
In the past few years alone, I find myself abandoning races in San Diego and opting instead for events in Ventura. Don’t get me wrong, I still love San Diego and the active lifestyle it offers, but plain and simple, Ventura offers something more appealing.
Last year, I ran in Solana Beach, San Diego. In many ways, depending on where you’re standing, it could be Ventura Harbor. While waiting near the start line, I saw unsmiling, stone-faced running clubs in matching outfits warming up stoically in the streets. A few people sat on the ground with coaches professionally taping their calves prior to running and a few others sat with electrodes stuck to their legs to stimulate muscles pre-race. Looking around, I thought, “Is this my sport?”
I’m no Olympian, I’m a 40-something age grouper. I don’t want to tape electrodes to my body, I just want to go out and run and push myself a bit and compete the best I can. Why so serious, San Diego?
Compare that to a race I recently ran in Ventura where we were ordered to carpool so, I met what amounts to a stranger in a hotel parking lot and hitched a ride with her. I chatted with Conejo Valley Running Club members at the start, a start that consisted of a guy yelling “Go!” I chatted with more runners at the finish and met friends I hope to see at races for the rest of my life. I don’t even remember the faces of the electrode guys.
The bottom line is, I envy residents of Ventura County. You live someplace I love to be and when given the opportunity to run, it will be in your backyard, not my own.