DOWNTOWN — Thousands of running shoes will be pounding pavement on Sunday, punctuating the end of spring with the fifth annual Santa Monica Classic, a 5K and 10K running event that benefits the local non-profit organization Heal the Bay.
The race starts at Barnard Way and ends at the Santa Monica Pier for the 5K; the 10K continues down to San Vicente and 11th Street before turning around and finishing at the pier. There will also be a post-race expo at the pier, where runners and spectators can relax and recover.
This year’s classic is also the U.S.A. Track and Field (USATF) Road Running Grand Prix, which means there will be some blue blood tearing through the finish line. Among the top runners competing will be Beijing Olympian Barbara Parker, along with current USATF points leader Brian Livingston.
The competition will be fierce, and Santa Monica High School Cross Country and Track coach Tania Fischer is more than ready for the challenge. After all, she won the women’s race in 2008.
“I love that there are top athletes at the race,” Fischer said. “The competition is there if you want it.”
Fischer is also the coach of The Janes, an elite racing team which she has led to two national titles. Fischer is currently ranked number one in the series and hopes to widen the gap between herself and runner-up Nathalie Higley on Sunday.
The Janes are going into the race this weekend in third place for team rankings, but leading in first place with the most points per runner.
Still, the Classic is not just a race for the running elite.
The event’s founder, Peter Abraham, predicts that over 4,000 runners will be participating this year, up from last year’s 3,500 entrants. The Classic has been enjoying a steady rise in popularity thanks to the foresight of its creator, who is also the creative director for the L.A. Marathon.
Founded in 2006, the Santa Monica Classic is the progeny of visionary advertising and commitment to environmental awareness. It is both a real-world laboratory for experimental marketing and a community event that pulls people from all over California with the aim of keeping the ocean swimmable, surf-able, and life-sustaining.
The Santa Monica Classic is much like the younger cousin to the L.A. Marathon. This year, the marathon started at Dodger Stadium and ended at the sea — right in Santa Monica.
However, the Santa Monica Classic is beginning to hold its own in the world of running events, largely thanks to Abraham’s shrewd, big-name marketing, attention to detail, and his alliance with Heal the Bay. Coca Cola, Reebok, K-Swiss, and Pom Wonderful are among the event’s sponsors.
In many ways, Abraham is cleverly maneuvering Santa Monica onto the map as a “runner’s destination.”
“I call Santa Monica the ‘unofficial running capital of Los Angeles,’” he said. He mentions that the city is a popular training ground for teams preparing in the months before the L.A. Marathon. The long stretch of beach offers spectacular ocean views and, Abraham adds, “You don’t have to stop much for traffic lights.”
John Madigan, a manager at the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, is running the Classic for the first time.
“Heal the Bay is a great nonprofit and I’m all for an event with a good cause,” he said.
“Every year we commit to raising at least $5,000 for Heal the Bay,” Abraham said. “We also try to be as green as possible.”
The event organizers actively promote ridesharing, although there is ample parking throughout Downtown. The event also stopped giving out paper and plastic goodie bags in order to reduce waste.
The Santa Monica Classic is still accepting new entrants, whether they are veterans, hobbyists, environmental enthusiasts, or even those simply interested in getting more active.
Main Street will close around 7:30 a.m. and will reopen around 8:30 a.m. Ocean Avenue fully opens around 10 a.m.
For more information on how to register, visit www.santamonicaclassic.com.