As cars whizzed by and a heavy downpour of wind-whipped rain drenched him Saturday morning, runner Keith Witthaver began thinking about dropping out of the half-marathon through the rolling landscape near the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater.
Rain had fallen steadily since the beginning of the race, and Witthaver's T-shirt had become so wet that he had to toss it off midway through because it was weighing him down during the Second Annual Orange County Half-Marathon and Run for Homeless Children.
"By about six miles, I realized I wasn't clocking the time I wanted," Witthaver said later, as he stood below ominous dark clouds. "But I also realized I had no ride back either."
Witthaver--dressed only in black spandex shorts and shoes and looking as though he had just stepped out of a swimming pool--finished the race, placing fourth in the 13.1-mile half-marathon. He was among an estimated 760 people who, despite the stormy skies, turned out for the event along the hills and roads of Irvine to benefit homeless families.
Run organizers said that 1,100 people registered for the race, but the rain kept many away. Further, a scheduled wheelchair race had to be canceled because only one contestant showed up, according to race director Kim Winslow.
About 850 people attended last year's event, which raised $3,000 for Christian Temporary Housing Facilities Inc. Winslow said this run also raised about $3,000, which will pay for 400 days of shelter for a homeless person.
A one-mile run/walk that began around 8 a.m. was detoured because, as one race worker put it, part of the route "turned into a river."
Said Winslow of the confusion: "I think some of the one-mile people ended up going two miles."
Several runners described the morning event as having the worst weather they'd ever run in.
The half-marathon, the main event of Saturday's runs, started amid heavy showers, but as the fastest runners reached the home stretch, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine on the sea of umbrellas bunched around the finish line area.
But it could have been worse, one participant said.
"Running in the rain is better than doing a whole triathlon," said Nancy Stark of Denver as she walked toward he car to change out of her drenched workout gear. "Can you imagine biking in the rain?"
Different runners had different ways of dealing with the inclement weather.
"For the first few miles, I jumped over the puddles," said Witthaver, who lives in Apple Valley. "After a while, it became a futile attempt."
Like Witthaver, several other fast runners stripped down to as few clothes as possible in order to avoid being slowed down while others farther back in the pack chose to bundle up.
"They're racers, we're joggers," said Tim Hurlbut of Laguna Niguel, explaining why he wore a jacket throughout the race. "For us, it's survival."
The races were designed both to raise money and focus more attention on the homeless of Orange County, Winslow said.
She admitted the rain caused its share of problems but added: "It was interesting to see how the volunteers and runners reacted to being inconvenienced (by the elments). Homeless people have to deal with that inconvenience every day. They don't have a place to live."